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Bid to Gain Armenian Voter Foothold in Glendale Falters

March 09, 1989|SANTIAGO O'DONNELL | Times Staff Writer

After a four-week campaign to increase the Armenian presence in city politics, a Glendale-based Armenian political group this week was still far from achieving its goal.

By the registration deadline Monday night, the Armenian National Committee, in its largest Glendale voter-registration drive ever, had added just 180 Armenian-Americans to the list of the city's more than 65,000 registered voters.

"It's a very frustrating job," said Arick Grevorkian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee's Glendale chapter. "But the city needs it, and we need it."

Registration for the April 4 municipal election closed Monday, as required by the state Election Code.

Armenian-Americans constitute about one-fourth of Glendale's population of 120,000, but they represent a small fraction of the registered voters. Only about 2,000 Armenian-Americans are registered, said Grevorkian, citing information from the Glendale Chamber of Commerce and local Armenian groups.

Even so, Grevorkian said, the registration drive, which also signed up about 70 voters who did not identify themselves as Armenian-Americans, built a steppingstone to future Armenian National Committee involvement in municipal politics.

"We're gaining experience," he said. "It's hard to deal with the public, but we're learning. Keep in mind, we're new in this business."

He said the committee has been registering voters for years, but never attempted a drive as thorough as this year's. For the first time, he said, 35 to 40 part-time volunteers spent four weeks knocking on doors, going to shopping malls and using telephone listings to register voters.

The toughest obstacle the volunteers faced was changing the thinking of Armenian immigrants from the Soviet Union and the Middle East, who are not used to citizen involvement under authoritarian governments, he said. Grevorkian said the committee has been involved in Glendale politics at least since 1983, when Councilman Larry Zarian received the group's endorsement. In 1985, the committee endorsed Mayor Carl Raggio and Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg, both of whom are seeking reelection April 4.

Earlier this month, the committee passed over the incumbents and endorsed challengers Berdj Karapetian, a former committee chairman, and real estate broker Joe Ayvazi. Karapetian and Ayvazi are two of three Armenians in the field of 13 candidates. The third is Richard Diradourian, who was not endorsed by the group.

The committee, Grevorkian said, has grown disenchanted with the present council.

"We feel we have been ignored in the past year or so," he said. "When the earthquake devastated Soviet Armenia, for example, the council didn't bother to write a letter of condolence, or even make a phone call to say, 'What can I do for you?' "

Shunning 'Back Seat'

"We are no longer taking the back seat," he said. "The city can no longer ignore us."

While the committee hopes to make the "Armenian factor" a key element in future elections, both candidates endorsed by the committee said the Armenian vote is not yet close to becoming a decisive factor in City Council races.

Karapetian said the committee endorsement has helped him recruit volunteers, but will not be a major factor in the election. "Voters will support me for my positions on growth, traffic and senior citizen housing, not just because I've been involved with Armenian issues," he said.

Karapetian contacted a private consulting firm to determine, among other things, the ethnic breakdown of the city's electorate. His results show that as few as 300 Armenian-Americans voted in the 1987 election.

Ayvazi said the committee endorsement may carry "some weight," but he believes that most Armenians are "quite independent, and not very easily swayed by politicians and special interest groups."

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