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Interview with Lynn Jamie Arifian

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Armenian Oral History Project
Interview with: Lynn Jamie Arifian
Interviewed by: Gregory Smaldone
Transcriber: Cordelia Jannetty
Date of interview: 18 April 2016
Interview Settings: Phone interview

(Start of Interview)

GS: this is Gregory Smaldone with the Armenian Oral History Project being conducted at Binghamton University through the Special Collections Library. Will you please state your name for the record?

LJ: My name is Lynn Jamie Arifian. I am saying this for a reason. [laughs]

GS: How old are you and where were you born?

LJ: I am sixty-nine years old and I was born in Queens, New York.

GS: Is that where you grew up?

LJ: That is where I grew up. I grew up in Rego Park and Floral Park.

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

LJ: My parents– Oh yes– My mother was a genocide survivor. She went through a multitude of sadness and as a result of that and a lot of health issues as a result. She survived with half of her family. Unfortunately she lost her father, older sibling and actually younger sibling as well. She and her mother and two sisters walked what they call Deir ez-Zor which was a desert to– Actually a march, they were on a march that the Turks oversaw and of course it was a lot of unkindness during that march and they survived. They were able to eventually get to Aleppo in Syria where my grandmother had to put the girls in an orphanage and they went through a lot even there too. My mother became ill. She lost an eye. There were a lot of things that were really difficult for them but she survived as did the two sisters and two other brothers and my grandmother was able to get everybody to America eventually and with the help of relatives that had already come here years before and anyway, so that was my mother. My father's family escaped all of that thank God, because they knew things were not comfortable in Armenia, and they were able to leave and go to Cairo, Egypt. They kind of– the whole family, thank God, they all made it there and where my grandfather worked as a jeweler and my father's family because was educated there and then came to America and continued their education here. So a little bit different story thank God they did not suffer the way my mom's family did.

GS: What was the highest level of education each of your parents achieved?

LJ: Well, it was wonderful my father actually went to Columbia University and became an architect and my mother with the help of an older brother went to school and became a dental hygienist. So they went beyond the high school level you know, I believe it was three years of school for dental hygiene and my father went through four years of college.

GS: Okay, and so they were an architect and a dental hygienist, as their main profession?

LJ: At that time, yes, when they first came here and they were able to get jobs that was–yes, those were their careers. Then the depression came, things changed a little bit. It became a little bit difficult–

GS: What were their careers when you were growing up?

LJ: Growing up my mom became a home maker she did not work any longer and my father became a lithographer. He–architecture kind of–after the depression there was really no need to be building new buildings–there were doing other things that were more important, he was not involved in that so through Armenians in the photoengraving business he got a job as a lithographer which involved, you know this is where I am kind of ignorant, it had to do with the designs of the cards, with the printing and how to, you know, present the final draft whatever. I am not even sure what he did. It sounds terrible but I was never, I am not and I was not then either. So and he supported us, he worked for a company called Norcross Cards, you have probably never even heard of them but they were a big company like Walmart is today at that time.

GS: Was your mom a homemaker because your parents were conforming to traditional gender roles or was it more than equal partnership and they decided to delegate their responsibilities that way?

LJ: I think it was gender role, definitely with my father. It was an old world family. I think he felt the woman's place was home to make sure the food was on the table, the children were taken care of etc.

GS: Okay. I am assuming that both of your parents spoke Armenian?

LJ: Yes they did.

GS: Did they–

LJ: Interestingly enough, yeah go ahead Greg ask the question, I will tell you something, go ahead go ahead go ahead

GS: Did you and your siblings attend Armenian school; did you grow up speaking Armenian??

LJ: Okay. I have a younger brother, alright, and in the very beginning when we were–when I was very little, when I was actually born through my, I guess, five-six years of age, they spoke Armenian which brought my brother to about two years of age. I had to enter school. There was a problem with language. So my father must have made the decision because they both spoke English. They were educated. They said you know hereafter we have to speak more English around the children so they do not have that problem when they go to school. So they began to then speak more English than Armenian. I kept the language meaning I still can understand a lot of it and can speak some of it. My brother ended up receiving nothing. Now as a result, when the Holy Martyr’s Parish was started, they decided to enroll us both in both Armenian school and Sunday school. We were made to attend both.

GS: An Armenian school was a Saturday school?

LJ: It was a Saturday school. It has always been a Saturday school, yes.

GS: And where was the school held and where was the bible school?

LJ: When I started Armenian school it was already in the church building, Sunday school was not–Sunday school they begin–

GS: Which church building? Is this Holy Martyrs?

