17 July 2004

Linking with ink: Hairenik celebrates 70 years of news from Diaspora

Publishing an Armenian newspaper in Diaspora is sometimes described as an act of heroism. The challenges are numerous, from dwindling numbers of subscribers, limited financial resources, lack of freedom of speech, inability to provide updated information or unique commentaries, etc. Those communities who have newspapers or periodicals are considered to be lucky. A kind of connectivity is established among the members of the community.  

In the UAE we had an experience with a periodical called "Shepor", which was published monthly or bimonthly from 2000 to 2002 and achieved its initial goals, but lack of will from the side of the officials, who occupy community service posts, brought this unique publication to an abrupt end. The UAE Armenians need to have a written mean of communication in the form of a publication in Armenian language. The financial resources are there, some writers are available, but the awareness of this necessity is not so clear in the minds of some people, who think that they can preserve a nation, without caring for its language. AZAD-HYE.

By Monica Deady
Watertown Tab

Friday, July 9, 2004

To exist for 70 years in a world full of shifting, recycling and revamping is not a small feat. The Armenian Weekly, a weekly ethnic newspaper written and published in Watertown, has reached the regal age of 70, with plans to continue on with its task of sharing news of Armenians worldwide. The Armenian Weekly, published in English, was first published in Boston in 1934 as a means for the Armenian community to learn about what was affecting the Armenian people throughout the United States and the world. What began with four pages a week has increased to 20, with a circulation of about 1,700 and a readership of more than 7,000. The paper moved to the Watertown office in 1985 to be closer to where the population is centered. According to editor Jason Sohigian, who has been editor since 1999, Watertown has the largest concentration of Armenians outside of Los Angeles. It is published by the Hairenik Association of Watertown.

"Our primary focus is the Armenian view," Sohigian said, sitting in the small newspaper office on the first floor of 80 Bigelow Ave. "I think the Armenian interest or Armenian point of view is not really represented in the other media. I think it's a good chance for Armenians to discuss the issues that affect the community." For example, Sohigian said the paper may cover topics like United States aid to Armenia or dual citizenship. "For us, I think the way we present things and the topics we choose to present ... it gives people something to think about," said assistant editor Sossi Essajanian, who said her family has always received the paper. "We want not just a newspaper, but a collection of news and analysis." The paper, which is what Sohigian called "an organ" of the Armenian Revolution Federation, an Armenian political party, tries to represent the points of view of that party in Armenia, and publishes editorials, political analyses, columns, short stories and poems. Several newspapers are published as arms of the ARF party in many areas of the world, Sohigian said, and the Armenian Weekly published in Watertown focuses on the East Coast of the United States. Most of the paper's subscribers are in major cities, where Sohigian said the Armenian population is concentrated, including Detroit, Chicago, New York City, Providence, R.I., Boston and Worcester. He said they also have subscribers from New Jersey, Florida and other parts of the world. Members of the Armenian Caucus in Congress receive the paper as well, Sohigian said.

Although the paper does not have any writers on staff, they have contributors worldwide and longtime columnists, poets and volunteers who help them with everything from art to translation to copy. Sohigian said they accept press releases and often work them into stories and will report on Armenian issues that are concerns to other regions of the United States and the political activity in Washington, D.C. "It's kind of like a community service," Sohigian said.

Throughout its publication, the paper has focused on youth writing through the Armenian Youth Federation. Students are encouraged to submit writing, and it is often one of the first places they are published. One journalist, Mitch Kehetian, who says he saw his first byline in the Armenian Weekly, has been a journalist for more than 50 years. He is currently the editorial page editor at the Macomb Daily, a paper that covers the northern suburbs of Detroit. "I always read the local paper because it gives me a feel for the community," he said, and said the Armenian Weekly does the same thing.

Tom Vartabedian, a 37-year veteran reporter and photographer at the Haverhill Gazette, has also been a correspondent for the Armenian Weekly for 34 years. When he was about 20 years old, he volunteered to be the Boston chapter scribe for the Youth Federation and said his contributions to the paper never stopped. He has been writing a weekly column since 1970. "It gives me a chance to exercise my mind and contribute to an ethnic newspaper," Vartabedian said. "It's a vehicle that connects one community to another. It's also a tool to publicize a community, and it's an organ ... it's our voice," he said. "It's a voice for all to be heard."

"There are a number of things that create a community..." said Hayg Oshagan, a member of the editorial board, "but having people spread in a geographic space does not create a community. A community becomes a community when they have a connection with one another." He said the Armenian Weekly is one of those things that can supply the connections. "A newspaper creates a forum across the whole region," said Oshagan, who worked on the paper for a few summers when he was in college and has been on the board for about three years. Oshagan said some of the challenges of the newspaper are finding stringers to work for them and getting the paper to all of the subscribers in a timely manner, which can be delayed. Still, he said over the years, he thinks the paper has found a "comfort zone" and "a way of working well."

"It connects [Armenians] with the past, it connects them with the present, it connects them with their origins and their identity," said Tatul Sonentz, who has been contributing to the paper since the 1950s. "It will survive, I believe, as long as there is a community."

Monica Deady can be reached at mdeady@cnc.com.

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