Recent e-mails with Ed Hagopian got me thinking about our Armenian classmates.
I lived in East Lansdowne until finishing the sixth grade and grew up thinking half the world was Armenian. Only later I realized what a small and unusual immigrant group they were.
The Armenian families I was most aware of were the Hagopians, Kabakjians, and Tashjians. Later, I would occasionally learn of Armenian celebrities such as the TV personality Arlene Francis who had changed their name from the characteristic “ian” ending. Like other new immigrant groups, they were hard-working, family-orientated, believers in education and the American opportunities there for the taking.
In about the third grade, Katherine Tashjian told me she hated the Turks because they killed her grandparents. What was a Turk? I thought they were only in The Arabian Nights. I don’t think even Katherine knew. The atrocities that caused the Armenian emigration were well beyond our imaginations.
The current HBO series “Entourage” lists a Tashjian in the credits. Any relation?
I grew up less than a block from Ed’s cousin Armen Hagopian, class of 1953, and knew his side of the family well. My father, a CPA, did many individuals’ income tax, and Armen’s father, Sarkis, was one of his clients. Sarkis co-owned a carpet business with his brother, Ed’s father, and was my family’s contact for carpets. The first house my wife and I lived in, in Wilmington, had carpet installed through their company. We never even considered anyone else.
One day, when I was about 10, I was talking to Armen on his front porch and referred to my father as “my old man.” I must have been trying to sound tough. I did not usually use that term. Sarkis overheard, called me inside, sat me down and gave me a lecture on respecting my parents. Gulp! Armenian families not only learned, they taught.
Years later, I was taking care of my father’s affairs. His mind was going and I was the only one he knew. I often thought, “Sarkis would be proud of me, now.”
Sarkis was not always right. I believe he later forbid Armen from playing with me because I was a bad influence. He was right about me, and I must have shocked his old-world sensibilities, but Armen was stronger than he thought.
The Kabakjian family was well known and respected in Lansdowne. The Kabakjian twins, Bill and Ed, a year ahead of us, were good students, athletic, and popular. Their father, Dr. Kabakjian, was our school physician and family physician for many of us.
Unfortunately, with the best of intentions, Dr. Kabakjian’s brother put Lansdowne on the map of toxic waste. I never knew him, but he was a distinguished physics professor at the University of Penn and later head of the department. Early on, he discovered a process for extracting radium and in the 1920’s, as a side job and as a service to the community, he made radium needles for cancer treatment in the basement of his East Stratford Avenue home, long before the dangers of radiation were known. In the 1980’s his old home was discovered to be severely radioactive and was dismantled, hauled away and buried by the EPA. The real problem, however, was that he gave the sandy residue from the radium extraction to a local masonry contractor who mixed it with the concrete and grout used in constructing many Lansdowne, East Lansdowne, Yeadon, and Upper Darby basements. The people now living in those homes are restricted from staying in their basements more than a few hours per day.
I originally read that on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. You can read the details in several web sites listed by a Google search.