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Dr. Michael Allen Bogdasarian

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Armenian Oral History Project
Interview with: Michael Allen Bogdasarian
Interviewed by: Gregory Smaldone
Transcriber: Cordelia Jannetty
Date of interview: 8 March 2016
Interview Settings: Binghamton, NY
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(Start of Interview)

0:02
GS: My name is Gregory Smaldone. I am interviewing Michael Bogdasarian for Binghamton University Armenian oral History project/ today is Tuesday, March 7th, 2016. Michael, can you please start with some basic biographical information, name, birthplace etc.

0:19
MB: I am Michael Allen Bogdasarian. My parents Robert Bogdasarian and Carol Spahr Bogdasarian. My father was born here in Binghamton to his parents who were immigrants from Eastern Turkey. The time frame for their coming is a little bit unclear.

0:43
GS: We will get to that, but can you just give us your age, birthplace.

0:44
MB: I am now sixty-eight. I am a retired vascular and general surgeon, practiced here in the community for over thirty years and I have a wife and two children.

0:57
GS: Can you give us their names and ages

0:58
MB: Yes ̶ Peter Bogdasarian, currently an attorney in Washington D.C, he is turning thirty eight this year and my daughter, Laura who works for the company called ADP and she is going to be thirty six this year.

1:18
GS: And your wife's name?

1:23
MB: Bonnie.

1:24
GS: Okay ̶ What were your ̶ What are your roles and your responsibilities in the home when you were growing up or when you were raising your children what were those of your spouse?

1:34
MB: Well let me start first with what our roles and responsibilities were when I was a child, because that morphs into how we ended up raising our own children. As a child growing up, each of us, and I have two brothers, John and Ron and a sister Barb, the sister is the youngest of us, she is four years younger than I, and we were all assigned chores. We had an obligation through all the different seasons to do different things. I was part and parcel of familial responsibility. When I was raising my own children, the degree of requirement was somewhat less, we were a little bit more indulgent but they still had things they were obligated to do and I give a great deal of credit to Bonnie because she began to teach the children at a fairly early age to do certain things for themselves, even including things like laundry when they got to an appropriate age. Little bit of cooking so they could self-sustain themselves when they got to be a bit older and ̶ you know ̶ things like doing their homework and being sure that they were current with different activities they were involved in.

2:52
GS: Excellent. Can you tell us about your parents, their occupations, their roles in the house and their generational and immigration status?

3:00
MB: Sure. I will start with my mom. My mom's family was what we would have considered back then certainly upper middleclass; she was born just outside of New York City and grew up in a small town called Bellerose. Her father was an economist. He had actually grown up in Indiana on a farm, but later became interested in education and pursued education and became an economist and worked in New York City. Her mother was also from the middle part of the country, also grew up on a farm, but they very quickly adapted to a more urban lifestyle, Buelah was her name and she was basically homemaker. My mom was the eldest of three children, she had a very strong intellectual capacity, and as a result would sometimes butt heads with her parents as would be typical anyway for first borns, often, but she went to Oberlin College for a couple of years, it really did not suit her style, she ended up going to NYU and after she graduated, and I think she graduated she was 20, had a job I think working in a laboratory and ended up meeting my father who was at that time in New York City through a distant cousin arrangement, and I can talk about that later if its relevant. My father grew up here in Binghamton New York. His parents had been orphaned we believe massacres had occurred in Eastern Turkey in 1895.

4:54
GS: Okay. So they were not fleeing the genocide of 1915, they were fleeing the massacres that preceded that?

