The “Closeted” Armenian Dress

The title of this blog has nothing to do with dresses and fashion trends but is indirectly associated with the preservation of the Armenian identity in the diaspora(s). It is also in part and indirectly associated with Antranig Artinian, a dear friend and mentor of mine for the Armenian culture and history.

At a social evening at the Artinian family residence as usual,  we were discussing Antranig’s favored subject of, how to keep, enhance, and promote the Armenian identity in diaspora in general, and in Toronto in particular. As always, the key subject of the discussion was the preservation of the Armenian language, and culture despite the fact that it was not a serious “problem” for us at the time. It was the future that worried us and the future was not a distant time but rather, it was here, and now, so to speak.

At the time most of us were newcomers to Toronto and fluent in the Armenian language, and for many fortunate ones our Armenian speaking parents were living with us and our children were growing in homes where the dominant conversational language was Armenian, and some of the Armenian traditions still in use within our homes mainly because of the presence of our parents.

There were many proposed “solutions” starting from banning the children to watch TV, to even “throwing out” the television sets of Armenian homes, to “dreaming” to have daily Armenian television programs only in the Armenian language.

(Today TV programs are available all day long via satellites that have hardly anything to promote the Armenian language and culture, whose need is more acute today than at the time. The internet is another medium that we did not have then, that today is the best communication medium that has great potential to promote the learning of the conversational Armenian language and culture, but it is hardly utilized for that purpose).

At one point in the conversation I ventured to suggest, why not wear Armenian clothes in our homes to help keep the Armenian atmosphere in our homes. Տիկին Խուպէսէրեան a highly successful dressmaker in Cairo, and at the time living in Toronto, asked whether I will really wear it if I had one, and I said why not, they seem to be comfortable.

A few days after that meeting, Տիկին Խուպէսէրեան phoned and said Ուզած հագուստիդ կերպասը գնեցի եկուր չափդ արնեմ որ կարեմ ու հագնիս, “I bought the material of the Armenian dress that you wanted, come I will take your measurements”. Needless to say, I was totally surprised but you cannot say no to Տիկին Խուպէսէրեան , who had devoted all her time in Toronto to making Armenian dresses for any Armenian dance groups that needed them and asked for it.

After the measurement was taken, I had to go once for a fitting “prova” and a second time for the final fitting and minor adjustment. It was a beautiful dress that I rather liked, but when I wore it in our home, my wife Sona, and our children Taline, and Hagop, politely said it is nice but not “normal” to wear it in the house. I was outnumbered by a vote of three to one. It is said that “democracy is the worst system except for all the others” (not an exact quote) but this time around, the “worst system” prevailed, and the dress is still hanging in the closet as beautiful as then, and “brand new”.

(Maybe I should wear it again to surprise my young grandchildren attending the same Armenian ARS School that their parents were among the first to attend when the school was opened, and hope that, they might vote in favor of wearing the dress that can “see” the daylight again. After all, as per the unwritten rule of the grand parent’s constitution, the grandchildren always have the VETO POWER!).

Mrs Khoubesserian was Antanig Artinian’s mother in law who was the “resident dressmaker” of the ARS School’s dance group Պարախումբ. We had to convert a room next to the school’s secretary’s office as a “walk-in closet” that was packed “wall to wall” with Armenian dresses for both girls and boys leaving hardly any room to “walk-in”. She had the key, and after every time the dresses were used, she will make sure that they were all cleaned and ironed and will rearrange them in the proper order.

Տիկին Խուպէսէրեան belonged to the first, and our greatest post-Armenian Genocide generation that not only survived and prospered in foreign countries and cultures but also preserved their Armenian identity and culture and passed it on to their children and grandchildren as well. They were the embodiment of perseverance and survival in challenging times. We must remember them and be thankful for their contribution to the preservation of the Armenian identity and culture that was passed on to the successive Armenian generations, especially in the Diaspora(s).

Maybe it will be appropriate here to remember also  Տիկին Տիգրանուհի Արթինան Antranig’s mother, who belonged to that great generation as well. She too was devoted to preserving the Armenian language and culture and served as the principal of the Armenian Saturday school of Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Toronto for many years.  As the saying goes Պտուղը ծառէն հեռու չիյնար “The fruit does not fall far from the tree”. All of them worthy honorees indeed. Պատիւ Արժանաւորաց.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian


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