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Dolores Rogers

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Armenian Oral History Project
Interview with: Dolores Rogers
Interviewed by: Gregory Smaldone
Transcriber: Cordelia Jannetty
Date of interview: 4 April 2016
Interview Setting: Phone Interview
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(Start of Interview)

0:01
GS: This is Gregory Smaldone with the Armenian Oral History Project being conducted at Binghamton University within the Special Collection’s Library. Would you please state your name and a little bit about yourself for the record?

0:14
DR: Sure. My name is Dolores Rogers formerly Vartabedian. And I am sorry?

0:22
GS: Please continue. Please continue.

0:25
DR: And I am what I believe to be one hundred percent Armenian. I was born and raised in New Jersey, now living in Bethesda, Maryland and I am sixty-seven years old.

0:43
GS: Okay, can you tell me a little bit about your parents please?

0:46
DR: My what, I am sorry you breaking up a little bit.

0:54
GS: Your parents please.

0:55
DR: My parents, my parents– well story goes, legend goes my mother was born and raised in East Orange, New Jersey. She is one of three girls that were born and raised in New Jersey. My grandparents, my mother’s parents were from Tokat, which is formally Armenian which I believe now is part of Turkey. And they were victims of the Armenian genocide. My mother was born in 1921. My father, we were told he was born in Brooklyn, New York but later after his death through other fables and conversations with family members we found out that my father was born in Turkey during the genocide and my grandmother, his mother, escaped Turkey with my father as an infant and came through Ellis Island to her brothers and friends who took her in in Brooklyn, New York. And then hence my father was raised.

2:14
GS: Okay, did your parents speak Armenian?

2:17
DR: My mother and father spoke fluent Armenian. Unfortunately, they did not let it trickle onto my sister and myself, my sister being Margaret. I think that they enjoyed having a second language in the house where they could speak another language my sister and I would not understand. My sister and I both spoke it quite well as very young children. We attended church and Armenian language classes but never carried it through the years hence we lost it.

2:55
GS: How frequently would you two attend Armenian language classes and for how long?

3:01
DR: Oh, my grandfather on my mother’s side was the head deacon at the church in Irvington, New Jersey. And every single Sunday from as early as I can remember, he was there dragging my sister and I, out of, out of bed and into his Nash rambler and off we went to church. So, my sister and I each were members of the church very early on. We went to Armenian school on Saturdays, we went to Sunday school on Sundays and we sang in the choir, we taught classes in the Sunday school classes and to this day even now I do not speak Armenian language, I can sing the two-and-a-half-hour Armenian what we call the Badarak. In language without a book so that I am proud of.

4:02
GS: It is wonderful. Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood first of all, what would you say was your main kinship group? Would you say you mainly hung out with Armenians or with non-Armenians or some combination thereof?

4:16
DR: It was a combination but I would say was strongly on the Armenian side because we attended church so religiously on Saturdays and Sundays and my parents were very close to their cousins, their siblings, of course and their, cousins. And our main form of entertainment often times was visiting the cousins and my mother’s– my parents’ cousins; hence my cousin’s and we visited one another’s homes quite often. And music was always part of the evening. My mother played the piano, another uncle played the violin, one played the accordion and my aunts would sing the Armenian songs in the– from the Armenian service at church songs, so that was Armenian form of entertainment. I think the family- no- I know that family was the number form of entertainment and the school friends would trickle beyond.

5:30
GS: Would you say that your Armenian and non-Armenian friends were overlapping groups or would you hang out with one then the other?

5:39
DR: They were very separate.

5:41
GS: Very separate? Why was that?

5:46
DR: Well, you know living now in the Washington D.C. area when someone asks me what my nationality is, my heritage, my culture; I can say Armenian and they immediately get it. But sixty years ago, in New Jersey when people asked me what I was and I would say– respond Armenian. The common and dominant response was what is that. So, very often because there– because I was fluent in our language and I would say our customs were unlike my school friends, the neighborhood friends. So, there was a divide.

6:36
GS: How did that make you feel growing up about your identity?

6:42
DR: I ̶ gosh, that is a good question, I have not thought about this for years, I felt the sense of discomfort and that was sort of passed on because I know distinctly that my mother was so adamant about telling my sister and I to get involved, to join the girls scout, to join the student council, to get involved to be a cheer leader or play in the band, anything, everything, because my grandfather would not commit my mother and her sisters to engage with other– the outsiders, the non-Armenians of the neighborhood. So, I was uncomfortable. I would say I felt distinctly different. I mean the name Vartabedian was changed for the sake of that. For some odd reason it was changed to Wartman by my grandfather on my father’s side. And you know going to church as a Wartman when it should have been Vartabedian this is a very clear sense of discomfort that it gave me for years.

8:09
GS: What would you say you identify as and would you say that identity is changed over the course of your life?

