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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Turkish or Armenian coffee?

Turkish Coffee? Think again!
Here’s an interesting article called "Misnomers Galore"
by Jirair Tutunjian.

Panama hats don’t come from Panama. The German measles did not originate in Germany. Eau de Cologne doesn’t come from France. The Danes don’t eat Danish cookies. The french fries didn’t originate in France. Arabic numerals don’t come from Arabia neither do the “Arabian Nights” fairy tales. Fenugreek (“chaman” of basterma) doesn’t come from Greece. There are hundreds of similar misidentifications, misnomers in the global culture.

(Panama hats come from Ecuador. The measles was tagged “German” by the hostile British during their war with Germany. Eau de Cologne is manufactured in the northern German city of Cologne. The danish is an American invention. It was the Belgians who invented french fries. Most of the “Arabian Nights” stories hail from Iran, India, Beluchistan, Afghanistan). Fenugreek is believed to be of Middle Eastern origin but India is the biggest producer.

One nation which has been particularly lucky in the misattribution game is Turkey. Because of historic circumstances, ignorance, or sheer luck, a number of products are wrongly assumed to be of Turkish origin.

Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia by a shepherd who noticed that when his goats chewed on a wild berry they became livelier. Ethiopians soon began to grind and boil the berries to make a refreshing brew. The drink was called coffee because the berry was discovered in a place called Kaffa. From Ethiopia the coffee crossed the Red Sea to Yemen and then north to the Middle East. Armenian merchants, from the Ottoman Empire, introduced the drink to Vienna, Paris, and London. Because the Armenians came from the Ottoman Empire, Europeans wrongly assumed that they were Turks and the coffee a Turkish product.

“Turkish Delight” is of Iranian origin. A 19th century British tourist discovered the soft candy in Constantinople and shipped home a number of boxes and named them “Turkish delight”. The name stuck. “Turkish Delight’s” Iranian name is ahbisa. Arabs called it “rahat el hulkum” (contentment/rest of the throat). From “hulkum” we get “lokhum” sweets. Lokhum is, of course, another word some assume to be Turkish.

The semi-precious turquoise is not native to Anatolia. In the 16th century a French merchant imported the blue-to-green stone from Turkey and named it turquoise. The “Turkish” stones came from the Khorasan province of Iran. Iranians call it “phirouzeh” meaning victory. The Armenian version is “perouz”. Pharaohs imported the gem from Monitu in the Sinai peninsula. In recent years Turkish tourism promoters have began calling the Mediterranean shores of Asia Minor “Turquoise Coast”.

The footstool called “ottoman” is so-called because Napoleon’s soldiers saw it for the first time in Egypt, then officially part of the Ottoman Empire, although the ruling Memlukes didn’t pay much attention to the sultan in Constantinople. The ottoman was a traditional Middle Eastern stool and had nothing to do with the Ottomans or the Turks.

Everywhere in Germany, almost as popular as the bratwurst, is the doner sandwich. Because doner was introduced to Germany by Turkish immigrants, Turkey claims the sandwich is of Turkish origin, although it existed in the Middle East centuries before Turks showed up from Central Asia. The roasted meat on the vertical spit is known as gyro in Greek. Gyro is the Greek word for turning. The Armenians call the same dish “tarna” (turn). “Doner”/”donneur” means turning in Turkish.

Of course, being the origin of a popular product carries a lot of cache. In addition to prestige, it can have commercial benefits. Thus France has acquired international copyright for the Champagne and Cognac names. Non-French manufacturers of sparkling wine and brandy can’t call their drinks “champagne” or “cognac” which are French place names. In the past decade Cyprus, Lebanon, and several European nations have fought legal battle for the right of using the name “Halloum” for their cheese.

Although it has benefited from the misidentification of coffee, turquoise, and turkish delight, the Republic of Turkey is ever eager to appropriate even more place names, and in so doing distort history to its advantage.

