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Interview with Grace Baradet

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Armenian Oral History Project
Interview with: Grace Baradet
Interviewed by: Gregory Smaldone
Transcriber: Cordelia Jannetty
Date of interview: 15 April 2016
Interview Setting: Endwell, NY

(Start of Interview)

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

GB: Grace Sarkisian Baradet.

GS: And where were you born?

GB: I was born in Binghamton, New York.

GS: What year?

GB: [laughs] 1928.

GS: Okay, um, let us start with your parents. Can you tell me a little bit about them?

GB: Yes. They were Garabed and Annagils Sarkisian, Annagil Konjoyan Sarkisian. My father a Garabed was born in Harput in a little village called Çarşamba. And he came to this country in 1912. He left behind his wife and his son that was one years old. And I presume he came here either to work and send for them or make money and go back. But then the genocide occurred. And he lost his son. He could not find him. And it took many many years and he finally through people that he knew discovered that his son was in a Greek orphanage on the Island of Corfu and ready to be sent to Canada. And I presume it was when the Georgetown Boys, have you heard of that project?

GS: Please.

GB: That was–they were sending boys there to work on farms. So, my brother, actually half-brother, was not happy about that. He wanted to go to Canada. So my father found him and arranged for him to come to this country. And I cannot remember what year it was. I can probably look it up. So they were living in Binghamton. And someone here Mrs. Bogdasarian, Alice Bogdasarian’s mother-in-law knew my mother from the orphanage and said I have a woman that I think would be appropriate for you. His wife, my father’s first wife died during the genocide. And so they wrote, sent pictures, decided it would work out and then my father arranged my mother to go, by that time she was in France, in Marcy, to go from Marcy to Cuba. And they got married in Cuba ̶

GS: Wow.

GB: And came back to Binghamton.

GS: Okay, and what date did they get married in?

GB: They got married in 1927, May.

GS: Okay, and they settled down in Binghamton.

GB: Yes.

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

GB: They did.

GS: Okay, so let us move on a little bit to your childhood. Did you have any brothers or sisters growing up?

GB: I had my older half-brother. He was like seventeen years older and a younger brother, he was five years younger.

GS: Okay, did you and your brothers grew up speaking Armenian in the household?

GB: Yes.

GS: Okay, was it because your parents taught it to you, like spoke to you in Armenian?

GB: Yes. They spoke to us in Armenian. Turkish, when they did not want us to know what they were talking about. [laughs]

GS: Did they speak in, how good were your parents at speaking English?

GB: I think they were fairly good. They read and spoke English and wrote. And when I was away, my mother would write to me in English, because I never learnt to read and write Armenian.

GS: Did they speak English to you when you were very little as well as Armenian or was it almost entirely Armenian?

GB: They, I think my half-brother spoke to me in English because when I started school I could speak both languages.

GS: Okay, so you had both in the household.

GB: Uh-huh.

GS: What would you say you and your brother conversed in primarily?

GB: English.

GS: English primarily? Would you switch to Armenian when you did not want other people know what you were talking about?

GB: Not necessarily. But when my parents would be talking to me in the Armenian I would reply back in Armenian.

GS: Okay, did you and your brothers attend church regularly? Did you attend an Armenian language school? Did you attend the Sunday school?

GB: We did not have a priest here. We would have visiting priest maybe few times a year. So we would go. And as far as Armenian school, we did not have Sunday school. An Armenian school, I think Mr. Bogdasarian started Armenian school. And I tried. My brothers, Oh, my older brother spoke Armenian and read and wrote in Armenian. So he knew that. My younger brother did not. He had a disability.

GS: Um, Okay, so the church only had official service a few times a year you said. Where there any other functions that would occur in the church more frequently?

GB: Well, they had dinners but mostly during the summer all the Armenian families would gather and go to a farm in Port Crane.

GS: Can you tell me a little about that?

GB: Oh, my goodness, every Sunday we would have to get up early to go there because there were not that many picnic tables available. My father always wanted a picnic table. So, it was very rustic, it was as the cows were walking around and it was just a farm. And I think we paid maybe fifty cents to go into the owners. And most of the Armenians went every Sunday and there were not that many cars in the thirties. So the few people that had cars would go ferry them back and forth in the morning and then ferry them back and forth at night. And Mr. Bagdasarian was one he had a truck. And he would put packing boxes in the back so can you imagine how unsafe it was. We would sit down on these packing boxes with the food in the middle and he would take everybody. And then come back take the rest. Then at the end of the day as I said we, he do the reverse until my brother, older brother got a car. A Model A and then he would do the same thing. Helping people, and they stop on the way to get ice from the ice company.

GS: So this would be like a frequent Sunday event over the summer.

GB: Yes.

GS: And how many families usually were participating?

GB: Oh, I would say at least ten, at least ten if not more.

GS: How large the portion of the community was that?

GB: I really do not know, maybe about half. There were a lot of kids. There were few families that they would camp there during the week. Put up a tent.

GS: What kind of food would you bring with you to the picnic?

GB: Oh, yes. Kebab, Pilaf, watermelon, desserts, vegetables whatever.

GS: When you said that there were sometimes dinners at the church. When would these be and for what purpose?

GB: Usually they would be after we would have church service, after Badarak and they would have a dinner. They would be just as a gathering for everyone.

GS: And who would usually prepare the meals?

GB: The women. Women’s Guild of the Church. The men would do the meat.

GS: Okay. Um, can you tell me a little bit more about your parents? What were there professions? What was the highest level of education they achieved in the US?

GB: Well, my father came from a rural community in Turkey. And he worked in a shoe factory when he came here. So his level of education I really do not know. My mother was born also in Harput. But she came from the city. And she did have some education and she was sort of a teacher in the orphanage. She was a young girl and her parents put her in the Danish Orphanage to protect her. Her sisters were married and she was the young girl so they thought they would do that. And I think she went home on weekends. But she was mostly in this Danish Orphanage.

GS: Did she ever talk to you about her experience there?

GB: She really loved it. And Mrs. Peterson was the head of the orphanage and she really liked Mrs. Peterson. And then she had something else that was very interesting that I do not know you may have heard you may have not heard before but her nephew was a little boy. And they wanted to keep him safe. So they brought him to this orphanage, his parents, and asked Mrs. Peterson if she would take him in. And she said no, it is a girl’s orphanage I cannot take a boy. And my mother pleaded she said please let me watch him I will make sure he does not bother anybody. So she relented and my mother had her nephew Harutun, I do not know for how long. [Phone ringing] excuse me.

[Recording paused]

GS: Resuming Grace Baradet’s interview.

GB: All right, my mother, so she took her nephew, Harutun, who was a Konjoyan. And she took care of him and then the older sister who had been married and widowed, her sister Sara worked for the German Orphanage and she took him and kept him for a while. And then the oldest sister Yasah who had been married and widowed and took him. And somehow they all went to Beirut. And her older sister was able to sell her house for I do not know for eight gold coins. So they lived on some of that gold in Beirut until the sister, the oldest one found out about the Nansen passport. Have you heard of that one? No.

GS: Please!

GB: I have a copy of it. This Nansen passport was founded by Friedrich Nansen [Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen] and he was Swedish, philanthropist [Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate] and I do not know it all, and he–this was for immigrants to go wherever they want. So she found out about this, her sister Yasah. And she took this nephew, her daughter and some older woman on this Nansen Passport to France. I have a gold coin that they lived on as a memento and I have a copy of the Nansen Passport.

GS: We would love to take a look at that.

GB: Yeah, it is interesting because I did not know about it until I went to France and met my cousin.

GS: We are looking at the Nansen passport right. Now Certificate– So, moving back to your childhood, would you say that you socialized with mainly Armenian children, non-Armenian children, some combination of both?

