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Ara Kradjian

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Armenian Oral History Project
Interview with: Ara Kradjian
Interviewed by: Gregory Smaldone
Transcriber: Cordelia Jannetty
Date of interview: 24 March 2016
Interview Setting: Endwell, NY
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(Start of Interview)

0:03
GS: Okay, so, my name is Gregory Smaldone. I am here interviewing Dr. Ara Kradjian for the Armenian Oral History Project for the Special Collections Department at Binghamton University Library. Dr. Kradjian if you can please introduce yourself.

0:17
AK: My name is Ara Kradjian. I live in 823 Sky Lane Terrace in Endwell. I was born here eighty-two years ago. And I think I am going to die here.

0:34
GS: Can you tell us about your parents, what were their names, what were their immigration status?

0:39
AK: My father’s name was Kenneth, or Kevan Kradjian. He was born in Hadjin [Haçin], Turkey around 1901. He lived to be ninety-nine years old. He came to this country 1920. His brother came over about a year or two before him. So the two of them partnered and became successful business men in the Binghamton community.

1:17
GS: And what about your mother?

1:20
AK: My mother’s maiden name was Haigouhi Asarian. She was born in Istanbul and my father went back to the old country and he met her in Marseilles in 1930 when they married and he brought her back to Binghamton.

1:44
GS: Were your parents genocide survivors?

1:47
AK: Both of them were, yes.

1:48
GS: Did they ever talk to you about their experiences?

1:52
AK: Yes they did.

1:56
S: Would you be willing to share what they shared with you?

2:00
AK: My mother had an interesting incident. She was very young and her father had died. Her mother had remarried and there was ̶ They were going on this death march I believe and they were able to flee only because a relative, an uncle, was actually, he was Armenian, he was the captain of the Turkish army, and somehow they were able to flee, they saw death and destruction all over but my mother had to leave her mother's side and go to an orphanage because her mother's new husband and child; they did not have enough food to feed everybody. So they went through difficult times.

3:05
GS: I can imagine. So you said that you were born and raised here in Binghamton.

3:08
AK: That is correct.

3:09
GS: How many siblings do you have in the family?

3:11
AK: I have three sisters.

3:14
GS: Older or younger?

3:17
AK: Let us see ̶ one older and two younger.

3:22
GS: Okay, growing up would you say you hung out mostly with Armenian children or non-Armenian children or were your kinship groups some form of combination of two?

3:32
AK: I would say there was more ̶ once I got into school after five years old, I hung out more with non-Armenian children because the community here was very small, the Armenian community. That is the only reason. We kept in touch through the Armenian church on Cooperate Avenue. That was our common bond.

3:58
GS: Tell me about that, so the church was kind of the social space for the Armenian community?

4:02
AK: Yes it was.

4:03
GS: Would you say you just went every week for church service or was there an expanded presence there?

4:09
AK: The church service was really only once a month because we couldn’t afford to have a full-time priest but they had like a children’s Sunday school every Sunday.

4:22
GS: So you went to that?

4:23
AK: Yes, which kept everything going.

4:26
GS: Would that meet for say, two hours every Sunday or ̶

4:29
AK: Yeah, yeah.

4:30
GS: And was there usually a reception or something after or was it just come and leave?

4:36
AK: Yeah ̶ there would be a coffee hour, depends who would pick up the children.

4:44
GS: And then at that time would all the children socialize together?

4:49
AK: A little bit, yeah.

4:50
GS: So the church, even when the church was not being utilized for religious services it was very much a social space.

4:55
AK: No question about it.

4:57
GS: Would you say that your experience of only really, would you say your experience of having a mostly non Armenian friend group outside of the church was typical of children your age in the community?

5:10
AK: In this Armenian community I would say yes.

5:12
GS: In this Armenian community ̶ good specification, thank you ̶ what were the roles of your parents in the household, what roles did each of them have, did they both go to work, did one stay at home and manage the household?

5:24
AK: Yeah, my father was a workaholic and my mother raised the family.

5:30
GS: What did your father do?

5:31
AK: Well he started off working for the shoe factory here before I was born ̶ this is the home of, at Endicott Johnson and they employed 20,000 immigrants at that time ̶ supplied all work shoes and military shoes for the whole of the united states and after a couple years there, he and his brother and his first cousin bought their own dry cleaning and tailor shop close to where they used to work in the shoe factory. And then they moved from there and they bought out their cousin. And then after World War II, they were able to take over a larger established laundry and then after my uncle’s son Harry and I got out of college in the (19)50s actually, I got out maybe 1957 we came to work at father and uncle's laundry and experimented from there.