The famed Mount Ararat of Biblical resonance has become Agri Dagh. Historic Cilicia has become Kukurova. Dersim (named after an Armenian clergyman called Der Simon) has become Tunceli. Of course, long ago Constantinople became Istanbul. Embarrassed by its name’s association with the large and clumsy fowl, Turkey has unsuccessfully tried to brand itself as “Turkiye”. In the past century, Ankara has turkified thousands of Asia Minor place names (from Armenian and Greek) in a well-organized strategy to erase all signs of the original inhabitants of Asia Minor. For a while, it even christened (sorry, we mean re-named) Kurds “Mountain Turks”. That campaign also failed. Kurds have asserted their name, their language, and identity.

Despite its obsessive efforts to rebrand the topography of Asia Minor and make it wall-to-wall Turkic, Ankara still faces a huge task. Izmir still has echoes of its original Greek Smyrna name, so does Konia (Iconium), Ankara (Angora), and Kayseri (Caesaria). But they say where there’s a will, there’s a way. One day the ever-diligent Turkish “historians” will go through the vast library of the Wise and Illustrious Sultan Abdul Hamid II and discover that these cities were founded by Turkic tribes thousands of years before Noah’s Ark landed on Mt. Ararat…sorry, we mean Agri Dagh. Turkey’s notorious “historians” have already decided Anatolia (“Sunrise” “Land of Sunrise” in Greek) derives from the Turkish “Ana Dolu” (“Pregnant Mother”). It was so named by the same….you guessed it…ancient Turkic tribes.
Incidentally, the Turkish yataghan sword is not a borrowed word or weapon. It is genuinely Turkish.

No Judge, No Jury, No trial. The awful toll of the United States drones.

On December 17, 2011, on this blog, I posted about Iran hijacking a US drone.  Here is the caricature that accompanied the post.

Today I received an email from a friend who asked me to Learn about US military drones and how drones strike and kill innocent civilians over and over again.  Robert Greenwald has long been making meaningful films on current subjects of worldwide importance, this is his latest one showing the awful drone strikes – an eye opening documentary.

Here is a short clip:

The U.S. has conducted over 400 drone strikes on Pakistan – and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has now found that fewer than 12% of people killed have been identified by available records as militants.

This confirms what Brave New Films already knows from our time in Pakistan filming Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars. While on the ground, we interviewed real people whose innocent relatives like an elderly grandma and beloved children were killed in drone strikes.

All of this makes it clear that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim last year that only “confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level” were fired at is simply not true.
Additionally, these covert and murderous military strikes result in creating more and more enemies for the American people - who have little to no knowledge of the killings being carried out in our name. And this anti-American sentiment fuels terrorism.

We believe the US drone policy is immoral, often illegal and harms U.S. standing in the world. Stop the killing of innocent civilians in my name.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Inside the Koch Brothers Toxic Empire.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Remembering Laleh-zar street in Tehran.

Time moves quickly and sometimes you get caught up in a time warp and don't realize the passing of years or the way you've evolved.  It happened to me.  

We moved to College Hills neighborhood in Glendale when my son was six months old.  For 27 years I took the same route day after day to reach our home.  One day, recently, as I drove in my immediate neighborhood, I found myself thinking that after all these years,  I still don't know the names of the little side streets that cross Glenoaks Bld, the main artery I use to come home. It might be more shocking if I tell you that for a decade or so I worked as a real estate broker in Glendale.  Hah! 

I left Iran because of the Islamic Revolution in 1978, and haven't been back to Tehran.  But I can still see in my mind's eye the neighborhood's that we frequented in Tehran and hear all the hustle and bustle.

When I was young often we walked from grandma's home to ours.  I had invented a game to play by myself. When I was alone I would shut my eyes and visualize all the shops we passed on our way home.  I was thrilled that I could remember all the stores from one end of the street to the other in the right order.  

Grandma  lived in an apartment on the new part of Lalaeh-zar street in Tehran. The old Laleh-zar was built in the 1870s, by the order of Shah Nasser-edin who  traveled to Europe and became dazzled by the European architecture. Returning home he ordained to build a street with the same look of what he had seen in Europe.  That's how Laleh-zar, which means "fields of tulips,"came alive.  