4:59
MB: Right. In fact they came to this country, I believe, in 1913 or thereabouts. The.... My grandfather was in an orphanage for boys, my grandmother was in an orphanage for girls, I believe they were run by Danes at the time, and the only recollection that they had, and I am not sure about its complete accuracy, is that I think my grandfather escaped being killed because he was hiding in a tree. I do not know about my grandmother, they really did not talk much about that, but then they were very young at the time and they grew up in these orphanages and because the boys orphanage did certain things, the girls orphanage did certain things, they would communicate back and forth, trade goods back and forth and that was how apparently they met. My grandfather, my father's father came to this country to find work and once he could find work, planned to bring my grandmother over, they were not married at the time but they had known each other and grown very close, of course. So when my grandfather came over he was able to link up with some family. I believe first started in Massachusetts, where there was a fairly strong Armenian community but for reasons which I am not clear on they ended up coming down to Binghamton partly to work at EJ, Endicott -Johnson famous shoe factory that employed many immigrants and provided jobs. But he worked there only for a relatively short period of time; it really was not his kind of thing. Also shortly afterward he moved into a different line of work. He was able to save enough money and communicate with my grandmother that she came to Ellis Island. But interestingly because of the kind of work that was being done in the orphanage and I think it had to do with wool or cotton I really am not sure, but it was one of those materials and they would pick things out in order to get it ready to be carted and then woven into fabric and things of that sort, apparently it irritated her eyes so when to Ellis Island she was actually thought maybe to have trachoma which was a real problem of a particular kind of eye infection that affected people from the Middle East. So actually they were not going to let her in and instead she ended up in Philadelphia. Now even there she was not supposed to get in unless she was either married or had a clear sponsor. So part of the amusing history was my grandfather went down to meet her but he got terribly motion sick so when he actually arrived to meet her he a little bit looked like death in one form or another and she was kind of put off by this fellow, she was thinking what happened to him, I do not know this sick character as a husband but I think he reassured her that it was really transient and they ended up getting married and returning here to Binghamton. He ended up finally running a food produce business and what he would do is go down to the general market, he would pick out fruits and then he literally had them with a horse and a cart and he would travel neighborhoods and he would sell the products to various neighbors and I have actually heard from people who were growing up at the time remembering my grandfather coming to sell things like that. He was fairly successful in that. He ended up ̶ the two of them ended up with three children, my father the eldest, Robert then a daughter Lilian, we called hooker, I am not even sure what the derivation of that word was.

9:07
GS: Kind of sounds like [unintelligible].

9:08
MB: Yeah and my uncle John the youngest of the three, and they, the parents, ended up with buying some real estates at different times running different ancillary businesses and so on. So by the time we came along they had essentially retired but were very self-sufficient.

9:30
GS: What were your parent's role in the house and their occupations when you were growing up?

9:34
MB: My father went to college and then medical school at the University of Michigan and he became ENT physician and practiced here in the community with a Doctor McNett, who had kind of known my dad when he was in high school and told him that if he was successful in graduating from college and medical school and residency that he would take him on as a business partner and indeed that happened. My mom came up to Binghamton with my father and she was basically a homemaker, kept everything in order and kept us in order as much as is possible with a bunch rambunctious kids and the way things ran at the time.

10:25
GS: How many siblings did you have growing up?

10:27
MB: I had two older brothers John who is four years older than myself, Ron about a year and a half older and my sister Barbara who is about four years younger.

10:38
GS: Did you attend Armenian language school or Bible school growing up?

10:45
MB: We did. Initially we started going to a congregational church and my dad would go over to the Armenian Church which had been established on Corbet Avenue. After a while my mom felt that this was just not working and took us all over to the Armenian Church and we became very well integrated into that community.

11:10
GS: Did you attend a language school specifically or just Sunday school?

11:12
MB: No actually the interesting part was that they did not have particular language school set up. We did have a Bible school; we did attend that on a regular basis. And you know you pick up bits and drabs of the Armenian language but there was nothing formal not like you see with say a Hebrew school or something like that.

11:33
GS: Did your parents speak Armenian in the house or no?

11:35
MB: No. my mom spoke no Armenian, to speak my dad was very fluent as were Uncle John and Aunt Alice, I mean ̶ hooker and of course my grandparents spoke Armenian back and forth most of the time, but everybody would speak English around us or communicate with us.

11:54
GS: So Armenian was an important medium of communication for your parents and their siblings but it was not something that they felt was important for you to learn?

12:02
MB: Correct. They would certainly morph into the Armenian language if they did not want us to know what they were talking about.

12:08
GS: Naturally. When ̶ your friendship group growing up you and your siblings, would you say that it was mostly Armenian, other Armenian children, mostly non-Armenian children or was there some mix?

12:21
MB: Mostly non-Armenian. We certainly had other children at church who were our age with whom we were friends; we did not see them outside of Sundays primarily.

12:28
GS: They were church friends.

12:34
MB: Right, right.

12:35
GS: Okay. How would you describe the Armenian community in Binghamton while you were growing up?