6:50
GS: Okay, I am assuming both of your parents spoke fluent Armenian.

6:53
AK: Yes.

6:54
GS: Naturally. Did they teach you and you siblings Armenian growing up?

7:00
AK: Yeah, we learned to, a while back we learned to speak, I never was very good reading and writing Armenian. I could speak it and understand.

7:14
GS: How frequently was it spoken in the household?

7:20
AK: From ages one up until through elementary school I would say was more common, but my mother knew English when she came to this country, she had gone to an American University in Istanbul. But my father went to night school in this country and he learned English and he spoke it pretty well, and he could probably read it. He went to night school and became fluent as soon as he could.

7:51
GS: So could you tell me, did you teach your children how to speak Armenian?

8:00
AK: No, I did not, even though I married a, an Armenian girl, who was born in Tehran Iran, she spoke. They picked up bits and pieces, but we became more of an American household but we always could speak with our relatives in Armenian but my children could understand it a little bit but did not speak it very well.

8:33
GS: Would you say that growing up your mother tended to cook Armenian food in the house and was that an important part of your identity?

8:42
AK: I think so, yes, very much so.

8:45
GS: Would you say that was common throughout the Armenian community, was food what touched us?

8:50
AK: Absolutely.

8:51
GS: Okay, cool, so let us focus a little bit on your family, can you tell me, your wife’s name, how many children you have and what they are doing now?

9:01
AK: Okay, my wife’s name was Sophie Boudaghian and we married 19 years, then she passed away with a blood disorder and in the meantime we had two boys, Eric and Brian and they both went to local high schools and Brian went on to college, graduation and came into the family business so he is really third generation in the laundry business that we were involved in. My son, Eric was non academia minded and he struggled to get through high school and he ̶ completely different personality and thank god he is still alive today, he is healthy and strong but he does not have the work ethics and the passion for work, as his brother has.

10:19
GS: How important was it for you that your children have a sense of Armenian identity growing up and if it was important how did you give that to them?

10:30
AK: Would you repeat that.

10:32
GS: Well let us start with the first question, was it important for you that your children maintain a sense of Armenian Identity?

10:41
AK: Yes but I do not think I did a very good job, I did a better job on my younger son that oldest son on that actually. Because he married an Armenian girl, who was born in Soviet Armenia and moved to Los Angeles when she was eighteen and he met her recently, he has only been married two years. She is 100 percent Armenian-American and she speaks both languages fluently. So, I did not think he would get back into the Armenian community but through his marriage with this girl, he did.

11:30
GS: In what way was he estranged from the Armenian community?

11:36
AK: It just, going away to school and college, he was not estranged but was not a priority for him.

11:48
GS: What was the Armenian community for your children, growing up?

11:52
AK: For this community, it got less and less, most of the people, all the families I remember, that I grew up with, over half of them moved to California over a period of twenty-thirty years. I would say in the (19)40s. I bet we lost thirty-forty families to California and during and after World War II and then there were these intermarriages with the American community, we did not have a strong enough, or enough people to hold the Armenian community together here. And it is very small, relatively weak right now.

12:57
GS: Did your children attend Armenian Church growing up?

13:03
AK: Yeah but not as much as I did when I was growing up, again they had this, we did not have a full time priest and they weren’t interested in the Sunday school courses. My wife and I would take them like once a month to the Armenian Church.

13:22
GS: And was that about the extent to which they would socialize with predominantly Armenian children, elsewise it was just was whoever their friends were.

13:30
AK: Yeah but we there rather interrelations with Armenians were more with the extended family like my wife had an extended Armenian family in the Queens and Troy area in New York City. So, on holidays we would go see them or they would come see us. And then, it was to relatives on weekend visits. Aside from that, I would say 90 percent of life was among the American community.

14:18
GS: What were ways in which you tried to pass down Armenian traditions to them, outside of church and the Armenian language?

14:31
AK: Well, I am guilty to say I was not very aggressive because as I grew up I realized I was moving away from the Armenian community, I just saw it was inevitable and I never discouraged them, I always told them about their roots and they loved to hear stories from their grandfather and their grandmother about how they grew up in the old country. But, if it was a family meeting or involving relatives they were always curious and liked to listen about Armenian history. Besides that, they were surrounded by kids maybe 90 – 95 percent of the time with all Americans, even though they were from different ethnic backgrounds.