Today on the Internet I see pictures of the remains of the old mansions built for the wealthy people in the early days when the streets was built.  But when I was growing up in Tehran, Laleh-zar that had become a commercial distric and where we shopped for clothing and household items had a stark contrast to the imposing street that the Shah had envisioned.  It was a narrow two lane street with a jumble of filthy store-front businesses.  

The new Laleh-zar, where grandma lived, was the continuation of the same street built about 40 or 50 years later, in 1920s.  Some of the buildings had Art-deco style.  I remember the style of the buildings maybe because we lived there for two years or it might be because I have a photographic memory.  We moved to another neighborhood when I was five.  Of  course at the time I had no idea about the style,  but today when I look back I can tell that the Art-Deco motives like rounded balconies or geometric bas-relieves were dominant. 

We often walked from grandma's home back to ours which was behind Russian Embassy.  It took us around half an hour or maybe more. To get to our home we crossed few streets. The longest stretch was avenue Manucherry, after which we would pass the British Embassy and then entered into our residential area. 

The French school of Jean D'ark that was run by the French nuns was situated at the back of an alley that crossed Manucherry.  Sometimes on our way we met the French nuns with their funny, many sided bonnets.  They had a serious air with stone faces.   Watching the nuns I'd sigh with relief that I was not one of their students.  I had heard that they were very strict.  I was sent to another Catholic school run by Armenian nuns, who seemed to be kinder than the French.

My mother had lived in the neighborhood before she got married, therefore she new most of the business owners along the route.  Another factor that made Mom to know most business owners was that her brother owned a radio and gramophone repair shop on Manucherry avenue. 

Manucherry was a hub for luggage stores.  There were several of them. It was where you went to buy any kind of bag. There were also jewelers, shoe repair shops, dairy shops, dry-cleaners and a famous store for household items.  

When we entered a store, Mom usually engaged in a small talk with the shopkeeper.  I would smile within, because I was happy that Mom had a good local business relationships.  We were Christians living side by side with Muslims.  Even at that age, without an understanding of what racism was, I had realized how we Armenians were welcomed in Muslim societies.

Now that I've brought you to this corner of the town, I'd like to describe more of the sights on our way home.   Manucherry street dead ended into Ferdowsi Ave., right across from British Embassy which was walled all around.  

From Manucherry street we made right onto Ferdowsi avenue, which was a main artery and was named after a famous poet. Ferdowsi Ave. was a tourist destination.   It was the street where you could find the best Persian carpet dealers.  There were also antique and money exchange stores that primarily were Jewish-owned.  

After we walked a short distance on Ferdowsi Avenue we made a left onto a street, situated on the north side  of the British embassy.  On one corner, there, men had made a place to pee.  Yes, you heard me right.  Men peed in the street.  The wall and the sidewalk was  all stained and blackened.  It was sickening.  We never crossed onto that side.

I'm not sure how I can still see in my mind the cityscapes of my childhood in details and then not relay, as an adult, to my immediate neighborhood?  Is it because there was no need to know the street names since I drive on auto-pilot? Or was it because I didn't walk along the streets?  The answer is beyond me. 

