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Interview with Catherine Abashian

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Armenian Oral History Project
Interview with: Cathrine Abashian Williams
Interviewed by: Aynur de Rouen
Transcriber: Cordelia Jannetty
Date of interview: 25 January 2017
Interview Setting: Binghamton

(Start of Interview)

AD: So, today is January 25, 2017 and I am interviewing with Cathy Abashian Williams. Okay, so but go ̶ ahead Cathy and tell me your full name for the record.

CA: Sure. My name is Catherine. My middle name is Rose named after my Armenian grandmother translated her name as Esgouhi, so Rose. Abashian is my maiden name and Williams is my previous married name and professional name and the name of my son.

AD: So, where were you born Cathy?

CA: I was born in Binghamton, at Binghamton General Hospital, which is over on the Southside in 1961, August 6th.

AD: So, which generation you belong to? So, who was born here before you?

CA: My father was born here on June 27, 1927 in an apartment in Binghamton on Clinton Street and he was the first generation and I am the second.

AD: I see. So, how about your mother?

CA: So, my mother was the second oldest of ten children of Irish-English-German Catholic parents. So, she was born in the United States. Her parents were born in the United States too.

AD: But she was not an Armenian?

CA: No, she was not.

AD: Okay, so your paternal grandfather was born ̶ overseas?

CA: Yes, he was born– so my paternal grandfather and grandmother– now my grandmother was born in Kassab, Syria and my grandfather may have been born in Turkey I believe.

AD: Okay, but that was old Ottoman Empire back, then right?

CA: Yes.

AD: So, what was your father doing, like he was born here and what kind of education or occupation he had?

CA: So, he was born he went to Public School here in Binghamton. When he was seventeen, he enrolled in the New York State March at Marine Academy, which is now SUNY (State University of New York) Maritime in the Bronx and went there and studied and then ultimately graduated from there and joined the US Navy. He was a Ship Engineer. And he worked in the engine room of the ships and he had a career in the navy and ultimately, he came back to Binghamton and he met his first wife who was Russian. Her family were first generation. She was first generation Carpathian, Russians who came to this country from–to work in the coal mines in Scranton. And they were from a large family in Binghamton. So, he married her and she was sick. She had Asthma.

AD: I see.

CA: And so, they had my oldest sister Roxanne, and then they moved to Arizona because of the climate, because she could not breathe very well and had my second oldest sister and then she contracted pneumonia and she died when my sisters were six months old and a year and a half old. So, my father’s sisters went to Arizona came and brought him and the girls back to Binghamton and they lived with his family, his parents and then he met my mother who was number two of ten children from the Irish end. So, then they got married and then they have four more children. I have two older brothers, me and then Dan my younger brother. And so, there was six total children of my father and four of them were from my mother and two from my oldest sister’s mother.

AD: Are they all living in the area?

CA: No, Dan– Daniel and I are the only ones here and I– my next oldest brother lives in Huntsville, Alabama, and my next oldest brother lives in Santa Cruise, California. And then my two oldest sisters, they are my half-sisters but you know mother raised them from the time when they were babies. They live in Long Island and New Jersey.

AD: So, your father basically grew up in an Armenian household, is that correct?

CA: Yes. It is.

AD: So, was he fluent in Armenian? Was he speaking Armenian? Do you remember?

CA: Yes, he grew up, he and his siblings were bilingual because they learned English in school and so they– English– they spoke Armenian at home and English in the school and they had friends as they were growing up. So–

AD: How many siblings did your father have?

CA: There were seven children, so he was one of the seven.

AD: A big family!

CA: Uh-huh.

AD: And where are those people? Are they still in the area?

CA: Right, so my– five of the siblings have passed away including my father. And the two remaining siblings are his two younger sisters Rose she lives in Doylestown in Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia and Violet is in San Diego, California.

AD: Okay, and so are they– they were obviously married right?

CA: Right, so, um Rose married a doctor in the navy who–you know, his parents were born here. He was–I do not know what their ethnicity was, Blackburn is the name and Violet also married an American, Reckonridge is his name. And Violet and Wilber had four children, four girls and my uncle and aunt adopted two children, a boy and a girl.

AD: So, what did your grandfather do when he came here? How old was he do you know that?

CA: So, my grandmother–

AD: Your grandmother and grandfather both of them–

CA: So, he had actually come here as a teenager. He stowed away on a ship and he came here and got an opportunity to work in Dunn McCarthy Shoe Factory. A lot of the immigrants to this area worked for Endicott Johnson or Dunn McCarthy Shoe Factory. So, he went back to, at that point my grandmother and her remaining family were in a refugee camp at Port Saeed in Alexandria, Egypt. So, he went back there because he had met her brother who arranged the marriage for my grandmother to marry but he came here and he secured work and then they, um, actually were in Paris for three months before they came here and they emigrated from Paris through Ellis Island together but they came to Binghamton because the jobs were at the shoe factory.

AD: So, your grandfather came here before or after the massacre– like which year was that?

CA: It was– I have to confirm the dates but when he first came here; he was undocumented and he was not authorized. So, he was, you know, as you said they communicate and I do not know how his connection was but, so he must have–

AD: Yeah, they have network and then they follow that–

CA: So, I am thinking that– so the massacre began (19)15, (19)16. So, it was probably 1918 and he was three or four years older than my grandmother. So, she was born in nineteen hundred which meant that he was born– so he probably was twenty when he came here maybe, late teens or early twenties and then–

AD: So, he escaped the massacre basically?

