BY NORA VOSBIGIAN
Elma Hovanessian decided to write her memoirs after the success of her first book, Under the Blue Dome. Whenever she gave book presentations people were interested in her personal background as an Iranian-Armenian. They were fascinated by her family life in Iran, descriptions of her grandfather’s caravan trips to India from New Julfa, an Armenian quarter south of Isfahan, the occupation of Iran by the Allied Forces in WWII, her student years at Tehran University… So she decided to write her autobiography.
The hardest part of writing her story was the first chapter. Once started, the rest was easy. Memories started to flow from the recesses of her mind, as she remembered her childhood, adolescence and beyond. Then came the exploratory stage of her book, as she gathered additional information to flesh out details. She interviewed friends and relatives, some with incredible memories.
Hovanessian grew up in a multi-cultural Iran. She attended Iranian schools and Tehran University, with classmates of various ethnic and religious minorities, like Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Baha’is and Turks from Iranian Azerbaijan. They were all part of Iran’s rich tapestry of people.
For young Armenians, there were the Ararat Cultural Center and the Armenian University Students Society where they were introduced to the Armenian culture and a sense of ethnic identity. The Armenian Church played an important part in acquainting them with their religious traditions through annual activities and festivities, such as Easter Sunday, Tiandarach, Vartavar, and Hambartzoum.
Hovanessian lived in London at different times in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s then moved to Los Angeles. In those days the Armenian community in London was dominated by Armenians from Cyprus. Los Angeles was quite different with its large Iranian and Iranian-Armenian communities.
What did Hovanessian miss about Iran? The Caspian Sea in summer, with its warm waters and the soft sandy beaches, her home in Tehran with its balcony overlooking the busy, the noisy Naderi Avenue, and her youth spent in that country, with its wonderfully uncomplicated life, surrounded by her extended family and friends. She especially misses the Armenian cultural and social life, a remarkable community that had flourished and refined throughout hundreds of years of existence.
One Life, Three Cultures is a beautifully written work which gives a fascinating glimpse into one of Iran’s oldest communities.
One Life, Three Cultures: An Iranian Armenian Odyssey
London: Taderon Press, 222 pages, 19 photos. ISBN 9781903656389. US
$22/UK 16 pounds.
Free sample chapter of One Life Three Cultures is available at www.gomidas.org.
Hovanessian to Present Book at Glendale Library
Author Elma Hovanessian will lecture on One life, Three cultures: An Iranian Armenian odyssey at the Glendale Public Library Auditorium, 222 East Harvard Street, on Thursday, January 12 at 7 p.m. Admission is free and the seating is limited. Library visitors receive 3 hours FREE parking across the street at The Market Place parking structure with validation at the loan desk.