Pictures of old Laleh-zar

Lalezar Street: Champs-Élysées of Iran

FRIDAY, JUNE 7, 2013
Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review
The Lalezar Street in the Iranian capital city, Tehran, has been of special significance to Iranian and foreign residents of Tehran since the old times.
Even for many people who have only seen the modern version of this street, Lalezar has a special value as being representative of the true identity of Tehran.
Lalezar contains all of the various dimensions of a capital city: modern Lalezar, political Lalezar, tourist Lalezar, commercial Lalezar, and Lalezar as narrator of the story of Tehran and Tehran people have been among the most important characteristics of this street from many years ago up to the present time.
Nasser-ed-din Shah of Qajar dynasty was encouraged by his prime minister, Mirza Hossein Khan Sepahsalar, to take a trip to Europe in 1873.
The king was given warm and enthusiastic welcome in Europe, especially in the French capital city, Paris, and his arrival was celebrated by holding of a special ceremony in Paris’ Champs-Élysées Avenue during which a group of elephants accompanied the Iranian Shah’s entourage.
The ceremony had such a profound impact on the Iranian king that once back from Paris, he decided to create a street similar to Champs-Élysées in the Iranian capital city. As a result, he ordered construction of Lalezar Street at the Lalezar Garden.
In fact, according to that plan, two new streets – namely Lalezar and Bagh-e Vahsh (the present-day Sa'di Avenue) were supposed to be constructed on two sides of the garden.
Finally, toward the end of Nasser-ed-Din Shah’s rule – that is, around 1892 – the garden was sold for 900,000 rials because Tehran had already revoked the famous Tobacco Régie (monopoly) contract as a result of which the Iraniangovernment had to pay remuneration to the London-based Imperial Tobacco Corporation of Persia despite the fact that the Treasury was actually empty.
The first modern Iranian hotel called the “Grand Hotel” was later built on a premium plot of land which belonged to the grandchildren of Fat’hali Shah.
As time went by, Lalezar Street became a hub of the Iranian cultural activities and everything which stood for that culture ranging from the unique architectural style of buildings to cafés, theaters and modern stores.
Later developments such as the introduction of the first horse-drawn carriage to the street, the beginning of electricity supply to buildings situated along the street, and the construction of the first tram line along Lalezar, brought further prosperity to this street. Even the first telegraph line was first made operational in this street.
One of the most beautiful relics of Lalezar is the garden attributed to Mirza Ebrahim Khan Amin Os-Soltan, who was in charge of Nasser-ed-din Shah’s coffeehouse and was also the father of Ali Asghar Khan Atabak Amin Os-Soltan.
Only 9,000 square meters of the garden exists now, which has been fortunately registered as a national heritage so as to help the property out of the way of harm.
This magnificent building, which stands at the end of Ettehadiyeh Deadlock, has a green gate and was once the location of the famous Iranian TV series “Dear Uncle Napoleon,” which was made by Iranian director Nasser Taqvai based on a story by Iraj Pezeshkzad.
The existing buildings of movie theaters Sara, Iran, Rex (whose name was changed to Laleh after the Islamic Revolution), Jahan (World), Shahrzad (Scheherazade), and Nader as well as Nasr and Pars theaters along with the building of Grand Hotel and part of the aforesaid magnificent garden with the building constructed in it by Mirza Ebrahim Khan Amin Os-Soltan are the last remnants of Tehran’s Champs-Élysées.
Even now, one can see on apparently deserted buildings of the past such a vivid relics as tilework, unique brick façades and plaster works by masters of that time, which are traces of the past history of Tehran’s most famous street.
After Iran was occupied by the Allies and Reza Shah was overthrown, Lalezar became a place where at every sundown, hundreds of cars roamed along the street flaunting the wealth of their owners.
By and by, Lalezar met the same fate as Champs-Élysées in Paris and Bond Street in London. The swarm of people on that street clearly proved that the Iranian modern class is burgeoning.
Although Istanbul, Mokhber-od-dowleh and Shah Abad streets were regular venues for demonstrations and other political gatherings, Lalezar also got gradually involved in politics though artistic activities for which the street was a hub.
It was during the same period that religious groups that saw domination of secular leftist and rightist political groups on Lalezar Street became more active and took control of Hedayat Mosque (that had been dedicated to public use by the family of Mokhber-od-dowleh).
The mosque stood between the old and new parts of Lalezar Street. As a result, the first modernist political cleric, Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleqani, chose the mosque as the main venue to deliver his famous sermons.
His sermons were attended by political figures ranging from Commander Fakher Hekmat, to Mozaffar Baqaei, Hossein Makki, Mehdi Bazargan and Dr. Sahabi.
They paid no attention to cafés around the mosque and the first cabarets of Tehran which had started to work at Melli (National) Alley of Lalezar. Of course, those places were closed down during religious mourning days of the two lunar months of Moharram and Ramadan.
It is true, therefore, that Lalezar has served as a criterion and urban measure of social developments in Tehran, which has likewise undergone a lot of change since its construction up to the present time.
Lalezar can be considered a symbol of modernity in Tehran. Although Nasseriyeh (the present-day Nasser Khosrow) Street was the first street to be built in Tehran according to urban environment standards and European concepts, Lalezar was the first street to be built according to European and modern style.
If you are willing to have a mental picture of Lalezar Street, we would suggest that you pay a visit to Ghazali Cinema Township where the late Iranian director, Ali Hatami, has built the Lalezar Street anew.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Charles Aznavour: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Another page of my memoir
It has been well over forty years that our beloved Charles Aznavour accepted an invitation to perform at the Armenian Club in Tehran. I was there with my husband. Even after so many years, the image of him in his white suit and the rich sound of his singing are still fresh in my mind.
It was a dinner concert, and after we enjoyed all the familiar tunes, he signaled the finish with a dramatic gesture. He threw his white handkerchief on the floor and then exited the hall quickly. My husband and I were among the very few who followed him outside, and because of that we had the delightful opportunity to sit around a table on one of those warm summer nights in Tehran and chat at length with him and his manager who was also French Armenian.
It was an exhilarating experience. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming. I can’t remember what we talked about. But I do remember being surprised at how well he spoke Armenian. We had the good fortune of taking pictures with him too.
Fast forward to 2014: Charles Aznavour turns 90 and kicks off his World Wide Farewell tour with a huge concert in Yerevan. In attendance there were the Presidents of France and Armenia, François Hollande and Serzh Sarkisian.