GB: Combination of both.

GS: Would you say that they were separate spheres like you and your Armenian friends and your non-Armenian friends?

GB: Yes.

GS: How did that come about? Who were your Armenian friends?

GB: Well, my Armenian friends were–we lived in neighborhoods and on the west side there was a whole group of Armenians. And we sort of associated with them and some were young people, my age. And then, my American friends of course were from school and neighborhood.

GS: Okay. Um, what was it like being an Armenian in school? Was it an identity that you bore proudly or was it something people aware about; was it more of an exotic identity that people did not understand?

GB: I do not recall all that they really question that. I think that I do not remember anybody questioning it or saying that, you know, what are you. I think we accepted that.

GS: When you were growing up in what ways did your parents try and maintain a sense of Armenian identity for you and your brothers?

GB: Well, we spoke Armenian in the house. And then of course when there was church we would go to church. Other than that, Oh, and the neighborhoods; you know the Armenian people in the neighborhood would visit back and forth. They were like family. So, other than that, there really was not another way.

AD: How about food?

GB: Pardon?

AD: Food?

GB: Food, Oh, definitely food. Yes. And of course my parents would get, for my father would get a newspaper printed in Armenian. And if there was any news–I was young, you know I really did not understand or did not really care and if there was some news he would get it that way. If it was interesting to me they would pass it on.

GS: So you said you only had church service a few time a year. If there was going to be a church service, how likely was it that you and your family would go?

GB: Very likely. We would go.

GS: What kinds of conditions would it take for you guys to have missed one of those church services?

GB: Probably illness.

GS: Illness, so when it happened it was important to go, was that the case for most of the community as well?

GB: I think so. It was also a chance to get together and socialize after church.

GS: So, the church was as much as a social space as it was a religious one for the community early on?

GB: Yes.

GS: Would you guys have any events at the church outside of the context of a priest coming to perform the Badarak?

GB: Oh, programs. Contest, I do not really do not know how to describe it.

GS: What kind of programs?

GB: Well I think the children were taught to get up and recite poems or stories. In, uh, Christmas time, there would be Santa would come and bring something for the children.

GS: And this would always happen in the church?

GB: Yes.

GS: And it was always for the Armenian community that these events where happening

GB: Right.

GS: Okay, moving on a little bit to your adult life, did you attend a university or–?

GB: I went to business school.

GS: Where at?

GB: In Binghamton, it is called the Lowell business school.

GS: Okay, and what has been your main profession on the course of your career?

GB: Well, I was a secretary. I went to work in Washington for the state department. And then when I left I was the Ministry of Aid.

GS: Where at?

GB: US State Department.

GS: Did you marry?

GB: Yes.

GS: Who is your husband?

GB: My husband was Richard Baradet. I met him in Washington. He was in the service. He was a marine. And we continued to live in Washington, or, actually in Tacoma Park, Maryland. He went back to college to the University of Maryland.

GS: Now, was your husband Armenian?

GB: No, he was French-Irish.

GS: French-Irish. Was it important to your parents that you marry someone Armenian?

GB: You know they never expressed that and they loved Richard. He had lost his father when he was three and his mother when he was seventeen. So, they became his parents and he really was wonderful to them. And they really loved him.

GS: Did– would you say that you, growing up, had a desire to marry someone Armenian? Was it something that was important to you?

GB: No.

GS: Do you know if that was a popular anxiety among people in the community? Were there other parents who pressured their children, were there children who said they only wanted to marry Armenian?

GB: Yes. I think most of the Armenian parents wanted their children to marry an Armenian.

GS: Why do you think that was?

GB: To carry on their identity, to carry on their heritage.

GS: And you think that for them was important?

GB: That was very important.

GS: Okay. Did you and your husband have children?

GB: We have three sons.

GS: Can you name them please?