CA: Yeah, I am not as familiar– um we had recordings of my uncle giving us presentation in oral history we could share with you.

AD: Oh, yeah.

CA: It is a video actually.

AD: That would be fantastic.

CA: When they were together as a family a few years ago, that was done and he talks about where– he shows the map where both of his parents were from and so I am not sure, I cannot remember–

AD: No, that is fine, that is fine.

CA: So, but he actually fled the situation when his father remarried. I do not know–his mother died I think and his father remarried and the woman burned his little brother. She burned him with, I do not know if it was iron or bath and he died and so my grandfather, you know it was a bad situation and ultimately, he fled and he was living on his own from a young age.

AD: I see.

CA: So, and yeah so, my guess is that my grandmother was probably eighteen or nineteen when she came here. She did not really know her birth date. She did not know when it was. So, they estimated it.

AD: So, it was kind of like an arranged marriage?

CA: Yes, absolutely. She did not know him until the day of her marriage and then they went from Alexandria to Paris and then they came to the US.

AD: Okay, and with seven kids I assume she was a homemaker.

CA: Yes, yes.

AD: And he worked at that shoe factory?

CA: Right.

AD: Okay, so was there Armenian community at that time in Binghamton?

CA: Well it is interesting because you know there is an Armenian Church here that you are aware of on Corbett Avenue and but my grandparents were, not adopted, but the protestant church, the United Church of Christ, First Congregational Church sponsored a number of Armenians. So, those that were not aligned with the Armenian Catholic, they were protestant, came to this church and so the family, really the church was the supporting kind of entity, you know culturally and socially and so they were lifelong members of the First Congregational Church in Binghamton.

AD: I see. So, your father basically grew up in Armenian tradition?

CA: Armenian tradition in America in a very poor section of Binghamton called the first ward where all of the immigrants lived. So, he– it was not just Armenians and it is interesting I saw the list of the people you interviewed I hope that was okay–

AD: Oh, yeah, I share it– Of course, it is okay.

CA: So, it is some of the families on that list had a very different experience here than my father’s family.

AD: But that is good, that makes this collection even stronger, yeah.

CA: Right. So, his family was the poorest of the Armenians. Pretty much they were at the bottom of the Armenian food chain in our community.

AD: Really?

CA: Yeah, they were, very.

AD: Why? Do you know why?

CA: Well, you know, the Kachadourians are a family who were poor but they began buying a lot of property and they lived, it was interesting because, and if I can be completely frank there was like the–

AD: Please!

CA: So, there was the poorest, then there were those that the marginally, you know, were connected and had some resources. And then there were the more affluent. And the Kradjian family was the senior affluent Armenian family in this community. The father, Kenneth, and the dry cleaners and now they have incredible wealth. It was interesting–

AD: Troy and Bates?

CA: Bates & Troy and Ara Kradjian and Harry and Brann and their father was Kenneth––

AD: But we did not interview with them, did we?

CA: Yeah, all of those you have on the list, I do not know.

AD: Okay, alright, so Gregory probably did it.

CA: I think there is some interview there–So, there was a hierarchy here locally amongst the Armenian socio-economic, I think, level.

AD: Yea, class differences.

CA: And I remember hearing that, because we knew, we would– so, we were based in the same First Congregational Church, my family was, but we would go to the Armenian Church Friday night, dance group. We would do Armenian dancing. We would take Armenian class and we would do like the activities associated with the Civic Association, you know, it was connecting with our heritage even at a young age, so that was how I got to meet a lot of the Armenians that went to Saint Gregory’s on Corbett Ave. So, but there was this hierarchy of the families. So, the Armenian community was tight, you know, and some of those first generations became physicians, and you know have more affluence and ultimately my father went into–he started his own vending food, vending machines where he bought a cigarette machine and a coffee machine and he put it in public places and then he grew to have a successful business of manufacturing cafeterias and then manu– and he grow and so he built his own wealth, I guess, in that regard and the–but the interesting thing is regardless of how much wealth everybody who was here either survived the genocide or their parents did. And so, they always had that. It was always that very humble, very complicated life, you know before they came to America. So, from my grandparents and their children, my father– it was a new opportunity but they struggled, they were very poor, and they were not of the upper echelon of society they were–

AD: So, did you– obviously they should tell you if they felt that way– so some of them were richer than the others. So, how were they treating each other, you know, it was a close community, you know small group, ethnic group, so were the rich Armenians kind of taking care of the poor ones like providing job for them or something like that, I mean–

CA: You know, probably I do not really know but probably. But I do remember a story that was– so Ara Kradjian– and this may have been translated to something totally different than what the reality was but he, you know his family had a level of stature here as he started to grow, and they had got considerable wealth and my father’s younger sister Violet was very beautiful and she was Armenian, and apparently he, I do not know if he had loved her but he had interest in her, and my aunt told me that they were, he was discouraged by his family because they were the poor. And I always felt sad about that. I remember hearing that and thinking my God you people came from the same horrible circumstance and one path let you have wealth and so he– so they never were together and it is kind of tragic story in a way that can be interesting and my aunt she has Alzheimer’s now. So, my fear is that those stories are lost because she does not really have the recollection or it is a different recollection or something now but that was something that made me feel very sad.