At the Armenian Club in Tehran. My husband and I are behind Aznavour. First from the left is his manager. The woman on the right is unknown.
At an age when most people hardly step outside their front door, Aznavour is trotting the globe and shows little sign of slowing down. Anybody who has reached 90 deserves a whole year’s birthday celebration. And that’s exactly what he has planned.
After the sensational concert in Yerevan, he performed in Berlin and then continued to other major cities around the world. His L.A. concert was on Sunday, September 13. The Greek Theatre in Hollywood was packed. I was there among the mesmerized audience. On the stage I saw the same Aznavour with the same extraordinary ease he displayed at the Armenian Club 40+ years ago. His rich voice soared across and left his audience in awe. This time he didn’t wear the white suit. Instead, he had a more casual outfit on – no jacket only suspenders over a dark blue shirt.
Aznavour on monitor in Greek Theatre September 13
He interacted with the audience and amused us with a few jokes. I think he was more expressive than I ever remember. He told us that at his age it’s hard for him to sing because sometimes he tends to forget the words. And that was the only complaint I heard he had as a nonagenarian. Then he said he was happy that there was no air conditioning. Then he told us when he wants to compose a song the lyrics come first and the music next.
He finished the nearly two-hour long program as agile as he had started. Sometimes he strolled, sometimes he rested on a director’s chair, sometimes he waltzed his way across the stage. He sang in English, French and Spanish and added a duet with his daughter.
At one point someone from behind yelled, “en Français!” meaning “in French.” A few others echoed the request. I joined them too. Yes, I wanted him to sing in French. I grew up with his songs and perfected my French by listening to his meaningful lyrics.
I was so glad to be there and relive my past memories. What an extraordinary opportunity I had to experience once again with this wonderful performer and witness the outpouring of love from the audience. And what an incredible gift Charles Aznavour has given his fans around the world for his 90th birthday. My only wish is that I will see him once more.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Armenians living in the Northernmost Island in the World.

This story was published in The Armenian Weekly on line newspaper on October 2, 2014.