LJ: –Sunday school earlier. I went to Flushing YMCA before the church was built for Sunday school. Then once the church was built and there was both schools we attended those in the church complex.

GS: You are referring to the Holy Martyrs Church in Bayside?

LJ: Yeah. Holy Martyrs Church in Bayside. Correct.

GS: Okay. So when you were growing up, would you say that your kinship group was mainly Armenians, mainly non-Armenians or did you have some mix of both?

LJ: Oh I had a mix. I had community friends–life was different then–everybody lived on streets where everybody was literally on top of one another [laughs]. And I had, you know, community friends as a result that you know went to my school, public school etc. and my junior high and my high school and I had Armenian friends, lot of them also because of my involvement with the church. I had– It was both and to this day remains that way. I hold friendships from my school years and my old community and we were very close. And Armenian absolutely, many of my Sunday school friends are my best friends you know so in ACYOA, there is the other thing, they started a youth organization and–my parents made sure we joined them as well. So, we were immersed Greg–we were immersed.

GS: Were your Armenian friends and your non-Armenian friends, two separate groups or were they intermingling?

LJ: You know, it was funny. I intermingled them. I personally brought all my friends together. If I had a party, everybody was there. If there was something going on at church I actually brought my non-Armenian friends as well. I had a Jewish girlfriend and a Greek girlfriend in particular that I was very close with and they came to a lot of the events with me and they actually dated some Armenians. I–well–I brought them all together–I liked it. It was fun. Everybody had a good– everybody got along, it was nice.

GS: What kinds of traditions if any, did your parents try and maintain in the household?

LJ: Um, traditions–certainly the foods you know, our table was Armenian influenced, was not anything else.

GS: In what way can you describe some of the foods?

LJ: Yeah, you know things like, I do not know if you are familiar with it, dolma which was, you know, a stuffed vegetable with meat and a rice, a börek which was a cheese pastry, çörek which was a bread, simit which was a cookie, I mean it goes on and on. You know, eggplant dishes, imam bayıldı, pilaki which is a bean type of dish. It was constantly on the table. I do not remember a meal without having some Armenian food. And very rarely did we eat out or bring in non–you know, I am saying any kind of thing that was non Armenian. Occasionally there would be a pizza on the table or maybe some Chinese food but very rarely. The other thing was music and dance–big in my family. Very big. We literally would party in our own living room as a family and turn on music and dance. Big in my family, very big. We literally would party in our own living room as a family and turn on music and dance. Very, very big.

GS: And did you listen to Armenian music?

LJ: –Father played piano by ear, and he played Armenian music, he played anything, he played anything that he could hear and repeat and we just–and we had a piano and we kind of just enjoyed it.

GS: Where would you say was the main social space for your Armenian community growing up?

LJ: The main social space?

GS: Where did the community conglomerate? Where was the community's–

LJ: It was the church, our church, Holy Martyrs at Bayside. It was really the Bayside Church

GS: Was it because of the religious aspect of it, was that–

LJ: Say that again sweetheart, I could not understand you.

GS: Was it the religion that tied everyone together or did the church serve a larger role?

LJ: Um, the religion was foremost, first and foremost when I grew up, okay? And that sort of progressed in a sense and brought the rest of it together or brought it into the community which was–when the church was built, it was built primarily, the church, to identify as is Christian because that was the problem, of course, in Turkey. So when they built the church, and I will never forget this, my father–I will never–do you remember above the altar in Armenian, I mentioned in Sunday school every year but kids forget I know. It says in Armenian, “sirel mimyants’ k’ani vor Asttsun ser e” that means "love one another for God is love” the one that looks like a five. Do you remember those letters?

GS: I do.

LJ: My father designed those for the church. My father was a bit of an artist too and he designed that and he designed the liturgy books. He did a lot of work then like I said religion was foremost, but as the church grew you know, sure they wanted to bring in you know, more culture too so they would have events you know, not only for the children but everybody which were bazaars and picnics and kaps, they used to call them kaps which really is a Turkish word but means like a party where you got together and it was more than just the faith it was– we were a family dancing together, singing together, breaking bread together. So –but it begins first as the church meaning the Christian peace. Of course what the Armenian peace you know meaning it was the church and Armenian liturgy. So– the answer to your question– I cannot remember. [laughs] Gregory, I am getting so old I cannot remember what I am saying anymore.

GS: No, no, that was perfect. I think we can move on a little bit to your adult life. Can you tell us about your family now?

