ACOM Book Club News - January 2018

acom book club banner 2018The ACOM Book Club held its first meeting of the new year on Thursday, January 18, 2018, at the home of club member Tom and his wife Jennifer. We had a large gathering this month with 12 members and/or visitors in attendance: Tom, Jennifer, Mark, Caren, Leroy, Cynthia, Andrea, Azad, Karen, Kristi, Tashina, Joan, and, not to be left out, Maggie. There were many treats to eat and good wine to drink.

The book for this month was "An Armenian Odyssey: From the Euphrates to the Mississippi" by Mark and Thomas Keljik. This "book" is actually an offprint of one chapter from the "Modern Greek Studies Yearbook", Volume 32/33 for 2016/2017, which is a publication of the University of Minnesota. The chapter is a short biography of the life of their grandfather, Bedros Keljik. Mark and Tom provided printed copies of the chapter for everyone to read. There has been enough demand for it that they had to make a second printing!

The reason that this book/chapter even exists is interesting. The two brothers have a friend named Armen who has written several books. One day while talking with Tom it was discovered that they both had the same history teacher in college and both liked the teacher a lot. They decided to call him up and invite him out for coffee. After subsequent meetings this teacher told Tom and Mark that they were going to write a chapter about their grandfather for him and that Armen was going to be the editor. They couldn't say no.

Several of us had attended a presentation by Mark and Tom on this book/chapter, which they gave at Mark's oriental rug store a few months ago.

Azad made a side comment about a book that he had just finished reading on the burning of Smyrna in 1922 and how 250,000 people were saved, largely through the actions of one man. He compared that book, which was definitely worth reading but was very sad, to the Keljik's book, which also was worth reading but left the reader with a much happier feeling. It showed that immigrants could be successful and that even if at one step in your life you fail you can start over again. Bedros Keljik started new businesses many times and pretty much always succeeded.

Mark mentioned that his grandfather, Bedros, wrote two different books. One of them contained 20 stories about his life in Armenia. The other was a collection of sketches about other people that he knew. A couple of nephews also were authors.

I noted that the book club books for January and February were both about Armenians who came to the U.S. and ended up in the Twin Cities area, but that one of them, Bedros Keljik, left the Ottoman Empire before the genocide while the other, Alice Tashjian's mother, survived the genocide.

Andrea asked the question of whether Bedros, after so many years in the U.S. still spoke with an Armenian accent. