Straddling Two Worlds: An Interview with Lucine Kasbarian
Straddling Two Worlds:
An Interview with Lucine Kasbarian
By Meg Chorlian, Editor
Cobblestone Children’s Magazine
Lucine Kasbarian is a second-generation Armenian American. She was born in New Jersey to Armenian American parents. Fleeing persecution in their homeland, all four of her grandparents arrived in the United States when they were young adults. Kasbarian studied journalism in college and makes her living writing about various subjects for newspapers and magazines. Two years ago, she wrote her first book, “Armenia: A Rugged Land, an Enduring People. She graciously agreed to share her experiences as an Armenian American for this issue of COBBLESTONE.
Q: Why and how did your family leave their homeland?
A: One good example is my maternal grandmother Armaveni’s story. In 1915, she was eighteen years old and living in the eastern Anatolian province of Sepastia. One day, the Armenian men in her family were rounded up and taken away. She later discovered that all Armenian men in her town were killed by order of the Turkish government. Soon after, the rest of her family was rounded up and assembled in the public square with other Armenians.
Under the watch of Turkish guards, they were marched on foot for months -- without food, clothing, or shelter -- into the Syrian desert to die. On this forced march, my grandmother watched Turkish soldiers patrol rivers, shooting Armenians [who] drew near, forbidding them to drink as they suffered from thirst. She saw people tortured. Her mother died of starvation in her arms, and she buried the body herself.
When she emerged from the desert in a pitiful state, she entered a Protestant orphanage in Aleppo, Syria. She stayed there for a few years until relatives raised money for her to come to America. She was introduced to my grandfather through an Armenian parish priest. My grandfather had lost his family, too. She accepted his marriage proposal. The story is similar on the other side of my family.
Q: Do you still have family there?
A: No, everyone was massacred or escaped.
Q: Do you think history books portray Armenian history accurately?
A: Many do, but the Turkish government has worked to deny or downplay the Armenian Genocide. In fact, Turkey has been rewarding authors and educators for revising textbooks and courses to disguise the truth about the Genocide, and even to deny that Armenians are native to the homeland they lived in for thousands of years. Genocide is the gravest of human rights offenses, and covering up evidence and rewriting history only add insult to injury.
Q: Have you ever visited Armenia? What is your most vivid memory of the country?
A: Yes, many times. I was fourteen years old the first time I went, and I remember thinking, “Where are the men with baggy pants and curly shoe-tips?” I fully expected to see Armenians dressed as they did at the turn of the century in the Ottoman Turkish empire. My most vivid memory was when I woke up at dawn to see Mount Ararat -- the symbol of Armenia to all Armenians -- over the Turkish border. It was very emotional. I felt like an adopted child who sees her natural mother for the first time.
Q: What adjectives would you use to generally describe Armenian Americans?
A: They are literate, hard working, family-oriented, and hospitable. Most of all, they are a persistent people. And history has shown that persistence has enabled Armenians to withstand much hardship over the centuries.
Q: Why did you decide to write a book about Armenia?
A: While growing up, I learned about Armenian culture through family and the Armenian American community. Even so, none of my classmates had ever heard of Armenia, and there were no books about it in public libraries. When I became a writer, I wanted to use the skills I developed to shed light on Armenian issues and to offer a new generation of Armenian Americans an easy introduction to their ancestry. Writing this book was my way of showing that despite tragedy, the Armenian nation survived.
Q: Do you observe any Armenian traditions? How important to you is your identity as an Armenian American?
A: Growing up in our household, we lived in two worlds. We spoke English and Armenian. I went to public school and Armenian school. I studied ballet and Armenian folk dance. I sang in my school choir and an Armenian church choir. I feel lucky to have grown up with influences from two cultures because together they helped me gain a global perspective.
As an adult, I work with the Armenian Youth Federation, which promotes ethnic pride in Armenian youth worldwide, and the Land and Culture Organization, which invites Armenians to preserve endangered Armenian monuments.
My Armenian identity is very important. It represents a set of customs and beliefs from a civilization that could have become extinct. Because they were passed down to me at great cost, I owe it to my ancestors to preserve these customs and beliefs.
Q: What advice would you give to readers who want to learn more about their ancestors?
A: Ask your parents to explain your family tree to you. Find out why and how your ancestors came to the United States. Read books that give you an overview of the country, as well as novels by celebrated writers from that nation. Keep up with current events by reading ethnic newspapers. Visit the country if you can. All of these things will connect you with your past and broaden your horizons for the future.