LJ: My family now, well I ended up marrying somebody that I met through the church and my husband Jamie Junior was in my Sunday School it was in my ACYOA, whatever, um we socialized as many the same places meaning if he went to an event, dances into whatever we were you know not necessarily together but we knew each other and the relationship eventually became more than just friendship and we ended up marrying one another, and we–after periods of marriage we could not have children biologically so we got two children but they were baptized in our church and you knew they were raised in our church we brought them to the Sunday school certainly, ACYOA and we tried Armenian in school that did not work out really well.

GS: Was it important to you growing up that you marry an Armenian, was there pressure from your parents to marry an Armenian?

LJ: For me, now you going to think, this is crazy, from my parents yes, O-M-G yes. But for me, not as much. I dated other people, I did not just date Armenians because I am not going to lie to you, that was not well received at home, you know the family all the family; my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my parents; why, you know, why cannot you date an Armenian. I did not see it that way. I was assimilated quite a bit. You know like I told you I had friends every ̶ it did not matter. And I think it is because I just enjoyed people it did not matter as long as I felt the friendship was sincere. But I ended up you know this is the way it went, I did date Armenians still, you know, I mean I dated, non-Armenians, Armenians whatever, and, you know, because they were very happy he was an Armenian, and–I – you know it worked out ̶ Okay for me too and that we were both comfortable in the same community we both had you know same ideas as far as support of the community. So you know it has been a positive, not say it was a negative, it was a positive.

GS: Did your husband speak Armenian?

LJ: No. Hardly any.

GS: So, when you had children was it important for you that they speak Armenian and if so how did you try and teach them?

LJ: No, we did not, we really– I might– How did I try? I brought them to Armenian, well I brought my son, my daughter could not go to Armenian school. She had a learning disability and it was recommended that we not introduce a second language, so we did not with her. With him we tried. We brought him to Armenian school and tried a little bit. But it was so difficult, I was really kind of alone in it, Greg. So it really was too hard and he was just so miserable for few years so I stopped. I could not do it anymore. And then we just said it is not, that does not necessarily make you an Armenian, that is my argument about this awful time, being an Armenian to me something you feel within you, you know it is something that you feel is in your heart not so much in you know language and you know this physical pieces it is more in your heart you know ̶

GS: So, how did you try?

LJ: Hard connection to the community. I am sorry.

GS: So how did you try and give your children a sense of Armenian identity?

LJ: Well, they came to the Sunday school, they both went and graduated. And you know how it is, not easy especially the first couple of years, it was a real trial. Like every other teenager we have been in the Sunday school, and then–I–ACYOA, they were both really involved in ACYOA. And I would invite ACYOA here for an event, you know I encourage the kids to come here and do things together here. They had other friends outside of church I mean do not misunderstand that was never discouraged, and you know I brought them you know to church activity that involved the family whether with the festival, [inaudible] ̶ time or picnics and then the festivals, you know whatever, if we had a bizarre you know they would present, I would drag my daughter and the stroller, if we were making some simit or burma something at church she would be sitting in her stroller, eating her pretzels and drinking her juice and I would be rolling at the table. I mean they were brought into the church a lot. They were physically there a lot so they got, they became very comfortable and they had many Armenian, friends. They still, my daughter still has Armenian friends you know to this day. Unfortunately, I do not see any of them in Church though [laughs], so, including my daughter.

GS: Do you think that it is important to go to church in order to maintain one’s individual Armenian identity or even the Armenian community as a whole or do you see the two is interrelated?

LJ: I see the church as, well, I see the religion, you are asking me do not forget and not everybody is going to say this, I see the religion as the first and foremost meaning and I am going to put it in an order. I see the Christian piece first, and then the Armenian next to that. So if I line them up I put the Christian and then I line up Armenian next to that, and the reason why is I feel it is more important that the Christian piece you know be in our life and I am not saying, I love my Armenian piece but I feel that living my life as a Christian is more important than identifying with my nationality. That is me personally and I think I tried to do that with my kids, and I think it is there, you know, even though my son unfortunately, my son passed away but before he passed away, and it was months before he registered his own child in the Sunday school so that the child could know some, Sunday school and see what the church is all about. The Armenian piece is important to me too. Do not misunderstand, that is why I continue, you know, to do my work through the Armenian Church because I am proud of that piece of my life as well. You know, my parents you know–

GS: If I could ask a question quickly, are you saying that Christianity is an important part of your Armenian identity or an important part of personal identity?

LJ: No, I think it is more my personal identity. I do not think–

GS: Do you think Christianity is an important part of being an Armenian?

