Skip to main content
Libraries

Varoujan Froundjian

:: ::

Transcription

Armenian Oral History Project
Interview with: Varoujan Froundjian
Interviewed by: Gregory Smaldone
Transcriber: Cordelia Jannetty
Date of interview: 28 March 2016
Interview Settings: Manhasset, NY
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Start of Interview)

0:01
GS: This is Gregory Smaldone conducting an interview for the Armenian Oral History Project with the Special Collection Section of the Binghamton University Library at Binghamton University. Would you please state your name, your age and a little basic biographical information for the record?

0:16
VF: Sure, my name is Varoujan Froundjian. I am born August 7th, 1952. I am sixty-three years old. I am born in Beirut, Lebanon from Armenian descent.

0:34
GS: Okay, what were your ̶ Were you an immigrant to this country?

0:39
VF: Yes, I moved to this country in 1979.

0:41
GS: In 1979, so you were sixteen years old when you came here, no you were ̶

0:44
VF: I was twenty-six.

0:45
GS: You were twenty-six, I confused 1962 with sixty-three years old.

0:52
VF: When you say immigrant that might not be the right term, I came here as a student with a student visa to study theology and then my plans changed when I met my wife.

1:07
GS: Oh, can you tell me a little about your parents?

1:09
VF: Yes. My parents, my father his name was Setrak Froundjian. And my mother’s name Lusaper Froundjian. My father was actually in my grandmother’s tummy while they were going through the death marches. And as they tell me, my grandmother had twin, one of them died during death marches and my father survived. It was told that they come from town Sis in Turkey.

1:48
GS: Sis in Turkey, and so they fled until Lebanon.

1:50
VF: They fled to Lebanon.

1:52
GS: They fled to Lebanon and then you immigrated here. And obviously you spoke, you grew up speaking Armenian?

1:59
VF: I speak Armenian, fluent Armenian at my home.

2:02
GS: Did you grow up speaking any other languages?

2:04
VF: Yes, since we were living in Beirut, I learned Arabic, some French. Beirut is a cosmopolitan city. There are a lot of different tourists and different people. So I know some French, some Russian, some Arabic, and some Turkish.

2:21
GS: Would you say you speak any of those languages fluently or even proficiently?

2:26
VF: No, I can just say you know, I know the basics.

2:29
GS: You know the basics, okay, when so we will go straight to your life here. Can you tell us ̶ do you have any children?

2:38
VF: Yes, I do. I have a thirty year old daughter. Her name is Anoush who is an artist. She is a graphic artist, and my son Rafi, he is twenty-four, he is also an artist. He is musician.

2:51
GS: Okay, what was your highest level of education?

2:54
VF: I have a Master of Arts degree in Theatre Arts in which I took that from Armenia actually, from Theatrical Institute in Armenia and I graduated in 1977.

3:13
GS: Okay, growing up, how important ̶ as your children were growing up, how important was it for you that they speak Armenian?

3:19
VF: That is a very interesting question because when I first came to this country, I was married and I had my first daughter Anoush, my loyalty to my Armenian heritage and the culture was extremely strong. I wanted to make sure that Anoush will go to Armenian school so that she will learn Armenian language and she will inherit most of our culture, stories and she would know and that is why Anoush knows how to speaks Armenian and she is much more aware of Armenian culture, unlike Rafi, even though I tried to do the same to him, I had changed my ̶ I had become more Americanized ̶ my maybe loyalty, my interest was much more about making a living rather than preserving the culture so I kind of got laid back that is why Rafi does not speak Armenian, and his knowledge about Armenian history and culture is much much less than ̶

4:20
GS: What would you say is the major differences between the Armenian community you grew up as a child in Lebanon and the Armenian community that you were part of here?

4:31
VF: Basically, they are the same.

4:33
GS: Wow, please can you explain?