AD: It is very sad, you know, you would not think that what happen, interesting. So, and your father went married a non-Armenian person.

CA: Correct, correct. Only one of the children married an Armenian.

AD: Actually, two non-Armenian women, your father married too, right?

CA: Yes, married a Russian, a first generation Russian, Carpathian Russian and the second was my mother. So, yes, they– he married two in fact, so we call it odar it is outsider. So, the only one of my father’s siblings who married an Armenian was his older sister Lora and she married an Armenian ̶ gorian. And he was in the marines and so she had a little bit of different experience but nobody stayed in Binghamton except for my father they left and went all over the country.

AD: So, but you were told that you were Armenian when you were growing ̶ I mean when did you realize what is Armenian as a child?

CA: Well, some of it was not very good. I mean I guess I knew because we would go to my grandmother’s every Sunday and we would have sarma, which is stuffed grape leaves and pilav and the Armenian–

AD: Köfte–

CA: Yes, all of it, yes, I would love to have them–yes excellent food. So, we knew, and it was interesting because my mother was even though she was very white Anglo-WASP would encourage that and she got very involved in the Armenian AGBU, Armenian General Benevolent Union I think it is called, they are the Armenian group. They are not very active here anymore but they are quite active in the nation and so we would go to the Armenian dance and Armenian school on Friday nights. So that was our exposure and then I was probably–one of my earliest recollections was in our neighborhood the families were all very white Anglo-Saxton, Protestant or Catholic and a new family moved in and I went because they had a little boy and our yards were connected and I went down to see him and his family was Italian. And he said, I was very dark-skinned, very– I looked very Armenian, my brothers have a little lighter skin but I looked very Armenian, and he said get out of my yard, you Negro. Like trying to call me a Negro or, you know, Nigger but he said get out of my yard and then his father and mother were very Italian and very discriminating against the Armenians and as I got older we had a lake home in out in Pennsylvania and there were a number of Italians who had lake homes out on this lake and so all the kids would play together but all of the Italian kids would call us Camel Jockey and Sand Nigger ̶

AD: Oh My God, Italians!

CA: Yes, the Italians were horrible to us and I remember going back and saying to my father what is a sand nigger, and he was like–

AD: Sorry, it is just horrible.

CA: Yeah, it is, I mean what I told Alexi, he was like you know ̶ because I said do I tell in the interview, he said absolutely. So, when I was a pre-teen in school kids would say oh are you Italian because if they look and I say yeah and I would lie and I would say that I was Italian because every experience that we were having and, you know they would be very derogatory towards my father and they were all Italian immigrants themselves and it was very interesting to say–

AD: It is interesting because Italians mostly are our complexion and whenever I travel people think I am Italian–

CA: Right that is what–growing up, that is what everybody thought. You’ve a dark hair you are Italian. It was not very diverse–

AD: Because you know not everybody knows who Armenian is. Now there are more people but still, you know, Italians are known with the olive complexion, dark hair–

CA: So, people would say oh you must be Italian–And I would say yes because it just it hurt– it hurt me terribly.

AD: Obviously!

CA: A Camel Jockey, like go get your camel–

AD: I never heard that term before, I know right now, in this century I think Sand Nigger is referred to Middle Easterner by period.

CA: but that is what they– so that is what they called–and but camel jockey was the other one like they would say, and the parents would say it.

AD: Parents! Obviously, they learned from their parents.

CA: Yes.

AD: But openly they say it?

CA: Uh-huh.

AD: That is horrible!

CA: So, I think that is the closest probably we came to being discriminated against really, but it was– it was in my formative years and I found that I would tend to hide my ethnicity then because I was shocked with the reaction. So, but I did not always do that. As I got older I was, you know, I became more committed to be– I identify as Armenian.

AD: But when you were younger–

CA: Yes. Well those experiences happened, and so the next door neighbors were different families and they were very WASPY white and so we had one day in the summer all the kids would come and we had a picnic table and my mom brought outside some food and I had a sarma and the kid said you are eating dog poop, dog doo, it looks like dogs poop, and so they were making fun of us. And we were like it is not dog’s poop, you know and they were having hot dogs my mother brought out the sarma, in the grape leaf and they were like “aaaaah”–that was another thing. It was a little bit unusual I guess–

AD: That is why, you did not want to eat any kind of food–

CA: Not in front of them.

AD: That is right. You would not take it to school for example.

CA: No, no. Not really.

AD: Because I think similar kind of things are still going on like there is still like condescending attitudes toward refugee immigrants– like what they eat or it does not smell good and stuff like that–

CA: But those were the negative impressions I got as a child but– and for a short period of time I was dishonest about my ethnicity in elementary school or, you know, I would say no I am Italian– they say “Are you Italian?” I would say “Yes.” You know, but my last name clearly did not indicate that I was Italian if they knew anything about Armenia they would know I was Armenian based on my last name.

AD: That is right. So, when you were growing up did you have Armenian friends that you played with, spent time with–

CA: So, the only connection that I had with the Armenian kids was when we would go to the Corbett Avenue Church on Friday nights and then I was part of the dance group. We did the Armenian dances and go the Civic Association and so I would say they were friends but we would see them once or twice a month; then the Kradjians were having very big picnic in the summer. They lived over behind the University and they had– they owned the land that the University is on now.

AD: Oh, really?

CA: Oh, yeah, their family home is on the university property.