8:17
DR: Well, now I live in the heart of the D.C metro region and I am very active with the Armenian Church both as a volunteering as a part time, office administrator. I am quite thrilled to see how proud these young Armenians and young Armenian families are of their heritage, of their custom of their language and most of all of their names. I mean if you think about a very famous artist Arshile Gorky. He was an abstract expressionist who came– whose mother and his family suffered the consequences of the Armenian Genocide and when he came over the US and he joined in with others like Eastern, Western European artist. He immediately changed his name to something that had more of a Russian twist to it so that he could be accepted. That kind of stigma no longer prevails here. I am proud to say. But again, I live in a very multi-cultural area of the US. I do not know how it is in rural areas.

9:39
GS: So, what do you identify as?

9:42
DR: Oh, truly as an Armenian. Actually, my name now, although it is Dolores Rogers, whenever I can I put that name Vartabedian in between Dolores and Rogers. I am Armenian, and proud of it.

10:02
GS: What was the highest of education you achieved?

10:06
DR: My MBA at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

10:11
GS: And what has been your main occupation?

10:17
DR: Marketing leader in corporate environment.

10:22
GS: Okay, moving onto your adult life, did you marry or have children?

10:27
DR: Yes. I am married, married and divorced. I have twin sons.

10:34
GS: Is your husband Armenian?

10:36
DR: No, he is Irish.

10:38
GS: He is Irish. Was it important for you or for your parents that you marry an Armenian growing up?

10:45
DR: It was not as important to me because again I was in that mindset of not fully identifying then an Armenian. My parents were a little flexible. I think they would have preferred me to marry an Armenian then but it just did not really happen that way.

11:09
GS: Did your children grow up attending Armenian Church? Did they learn Armenian as children?

11:17
DR: No, we had– my ex-husband raising the boys in the church environment was as important to him as it was to me. But we flipped the coin because in Roman Catholic church, he was brought up as a Roman Catholic, we had a Roman Catholic Church in our neighborhood, walking distance two blocks from our home. The Armenian Church was thirty-two miles from our home. And we decided to raise the boys in the Roman Catholic Church and they went through CCP classes. They had their holy communion and their confirmation and they still follow, well one of the twins is raising his daughter, my granddaughter, in the Catholic Church with his wife. And I am working with my other twin here in the metro region to raise my two grandsons, have them baptized in the Armenian Church here in D.C.

12:27
GS: Okay, did you try and maintain a sense of Armenian traditional heritage in your household as your children were growing up in a way other than religious?

12:39
DR: Absolutely, absolutely yes. And that was still easy to do because I was very, my parents were very involved and active in helping me raising my boys because I divorced when they were ten years old. So, the cooking was always was there. The music was always there when there was the church function at the Armenian Church I would deliberately take the boys there so that they could appreciate the culture. The language we would use in my parents household as well but I would say that the food is probably, the Armenian food is top of their list.

13:21
GS: For you what is the most important part of your Armenian identity?

13:32
DR: I think our survival and our pride.

13:35
GS: So, for you it is a sense of being part of the community?

13:40
DR: Do I feel the sense of being part of the community?

13:43
GS: No, no I am saying, for you– is it that for your identity is tied to being part of the community?

13:52
DR: Well, that is in the smallest scale. The grander scale is you have ties that go back to the year of 1915. My grandparents– all three of them that I knew– were direct victims of and escapees from the genocide, which we just celebrated last year one hundred years, and so, that, that is a common bond that Armenians of all ages has. And more personally today in a closer circle is my identity and my connection, my direct link to the Armenian community. Because we have got almost the melting pot if you will as much as we are all Armenians and we just kind of had a discussion about this this in Church on Easter Sunday. I was sitting at a table with all Armenians. So, I am an Armenian from New Jersey. There was an Armenian who is from Georgia sitting next to me, another one from Egypt, another from Turkey, and another from Syria. So, as much as they are, we are all from different countries, our number one identity we all agreed is that we are Armenians.

15:21
GS: Can you tell me, are you involved within the Armenian-American organizations where you live now?

15:29
DR: Well with the Church I am. I am involved with the Parish Council, the Women’s Guild, there are other organizations that are larger than that and they are business networking events that we attend, Armenian Assemblies that we attend. It is a little of a common bond.

GS: Can you tell me about your work with the Women’s Guild?

DR: Well, the Women’s Guild is quite ambitious and kind of the pulse of the Armenian Church. These women are an army of volunteers to raise money for the church through their divine cooking and baking skills and acting as host to many luncheons and dinners, and so I help out in the kitchen when I can. And none of them have the recipes. It all comes from their heads, they are quite amazing. So, I help out there where I can. I think I have more of a common bond with the members of the Parish Council because they are the business minds, you know, the CEOs, the CFOs and treasures and so that is kind of my scale of skills set and we work on various projects for fundraisings for the church and an awareness of my duty and raise membership in the church.

17:09
GS: What are your views on the Armenian Diaspora? Do you see it as a singular entity? Do you see it as several isolated communities? Do you think it is something that is a temporary entity? Do you think that Armenians trying to go back to the homeland?

