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Fulfilling a Faraway Promise : 8 Men Who Forged a Pact in Armenia Start Their Dream Magazine

August 02, 1990|DOUG SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seventeen years ago, at the Polytechnic Institute of Yerevan, eight young Armenian students who hailed from all corners of Europe and the Middle East shared a dorm and a dream:

They told each other that someday, after they all became successful in business, they would start a publishing venture together--a news magazine like Time and Newsweek to report on events about Armenians.

Now, their fantasy has become a reality.

From a small office in Glendale, the eight young men have put out an inaugural 56-page issue of Armenian International Magazine. Thirty thousand copies are being distributed to Armenian communities from Yerevan to Sydney, with the largest number going to shops and newsstands in the dozens of Southern California neighborhoods that are home to 250,000 Armenians.

The magazine is a careful blending of American news magazine style with muted symbols of Armenian pride, rage and yearning for independence from the Soviet Union.

A reflective silver cover highlights the number "75," signifying this year's anniversary of the Armenians' expulsion from Turkey. The magazine's content is everything Armenian, from upbeat reports on the Armenian jewelry trade and architecture to sobering pieces on the homeland's economy and border strife, spiced with profiles of California Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian and University of Nevada Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. Full-page color ads push Russian vodka along with Armenian brandy and Royal Jordanian Airlines.

One thing above all tells what Armenian International Magazine is about. From cover to cover, every word is in English.

English, the publishers believe, is the language that will appeal to the most influential and prosperous in their community and at the same time establish a credible Armenian voice for the non-Armenian reader.

"Eventually, we would like to be the source for Time and Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times to pick up," said Managing Editor Vartan Oskanian. "We would like to see the American media coming to us for correct information."

It is no coincidence, in fact, that AIM has appeared at a time when an unprecedented flow of international news has come from Armenia, much of it confusing and politically charged.

Even as reports of the devastating earthquake of December, 1988, were fading, the eruption of bloody civil strife with neighboring Azerbaijan kept the Soviet Armenian state on the evening news for months with hazy reports of militias and house-to-house fighting.

Armenians in America were frequently displeased with the reporting, claiming American news media were insensitive to complex social, political and historical distinctions.

At the same time, Armenians around the world were gearing up to commemorate the 75th anniversary of their people's expulsion from Turkey and were lobbying governmental agencies for recognition of their view that the mass deaths during that episode constituted the century's first genocide.

The eight former college friends thought the time was right for them to launch their news magazine. All were living comfortably in Southern California. Three were engineers, two doctors and three in business for themselves. As promised, they had kept in touch.

"We just called each other and said, 'Let's do it,' " said Oskanian, a 34-year-old Los Angeles jewelry store owner with a master's degree in international relations from Harvard.

Last September, they put up $15,000 each, incorporated Armenian International Magazine and set up their headquarters in Glendale with pricey color computer typesetting and layout equipment.

All neophytes in publishing, they recruited as executive editor 75-year-old Charles Nazarian, an Armenian-speaking retired editor with 55 years experience on American newspapers.

Nazarian assembled a staff of 44 correspondents around the world and set down a standard of objectivity.

"When I edit a story, I never use 'we' or 'I,' " Nazarian said. "For the reader to understand that these stories are written independently, we use the third person."

However, Nazarian acknowledges that there is an underlying pro-Armenian bias.

"We must remember one thing," he said, "that we are Armenian International Magazine. We are going to defend and enhance the Armenian heritage. If there is anything derogatory on the outside about the Armenians, we are going to present our side. . . . "

A different challenge to AIM's objectivity will be posed by the deep political and social rifts that have divided Armenians since early in the century when a short-lived Christian state of Armenia was absorbed by the Bolsheviks.

To avoid the infighting that has been common among Armenian publications, many of which grew out of political movements, AIM persuaded the editors of five of the major Armenian-American newspapers to join its staff as senior editors and contributors, a feat that could not have been accomplished, Nazarian said, before the shock of the earthquake jolted Armenians toward reconciliation.

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