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Jack Injajigian

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Armenian Oral History Project
Interview with: Jack Injajigian
Interviewed by: Gregory Smaldone
Transcriber: Cordelia Jannetty
Date of interview: 22 March 2016
Interview Setting: Binghamton, NY
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(Start of Interview)

0:01
GS: This is Gregory Smaldone with the Armenian Oral History Project at Binghamton University’s Special Collection’s Library. Can you please state your name for the record?

0:09
JI: Jack Injajigian.

0:11
GS: Injajigian and how old are you sir?

0:13
JI: I am 64.

0:15
GS: Where were you born?

0:16
JI: I was born in Binghamton, New York.

0:18
GS: Okay, how long did you spend in Binghamton?

0:22
JI: All my life.

0:23
GS: Can you tell me a little bit about your parents please?

0:26
JI: My mother was born in Izmir, Turkey, and she grew up in Greece. Her family moved there in her early age, when she was two years old and she grew up in Greece until 1951 she got married to my dad. My dad was born in Sivas, Turkey, Central Turkey, Sebastia as part of the region of Sebastia. He was born in 1909. He was involved obviously in the Armenian Massacres 1915. He endured that and he came to America in 1921 where he came to Binghamton and actually lived with his sister, his half-sister and his family in Binghamton. And then in 1950 he went to Greece. My parents married and they came to America. And I was born in 1952.

1:27
GS: Now, I am assuming both of your parents spoke Armenian?

1:30
JI: Very much so, yes.

1:32
GS: Okay, what were their professions?

1:35
JI: My mother was, actually my mother was a housewife. My father was a shoemaker. He ̶ when he came when he was of age ̶ he worked for Endicott Johnson which is a local shoe factory here that many people in Binghamton were in this tri-city area were employed in. And then he also opened up a shoemaker shop after several years on the Southside of Binghamton until he retired back in 1975 I believe.

2:14
GS: Okay, what was the highest of level of education your parents received?

2:17
JI: I am going to say my father, I have, my father ̶ I am going to say my mother grammar school, and my father I think he just started working, my father I believe went to the Jarvis Street local school for maybe a year or two that was kind of like a trade school at that time in the neighborhood but I do not believe there is any other formal of education for him. He just went to work.

2:50
GS: Did your parents ever share their story with you of what it was like going through the Armenian genocide?

2:55
JI: My father did several times. He did, I listened to it. He did it among family members and friends. He did and many times like I said and I have not, my only regret like I told you was, it was not documented, as specifically as I would like to have done it, but I knew of it. My mother actually did not come through, obviously did not endure the genocide but again, her story is also one of support of my father and for me.

3:33
GS: Can you share some of your father’s story, whatever you remember?

3:37
JI: Whatever what I remember was the fact that at an early age and at that time he was about six years old when the genocide was when the gendarmes were coming into the villages and cleaning out every one and killing every one. He and his mother fled to a safer ground and then at that time from what he said that they were split, he from the mother and she split from her mother and I guess caught up with the bunch of Kurds and they took him in and basically they took him in until ended up in an orphanage. And after he was there for three or four years until at the age of eleven, twelve years old he came to America through Ellis Island.

4:24
GS: And did he meet up with family in America?

4:26
JI: He met up with family; with his sisters, half-sister through Ellis Island they had located him and he ended up in Binghamton, New York.

4:35
GS: Do you have any siblings?

4:38
JI: No.

4:39
GS: Okay, so you are an only child.

4:40
JI: I am an only child.

4:41
GS: Did your parents teach you Armenian or speak Armenian to you when you growing up?

4:45
JI: Yes, they did, from the time I was one or two years old they talked to me in Armenian until conversation wise throughout the years and I can speak Armenian conversation wise now fluently.

5:01
GS: Did you ever receive any formal training in Armenian?

5:05
JI: When you say formal training, um, language only whatever training I had was at the time when we were growing up at our local church at St. Gregory’s Armenian Church. We had Armenian classes that lasted, again it was once a week type of a training but at that time I knew conversation with Armenian, it was just a fact of me refining the words, the Armenian words, some of the ones that I did not understand outside, above and beyond the conversation.

5:37
GS: Okay, how fluent where your parents in English?

5:40
JI: They were fluent to the point where you could understand them. My father was, they were both fluent. Okay, as far as, they are fluent and there is enough to basically understand and conduct conversations as the years went on. They have got, they were fluent.

6:03
GS: Would you say that English or Armenian was the language most spoken in your household?

6:07
JI: I am going to say that it was believe it or not it was Armenian and only English when we were among our English friends, American friends. And also I did not understand it but they also spoke Turkish too.

6:25
GS: Okay, now let us talk a little bit about your childhood; when you were growing up, would you say that you had mostly an Armenian group of friends, mostly American group of friends or some combination of both?

