The first television program to celebrate this unique American experience features personal recollections from three generations of proud Armenians, including tennis champion Andre Agassi, author Peter Balakian, actor Mike Connors (“Mannix”), actor/writer Eric Bogosian, comedian Andrea Martin (“SCTV”), Carnegie Foundation President Dr. Vartan Gregorian, MGM Chairman and CEO Alex Yemenidjian, NCAA basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, historians, musicians, politicians, religious leaders, and corporate executives. The program pays warm tribute to a cultural identity that has survived even near annihilation to arrive at a modern revitalization. As author Peter Balakian proclaims in the program, “there has never been a better time to be Armenian if you’re living in the United States.”
Long at the crossroads of conflicting empires and until recently without a recognized homeland, the Armenian culture has, as described in the program, risen time and again, like out of the ashes, the Phoenix. THE ARMENIAN AMERICANS hears voices from a generation invigorated by Armenia’s independent status speak with unprecedented candor about the 1915 Genocide that scattered survivors around the world and the ways in which Armenian American families have tethered this cultural identity for generations to come. Bonded by their distinct alphabet, language, foods and the church that is the worldwide repository of Armenian identity, this cultural consciousness originally preserved out of necessity is now maintained with an unspoken passing of responsibility that resonates in each of the interviews featured.
Many in the program fondly recall extended families and communities knit as tightly as the intricately loomed rugs that were for so long the only mainstream representation of the culture, a bond most obviously evident in the -ian or -yan surname suffixes that mean “of” or “from.” This inherent connection linked Armenian American communities from Worcester, Massachusetts to Fresno, California, achieving within a generation a level of success that belied their numbers.
THE ARMENIAN AMERICANS radiates with an insistent pride and determination, and demonstrates a universal commitment to cultural persistence. Although many in the program relate the difficulties of fitting in with classmates who attended a different church or brought less exotic lunches to school, or discrimination in communities where they first settled their families, at home being Armenian was a badge of honor, instilled in the younger generation at large extended family gatherings. To this effect, actor/writer Eric Bogosian remembers his grandfather teaching him that “everyone was Armenian… even Cary Grant.” In his and stories like this, the program illuminates a fascinating history as a very personal nostalgic family album.
The program also highlights Armenians’ contributions to American culture, from Sarkis Colombosian’s widespread introduction of yogurt to American palates and Zildjian cymbals, to famous mainstream descendants including Cher, actresses Adrienne Barbeau and Arlene Francis, “The Chipmunks” creator Ross Bagasarian, and the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan, featured in a rare audio recording of his work.
THE ARMENIAN AMERICANS is the eleventh program in WLIW21’s series of cultural documentaries celebrating the diversity of America, which also includes THE CHINESE AMERICANS and THE PUERTO RICANS: Our American Story.
Executive Producer: Roy Hammond; Producer/Director: Andrew Goldberg; Writer: Andrew Goldberg; Underwriter: The Manoogian Simone Foundation; Narrator: Lynne Kassabian.