The following was published in the May 12, 2011 issue of Nor Gyank newspaper in Southern California. It was written by Sona Yacoubian, founder and chairperson of AGBU Hye Geen
AGBU Hye Geen Luncheons have always been AWARENESS- RAISING events which invite the attendees to think about the discussed social problems which diminish the quality of life for women and especially Armenian women. On April 2, 2011 at the AGBU Pasadena Center, Hye Geen was ready to address the very serious situation of “Orphans and Children of Single Parents.”
Ms. Loucineh Nalbandian, MD set the stage for the three speakers by explaining that we have a past and our most recent past begins with the Genocide committed by the Turks during the First World War. The dispersion of Armenians around the world has introduced various new era problems like divorce and single parenthood. Then she invited the three presenters to share their views with the attendees.
Ms. Sona Zeitlian, in great detail, presented the plight of thousands of orphans who somehow were sheltered in Orphanages throughout the Middle East as, a result, of the Turkish atrocities. According to French Armenian archives, there were 150,000 orphans in the Middle East. English sources indicate that approximately 5,000 orphan boys and girls were sold to Arab Bedouins by Turkish army personnel, and 60,000 orphans were placed in Turkish orphanages and private homes of Muslims.
Unbelievable, but these orphans Were our parents. They were poorly housed and clothed and very poorly fed. They were closely watched by fellow orphans in charge of reporting any misdemeanor to the orphanage authorities whose punishments were harsh. They were not allowed to speak or pray in Armenian. As a result of their treatment at such a tender age, the orphans developed a keen sense of distrust, and a strong will to survive and succeed. Ownership was very important to them, and since they had so little, protecting their Armenian roots and their Armenian names took on paramount importance. Ms. Zeitlian mentioned several times during her presentation that the will to surmount the difficulties and remain loyal to their heritage was the driving force behind these abused children.
Finally thanks to noble and devoted Armenians like Rev. Hovhanness Eskijian the orphans of the Genocide were transferred to orphanages in Aleppo where the Armenian language and Religion were both taught. It is a well known fact that women are the unknown solders of any war, so eventually they took over worked hard to make a home for their children.
Emma Oshagan Ph.D director of The Armenian Program Development at Pacific Clinics continued the saga of the recently displaced Armenians by describing the difficulties created for the children and the youth because of divorce. She cited many reasons that may cause divorce specifically for Armenian couples: Mixed Nationality marriages, meddlesome in- laws, financial difficulties, infidelity. She also stated that most divorcing couples do in fact seek a Civil Divorce as opposed to a Church Divorce. A Civil divorce through lawyers is much faster than the long and tedious examinations by the Church Committee for Marital problems and mediation.
She described how many children of divorce shy away from their peers, are less ambitious in school, have few friends and often believe that they may have caused the separation of their parents, secretly hoping that they get back together. Sadly, these children live day to day watching the struggle and the resentment of one parent or the other leaving them in a pendulum of constant insecurity.
Ms. Inga Simonian Ph.D. of La Vie Psychology Group Inc. gave the most recent update of how to handle the children of divorce. She described a very sophisticated and correct etiquette of handling the situation which psychologists advocate.
In summary, the couples need to agree on a common story and tell the children together about their mutual decision to divorce. It helps if the same story is told to family and friends. Keeping the children’s life after the divorce as similar as possible is also helpful. Asking family and friends for help is not a sign of weakness. Ms. Simonian stressed that Armenians are very lucky to have their family to assist them in getting through the ordeal. She advised that the divorced woman not neglect herself and not make extreme sacrifices for the sake of the children. Ms. Simonian cautioned that it is essential to live a normal life, to have fun and to talk to the children about feelings and even keep a journal to collect thoughts and analyze goals because the children will take their cue from their mother. She advised the woman to keep their Armenian and Christian values.
Some tips that she offered were: Don’t discipline the children during dinner. Meet the ex on neutral grounds and keep a positive send off and positive return during visitation days, or week. Ms. Simonian believes that joint custody is the most complicated and the greatest challenge.
Psychologists are there to help both the parents and the children cope with the difficulties of the situation by teaching acceptance of the unfair terms of divorce. Their stock in trade is extreme civility and politeness during any and all interactions between the divorced couple. Unfortunately, everyone admits that this is easier said than done.
Most will agree that more often than not, a civilized exchange between the newly separated couple is simply not feasible. Divorce by its nature is adversarial. People do change and not always for the better. Each blames’ the other and nobody wins in divorce. Often, there is a history of abuse, resentment and suffering behind every divorce. The counselors advocate that somehow a day after the divorce, the couple should show civility and respect towards each other. Yet, if this was easily accomplished, divorce would not have been the end result.
While Hye Geen Events cannot solve our social problems, they do make us aware of their difficulties; they make us think. At the end of the April 2 event of Hye Geen “Orphans and Children of Single Parents”, I came to the conclusion that divorce (where children are involved) is essentially a form of abuse directed towards the women who must now assume the responsibility of raising them, more often than not, without the help of their husbands. Even where custody is shared, still the mother usually has the responsibility of being the primary caretaker.
In the Armenian reality, there are further complicating factors. The divorcee loses her social status and her financial stability. She might go through depression, feel unloved, and insecure. She continues her life quietly because society forces her to conform to the unwritten laws of behavior. Few choose to become a warrior. Few would argue that the woman might be the instigator and the one who sought the divorce, but they are the exception and not the rule. Men are not questioned and once they get their liberty they continue their work or profession and play the field without being disturbed by social censure.
The most amazing irony is that Armenian marriages take place in church with great pomp and circumstance but divorce is relegated to the courts and the lawyers. While many non-Armenian parishes follow the couples that they marry, ours has stayed far away from assuming such a role. Therefore, there is an urgent need for instruction and advice for the establishment of acceptable parameters for behavior in a marriage.
Some years ago AGBU Hye Geen wrote a letter and delivered it personally to our Diocese. The letter requested that measures be taken to prevent the destruction of the Armenian family unit, which in turn is infecting the whole community and eventually weakening the fabric of our Nation, The letter recommended setting up an obligatory course for “Marriage” if the couple wishes to marry in the Armenian Church; an almost inconsequential time commitment next to all the work and money that goes into planning a wedding and a wedding reception.
Hye Geen also recommended that our high schools introduce a course called “Marriage” as most Catholic schools have done. Young boys and girls would be instructed on what is acceptable behavior towards each other once they get married. In these new times and new place for most of us, the introduction of new values along with ethnic guidelines are necessary. Parents and family are not necessarily role models.
In summary, on this eve of April 24th, it is my hope that those in the position to effectuate change note that our struggle continues, and preserving the Armenian family should be our first and foremost priority.
AGBU Hye Geen believes that divorce is destructive, but sometimes it is the only way to regain your soul and gain your freedom.