AD: Oh, there is one home is that their home?

CA: It is theirs. When you coming by Denny’s.

AD: Yeah, I know that house.

CA: So that is where Kenneth and his wife lived until they died in Kenneth had remarried and his wife lived there. But the family still owns that home.

AD: Who lives there right now? I do not know who is there. But I think there was some problem with the new wife and so took them a while but she moved but so they would have a big picnic and all the Armenians would come and they had a pond an area up behind the university and I would remember those days going to that. And then there was an Armenian dance every year that was put on by the AGBU. My mother was very active in organizing that. She was like the one non-Armenian. You know she was odar wife but she was very into that and so I would see them there. But I did not have an extremely strong connection with other Armenian kids because they were not in my neighborhood and they did not go to my school, and so the only way I did was by, you know, my mother taking us to Armenian dance on Friday nights and–

AD: Visiting your grandparents.

CA: Right, right. And my cousins when we would get together, so–

AD: So, you did not learn Armenian growing up?

CA: No, and I cannot speak much of it at all. I got to a point where I could understand some and my grandmother was– used hybrid of Armenian and English. She never was fully one hundred percent fluent English. She would–so but my grandfather spoke seven–spoke and read seven languages. And so, I did not really ever–

AD: I am sure he knew Turkish, your grandfather.

CA: Yes, my grandfather was very fluent in Turkish and, gosh, I am not sure the other languages French, you know–

AD: Probably French because at that time French was a second language in Ottoman Empire and that is the time period that they were sending delegates to Europe and if, you know, look at the Ottoman history those delegates were all Armenian and so because– and even like today what is– what, what is left in Istanbul, the Armenians, although we have more Armenians– Greeks are completely gone, I mean that was like big blow because of the, you know, the war and of the after the WWI when the freedom war and at that time Greece wanted piece of Turkey so that is why like there was this unbelievable hatred towards Greeks, not towards Armenians or Jews. So, that is why they were targeted the most. So, I mean, I think there are only two thousand Greeks in Istanbul anything like thousands of them. So, there is a region in Istanbul still like heavily populated. It is traditional that is their home and they still live in that region, a lot of Armenians, middle class Armenians of course like really rich ones live in other, like, more wealthy areas–

CA: Yeah, we have family that actually landed in Beirut and there is a lot of– in Beirut still to this day.

AD: That like was typical leaving. They all went to Lebanon from Lebanon to France, France to the United States and some stayed in France, they did not leave. So, they did what they got to do, you know, wherever they could get asylum they stayed in that country. So, how about your other siblings, your two older half-sisters and your, you know, blood sisters, how about your siblings, how did they feel about being Armenian?

CA: Um, you know, my oldest sister married an Armenian. She got divorced but she married an Armenian that she met–she was a camp counselor at camp Nubar which was an Armenian camp. And so, she ̶

AD: Where was that camp? Is it still going on?

CA: You know, it may be, I have to ask her I will find out but she went there as a camper, as a younger person and then she became a counselor and her–one of her camp, like campers she supervised, she married his brother. And they were from Long Island. That is how she met him. So, they had two children together. So, my sister is half Armenian because her mother was Russian and her husband was one hundred percent Armenian and Assyrian is their name. And incidentally her father in-law is ninety-nine and lives in Florida and is driving a car and plays softball. He is an athlete. He is an anomaly. He is an amazing person. There is something great. I mean yeah, like I am wow! So, he lives he is still alive. So, they–my sister had two children. My second oldest is a lesbian. She never– she has a life partner of twenty-five years who is from Jamaica actually. So, but she has not been involved with the Armenian community but had a very, had the closest bond with my grandmother of any of us. She was at that age. We were younger, you know, so she had a very close bond with my father. She looked, she looked like me with a dark hair, dark skin and so that is her situation and then my brother Paul has never married but he has been with a woman for twenty-five years who is– I do not– she may be Jewish¬–Koenig. K-O-E-N-I-G is her name. I do not know much about her. He is not really– he does not communicate with the family since my father died.

AD: I see.

CA: So, we do not hear a lot from him. And then my brother Peter who was closest in age to me who lives in Alabama is divorced and he has a fourteen-year-old daughter. And he married a Southern–

AD: Belle.

CA: Yeah, Southern belle Baptist like, yeah, yeah that was an interesting coupling. I am not sure how that happened but it did not last. So, and then me, and then my brother Dan, so, but, you know, that is kind of how we grew up we– Dan did not really have the exposure to the Armenian community because by the time he was growing up, my parents were divorcing and you know the community here has gotten very diluted. People my age many have moved away, you know many of the–there is still some here, and someone you should talk to is Talene Kachadourian. I have some other people that I think might be interested so–

AD: Kachadourian is Jackie–my student is Kachadourian. Her uncle is the surgeon. So, and then her father is the lawyer.

CA: Okay, that is her cousin is Talene. And Talene is younger than me a little bit. But she is very– she identify as almost only Armenian.

AD: So how do you– Talene–

CA: T-A-L-E-N-E. So, you could tell Jackie that her cousin Talene, her father is the surgeon.

AD: Talene’s father is the surgeon.

CA: Talene is the president of the Greater New York Armenian Professional Group.

AD: Oh, really!

CA: It has thousands of people involved. And she is– I do not know how the family gets along–How the cousins get along–

AD: I will check with Jackie. Jackie is– I wish her schedule fit it–I would have brought here extremely sweet girl. I love her to pieces. I mean she is such a nice girl!