GB: Yes, the oldest one is Kevin, and the next one is Timothy and then our youngest was Brian.

GS: And how old are they now?

GB: Oh my Gosh. Kevin is fifty. He will be fifty seven in this year. Timothy is fifty-five and Brian passed away when he was forty four.

GS: I am so sorry. Did you raise your children to speak Armenian?

GB: I did not but my mother lived with us and she talked to them in Armenian. Now they understood and they can say some words but they really did not speak. However, they were brought up Catholic but they went to Armenian Church as well.

GS: Okay, for starters where did you and your husband raise your children?

GB: We lived in Binghamton, New York.

GS: Okay, so what, why did you and your husband decided to raise your children Catholic as opposed to Armenian Orthodox?

GB: When we got married in 1954, I had to get married in the Catholic Church because that was a requirement.

GS: A requirement by whom?

GB: A requirement by the Catholic Church that we bring up our children catholic.

GS: Otherwise his priest would not have sanctified the marriage?

GB: Correct.

GS: How did that make you feel?

GB: I thought it was Okay. It did not bother me.

GS: It was not important to you that your children be raised Armenian Orthodox?

GB: No, I do not think I gave it a thought to be honest with you, because in the end, they went to both Churches. We only had church maybe once a month or not even that, and they would go to the Catholic Church in the morning and then go to the Armenian Church. They were part of Armenian Youth Group that Maryanne Rejebian and I started.

GS: Can you tell me about that? What was this youth group?

GB: We started this in the eighties and we thought the Armenian children of our children’s age should be together and experience that part of it. So we decided to start this youth group. We did not have a priest at the time. But we had the youth group and we had maybe about eighteen children. And we would get together and go on outings. We would have maybe play, go ice skating, and go to the Arena to watch hockey game or we would have bowling and just get together and I think once a year we would have a, I cannot even remember what we would call it–a sort of retreat.

GS: Okay. And where would the retreat go?

GB: Well, the one retreat we had was at a lake, Oh My Gosh I have forgotten now where. It was a lovely place and it was over the weekend. And by that time, we did have a priest.

GS: What was your primary motivation in starting this youth group?

GB: It was to keep the children together, to keep their Armenian identity and to get them to know each other better. And to have a childhood like we did raise together.

GS: Did you try and speak Armenian within this youth group trying to encourage the children to speak it or there was not enough of a consistency, fluency to allow that?

GB: There was not a fluency to allow that.

GS: So, it was in that way that you were able to maintain your childrens’ Armenian identity, even though they were raised in the Catholic Church?

GB: Yes.

GS: What other ways were you able to teach them about Armenian?

GB: Well, as I said my mother lived with us and she spoke to them in Armenian and she would cook Armenian food and she would make Corek, the Armenian bread and they would help her. In fact, the neighborhood children who were not Armenian would smell it and come and sit on the back porch, waiting for the bread to come out of the oven.

GS: Oh my God!

GB: Yeah. [laughs] It was really cute.

GS: Well, they know what is up, sure they get the best. So, did your sons marry?

GB: No.

GS: No, none of them married?

GB: No.

GS: Okay. When they were growing up, did you ever talk to them about, you know, if they were to marry about whether they should marry Armenians when they should raise their children in the Armenian Orthodox Church?

GB: No, I did not.

GS: How would you identify yourself? Would you say you are Armenian, Armenian-American, an American-Armenian, an American?

GB: American-Armenian.

GS: American-Armenian? Why would you choose that term?

GB: Well, I was born in this country. And I feel that it gave my parents a wonderful life, a safe life and so they were really grateful to be here. And so I feel that American-Armenian describes it the best. And I am proud of my Armenian heritage.

GS: How do you think your children would identify themselves?

GB: American.

GS: They would not use Armenian?

GB: I do not know. I really do not know.