15:32
GS: Understandable, okay, just a few more questions, firstly, what are your thoughts on the Armenian Diaspora, do you think it is an accident of history or do you thinks it a good and naturally occurring product and do see it as something as more of a temporary apparition or do you see it as something that is more here to stay?

15:52
AK: Please say that again, I am a little hard of hearing.

15:55
GS: I apologize, what are your views on the Armenian Diaspora, do you see it as a good thing ̶

16:00
AK: When you say Diaspora?

16:03
GS: The population outside of the homeland, the Armenian population that does not live in Armenia. Do you think that is a good and natural process of immigration or do you think that is an accident in history because of the genocide?

16:18
AK: No, I think it is a really good both; they got them to move, the genocide unfortunately got them move out of the home and they were very adaptable and as you know better than I do probably they came to North America, South America, Europe of course and there were intermarriages, it was a melting, America’s the biggest melting pot as you know.

16:47
GS: Do you think Armenian organizations today, do a good job of keeping the Armenian Americans in the fold of the community or do you think they focus more on the recently immigrated, naturally born Armenians?

17:03
AK: Well, my only contact was going to the bigger cities and the Armenian weekly or bimonthly paper comes out in Boston and half of it relates to what’s going on in Armenian and Yerevan and the other half was what’s going on socially in the North East and I think it is kind of interesting, it keeps me in touch with both sides. So, I think its fifty fifty on their focus on American Armenians as well as the Armenians who are still living in Yerevan and all over Europe.

17:54
GS: Okay, how would you identify yourself?

17:58
AK: How do I identify ̶ I am Armenian and American, proud of my heritage but also very proud to be an American. So, I think I have the best of both worlds.

18:09
GS: So you would call yourself an Armenian American?

18:12
AK: Yes.

18:14
GS: Okay, one more question, what are your views on gender roles in society today?

18:20
AK: On gender roles?

18:24
GS: Gender roles like the idea of the place that women and men take either in the work place or in the home or in marriage, etcetera?

18:35
AK: What is my idea on ̶

18:37
GS: What is your opinion on the way, what do you think about gender roles in today in ways in which?

18:41
AK: How I pursue them or what I think they should be?

18:45
GS: All of the above.

18:49
AK: Okay, well obviously females have become a very prominent, become very prominent more so I perceive in the United States than they have in the European and other countries and they play a more prominent role every day. They have become presidents, CEO’s of large companies and a lot of moms that used to stay home now have a first job or second job out of necessity and the most ̶ play a big role so they can get away, either out of necessity or out of personal drive, be their own person and be independent. They’ve become much more independent, when I was born in 1933, I had seen that women taking a much more important role in everyone’s life, all through this country.

18:52
GS: Do you think that coming, that the immigration caused by the genocide led to a major shift in gender roles within the Armenian community or do you think that whatever shifts have been occurring there have just been a part of natural process in a more generalized sense?

20:22
AK: Again, a little bit of each, when they came, I think to the genocide, my parents did not have children, the women had to work, most of them came here with very little capital, or funds or money so a lot of them went to work until they had children from my perception and then after children grew up, a lot them went back to work. So I would say the genocide was responsible for them coming over, most of them, not in poverty but on the low income level and depending on the women’s personality and drive that some of them wanted to stay, to prove they were independent and out of necessity or just they wanted to go to college, and be their own person and they did. So it is a little of both.

21:39
GS: Okay, wonderful.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

3/24/2016

Interviewer

Gregory Smaldone

Interviewee

Ara Kradjian

Biographical Text

Ara Kradjian (1933-2018) was the son of two genocide survivors who immigrated from Turkey to the United States in 1920. Ara was born and raised in Binghamton. He graduated from University of Pennysalvania with a B.S.E in Economics. After graduation, Ara served as a Lieutenant with the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion for two years. Ara returned to Binghamton, where he joined to his family business at Kradjian Properties and Bates Troy Laundry and Dry Cleaning. He is survived by his wife and his two sons.

Duration

21:42

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

Church; Sunday school; Endicott Johnson; cooking; traditional roles; Armenian diaspora; gender roles; immigration

Files

Citation

“Ara Kradjian,” Digital Collections, accessed November 30, 2022, https://omeka.binghamton.edu/omeka/items/show/631.