CA: Is she related, is Corinne? So how old is Jackie?

AD: Jackie is sophomore right now, nineteen, maximum twenty.

CA: Okay, so she is. So, Jackie is her–

AD: She has an older sister I do not know her name.

CA: Right, but her parent–

AD: Her father is the lawyer.

CA: Right, and her grandfather is a lawyer.

AD: I think so yes.

CA: So, her father– Jackie’s father did Armenian dance and Jackie’s aunt Corinne did Armenian dance with me. So, her parents are my generation.

AD: She is very– I mean, when you see Jackie talk to her and you would never think she has an extremely strong sense of Armenian in her but I interviewed with her and so she really wants to marry an Armenian like extremely pro-Armenian. There is nothing wrong with that. But what I am saying is like after so many generations it is still very strong, so that is like amazing to me.

CA: You know who else did that was Brian Kradjian. So, Brian is our son and Brian is my Brother Dan’s age.

AD: Oh really?

CA: And he dated my niece who was Armenian and it is interesting because he only wanted an Armenian girl. He was with some people that were not but ultimately, he married a Los Angeles Armenian who was from I believe Lebanon. I am not sure where she is from but Alexi met her and totally speaks Russian because she was part of the Soviet– But Brian is another interesting person no I am just going to have you to turn it off for one second if possible–

AD: Okay, so we are back now. So, your first husband was not an Armenian–

CA: No, he was a WASP, very WASP. Shetler was the name. I was young and I was married for a short time. But he–yeah very, very WASPY background.

AD: Okay, and you have how many children?

CA: I have one. So, I was married at twenty-three. I got divorced. I met my second husband, the son of–who was the father of my son. He– Williams, that is my name from, you, know, the time–

AD: That is not Armenian either.

CA: No, no, no. He was Polish. His father was one hundred Polish and his father English. So–

AD: What is your son’s name?

CA: Nathan.

AD: Not Armenian.

CA: No, Nathan David Williams.

AD: Okay, very American, western. So, you did not want to give any Armenian name, not even like middle name?

CA: Yeah, no I did not, I did not– his middle name is his father’s name David. So, no, I did not. I was going to name him after my father, Peter, but my brother Dan, well Peter is younger than my son but it was almost like I was giving my brothers the opportunity to name a boy, Peter Abashian after our father.

AD: I see. So, how about your son? Was he involved in anything Armenian related?

CA: No, not really, he did the only thing is that Corrine, Phil’s daughters he went to school with them; Catholic school and he went to Catholic school. I was a Catholic. But so, he had some exposure in that regard and attended the Armenian dances. That is about it. He has not really had, he did– he is exposed to the food through my father and my family get togethers.

AD: I see.

CA: But he did not– I did not raise him– I mean he did some papers in school about his grandmother and the Armenian Genocide and such but he never really had much connection.

AD: So, but he knows he has an Armenian ancestry?

CA: Oh, absolutely.

AD: So, does he acknowledge that he is partially Armenian like if I meet him and if ask him what is your background is, would he–

CA: Absolutely, he would say my father is Polish and my mother–

AD: is Armenian–

CA: Uh-huh.

AD: So, okay, all right. So, let us see. So other than your grandparents, you did not have like full Armenian–I mean, other than your father obviously but you had like uncles, your great uncles, great aunts, those people were around you too right, Your grandfather’s siblings?

CA: No, no.

AD: I mean no, no. your father’s siblings.

CA: My father’s siblings, yes. So, they were my uncles and aunts yes.

AD: Yeah, yeah. They were around. So, okay, let me see I was thinking something. So, who was talking about what happened to your grandparents? Was it your grandfather– how do you know what their story is– I mean obviously some–

CA: My grandmother shared with her children and her children shared the story and I remember– do you know the card game ishli. I do not know what it is. So, my grandmother used to always want to teach me this ishli. I never knew how to play it. I do not know, but it was something she said she played her whole life as a child with some cards like playing cards. She called it ishli.

AD: I think it is– it must be because that is like really common card game over there. Maybe they were using another name so it is like four people play.

CA: Yeah, I really do not understand how it is played. I used to just pretend because I did not know and I did not– You know, she sometimes struggled with her language so it was difficult and I did not understand Armenian– so, oh, I am sorry I told you only one of my father’s sisters married Armenian. The second one did– married an Armenian doctor. So, she also was very– She was the one who– I am going to give you– I can send this to you via email but she penned this poem that talks about her grandmother’s death and how her– she sacrificed her sons on Musa Dagh (Turkish: Musa Dağı) and you know the story is that the survivors were rescued by a French ̶ They held sheets over the edge of the cliff that said SOS and they were– and it is a very interesting story but I just wanted to show you just something I took the picture of this morning two other things I took pictures of just to show you. So here is the family. This is my father ̶

AD: Oh, that is wonderful.

CA: This is a picture we have in our home but, so he was white, very white, pale. My grandmother I look similar to her. And so, this is them and this is their family. So here is Sarah, she married an Armenian doctor from Pennsylvania. This is Steve, he married a Southern belle. This is my father Peter. So, this is my lineage right here. This is my grandmother and to think that she really was not thirty years old here she looks so old to me, you know, they are just amazing and this is– so Sarah, this is Lora, this Is Alec, and this is Rose and Violet was not even born when this picture was taken. So, here they are with six of their seven children. But this was– this is a classic photo.