6:38
JI: I had mostly when you consider it as basically it has to be American obviously. I went to school, made a lot of friends, neighborhood friends. I did have my Armenian friends and that was basically the focal point like I said before was at our St. Gregory’s Armenian Church. So, at the time to say they were good friends, they became good friends because at the age of five years old my parents ̶ I have sang in the choir with all my, all the adult members of the church. So I was pretty fortunate that my parents had taken me at an early age. And that was how I got to people my age basically became good friends, Armenian friends. But for the most part, I had more American friends obviously through the daily activities that I had.

7:31
GS: Would you say that your Armenian friends and your American friends tended to exist in separate spheres?

7:37
JI: No. I think that we as Armenians since we were at that time meeting and congregating once a month at least, that was the only time we had church. You know we were integrated into American community obviously. So, it was not just a cut and dry type thing.

7:54
GS: What was the Armenian community like when you were growing up? Was it large? Was it vibrant? Where did it tend to meet? Where did it congregate?

8:01
JI: For a small community when you say vibrant for a small community we were vibrant. I could remember the gatherings, again when you have community functions once a month especially church or otherwise if there was a special event that was happening I remember maybe sixty to seventy Armenians at the time dinners and functions, the church was always full for us. And When I say for our community, fifty to sixty to seventy with all their families growing up was a vibrant community for this area.

8:40
GS: You say you had meeting once a month, was that how frequently church met?

8:44
JI: That was how frequent for the most part, that was how frequently church met. In fact it met ̶ it was so vibrant in the sense that obviously it was vibrant enough that back in let’s see fifty. Fifty years ago, I do not know I would say forty five, some forty five years ago, up to that point when I was nineteen we had applied to get a full time Parish. We had a group of Armenian people along with the priest, a committee, a search committee comes to Binghamton and to see the viability of our church having a regular Armenian pastor and that was, as a result of that meeting, we had our first, one of our early full-time pastors.

9:37
GS: Okay, what were some other ways, other than speaking Armenian that your parents tried to maintain the sense of Armenian identity for you?

9:46
JI: Many ways. My mother was a seamstress but she was a great baker and a cook of Armenian delicacies, pastries. Everything she was perfectionist at what she did at an early age she learnt from her sister-in-law and also from her mother in Greece. She was a seamstress. She ̶ everything we revolved around the church. Twenty four/seven whenever we had a church ̶ that explains the vibrancy at that time with all the people and her group of friends she joined the women’s guild. She sang in the choir. She did anything that had to be done to basically move the community forward. As a result I got caught in that and like I said before I was ̶ I started singing in the choir at five years old age and throughout the years, I did ̶ they integrated me with that. Okay, and that to me probably the best thing for me to and as resulted in what I do today.

10:55
GS: What is that what you do today?

10:57
JI: Oh, I am a deacon now. I was ordained thirteen years ago. But I also was a sub-deacon for many years. So, I graduated from that. As people as the community became smaller throughout the years as I got older, I realized there is a need and responsibility for me to continue what my forefathers did. And I have been fortunate to actually after college I was involved to the point where obviously I was on Parish Council and I served as much as I could with annual events and to organize and help organize and work at them; picnics, functions, banquets, fundraisers. I was involved in the dance, anything to basically keep the Armenian spirit alive in this community.

11:47
GS: Okay, going a little back to your childhood you said the Armenian Church only met once a month but did you have like a Sunday school or a language school on top of the service?

11:56
JI: That once a month was a Sunday school and it was done with the general discussion that we had again. We did not have a priest at that time. We had a Sunday School Superintendent. The only time that once a month was replaced was when we had especial event where we had once a month when a priest came or a visiting pastor or when the bishop came and visited our community and then that would have been the only time basically we that would have been substituted for once a month. As we always growing up through the years.

12:30
GS: You said your mother was a pretty prominent baker as you were growing up. Would you say that most households would you know try and cook traditional Armenian food? Growing up was there some sense of like sharing of material sharing of food was there like one place ̶

12:47
JI: Yes, I believe at that time when I was growing up there was. Because there were people that were older than her and she was very close to all the women in the church. I do not believe she had any enemies. She was well-liked and she was a type of person that basically did not want any accolades for what she did and I think that was what endeared her to the Armenian community. That is one thing I remember growing up. And that was the tone she set for me in terms of when I became older, when I set the tone in terms of how to basically live my life so to speak, in terms of respecting others and again we used to have discussions of this mind you in Armenian and being the only child I think she put positive pressure on me growing up and I think it is based on the fact that she wanted me to succeed. She worked very hard. My parents lived from week to week. She was the one actually that was the driving force of us surviving financially, being that she made her own clothes, altered clothes, baked, she scrimped and that was the reason why I think she instilled that in me at the time.