12:43
MB: It was marvelous. [laughs] It really was. There was a great sense of belonging. The whole community seemed to really enjoy children even though they were adults and dealt with things at their own level as they would, but there was a certain kind of indulgence which was really pretty marvelous; a welcoming and warmth that was very embracing to children. I do not think we were terribly really aware of it growing up, but it was a sense that when you went to events like the Armenian picnics or things of that nature after church there might be a sort of coffee hour or there might even be a program or things of that sort, you really felt as though people were glad to see you there. It was not a chore. It was something they really appreciated and liked. And I think there was also a very strong sense of community support not so much that they did things for us, but that any success or achievement we had made the entire community very proud of us.

14:00
GS: Where would you say was the social space of the Armenian community, the central meeting place?

14:07
MB: That was the church.

14:08
GS: That was the church?

14:09
MB: Yes. There were small enclaves when we were very young and growing up where there would be a neighborhood that had a fair number of Armenian families within it, but it was never a tight social network. It was kind of a sense of familiarity whereas the social activities were primarily at church.

14:31
GS: Okay. How important was it for you to teach your children Armenian if at all?

14:36
MB: Actually we tried. We did have a priest who came and he began to conduct Armenian language classes and I took the children to that and I attended it myself to try to learn some Armenian, but for a whole variety of reasons it kind of fell apart after a while; that had to do as much with the priest himself as it had to do with just what it meant to be growing up; again in the [19]80s.

15:07
GS: What would you say was some of the consistent cultural themes within the Armenian community when you were growing up; the types of food, types of practices?

15:18
MB: I think it was primarily the food and food was the center piece. It is not so much a sense that there are particular foods which we would call Armenian foods. I mean as you are aware, many of those foods types are shared among the entire Middle Eastern communities so you can go to a Lebanese restaurant or a Turkish restaurant, a Syrian restaurant or else and find very, very similar foods. But what was particularly valuable was the way in which food was the center piece for engagement. So many times around the dinner table, many times when you are gathering people together, even if they are non-Armenians and you present something that represents an Armenian food, there is a certain kind of ̶ I will call it love ̶ that is demonstrated through that. So food in a way became the epitome of what it meant to be within an Armenian community ̶ that kind of affection ̶ that sense of solidarity...that sense of completeness that really was a part of it.

16:34
GS: Okay. Have you ever travelled to Turkey or Armenia?

16:39
MB: Yes. I actually went to Armenia after the [19]88 earthquake. So I was there as a medical mission in order to evaluate injured people whom we wished to bring to the united states to have advanced medical care and rehabilitation.

16:58
GS: Okay. Do you attend church regularly?

17:01
MB: Not now.

17:03
GS: Not now. What would you say you identify as your homeland?

17:08
MB: America. The interesting part and I have to say this, it will sound critical, but it is not quite as critical as it would sound, that when I first travelled to Armenia within the capacity that I expressed, people would be travelling to Armenia, they get off the plane and then they kind of kiss the ground kind of thing. Now I have to admit that that just never struck me that way, partly because I think my mindset was very different. So I identify it more as a place from which a good part of my heritage stands and I have respect for that but I feel very much an American in that my home is really here in this country.

17:59
GS: Okay. This is going to be a little curveball now, what are your thoughts about gender roles in society today?

18:05
MB: In general?

18:06
GS: Yes.

18:09
MB: As a medical person and as someone whose got a lot of science background I think that there are certain biological imperatives and the biological imperatives are men and women are different, they have different requirements, they have different roles and there’s a tendency in the current culture to think those things do not matter and I think we do it at our peril because we're ignoring literally millions of years of biological evolution.

18:48
GS: Okay. How do you view the diaspora? Do you think it is an accident of history and evil or a good?

18:58
MB: My wife once made the comment, which I thought was very profound which was if the massacres had not occurred I would not be here. Now, is that a good thing or a bad thing? And yeah, it goes to the heart of what you are asking. So is it a tragedy that what happened in Armenian both 1895, 1905 and 1915 particularly the [19]15 massacres, those are horrible things that happened ̶ terrible, terrible things but to my or oneself in the tragedy alone means that one has never either looked for some benefits, some goodness that even comes out of the worst tragedy and more particularly, has become mired oneself personally made it hard to move further on and accept certain realities and learn to live with them but not have them be an anchor that holds you back.

20:12
GS: Do you think the diaspora is a temporary entity or permanent one?

20:19
MB: I think it is permanent. You hear people talk about how they want to go reclaim this and that and the other, and that is again a backward looking process that doesn’t take into account human history as a whole, and if one looks at the spectrum of human history, and you want to go back to the very beginning of homo-sapiens and migration out of Africa and that is certainly reasonable, but if one goes to more modern history even going back to the period of, say, 2[000] or 3000 BC, or as people prefer to call it, before the present era, migration of peoples, destruction of various tribes, the disruption that occurs throughout most tribal organizations that they are more primitive nature all the way up to the more civilized natures even to today, this is part of the human current, and it has its tragic moments, its tragic parts. There’s no question about that. But to assume that you could make it static is to deny the lessons of history.