LJ: I think it should be an important part of being an Armenian because, and now I am going back historically, and we were the first Christian nation, not the first Christians, the first Christian nation we accepted Christianity as a nation before any other nation in the world. Okay, and that was, I was taught that by everybody in my life. And I think that it is important for us not to forget that. And what is and also to identify what that is, you know that yes we– our culture is important, our food, our music, our art, our dance– see the Armenian arts all of it because there are all arts, the food, the music, dance actual you know whatever artist many type but I think that the Christian piece at least for me is also very important as far as identifying who we are because we died for that, do not forget too. When we talk about the genocide that was why many of them did die. They would not deny that piece and become you know Muslim and by the way I have no prejudice against Muslims but they did that for that reason many of them and I just feel it is very critical to continue to keep that piece powerful in our lives and I also think by the way the Christian piece helps us in whatever our challenges are, you know. And I think because the Armenians have been given many challenges I think it is help to keep us strong and keep us going and I want to say even vibrant you know, so I just feel it is critical– number one for me.

GS: Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with the Armenian Church and how you feel that is important for making Armenian community.

LJ: [laughs] Greg do you have three hours for us.

GS: Tell us as much as you want.

LJ: Oh, Greg, Oh my God since I was eight years old I would go to the Armenian church since I went to Sunday school. You know I have been involved in every facet, except the men’s groups. I do not know [laughs] what to say.

GS: Tell us about your role as a leader in the church, you know as an adult.

LJ: As an adult, oh boy, well I found my way really by ̶ through my own education which was a teacher. I seemed to get involved with kids’ activities more than anything because that is my profession, I am you know a teacher. So, I would get involved with the kids whether it was Sunday school or the ACYOA, I am liaison to two schools, other schools in the building, night school and day school from the council. I have been, I am going to be, you know, retiring very soon. Um, that is my guess that is my first way in and then when I got married, my husband and I got involved in other areas there was a couples’ group then we got involved with that because the women’s guild and I never want to get involved in the politics but somehow I got convinced to run the council, I did. Did that for four years, it was okay.

GS: Which council are you referring to?

LJ: Parish Council, the Parish Council of our church, the leadership of our church. I liaisoned for that for at least four years.

GS: What kinds of responsibilities did you have on Parish Council?

LJ: I was reporting secretary and liaison like I said to various groups from the church and just do whatever what the council had to do, I took a part whether there was social or a meeting or where else you know I would try to be present and attentive to whatever was happening.

GS: What is the most important project you have worked on as a member of Parish Council?

LJ: Oh boy. What we called the renewal committee and it came out of a retreat that the council had. There has been concern that the community needed to expand a little bit more in its familial spiritual way. So, dead hard and I worked on putting together, represent a cross section of the community to come together and see what could come out of it and as a result an outreach team came out of it which is trying to help people in need or respond to a you know community members significant moments for example sending cards for significant moments whether it be good or bad, or giving help with, like we have family that has come from Armenia that we all trying to work on. We raise money for them to help them get an apartment and we were– That has been important, that came out of the renewal team, you now project and then we have, you know fellowship came out of that renewal project which is a spiritual fellowship. We have a couple, new couples group that came of out of it which is kind of of bringing families together. So, and we, I do not know, that to me I think probably was the most significant thing that I was involved in while I was in council.

GS: What are your views on state on the Armenian diaspora? Do you think that they are several different diasporas in different parts of the world? Do you see the community as one united diaspora? Do you think it is going stronger? Is it at risk of losing its identity?

LJ: No, the diasporas are very different, and it is the makeup of that diaspora meaning it had a lot to do with assimilation, how much is that diaspora has been assimilated into that country, meaning, you know, American-Armenian, French-Armenian, you know, whatever, they are all over the world, I mean South American Armenians, Canadian Armenians whatever, you know it depends upon the country it is in I think. That is my feeling, and you know how the people have been assimilated into that you know the melting pot of that country you know, like just like the people here–the American-Armenians and those coming from other countries now, it is– the needs are different, the focus can be different, I do not know, I will say this and I am probably going to get excommunicate this statement but I do not think our leadership in Etchmiadzin gets any of that, and I think that unfortunately that leadership needs to really evaluate what is happening in the diaspora. They really need to look and see and allow for the community there to do what is necessary to pull their people in whether it means incorporate, the language of the country they are living in or whatever else it might be. But I feel that, unfortunately, our hierarchy does not get that yet and that is a negative for the diaspora.

GS: So, you think that assimilation is important for the diaspora?