14:17
GS: Now, where did you attend college?

14:20
JI: I attended locally for two years, Broome, now it is SUNY Broome, but at that time it was called at that time it was Broome Community College. And at that time my aspirations were to be a mechanical engineer ever since I was a little boy and then at time for whatever reason I think there were a lot of unemployed engineers around back in the early seventies. I changed my major to pharmacy and thanks to some of the advice, my professors had given me and I was pretty, I did well at Chemistry. So I tried it. It was a little bit unearthing for me to all the years that trying to change a major I was not sure if this was going to work but then I transferred to Albany College of Pharmacy which is part of Union University and where I finished up my three years at the college. And as I look back now I have no regrets as far as ̶

15:17
GS: Do you have any children on your own?

15:18
JI: No.

15:19
GS: Okay, what has it ̶ Can you discuss to me how the Armenian community has changed from the time when you grew up until up to the time now?

15:30
JI: I think we were closer then. I think times have changed in the sense ̶ we were closer, friendlier I think it was a friendly; it was I am not saying friendlier but it was a closer knit community. When you have a group of people working together as the community shrunk, as people got older, I mean the skills, obviously the skills set and everything, someone had to do the work. A lot of our young members of our community, I stay happened to stay in Binghamton. Other people have left. All my friends and all the other generations left for jobs obviously. At that time Binghamton was not really the place to be and even now I am not to a point they are trying to come back with this but the job market was tight. So all my friends moved away and they got good jobs wherever they went. I think it has ̶ a lot has to do with the shrinking of the community at that time. I think the community was closer. Now I think the mindset is as I go and see this what we worked for, young families now have a tendency to be tied up more on the weekends especially when events come they seem to be that the priority of the church, in other words, basically one of the tops of the list and that is the mindset now I believe, that is how I see it.

17:01
GS: So you think that the church has decreased in importance over time?

17:06
JI: It is decreased, in terms of importance, I would say that the church is the church. Everyone wants, you know everyone is still going to church but as far as doing all the extracurricular things, times have changed. Now the husband and the wife work. At that time do not forget the husband was working and the wife was the home-maker. Very seldom you find that now. I mean times have changed throughout the years. And I guess people have shied away from that. The other thing too I do not want to get into it as the Armenian doctrine I mean I grew up Armenian and speaking Armenian and now up to this point I could read Armenian now. You know now times have changed, kids ̶ to draw kids back to the church in this case or the Armenian youth ̶ Armenian is not ̶ they are doing more in English and you see a lot of the communities now are trying to bring kids back by knowing that they could understand what was going on. And English seems to be the more ̶ what we seem to be heading towards so to speak ̶

18:16
GS: How do you feel about that trend?

18:19
JI: At this point I, for the young kids to come I agree with. For me it is either way. I mean I personally I am proud of what I have, my Armenian heritage in terms of speaking. Unfortunately in Binghamton I very seldom have a chance to do that anymore because there are not many people around anymore that will but I still welcome a good conversation in Armenian if I get the chance in my store if I see someone and they seem to be from Armenia or from the old country I will. I will talk with them.

18:55
GS: How do you identify yourself?

18:58
JI: I identify myself as from going back to childhood I identified myself as a person who is a proud Armenian from where I came from, from where my father’s come from and I am passionate about what he endured, I identify myself as a caring person and I identify myself as someone that basically ̶

19:35
GS: Let us put it this way, would you say you are Armenian, Armenian-American, American-Armenian, American? I give you that, you have to choose one of those…

19:40
JI: I am an American-Armenian.

19:43
GS: American-Armenian? What would you say is the most important of your Armenian identity?

19:49
JI: My most important part of my Armenian identity is basically the church, going to church. That was where we started, that was where I started my ̶ it was not only just like going to church, it was not just the religious sanctuary for us, it was a gathering point of where we did things. We had events, we learnt, we had plays, we congregated and that was basically how I got to know everyone. I have served the community in several ways and that is how I identify myself is through the church.

20:28
GS: Do you think the church is a primarily social or religious institution in this community?

20:34
JI: At this point as time has gone on I am going to say basically, I am going to basically say it is kind of split down in the middle. I do not think it is totally I mean we do as much as we can only because we do not have church on a regular basis.

20:56
GS: Tell me about your path in becoming a sub-deacon and then a deacon and why you felt a responsibility to become deacon?

21:05
JI: It is just a passion, it is something that is come from my heart. It is something when you start at five years old to sing in the choir and then you know again through a tradition of people leaving, people passing away, I think it was like a torch being passed on and I felt the need it is just something from inside that I felt in need and of course the next step was sub-deacon and thanks to our priest at the time when I was nineteen years old, got us involved, He was a full-time priest and the it was only shortly that another priest ̶ The gauntlet was laid down when we, we have had four or five priests priest right now but it was only shortly after that the I was last thirteen years or twelve years since I would been a full deacon. This is the only thing that was holding me back was basically learning how to speak Armenian and I did that.

