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War of the Weeklies : 2 Armenian Journals Based in Glendale Don't Paper Over Their Bitter Dispute

August 07, 1986|LARRY GORDON | Times Staff Writer

The already lively world of Glendale-based Armenian journalism has grown even livelier lately with a blistering feud between former partners who own rival weekly newspapers.

The two editor-publishers are suing one another for fraud and breach of contract and using the pages of their newspapers to attack each other's personalities and circulation claims. One paper recently carried a satirical cartoon showing the other paper's publisher writing with a pen between his toes.

The dispute between Krikor Shenian, owner and editor of New Life (Nor Gyank in Armenian) and Apo Jabarian, who runs Armenian Life (Hai Gyank), has amused some members of Glendale's growing Armenian community, estimated at more than 15,000. But others say they've grown weary of the feud.

"Enough is enough," remarked Vahak Savoulian, a leader of an Armenian youth organization who once ran his own magazine. "If I pay my subscription, I don't want to hear their problems, just the news."

No Truce in Sight

But neither side appears ready for a truce.

"His problem," Jabarian, 28, said this week, referring to Shenian, "is that he underestimated me and underestimated the ability of the staff of this publication."

Shenian, 51, remarked: "Anyone who starts a paper to destroy another one will not succeed."

Jabarian and an uncle, immigrants from Lebanon, founded New Life in 1978. Shenian, also from Lebanon, bought out the uncle's half interest in 1981 and then bought out Jabarian in December, 1984.

According to a copy of the sale agreement filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Jabarian reserved the right to begin any publication at any time. He began publishing Armenian Life last October.

Alleged Verbal Promise

In his lawsuit, however, Shenian claims that Jabarian verbally promised not to start any paper for at least two years after the sale and then to have one that resembled Time magazine. Jabarian denies making the promise.

As it is, Shenian says, readers and advertisers are confused by the similarities between the two publications: both are tabloids and run about 40 pages an issue, both have the word "Life" (Gyank in Armenian) in their titles, both offices are on Colorado Street and both take an upbeat, feature approach to news about Armenians in Southern California and around the world.

Most of the circulation of both publications is in Southern California, but some copies are sent to other parts of the country and Europe, the publishers say.

Shenian's New Life runs about 10 pages each week in English, two in French and the rest in Armenian. Jabarian's Armenian Life, which uses more color and bolder graphics, has about 16 pages in English and the rest in Armenian. Both newspapers frequently reprint articles from the mainstream American press and publish many press releases about school, church and cultural events.

Armenian Immigration

Like many editors of Armenian newspapers, both Shenian and Jabarian say their mission is to keep the Armenian language and culture alive. A flood of immigration to California by Armenians fleeing turmoil in Lebanon and Iran in the last decade has helped produce several new Armenian newspapers in the Los Angeles area. It also has increased concerns about assimilation.

Yet, unlike some other publications, both New Life and Armenian Life usually steer away from controversies in intra-Armenian politics such as anti-Turkish terrorism. That puts them in sharp contrast with Asbarez, a five-day-a-week newspaper published by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the party that advocates the re-establishment of an independent Armenia on land now controlled by Turkey and the Soviet Union.

"We believe there is a need for nonpolitical papers," said Apo Boghigian, editor of Asbarez, which was founded in 1908 and also is on Colorado Street in Glendale. But, he added, the Shenian-Jabarian feud is "disgracing the community."

Boghigian said he sometimes suspects that the dispute is designed to attract readers, thirsty for vitriol, to both newspapers.

Shenian Stops Payments

According to court documents, Shenian has paid $112,000 of the $150,000 he is supposed to give Jabarian by the end of 1986. But Shenian stopped making scheduled payments last January because, he said, Jabarian broke the contract by starting Armenian Life, using the mailing lists and photos of New Life, luring away advertisers and even hiring the New Life typesetter.

Jabarian sued for missed payments and $500,000 in punitive damages. His suit alleges that Shenian stopped payments knowing that, without the money, Jabarian "would have a much more difficult, if not impossible, time in competing with the defendant's newspaper."

Shenian countersued for unspecified damages. His suit states that, if he had known that Jabarian would publish a newspaper "as soon as he did and in the format, content and name he did," he would not have bought Jabarian's share of New Life or have "negotiated a considerably lower amount."

Then the battle moved onto newsprint.

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