Svalbard, an isolated Norwegian island, lies in the Arctic Ocean between 74 and 81 degrees north latitude. During the summer the sun does not set for 99 days, and darkness reigns for 84 days in the winter. The 3,000 or so people that call Svalbard home are considered to live in the northernmost settlement in the world. The majority can be found in Longyearbyen, the de factocapital, while the second largest settlement is Barentsburg with 400 inhabitants.
Welcome to Barentsburg.
Welcome to Barentsburg.
Despite Svalbard being under Norwegian sovereignty, the lingua de Franca of Barentsburg is Russian. A unique treaty signed in 1920 allowed all signatories to exploit Svalbard’s resources; the only country to have taken advantage of this was Russia.
Barentsburg was originally founded as a Dutch settlement in 1920, but sold their concession to the Soviet Union in 1931. The Soviets—now Russians—have maintained a presence there since then mining coal. The coal is mined by the Russian state-owned Arktikugol Trust, which exports its coal primarily to northern Europe. Everything in the settlement is heavily subsidized, from housing to electricity, resulting in a financial loss to Moscow; yet it allows Russia to maintain a presence in this part of the world. Despite this Russian influence, Barentsburg still maintains both a Norwegian address and phone numbers.
The Russian church built in memory of dead miners.
The Russian church built in memory of dead miners.
This isolated mining village has created its own Russian ecosystem. An onion-domed Russian Orthodox Church rests in the settlement, built in honor of 140 miners who perished in a 1996 plane accident. Barentsburg has everything from an Olympic-sized swimming pool to a school, to the northernmost diplomatic mission in the world, the Russian Consulate. No roads lead to this settlement; it can only be reached via boat, snowmobile, or helicopter. Most supplies and food come directly from mainland Russia, and the settlement uses an electronic cash card to make transactions. (One might want to consider using the cash card at the northernmost brewery in the world, the Red Bear Brewery.) Barentsburg is also attempting to bring in its share of the global tourism dollar. A new hotel has been built, and visitors are free to peruse the souvenir shop or catch a performance at the cultural center.
Lenin still runs supreme in a Soviet time warp.
Lenin still runs supreme in a Soviet time warp.
I cannot imagine spending my next long weekend vacationing in Barentsburg, but it was a fascinating place to visit for a couple of hours. The settlement appeared to be stuck in a Soviet time warp. Soviet-like propaganda hugged the walls of the buildings. A plaque highlighted the revolution of 1917. A large Lenin bust hogged the town’s spotlight. (Difficult to believe, but this Lenin statue is not even the most northern statue. A nearby abandoned Russian mine claims that title.).
My Dad with our new friends.
My Dad with our new friends.
As we strolled around Barentsburg, my tour guide, Yuliya, shared with us the pan-Soviet nationality breakdown of the mining workforce. The majority of the workforce hailed from Ukraine, followed by Russia. Rounding out the settlement was a group of 20 from Armenia. My ears perked up. Armenia? My ethnic homeland. I grabbed my Dad and informed him that even in the Arctic Circle there were Armenians. (My Dad and I were vacationing on a cruise to Svalbard and Greenland.)
As the official tour ended, my Dad and I strolled down “Main Street” in near-freezing weather. As I stopped to take a picture of a building, I noticed a dark-haired man step out onto a balcony. He puffed a cigarette. In the cold, both his breath and cigarette smoke were visible. I had a feeling.
Soviet propaganda
Soviet propaganda
I meandered over and shouted a greeting in Russian: “Sdrastvuite.” He responded in kind. “Kak tebya zavoot?” I asked. He responded, “Vartan.”
A giant smile crossed my face. “Duk Hye ek?” Vartan quizzically replied “Ayo” My smile appeared again. “Yes Hye em.” “Akhper jan, arri, arri!” he barked excitedly.
Long live the revolution!
Long live the revolution!
My Dad and I entered his living quarters, relaxed on a worn couch, and shared and swapped stories. The seven Armenians from Gyumri surrounded us. Employing my awful Eastern Armenian and my Dad’s dated Western Armenian, we learned about these unlikely residents in one of the world’s northernmost settlements. As you might imagine, the harsh economics of Armenia drove them to this Russian mining town. The salary was several factors higher than what they would have earned in Gyumri. The group of Armenians was part of the construction and repair crew in Barentsburg, avoiding the harsher environment of the mines. The men spend six months in Svalbard and three months off in Armenia.
As an avid traveler I am always meeting Armenians, from Bangkok to Rio de Janeiro to Kolkata. But meeting Armenians at the roof of the world was a surprising and surreal experience.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

75 years of marriage and still holding hands.

This is a heartwarming story about an Armenian couple. They married on September 3, 1939 and still are holding hands. 