21:33
GS: Do you think that the diaspora has its own identity?

21:36
MB: Yes. I think that one of the things that is true and it goes back to what you asked earlier about the identity of an Armenian culture and how does one do that. Well, America’s my home. I do identify as Armenian, even though I am only half Armenian, even my children who are a quarter Armenian still feel a strong relationship to that as an identity. It is partly name, but it is also partly culture, partly upbringing. The kinds of food you ate when you were growing up. My mom for example, who has no Armenian background, she is a real mongrel wasp, okay in terms of how one would define ̶ linked herself to the Armenian church such that she became a very prominent part of it. She played the organ, she helped run the thing when we did not have a priest, she engaged fully, in fact when I have talked to her even at her age of ninety-three, one of the reasons she finds it hard to go to an Armenian church service is because it reminds her so strongly of those connections, it actually makes her very sad. So we had that identity, we had that cultural connection, and feel it very, very strongly. I think that most people in the diaspora feel it very strongly. I think that is great. I think it’s wonderful. But the way in which most of us would identify ourselves, is, you know, it is kind of the reverse of what you hear other people say. Armenian-American, that’s the normal thing. We are American with an Armenian heritage. Do not want to ever deny that, that’s part of who we are.

23:25
GS: How would you identify yourself?

23:27
MB: I would say Armenian-American. I think I am very much American in the sense of my love of this country, my understanding of its history, my sense of being a part of it. But there is no doubt that the Armenian part of me is very strong.

23:45
GS: Do you think that there is a separation in the diaspora between American born Armenians and recent Armenian immigrants? Do you think that American-Armenian organizations do a good job attracting American-born people of Armenian descent?

24:02
MB: I think they do a fairly good job. There are a number of those organizations but I think ultimately it comes down to the church. And one of the things that has happened is that’s it has been very difficult to maintain that cultural center in focus. Even though I do not understand the language, there was a certain degree of link that occurred because when I would attend a service we would sing in Armenian, and there's something valuable in that even if you do not get it, it’s just part of that culture that ties you in. The difference between the recent immigrants and the people who grew up here in this country from the point of their birth is that there is certain heritages that the recent immigrants have that American-Armenians do not have and that can create some difficulties in and of itself. Certain attitudes, certain sense of freedom certain ways families work and so on and so forth that are very different.

25:13
GS: Interesting. Okay so just two more questions; and the first one is how do you think your children will define being Armenian? How do you think they do?

25:20
MB: I think they do. It is something I eluded to a little bit earlier. I think there is enough of a sense within our family that they feel that is a strong part of who they are. They do not go to Armenian churches, they do not speak Armenian but it crops up every now and then as an identity issue and I think they are very proud of it.

25:48
GS: And then one last question I was supposed to ask a little earlier when we were talking about your parents. Are they still living and if not how were they cared for at the end of their lives?

25:59
MB: My father’s passed away. He died about eleven years ago and my mom’s still living, 93, she is in an assisted care facility but she is remarkably independent including still driving occasionally. Admittedly, only in good weather and short distances but up until a few years ago she would drive literally several thousand miles from her home in Florida now she moved up to be closer to family. And within the family there is a strong sense for both of my parents that being independent, making your own decisions was very important and their ability to do that laid not only within their financial resources but their intellectual resources, both of them quite bright, able to make decisions for themselves and do what they felt they needed to do.

27:03
GS: Okay, alright. I think that is everything I needed. Thank you.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

3/8/2016

Interviewer

Gregory Smaldone

Interviewee

Dr. Michael Allen Bogdasarian

Biographical Text

Dr. Michael Allen Bogdasarian is a retired vascular and general surgeon who practiced in Binghamton for over thirty years and has a wife and two children. His grandparents immigrated to the United States from Eastern Turkey around 1913.

Duration

27:08

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

Genocide; Eastern Turkey; Armenian church; Sunday school; Food; Armenia; Diaspora; family; Customs.

Files

Citation

“Dr. Michael Allen Bogdasarian,” Digital Collections, accessed July 6, 2022, https://omeka.binghamton.edu/omeka/items/show/618.