AD: Yeah, probably all those birds and the lifestyle that is why she aged, you know what I mean?

CA: Yeah, she was an old soul when she came here. You know, what she survived.

AD: Giving birth to six children and you did not even know if she lost any in between.

CA: Right, right we do not know that. But this is the memorial to my grandmother I will send this to you and then I will make the copy of it but it is the poem of my aunt Sarah the oldest girl. She was the one who most connected with our Armenian heritage and our parents. And it is just a beautiful, beautiful haunting and she never met her obviously because she died but it is– but I will share that you with something that I have on my will.

AD: So, your grandmother told some stories to her children like what had happened like to her family. How about your grandfather, was he also like sharing anything?

CA: I think he was quieter. He would share some with his children but honestly the majority of the verified history comes from my uncle in his travels. He was a physicist, a world renowned physicist and he did work in Yerevan, and he has done a significant amount of research and if I show you this video, give you this video I have it on CD, DVD, you will see everything that he learned and he told us the story and there is documented histories that some of my cousins and their spouses had continued to tell and it is like these documented things that keep getting added to. So, but the stories started with my grandparents but my uncle being– he was then professor Emeritus and the Virginia Tech and he did– so he documented a lot for the rest of it– he did, he did and we were close but we have video of him telling the story and with a map and you know here–we are all sitting there its out at our camp so I would be happy to share it with you because it is–

AD: Yeah that gives the family history, absolutely. So, is there anything like left over from your grandmother like anything like represents, like for example you have this poem you cherish, like anything like did she do anything like whatever, handmade ̶

CA: Crochet, she did– she learnt that here was not really Armenian style–

AD: It is here.

CA: It is something here but I do have and I do not wear it much it is an eighteen-carat gold bangle. She had two when she came here; bracelet that I have had repaired it a number of times. It is soft gold but I wore it a lot, but it is a beautiful–

AD: Do you know what it is called because of the carat.

CA: Right, the high quality, and I have had it repaired; it is a cool thing I will be happy to show you, you know but there–

AD: So, she came with that.

CA: She had two of them when she came with them and my cousin has the other one. My sister has other artifacts, like my grandfather’s prayer beads, these special beads. There are certain things that we had but not too much tangible and intangible but my sister has a lot of photographs, we have, you know we have numbers of them but so yeah, I would be happy to give you photos and–

AD: So, you met them right your grandparents?

CA: Oh, yes, yes. So, they lived in Binghamton until maybe 1972.

AD: So, you were still young?

CA: Well– eleven, twelve–they moved out with my aunt in California and then they died there as they got older but we spent a lot of time with them when I was young.

AD: So, do you remember their house?

CA: Uh-huh. They lived down Mathew Street in Binghamton.

AD: So, like when you entered the house did it look like any other American house or was it different?

CA: Yeah, it did. It did. It was American looking. I remember the smell.

AD: Okay, so it smelt different right?

CA: It did. It smelled like lamb, yeah. I mean I remember that smell. And when I smell it I have a neighbor who is Lebanese and when she– I smell and it is like [gasps] you know because it is not–yeah–

AD: Smell is one of the important– it triggers our memory that is for sure. So, but not because like, I do not know the way they decorated the house or–

CA: Yeah, it was just more various plain simple nothing, nothing overly–so they had pictures of two famous paintings, I remember, the blue boy, the guy– I have to find them for you I do not know what they are but you know every American home has them. Like some kind of you know, they were fake and you call two things and it is interesting do you know this story about when all the men were gone this book–

AD: Yes, yes.

CA: So, my grandparents had a radio on Clinton Street and were referencing this book. So, this book I actually gave to an alumni era but those are reference to my family–

AD: Who is the author? Do you know the author?

CA: Yes, Alexi is very close with the guy Ron Capalaces.

AD: Really?

CA: He is– this is fascinating. Have you read this book?

AD: No, I have not.

CA: So, I am– these are my campus copies but Alexi will give you this book to read we have a few copies at home so you can read it. And it is all about growing up in the first world and when this book came out I felt like I was getting a glimpse into my father’s growing up on Clinton Street, and it is a story about in the first world war I told you all the immigrants lived, and when the men went to war and what it was like for these young boys, and this is– so, I cannot remember what page it is on– it is more towards the beginning. It is very simple writing. It is not academic at all. It is a –he tells a great story–

AD: But that is a memoire.

CA: Yeah.

AD: Yeah, I love that kind of work.

CA: On the street the native languages are various first worlders filled the shops, grocery stores and bars. From Slovak and Polish to Russian Lithuanian blah blah blah. There is a reference of them going into the Abashian’s apartment on Clinton Street and listening to the radio–

AD: That is your–

CA: That is my father’s–

AD: House?

CA: Yeah, it was the apartment that he was born on Clinton Street–

AD: Wow!

CA: And it was interesting they were so poor but they had a radio, you know.

AD: Wow! Yeah.

CA: There is a reference to it here. Alexi can tell you everything about it and he will loan you a copy, the book it is very fascinating. But it is not a lot about Armenians– but it is only references.

AD: Probably we have it in special collections, if it is local history–

CA: Right you might–

AD: Yeah, I can just grab it from the stacks and look at it. So, who is this Ronald?