4:35
VF: Basically they are the same because other than certain cultural or linguistic things like for instance, American Armenians would not speak Armenian fluently like the Middle Eastern, but as I came to this country and I noticed their attachment to church is the same, their attachment to holidays are the same, their attachment to celebrate holidays are the same. They give the passion to cooking and preserving culture, you know it is pretty much the same except the language. And also, the knowledge, since there is they did not speak Armenian, so they have less knowledge of Armenian literature, Armenian poetry, Armenian that is the part which lacks when it comes to American Armenians.

5:31
GS: Have you ever travelled to Turkey?

5:34
VF: I never did, no.

5:36
GS: Did you travel to Armenia after moving back here?

5:38
VF: Actually, I never went back, I never went back either to Lebanon or Armenia because it just for me it was difficult to make ends meet and I did not have extra funds to go back.

5:57
GS: What knew traditions would you say that you embraced coming to live here in America that you may have left behind?

6:05
VF: I have to be very honest when I came to this country I was extremely prejudiced, I was extremely anti-Semitic, anti-gay. I was very traditional person but America changed me, changed me in a very good way. It took away a lot of myths that I knew about people, about Jewish people, about gay people, about people who do not look like me or they do not talk like me. America has the ability kind of mix people together. You meet them every day especially when you are in New York, in Queens there are thousands of different dialects and different ethnicities and contacting with these people you start gradually let go off your old myths, and let go of your prejudices and you start looking and seeing the human being with the people that you deal with. You do not think in terms of ‘Oh, this person belongs to such and such’ when you just start dealing with these people on every day level and that is exactly what helped me to let go of my old thinking and embrace this beautiful thing which is America offers, equality and freedom of speech and especially the prejudice that we have which if I can put this in parenthesis, I cannot believe that it is coming back. That is a whole different subject.

7:46
GS: A whole different subject. How would you define assimilation today? And what was the assimilation process like coming to America, I know you talked about the feeling back of prejudice but what other challenges did you face?

8:09
VF: I think the most challenge is that no matter how valuable your cultural background is, your history, all the symbols that you have in your life [inaudible] and the churches and the culture and the music, suddenly it becomes almost unimportant, that is the sadness, that is the part that you had to kind of live with it because here you have to find a job, you have to make a living, you have to interact with different people. Suddenly all these valuable things, you do not even have time to read poetry, you do not even have time to go back to read Armenian novel for instance, and also the competition is very strong compared to my Armenian literature, that writers that I knew which were mostly provincial suddenly you are here you are reading Hemmingway, you are reading Faulkner, you are reading Shakespeare, suddenly the level is much much much higher and complex and you are fascinated about it and you kind of begrudgingly you have to let go your all the school thinking and get adopt a whole new vocabulary, a whole new level of thinking.

9:44
GS: How would you define being Armenian?

9:53
VF: I have changed a lot. I have changed a lot. I do not even consider myself Armenian now.

10:00
GS: What would you identify yourself as?

10:03
VF: I will consider myself a New Yorker, an American.

10:08
GS: Oh, please continue, what would you say defines one’s being Armenian?

10:12
VF: You asked me that question, have you ever gone back to Beirut, one of the reason I never gone back beside financial things, because I do not want to go back to the old mentality. New York and America has given me so much to enrich my new being that going back to Beirut it is almost going back to old fashion medieval times. I have changed a lot. I have become much more complicated. I have lost my sentimental attachment to old values. New York, when I read New York Times that New York Times is much more the pleasure and treasure than you know going back and reading a playbook for instance.

10:59
GS: How do you think your children will define being Armenian?

11:02
VF: For them it will going to be some kind of myth, some kind of a background story which, when it comes to Anoosh, I am something really surprised that she has great attachment. She in fact she tells me that can we speak Armenian, can we stop English and talk Armenian. That surprises me because I am much less Armenian now, I am much more Americanized. And I am kind of happy to see her that she wants to be Armenian.

11:36
GS: How do you view the Armenian diaspora in America? What are your thoughts, do you think it is an accident of history or something that’s here to stay? And do you think it has its own identity as opposed to native Armenians in Armenia today?

