Al Capone and Asbarez

I would not have imagined that such a juxtaposition could meaningfully occur, Al Capone and Asbarez. Yet, it seems there is (was) a nexus. One John Goshgarian laid claim to having been the gangster’s driver before moving from Chicago to LA. He was one of the large cast of colorful characters who visited and enlivened the paper’s editorial offices located on Venice Boulevard in a “not so nice” part of town, where the Armenian center it moved into from Fresno was located. It used to be amidst the old Armenian neighborhoods of the immediate post-Genocide era.

But over of the span of the paper’s hundred-year life, you’d expect such characters. In chatting with some who have been integral to the life of both the English and Armenian versions of the paper, I got some interesting stories and juice. It’s only appropriate to talk about this centennial since Asbarez was first published just several days more than over a hundred years ago, in Fresno, to serve a then much more tenuously present Armenian community with much more personal, direct ties to our Homeland, but with less access to news from it, than we have today. It struck me as one of those comically irrelevant coincidences that meetings were held in a home on Fig Avenue when preparing to launch the paper. Why? Because one of the regulars hanging out at the Asbarez on Venice would bring figs for everyone;

It’s also appropriate to take this time to reflect, not just on the serious and momentous events reflected by the pages and conveyed through the offices of Asbarez–Genocide, world wars, word of who was killed in the early days of the second Lebanese civil war, Armenia’s re-independence, Artzakh’s liberation, but also the comical. I was told of a pre-WWII ad placed by a man’seeking a wife. One requirement was that she have a strong back since she’d be do hard work.

Obviously, times change. The paper’s progressed: from having huge in-house presses and molten type to an electronic operation; from being an only-Armenian-language publication, to being bilingual, and now, with this issue, entering yet another new phase. Asbarez will appear six days a week in print, with the English language standing on its own, on Mondays, after some 35 years of advocacy to that end by those who dedicated some part of their lives to it. In addition, the English will be on-line and available through an electronic newsletter. Sign up for it by writing to

Contributing to Asbarez for the past five years makes me a one-twentieth stakeholder of sorts. It’s great to mouth off every week and be a part of something born before the Genocide; that served fledgling Armenian communities; that was torn from its Fresno womb after great travail and moved to what has become the largest Armenian community outside of Armenia; that had farcical momen’s such as a mystery package delivered to the front desk, with its carrier running off–this in the days of assassinations of Turkish diplomats–leaving the two editors to open it with one standing off at a distance in case it detonated, to find; a bundle of books; that has published satire, essays, analysis, obviously news; that has been not just been a news-gathering center but a center for the community to gather, physically, and increasingly, online; that has seen the comings and goings of the likes of Tehlirian, Torlakian, Tro, Vratzian, government officials–Armenian and American, and still others.

In my traditional manner, I’ll close by making a two-fold request for participation. The first half is for your “ink”. Whether this is in the form of letters to the editor, or opinion pieces, or news of your favorite Armenian issue/organization, or even pieces you encounter in other media you think would enrich the Armenian universe, submit it/them. The second half is to heed the ever present need for money. On its hundredth birthday, Asbarez has initiated “a hundred thousand on the hundredth birthday” fund drive. Everyone’s asked to contribute just; you guessed it, a hundred dollars. Please do by going to or sending a check to at 419 W. Colorado, Glendale, CA 91204.


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