GS: What are your thoughts on the Armenian Diaspora in general? Do you think that it was a survival mechanism after the genocide, do you think it is more part of a natural migratory pattern, do you think that is getting stronger, is it getting weaker, is it losing its identity, is it becoming more cohesive?

GB: I think that it was a way of survival that they had to leave, they had to go someplace. And most of my cousins ended up in France and they are still there, that is on my mother’s side.

GS: In Marseille?

GB: No, not in Marseille. Most of them are outside of Paris. And one was near Leon. And we went there and visited and got to know them, my husband and I. In fact, the two older boys when they were fourteen and sixteen, because the nephew that my mother and her sisters saved wanted them to come after my mother had died, he wrote and said that he wanted our two sons to come and visit. And they went for the whole summer and they loved it and they got along. They had a little bit of French in high school, junior high and a little smattering of Armenian, and they went and had a wonderful time.

GS: How do you see the Binghamton Armenian Community today? Do you think it is strong and getting stronger, do you think it is at risk at losing its identity?

GB: I would say, I thought it was at a risk of losing its identity because most of us were older and the younger people moved away after college to get their jobs they settled wherever their jobs were. However, it seems to be revitalizing. There are some young families that have come in. One is a professor at SUNY. I do not know if you have met him, Pegor, I cannot think of his last name, Aynajian ̶

GS: I think I am about to be in contact with him soon possibly ̶

GB: Okay, and his wife and they have three children now little ones, and there is another Armenian woman whose husband is not Armenian and he is a pharmacist and they have a little one, they have moved back or they have moved here. And there are several other young children, so these little ones. And it looks like it is kind of coming back, hopefully.

GS: Now, do you see, do you think that an important part of the Armenian community is the maintenance of Armenian language or do you think the community exists above the language?

GB: I think it exists above the language because I think the church is a nucleus that brings everyone together.

GS: But, as you talked about with your own family, you know, being Armenian Orthodox was not necessarily important having an Armenian identity, so do you think it is the Church as a physical space or the church is a religion institution that is important for the community?

GB: I think it is both.

GS: But you think it can survive with one being more important than the other as your community survived with you know only sporadic church services?

GB: Well the younger generation does not speak Armenian now. And I think it can survive that way. And most of the priests now speak English. So the Sermons are in English.

AD: I have a couple of questions. When you were growing up, do you remember in your house anything like your mother decorate the house pertaining to Armenian culture, you know like, maybe something she made with her hands like a little crochet–?

GB: Doilies, yes.

AD: Doilies, okay.

GB: Not crochet, needle work. You know they have this very fine needle work that they did, beautiful.

AD: Yeah, so did she teach you how to do that?

GB: She did not teach me how to do that but she did teach me how to knit and to sew and to embroider because she was a wonderful seamstress, taught me how to make things, clothes but as far as decorating the house outside of the needle work no.

AD: That was it?

GB: That was it.

AD: Was there any like any wall decoration that maybe pertaining to scenery of the homeland?

GB: No. When she came to Cuba, she probably just brought her clothes with her. She was not able to bring much more.

AD: Did they ever go back to visit the homeland?

GB: No. They never wanted to. And they really did not talk about their homeland that much either.

AD: Oh, they have not talked about?

GB: Not so much about what happened. They would talk about how wonderful it was and even though with the genocide, the Turkish neighbors were wonderful. And but because they lost their families, they were very sad about that. And it was hard for them to talk about that, their families and what happened to them. So, honestly I really do not know other than what happened to my father’s first wife and his son. I really do not know too much.

AD: They never referred to like nostalgic memories?

GB: Nostalgic yes.

AD: They did?

GB: The wonderful lives they had. And what they did growing up and my mother would talk about Christmas and the biggest thing to get was like a piece of–an orange was a gift. That was a big gift.

AD: How about Easter?

GB: Easter, they would go to church. In my mother’s family ̶

AD: How about eggs?

GB: They did the eggs and I continue that tradition with the onion skins. Yes, I still do.