17:28
DR: That is such an interesting question Gregory because just this past week on Sunday, I was not in church on Sunday, but there was the Ambassador for eminent or for excellence, a woman who is in charge of the Armenian Diaspora from the Republic of Armenia. Now, I tried to pin down what her mission was exactly today. And it is something about connecting the Republic of Armenia; people, citizens with those who are coming here to the US, right, and are scattered around and about. I think what they are trying to do is kind of a unification, and create one board − I mean the quality of Armenia from what I understand although I am ashamed to say I have never been there, but it is number one in my bucket list. The Armenians from like 1988 and 1990 where they experienced the earthquake and then it no longer became Soviets Socialist of Republic, so the, you know, the Russians dumped Armenian and it was really, really hard for Armenians to turn their economy around. Many Armenians, many Russian Armenians will say today that they preferred Armenian when the Russians were in control because they had more opportunity or definition about their employment and their healthcare etc. So, Armenia was not really quiet in desperate of financial straits. Now it has gotten a little bit stronger but I will tell you many, many people are leaving the country, coming to the US for you know bigger opportunities. I mean this is not even part of the–you know the Syrian Armenian immigration issue that is a whole other effort. But I see many Armenians, many young Armenian women are looking for Armenian–many women Armenian in Armenia are looking for Armenian men here in the US who would bring them over, marry them and make them, you know, outright citizens of the US because they perceive it as a country the streets are paved with gold?

20:12
GS: Do you see a level of integration with new wave of Armenian immigrants or do you see a divide forming between those Armenians who have roots going back several generations in America and those who are more recent?

20:27
DR: Yeah, that is a good question Gregory because it is– I think it is an economic issue. Okay, not to say that there is stigma on those who cannot afford. There are many Armenian’s who have come immediately to the D.C metro region who are very skillful, very educated, almost over educated, they come to the US they get opportunities within the State Department. Lots of that is going on. Okay, so when you are at that level, you know that you are kind of I guess the onlookers are revered. You know, you kind of revered, you just like oh my, and it looking at him, he has got PhD, he got an MD, and he is working for the government et cetera, et cetera. then there are those who come to this country have got relative who are bringing them in and they are desperate for opportunities. They come in and offer themselves as nannies to help us you know cleaning service. You know I am coming from the vantage point of we are at church and we are here to help them. But is there a divide? Absolutely, absolutely a divide. These women and men, young couples are coming with their children deliberately getting their children injected into the school system here in hopes that their children will have a better opportunity to grow within our institutions and take advantage of a job opportunities going forward.

22:10
GS: What role do you see Armenian-American organizations playing in trying to bridge the divide between recently arrived immigrants and multi-generational Armenian-Americans?

22:31
DR: My point of view– many of the few Armenian organizations that I am aware of– not affiliated with the church but are independent Armenian organizations. They are very politically focused. It is about strategy. It is about– it is all that−massacres− that goes on, lobbying for this and for that, trying to get you know the current administration, the White House, to use genocide word to denounce any activity that is going on in Turkey. There is still a lot of this anger with the Turkish government in these politically and strategically minded Armenian organizations. Their focus on uniting, unification of the peoples. I do not sense that there is platform.

23:38
GS: Do you think that the American-Armenian Diaspora is going stronger or do you think it is at risk of losing its identity?

23:49
DR: Oh, I think it is growing stronger and again because I am so connected, you know I am woven into the fabric of the Church and my pastor who is a young man, of maybe forty-four, he is very sound, very great obviously compassionate but always interested in getting and he has many leaders visiting D.C. So, he gets lots of speaker in opportunities and engagers who want a platform, who want a podium time in front of the congregation to speak their thing so, I would say that within Armenian Community yes there is here in D.C. There is concerns and interest with that. And I think that is also dictated by the Eastern Diocese Church in Manhattan, the Archbishop Barsamian [Khajag Barsamian]. He is a very sharp, very kind but a brilliant lobbyist for that and he is the PR icon for that cause as well, who is dominant, it is definitely dominant in the minds.

25:18
GS: Okay, it looks like I’ve gone through all of our questions. Thank you very much.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

4/4/2016

Interviewer

Gregory Smaldone

Interviewee

Dolores Rogers

Biographical Text

Dolores is a very active member of the Armenian Church. She volunteers as office administrator and is on the Parish Council and helps with the Women's Guild. She received her MBA at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Currently, she resides in DC and has two sons.

Duration

25:22

Language

English

Digital Publisher

Binghamton University

Interview Format

Audio

Rights Statement

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.

Keywords

Armenians;Turkey; Armenian genocide; Church; Armenian language school; Music; Identity; Food; Women's guild; Diaspora; Family; New Jersey.

Files

Citation

“Dolores Rogers,” Digital Collections, accessed July 6, 2022, https://omeka.binghamton.edu/omeka/items/show/607.