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Bustling Outpost of Armenian Culture

Abril Books in Glendale is a touchstone for immigrants and their Americanized offspring.

August 10, 2006|James Ricci | Times Staff Writer

"The clash with American culture was very strong," Yeretzian says. "Now he says we should have exposed him to more American culture when he was a kid. Most of his friends are Americans now." Yeretzian has faith, however, that the strength of Armenian families will keep the Armenian sensibility intact among the next generation.

"A lot of people who are engaged to marry Armenians, or already have, come in and ask for books on the Armenian tradition and language. So, the assimilation goes both ways," he says with a grin. "If a non-Armenian girl marries an Armenian, she has to learn some Armenian words just to be taken into consideration as a human being by his family."

That the bookstore is a sanctuary of Armenian identity is apparent in the motivations of those who visit.

Narine Gabouchian of Glendale came into the shop one morning and before long was carrying an armload of books, in Armenian and English, as gifts for her daughter Margaret's 16th birthday. Margaret came with her family from Armenia when she was a toddler, and her parents strove to teach her to read and speak Armenian.

Now a student at a private school in Pasadena, Margaret "knows she's Armenian and is very proud of it," her mother said. "She would like to know more about her motherland."

Later that day, Avetis Bairamian, a sportswriter for the Armenian language weekly Nor Or, dropped in on Yeretzian to exchange pleasantries and discuss Bairamian's self-published book, whose title translates as "Famous Armenians in the World of Sports."

It contains the exploits of competitors of Armenian heritage, including tennis star Andre Agassi, chess champion Garry Kasparov and a succession of champions in weightlifting, a sport in which Armenians have long excelled.

Bairamian proudly noted that at the 37th Chess Olympiad this spring in Turin, Italy, the Armenian team won the gold medal. (China won silver, and the United States, whose squad included 23-year-old Varuzhan Akobian of Los Angeles, bronze.)

Ruzanne Barsegyan of Tujunga, meanwhile, was scanning the CD shelves for a copy of the "Sonatina Toccata" by Aram Khachaturian, the most famous Armenian composer of the 20th century. Barsegyan, 18, an animated recent high school graduate headed for premedical studies at UC Irvine in the fall, is also a pianist.

Her conservatory-trained Armenian piano teacher wanted her to begin learning the Khachaturian piece for a recital, she explained with a mixture of excitement and dread.

"It's very structured, and you have to find the rhythm and the rhythm is hard to find," she told Yeretzian. "It's very difficult, very, very .... "

"Strong?" he offered.

"Yes. Strong."

Yeretzian shrugged knowingly. "It's Armenian," he said.

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