AD: Because that is not American, that is Armenian.

GB: But I continue that.

AD: No, you boil the egg. Can you tell us how you make it?

GB: Oh, you collect the onion skins from onions during the year until you have a lot and then at Easter time, what I do is I layer the onion skins in a pan and I gently put the eggs in on top of it and layer more onion skins on top, and then I put a little vinegar so that it holds the color and then you bring it to a boil and you turn it off and let it steep for 20 minutes so it is hardboiled. It gets a beautiful sort of a mahogany red color.

GS: So it is just a way to dye them?

GB: Yes, it is a way to dye them but also signifies the blood of Christ.

AD: Because I grew up in Istanbul and Easter in my mind represents red egg.

GB: Yes.

AD: Because always Armenian friends would give us those eggs ̶

GB: Oh!

AD: So and I never seen that in anywhere else.

GB: I think the Greeks do that.

AD: Yes, the Greeks do that too because there is also some Greek population, so Easter represents red egg to me. So, yeah they did not talk about the past?

GB: They spoke lovingly about the past and the life they had but my father was young when he married and he came here I would say in my memory I think he said he was like nineteen or twenty. And so he married young and he had this one year old son that he left behind with his wife and they were caught up in the genocide. And she died and he ended up in an orphanage, a Greek orphanage.

AD: So, like for example painting those eggs is an Armenian tradition very much so.

GB: Yes.

AD: But like when you were growing up was there anything, for example when we entered the house, we took our shoes because this is not something we learn in this culture, it is like you know were taught is there any tradition that they say as Armenians we do that, like do you remember anything?

GB: We did not. I think my parents wanted to be Americanized because they were so happy to be in this country and be free and safe. So we never really went took off our shoes. We always went in the back door almost every friend; no one used the front door. I do not know whether that is a tradition or not but it just seemed to be that way.

AD: No, I mean not just taking off the shoes, something else, I do not know anything pertaining to Armenian culture, you know like this is how you treat your elder for example.

GB: Oh! Okay, you always, is when someone elderly they came you always serve them water with a plate under the glass. The glass on a plate, always.

AD: From what you said I gather that you took care of your mother when she got older so, is this a trend like in the community like when people get older?

GB: I do not think it is a trend. You know my father had died and my mother, we had Richard and I, my husband and had I moved back here from Washington. He got a job with IBM and so we bought a house and my father and mother lived with us. And my father died in 1960. And we had our first child in 1959 so he just knew him for a year. And he did not know our other two sons. And my mother was a widow. And she was a wonderful grandmother and they loved her and so we lived together.

AD: How about your other Armenian friends? Did you see that happening like they took care of their elderly?

GB: No.

AD: They did not.

GB: No, but I do not know, they did not have to or it was not necessary I do not know but no. I think, we were probably the only ones.

AD: So, there is like no much inter-dependency?

GB: I do not know how to answer that. They, I cannot think of any other a young couple that had their like mother-in-law, mother living with them.

AD: Okay, that is pretty much like westernized, like assimilated–

GB: Oh, and because it was necessary. I mean I did not want my mother to live alone. And I had a younger brother who had a disability and he lived with us a part of the time and then he was in Broome Developmental and we would bring him home on the weekends.

AD: But you said yours was unique case.

GB: I think so, I think so.

AD: Is there anything else you want to ask?

GS: That was it, thank you very much Grace.

GB: I want to show you the gold coin ̶

(End of Recording)

Date of Interview



Gregory Smaldone


GraceBaradet 1

Biographical Text

After graduating from Lowell Business School, Grace became a secretary and went to work in Washington for the state department. Afterwards, she worked as the the Ministry of Aid. Grace was a daughter of Armenian immigrants who came to the United States from Greece and Turkey in the early 1910's. Grace has three sons.





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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.


Georgetown Boys Orphanage; Greece; Armenian Genocide; Beirut; Church; cultural identity; Sunday school



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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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