Joseph and Sarah Hrachian have been married for 75 years, and they have the mighty old pipe organ at the former St. Peter Armenian Apostolic Church on Fifth Avenue in Troy to thank for bringing them together.
You could say it was a match made in heaven, or at least the celestial upper register of ecclesiastical music.
In 1935, Adrena Hrachian, Joseph's older sister, was the organist at the church and 15-year-old Sarah Kenosian was her assistant who turned the sheet music pages during Sunday services.
"My sister told me there was this pretty young girl working with her, but I said she was too young," recalled Joseph Hrachian, 98.
His sister countered: "But she's growing up, she's beautiful, and she's from a good family."
Hrachian finally relented and went to meet Sarah. "My sister was right," he recalled. "She was beautiful and utterly wonderful. I was hooked."
And was it love at first sight for the future bride?
"I liked him because he had a car," recalled Sarah Hrachian, 94. "Anyone who had a car in Watervliet in those days was special."
They got married on Sept. 3, 1939. He was 23 and she was 19. Theirs was a chaste four-year courtship. He bought her a gold cross necklace for her 17th birthday.
"But our first child was born nine months and 20 minutes after the wedding," he said with a roar of laughter.
These days, she's hard of hearing and he has to shout across the room and often repeat his punch lines for her. He does not seem to mind.
On the couch, posing for a photographer, he needed no prodding to caress her hands and give her a loving kiss on the lips.
Times were tough in 1939 for both families — working-class Armenian immigrants who fled persecution from the Turks and settled in Watervliet — and they held a double wedding with Hrachian's sister, Vergin, to reduce costs. The groom's mother made all the food for the reception, including the Armenian delicacies and desserts.
But when the wedding flowers arrived and the florist demanded pay for the $25 bill before he would release the arrangements, nobody had the cash.
"I was so sad when I saw him taking the flowers away," Sarah recalled. Just then, the best man, Ernie Kershaw, stepped forward, pulled out his wallet and paid the florist without saying a word or making the family feel ashamed.
"Ernie was a wonderful guy and my friend for life," Hrachian said.
The Hrachians sat together in their Guilderland home recently and reflected on the remarkable longevity of their union that has produced three children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren and a tight-knit family that still centers around their church, St. Peter's, which moved from Troy to Watervliet. Joseph Hrachian, whose given first name is Suren, was a longtime trustee of the church and assisted its construction.
The couple graduated from Watervliet High School, he in 1934 and she in 1938.
He is a gregarious fellow possessed of a sharp wit and deadpan humor. He owned dry cleaning businesses: Master Cleaners in Albany and Guilderland and later Executive Cleaners at Stuyvesant Plaza. His wife raised their kids and worked part time on bookkeeping for the business.
Both are in relatively good health and are still in their home, with daily visits from their children. They are considering moving into an assisted-living center early next year because their large yard is a challenge to maintain and his doctor advised him to stop chopping firewood a few years ago.
"We look great and nothing hurts," he said. He added that his stylish cravat is less a fashion statement and more to keep the chill off a stiff neck.
"Oh, c'mon, that's a little much," said his wife, who uses a walker and has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
She is the great leveler to his emotions, which he wears on his dress-shirt sleeve.
He gave a speech for the 100 or so guests at their 75th wedding anniversary party on a recent Sunday, which was held at their church. His basement is filled with an archives of his speeches, which he gave at every birthday and special family function.
"He missed his calling. He should have been a minister with all his sermons," joked their daughter, Lucille. "In all seriousness, they've been wonderful parents."
"They've been so supportive to everyone in the family," said their daughter, Barbara. "They held us all up and they've been the hub. Everyone gathers at their house for every big event."
For more than 50 years, their mother made a large family supper each Sunday with spaghetti and meatballs and the sweet, sugary scent of katah, an Armenian coffee cake.
"After 50 years I quit and I never made spaghetti and meatballs again," she said with a satisfied shrug.
Hrachian noted that the couple was married on the same day that Britain and France declared war on Germany in response to Hitler's invasion of Poland.
"Our marriage was a glorious battle ever since, which she usually won," the groom said with a laugh.
Much like life itself, his stories are full of asides and detours and digressions, anything but linear.
"I could talk and talk and talk," he said. And one is inclined to believe him.