11:51
VF: Okay, there is no identity. I do not believe that that is where identity, and there is no Armenian identity in Armenia either. It is globalization now. We live in a whole different century. In this age it is even almost attachment to locality does not even exist. Only if it is maybe in terms of some basic cultural things and how to cook, how to you know talk, other than that, we are in global society now. It is all different. There are no more villages, there are no more old provinces. We are all on Facebook. You know, it is like we are very modernized. There is no such, I do not believe that there is such thing as identity anymore.

12:38
GS: Okay, what were the gender roles like in your household for your parents growing up? How would they when you were an adult, raising your children what were the gender roles and what are your views on how gender roles are in society today?

12:55
VF: Yeah, it was, I have to tell you it was brutal. It was extremely inhumane the way women were treated when I was growing up. Women had certain roles and they could not do beyond what they ̶ Other than looking beautiful and making babies they did not have any ̶ and laundry and food shopping, they did not have any more except, especially my household, where my father did pretty much all, although even though my mother made all this daily decisions, it was my father who would give the flag, giving the final word, you know, even if even in the on everyday basis when they shared decision-making process. It was always known that the women the secondary citizen, you know the man are the one who make the decision.

13:48
GS: Do you think that was the product of growing up in Beirut or growing up in an Armenian household or some combination of both?

13:55
VF: It is combination because part of it the culture, part of it is Middle Eastern culture that treating of women goes all the way back the biblical times you know. We were not as harsh as some groups who they do vaginal cutting or certain things you know when they treat women. Women do not even have the right to have pleasure, you know, we were not in that circumstances ̶

14:24
GS: Circumcision?

14:25
VF: Exactly, we were not that extreme but still women were second class citizens.

14:31
GS: What about with you and your wife as you raised your children in your household? What were the gender roles there?

14:39
VF: I think the switch happened automatically because first of all my wife was an American. She knew about how things work in this country much better. So I had to listen to her most of the time, you know, what to do and how to solve certain problem and she always came up with good ideas. I almost had the secondary role, you know, my role was mostly to educate my children, to make sure that they have good education, and but most of the decision-making was done by, you know, Suzanne.

15:15
GS: Okay, and what are your thoughts on gender roles today in society?

15:23
VF: Still, even though you know we live in the United States where we are so open-minded, the old rules are still exist. You know women are mostly sex symbols, you know whether on the TV, in the movies, in daily life even though there are a vast tremendously with feminism and thing, but still the old concept of women are object of pleasure. That still stays.

15:54
GS: Is there any last story you might wanna share that you think would be useful for the record?

16:99
VF: All I can say is that when I came to America, America was not my best choice. I much rather I always thought I will like end up in France or England. For me America was kind of like a middle class, a country of Jeans, and Coke and Hollywood, old you know average level of intelligence. That is how I thought, but it was convenient because I got the student visa, but I am glad I came here. I am glad I came here, because one thing that America gave me, is changed me. I am not an opinionated person like I used to be. I am much more easygoing open-minded person and I consider you know what other people think ̶ there is no right or wrong. That is what United States gave me.

16:52
GS: Okay, well thank you very much for your time.

16:54
VF: Wonderful.

(End of Interview)


Date of Interview

3/28/2016

Interviewer

Gregory Smaldone

Interviewee

Varoujan Froundjian

Biographical Text

Varoujan Froundjian is a graphic designer, writer, and cartoonist. He was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and came to the United States as a student in 1979 to study theology. He earned his Master of Arts degree  from Theatrical Instidute of Armenia. Varoujan has two children, Anoush and Rafi.

Duration

16:55

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

Lebanon; Armenia; Armenian church; Armenian; Traditions; Assimilation; Diaspora; Gender roles; American culture; Lebanese culture; Armenian culture.

Files

Citation

“Varoujan Froundjian,” Digital Collections, accessed February 7, 2023, https://omeka.binghamton.edu/omeka/items/show/623.