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Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce Coffee Contacts; Armenian Independence Day Celebration

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On Thursday, September 21st, we attended an Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce "Coffee Contacts" that took place at "Fast Signs" on Tyler Road in Mentor where the topic of immigration came up several times during the course of our networking.

First, a friend of ours named Barbara mentioned to us that she had recently watched a short film on the internet composed of interviews with international people about what they believe to be strange about the United States. From what we understand, a few of the things that they mentioned were an overabundance of large cars, too many drive-throughs (i.e. food, pharmacies, chapels, etc.); and excessive advertising by attorneys.

We then talked to a new member who works for a local technology firm that does some contracting with the federal government about the very strict rules regarding who can work on certain projects; sometimes the only foreign-born person able to do so must have a green card and undergo an intense security screening.

Next, we spoke to a person from a local public assistance agency that provides a lot of services to people seeking to better their lives. For instance, individual development accounts (IDA's) are encouraged for those who want to someday pursue higher education, purchase a home or start their own businesses. Along these lines, we were told that quite a few foreign-born people come to the office seeking help on preparation of tax returns just as we would if we did not already have a good accountant.

Finally, we got to meet Ms. Anita Dokollari who established "My Kids Childcare, Inc." in Mentor which has a staff of 12 people attending to the needs of some 65 children. Ms. Dokollari herself immigrated to the United States from Croatia about 11 years ago and has been a U.S. citizen for some five years now. She told us that quite a few international families make use of her services including those from Albania, Mexico, Croatia, and Bosnia.

Before we left, we visited with a man named Richard who told us that a few years ago he started his retirement late on a Friday and by the next Monday morning he had come to the conclusion that he liked staying busy too much to remain happily retired. He thus started his own consulting business and really enjoys his life now because he stays busy but knows that he doesn't have to work but does so because he wants to.

Our other event for Thursday was the Armenian Independence Day celebration that occurred in the early evening at Cleveland City Hall. When we arrived we talked to Mr. Rouben Sagatelov who acted as emcee and let us copy his notes as well as our good friend Ms. Anna Kazarian who explained to us that the significance of this celebration is that 26 years ago on September 21, 1991 Armenia declared its full independence from the Soviet Union after conducting an election in which the Armenian people voted overwhelmingly to do so making this a truly historical occasion since independence was established through peaceful parliamentary procedure instead of violence.

The program itself opened with Mr. Alex Lackey, Government Affairs Coordinator from Mayor Jackson's Office in the City of Cleveland, presenting a Proclamation from the City of Cleveland and recognizing Armenia's long fight for Independence and the Armenian community's "robust" presence in Cleveland.

Next a blessing was given by Father Hratch from "St. Gregory of Narek Armenian Church" and Mr. Grigor Galstyan played both the Armenian and the U.S. national anthems on his accordion which was particularly fascinating for us because in all our years of listening to all kinds of renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" we had never once heard it played on an accordion.

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This was followed by Ms. Lea Jones from the Office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown reading a letter from the Senator in which he in part wrote, "for more than a century, Armenian-Americans have been part of our greater Cleveland community. You've enriched our city with your culture and food and faith, and today is an opportunity to celebrate that heritage. We are a nation of immigrants that has opened our doors to those fleeing oppression and violence for decades, and we are a better country and a better state because of communities like this one that we celebrate today. From your active churches to your weekly radio show to the Armenian Cultural Garden-dedicated in a rainstorm in 2010-you make Cleveland a better place to live and work and raise a family."

The highlight of the night came when Mr. Razmig Pounardjian, a young historian or at least a person well-acquainted with Armenia's history, gave a brief account of this history starting with its adoption of Christianity as its state religion in 301 thus making it the first nation to do so and then continuing by mentioning such happenings as the creation of a unique alphabet in 405-6; how Armenia fell under the rule of the Persians, Ottomans, and Russians in the 16th to 19th centuries; the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century; how Armenia briefly established its independence in 1918 only to fall to the Soviet Union just a few years later; the happenings around 1991 in which its independence was again established; and the challenges it faced ( i.e. is still facing) during its first years as a sovereign state.

The program was almost over when Mr. Sagatelov talked about Cleveland's community of Armenians and their accomplishments including that of Ms. Houry Gebeshian, the Armenian-American gymnast who represented Cleveland's Armenian community as well as Cleveland and the U.S. as a whole in the 2016 Olympics.

But the program ended when Mr. Sagatelov asked the youngest person there, a 12 year-old boy named Tigran Baghdasaryan to come forward and say a few words about what he witnessed that evening and about his own experience being a young Armenian in Cleveland. Mr. Baghdasaryan was encouraged to take a deep breath and just say what was on his mind so he said that he wanted to thank Cleveland for allowing so many Armenian immigrants to stay there and "for letting our culture grow."

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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