CA: Ron Capalaces, he was a guy who is younger than my father but he lives in North Caroline now and he just told his story of his childhood. I mean he had a different career. He was not a writer. This would have been the last ten years.

AD: He’s just retired?

CA: Yeah, and decided he wanted to tell the story and it is a fascinating– and I give this as gifts to all alumni graduates where an eight years old who grew up in the first world and who are so moved emotionally moved by it they live all over the country you know and they give us money to support, you know, alumni and support the campus so we give those to them.

AD: Oh, yeah. So, do you cook Armenian food?

CA: So, one staple that we cook all of the time is Armenian rice pilaf and I do it because I like it but Alexi loves it and he wants it when he is not eating potatoes because he is Russian. [laughs] He eats potatoes all the time. He loves pilaf. So, it is the one staple, and we do– the only time I cook Armenian food is when we get together as a family. We make shish kebab. We do the köfte, fasulye is– my sister is an expert in it. We do this, sarma, dolma. We also– my family and I am not sure it was really my grandmother would make matsun on the counter, the yogurt. So, this was an interesting thing is that she came with a jar of starter, you know how when you make yogurt, you use the pre– and she in her entire life made matsun with the starter that came and it was this– so she brought it with her. It was like bringing a piece of her family and she gave some to my mother and my mother would make it and then you know put it and scald the milk put the starter in it, put on the counter. My grandmother would put her sweater around the bowl, wrap it with a towel and then put a sweater and button the sweater up. It was a very fascinating thing and would sit on the counter. So, I eat a lot of plain yogurt.

AD: Me too.

CA: We do, because we were raised on it. So that is one staple. That and pilaf are regular staples in my diet.

AD: And it is very digestive, if you have like a bad stomach–

CA: I do actually– I do.

AD: Yeah, that is the way to go. Oh, so that is interesting. So, who taught you how to cook Armenian food?

CA: So, my grandmother taught my mother and my mother taught me and my aunts, you know, when get together in the family groups. We had so many more get together. My father and his siblings would all get together at least once to twice a year in Binghamton and all the kids would come and all my cousins and it would be all Armenian food. So–

AD: And çörek right?

CA: Right. She did not make that too much, she made some other things. Some of the stuff I have because of the Armenian Church, you know they’ve sales, you know they have the– but my grandmother– one of my cousins put together some recipes from my grandmother’s, you know, how they made, you know, it was interesting because it was not measure, you know, he was like [making a sound] you do this [making a sound] you know, and she would say get this much– this was not really– but different kind of breads and rolls and different, you know, things but– so– but we do not do it often enough, you know, we do like once a year when we get together in the summer and we make everything but–

AD: So, have you ever wondered like where your ancestor came from? Did you–like–did you want to go back and see? After it is very safe right now?

CA: You know– yeah, I mean right now, I would not but there was a time in my life like I did. I mean my aunt Sarah the oldest did a lot of travel in Lebanon, and you know, the artist Guiragossian?

AD: Uh-huh?

CA: My aunt was close with him. I do not know, but my sister has some very big valuable Guiragossian pieces that were my aunt’s. And one when he painted of her. I do not know what the relationship there was but you know–

AD: Artists, you never know right?

CA: Yeah, you know. But she spent a lot of time with him like in France and you know it is just something just made me think of that, but my aunt spent a lot of time and my uncle did a lot, the physicist, did a lot with sharing with us about his travel to Yerevan, he was helping them with some physicist related things or super some kind of collider thing to help stir the Armenian economy with technical things. And so, he Hovnanian actually to as he who travelled with there, and they Hovnanian supported all of kind things like orphanages and schools and everything and then my uncle also did a lot of that. And I cannot remember the relationship that we have a relation to previous Armenian president; my family, I do not know what the relationship is, it may be in that video but so it is another interesting story.

AD: Yeah, that is interesting. I think Yerevan is okay to travel.

CA: Yeah, actually my niece went there with her friends. She is very connected with her Armenian heritage. She is also gay. She is– but she speaks Armenian. They went to Armenian school, you know, in Long Island up to six grade but she went and she– they had a horrible experience because she got sick and the environment and the town in which they went, and she had to go to the hospital because she got, you know, like a belly bug and she needed to get some IV but it was very primitive and she had a horrible experience but– and her partner is Armenian.

AD: From the US.

CA: So, she– her parents are from, yes, she is from LA area but her parents are first generation– maybe they lived in Armenia, might’ve been part of the Los Angeles settlement but they would probably love to talk to you and they are young. They are very involved with the gay Armenian network.

AD: It does not matter– I would love to!

CA: They are young people. So, I mean they are in their thirties and very well-connected.

AD: I mean the thing is this project is not–it is like really third, fourth generation. So, like how– you know, how it was like growing up here what stayed, what did not stay. So, language is the very first thing is out of the picture, not just for Armenian community, for every immigrant communities. The very first thing people lose is the language.

CA: Now, Lata grew up speaking Armenian and her parents speak it. So, she is extremely fluent.

AD: But that is like one special case, and so that would be great if she would talk to me– even you know we can do skype interview. I do a lot of skype interviews. So, they need to like go anywhere, or we can just talk on skype.

CA: They would love to talk to you about it.

AD: That would be great.

CA: It is interesting that they are– of their generation– our children’s generation– they are the most connected.

AD: That is like really interesting.

CA: Her mother has not connected really but she is.