21:58
GS: When did you become sub-deacon? At what age?

22:01
JI: I am going to say basically I was serving on the altar but officially I think I was like eighteen or nineteen years old when the bishop came.

22:10
GS: And when did you become deacon?

22:12
JI: The deacon was in 2004. So about twelve years now.

22:16
GS: Can you tell me how and why that happened?

22:19
JI: It was thanks to of a visiting priest, kind of laid the gauntlet down and said if you want help this young priest of yours, you might wanna read an Armenian become a deacon to help him out even more and so it kind of laid a challenge for me and I said to myself you know as I was doing this I felt a need. It was all part of serving the community. It opened up some doors like I served the community more than I usually did in my capacities as sub-deacon.

22:48
GS: Okay, how has your own community changed since you have become deacon?

22:55
JI: I accepted, me ̶ shortly after I was I accepted, I performed events that I usually did not do as sub-deacon. Some I have been involved more in events where I could do more, participate more that includes going and ̶ you know again with the fact there was not a priest available at the time on a regular basis I can pick up the slack and do some of the things that priest do on a limited basis. And house visitation, prayers, grave blessings on Memorial Day. I took that upon myself that was my initial intention when I was thinking of this that you know how much more I can serve the community and this was an avenue for me to do that. I have done some, unfortunately I have done some funerals one for a I have helped one when there was an absence of the priest and I have done some funerals for close friends of mine where there was not a priest available. So you know I got to be more involved in that sense.

24:05
GS: Can you tell me about the establishment of the Armenian Genocide memorial by the Washington Street Bridge?

24:13
JI: The establishment at the time initially when we were first ̶ this was maybe several years ago, like I told you before we planted a tree. That was the initial recognition of our community toward the Armenians in the Genocide ̶

24:31
GS: Who made this decision?

24:32
JI: The committee that was responsible for this and it was not church related was the one that made the decision to have a monument there.

24:42
GS: Who established this committee?

24:44
JI: Who established the committee? The committee was established by concerned citizens that were already involved in the events that they were organizing like I mentioned to you; the Kradjian family and a few others basically. They were passionate about this. And it turned out to be something that we needed.

25:10
GS: Where do you see the Armenian Binghamton Community going in the future and what are your thoughts on the Armenian diaspora in general going forward?

25:21
JI: Well, I feel it, as far as our community goes, the next twenty years I thought of that many years, I do not think there is going to be any Armenian language in the next twenty years that is why English has become a little more of a kind of ̶ the English language seems to be the one that is going to, you know continue to bring people to Church, there will still be a church whether it is an Armenian Church, although we say Armenian, I do not feel that at this point due the small size of the Parish and the fact that we do not have a regular shepherd to tend to the flock I feel it is going more towards English, more toward non-Armenian. There will still be a church that is how I envision it. This is the plight of the small communities basically. I feel it outside near metropolitan areas that case, the bigger towns, the bigger cities ̶ our communities here really and I am being kind will go toward that type of a direction so to speak English, English speaking.

26:38
GS: So do you think, introducing English into the church is a threat to Armenian, you know Armenian Communities’ identity? Maybe threat is a strong word but you think it risks it?

26:52
JI: It risks it, I think it does and I am thinking only if this community but there are a lot of small communities like this. I am talking about Syracuse and Rochester, Upstate New York communities, Niagara Falls, I mean I have had the pleasure of serving as deacon in the Syracuse community. I see the same type of a trend. Okay, I mean people, the have about the same amount of members but there is no succession, the plan of succession has to be there. And that is what I am worried about basically.

27:55
GS: Okay, all right, well Jack thank you very much for your time we really appreciate your help.

27:29
JI: Oh, sure.

(End of Recording)


Date of Interview

6/22/2014

Interviewer

Gregory Smaldone

Interviewee

Jack Injajigian

Biographical Text

Jack Injajigian is the child of Armenian parents who grew up in Greece before immigrating to the United States in the 1950's. Injajigian was ordained and has been a deacon for thirteen years. After college, he served on Parish Council and helped organize and work many Armenian events within the church. Injajigian has a Bachelor's degree in Pharmacy from Albany Colloge of Pharmacy of Union University.  

Duration

27:28

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

Armenia; Armenian Massacre; Turkey; Greece; Endicott Johnson; Ellis Island; Church; Sunday school

Files

Citation

“Jack Injajigian,” Digital Collections, accessed February 7, 2023, https://omeka.binghamton.edu/omeka/items/show/626.