LJ: I think not that is important, I think it is part of survival. I think you have to assimilate a little bit. I think you have to blend, I think you, and yet you keep your identity. I am not saying you should not, I am not saying ̶ We have to bring that identity into the country that we are living in and share with the others and yet we are living in a country whether many different cultures and nationalities and we have to understand them as well. You know, I and if it means like I said, taking the language, for example, you know your children, you are not coming to church the way I would love. I mean nobody is from the younger generation and I am very–if you look at the church on Sunday, you really only see the older people there, and I am talking about older people and I am talking about most of people in their seventies, eighties and nineties. I think the church because we are being, we have been assimilated, we are assimilating whatever, and we have to understand that we have to kind of look at the life style of that country and say oh, we have to adapt. You know to keep ourselves alive and pull that country into the mix. You know the American culture into the mix. I do not know if you are getting what I am saying. You know, example, people would not work today; most women work today. It is not what my mother and the older generation. They work today, so they, for them to give that the whole half a day on a Sunday to be at church with their kids is a lot. So maybe we have to change things around. Maybe we have to make the liturgy shorter. Maybe Sunday school is to be shorter. Maybe we have to you know change things a little bit. Maybe we have to incorporate more English in the liturgy; maybe not all the time. Maybe once every couple of months in English liturgy. You know use the Armenian, not saying the Armenian is not important; some things you cannot change anyway for example; hymns cannot be changed but some things like literature can be set in English. So, you know and that would make it more understandable to the younger people. So, I do not know Greg I could go on and on about this.

GS: Do you see Armenian-American organizations doing a good job of bridging the gap between recently emigrated Armenians and multi-generational Armenian-Americans? Or do you even see a gap between them?

LJ: There is a lot of work to be done there. I do not see a gap; I think the gap is too large right now.

GS: Why is that gap there?

LJ: Say again.

GS: Why is that gap there?

LJ: Because, when you come from different countries all around the world, the cultures are different. Even though you are all Armenian, you still have that influence of that country you are coming from the culture is there. It is a different culture, for example, people from people from Highstan when they come to church their idea of going to church, and I have been in Highstan, I have seen it, their idea of going to church is they go in, they drop few dollars in a plate–they take about–they take a number of candles, you know whatever–comparable to their donation whatever it might be. They light the candles, they say the prayer, they stay in church for about five to ten minutes and they are out. That is their idea of worship. Okay, now, people come from Turkey, and their idea of worship is– it is you stay for the service, you do your thing and then you depart, okay, that is fine. And they have different views on service, you know meaning they should not pass around the plate, they should not do– People are coming from different parts of the world where the Armenian Church kind of adapted to that what surround them and they come here with those ideals that oh, no but in Lebanon we did this, no but in Syria we did this. Oh, no but in Turkey we did this, in Armenia we do that. You know, that is what is happening and people do not understand, just not getting it, people are not–no we are not blending well. I do not think we are blending well at all, me personally.

GS: What advice would you give to future generations of Armenians to maintain their identity and their heritage?

LJ: What advice would I give? Well here we go. I strongly feel that they should put the Christian piece first and then as they come together to do other things, you know I believe that they should communicate better, meaning they should take the opportunity to discuss more broadly you know what their ideas are, their opinions are whatever, with the leadership of the church community and try and figure out ways to welcome everybody and at the same time make everybody feel comfortable which way may mean compromise. You know, maybe we cannot all do it this way, we cannot all do it that way, but sit around the table and say–and do it as Christians, meaning no bearing, no ill-will, you know, keeping an open-mind, an open-heart and understanding that we are different and as the result of our differences that sometimes we have to be flexible and I guess I can communicate this better. Not yell at one another and not come and shake–point the finger and say you are doing this wrong, you are doing that wrong; not be so judgmental.

GS: Okay, do you think that the Armenian community could survive in a secular society?

LJ: Yeah, I think so.

GS: How it would have to adapt itself?

LJ: Well, it would have to accept others around them and what they– what others, how others are living and not be judgmental ̶

GS: But it would have to maintain its own Christian identity within the secular society?

LJ: Well its part of the Armenian community that Christian piece ̶

GS: Okay, all right, well thank you very much, that is all our questions, we really appreciate your help.

LJ: Oh, Greg it is my pleasure. Not hard to get me to talk Greg ̶ so. [laughs]

GS: All right, thank you very much.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview



Gregory Smaldone


Lynn Jamie Arifian

Biographical Text

Lynn Jamie Arifian is a daughter of a genocide survivor and has become very active in her Armenian Church. She was a liason for the Parish Council and is involved with the ACYOA. She works as a school teacher and has two children.





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Binghamton University

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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.


genocide; gender roles; Armenian language school; church; ACYOA; traditions; food; music; Christianity; Sunday school; diaspora; assimilation; generational gap


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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 Lynn Jamie Arifian,” Digital Collections, accessed February 26, 2024,