AD: So that is interesting like how it skipped a generation and the started again. So that– I would love to talk to her if she wants–

CA: She would absolutely want to talk to you. She just got back from the Washington march. She is out of her mind crazy. She is so upset. She cannot even speak. She is like, you know, she is not speaking to her father right now.

AD: Wow.

CA: It is that bad. Yeah.

AD: So, what happened to your parents? So, they got divorced, are they– is anyone alive?

CA: No, they are both dead. So, my parents got divorced when I had gone away to school and–

AD: Where did you go to school?

CA: So, I went away in my high school–senior of high school to a private college preparatory school in New Hampshire. And then I went to Hartwick College for two years and then I got sick, I actually came home. I had gotten sick. I have a Crohn’s disease, it is a bowel disease, so I ended up coming home because I had a major surgery and I withdrew from school and then I finished one class at a time in Binghamton and I worked in my father’s business. I worked with him.

AD: I see.

CA: So, my parents got divorced and then my father remarried a third time– a woman–

AD: Another non-Armenian?

CA: Non-Armenian. They got whiter by the minute they got white WASPY southern this last one was more Southern and she– they did not stay together but so it is an interesting story but, so yeah, they divorced and my mother died in two thousand and two. Actually, right before I met Alexi she died. She had lung cancer and she died. She was sixty-six, young.

AD: Very young.

CA: Yeah, young and my father had, he died at eighty-two, six years ago, in Florida. So, it has been a big that was difficult, oh, because Alexi was very close with my father.

AD: Oh, really!

CA: He does not have an overly close relationship with his father but he is getting there now, you know, because his mother raised him. His parents split when he was two. So, he was– he became very attached to my father. And spent summers with him, at the lake house and you know, just a very, very good relationship. So, we have in the last six years now, since he has been gone, it has been very– it is hard, you know.

AD: Oh, yeah, I can imagine. So, you were really close to your father?

CA: Yes, yes, I was close to both of my parents, very close. So–

AD: Yeah, that must be sad.

CA: It is hard because something happens– are your parents– either of your parents living?

AD: My father died when I was seven years old, yeah but thank God my mom is still with us knock on wood so– yeah so, she is eighty-two years old and so that is the reason I go to Turkey every summer and then my daughter, also, she loves spending time with her. So, every summer we go there and always kind of like so she is, I mean she is like waiting for us to arrive and it was sad to leave her behind because–

CA: She does not want to come?

AD: She came when my daughter was born to help me and– but, you know, when you are old, although, a lot of her friends are dead now, but still it is her own environment–

CA: Well, Alexi’s mother came here last year and it did not work.

AD: Did she go back?

CA: Yeah. She did and she said Russia might be terrible but it is all I know–you know there is a lot of complicated factors but it is–there is a guy actually he is married to the daughter of one of my neighbors and he taught here, he is math. And he is Turkish and his mother will not come here, and she is very old and he travels and she will not come here and we were having this conversation–

AD: Someone from Turkey teaches math here–

CA: Right, he just retired but he is, he is in Binghamton. Yeah, he lives in Binghamton and his wife is Italian, married to Italian. They grew up in Australia interestingly enough but–

AD: Okay, so a lot of Turkish people migrated to Australia like after they stopped going Germany they started to go to Australia. You know Australia takes a lot of immigrants, a lot of Greeks, I think more Greeks went to Australia than Turks. So, there are some Kurds too. So apparently, his family migrated to–

CA: Well, actually his mother still lives in Turkey. She lives in the South in a beautiful like almost tropical beautiful area–

AD: Mersin probably.

CA: Yeah, so she still lives there but his wife’s–his wife was born there they live in Binghamton but Tony is Italian but the Italians settled in Australia, I do not know how the whole thing worked out.

AD: A lot of Italian– so he did not settle in–his family did not settle in Australia. I know there are a lot of Greeks, Italians, and Turks migrated there because they were taking all these immigrants in the sixties. So, what is his name?

CA: I cannot remember his name but her father’s name is Marcello. I can find out. I can find out who he is.

AD: No that is okay. I am not very connected with Turkish community. I mean, I never even knew there was a Turkish professor here teaching math, I had no idea.

CA: Yeah and he was here a lot of years he just retired because I talked to him this fall when he was across the street visiting the– so– I have to go to the ladies’ room.

AD: Yeah, yeah. No that is fine! I think that is it. We really covered it all.

CA: Thank you.

AD: Well, thank you so much and then I will just end this. Let me just stop it.

(End of Recording)

Date of Interview



Aynur de Rouen


Catherine Abashian

Biographical Text

Cathy was born in Binghamton to Armenian and Irish-English-German parents. She attended Hartwick College and later graduated from Binghamton University. After graduating, she worked for her father at his company. Cathy has one son, Nathan.





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Binghamton University

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Interview Format


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This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as Armenian Oral History Project, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries for more information.


Armenians; Community; Family; Endicott Johnson Shoe Factory; Massacre; Church; Food; Culture; Dance; Discrimination; AGBU; Turkey; Ottoman Empire; Binghamton.



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About this Collection

Collection Description

This collection includes interviews in English with informants of all ages and a variety of backgrounds from various parts of Armenia. The interviews provide deeper insight into the history of the Armenian culture through personal accounts, narratives, testimonies, and memories of their early lives in their adoptive country and… More

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“Interview with Catherine Abashian,” Digital Collections, accessed April 25, 2024,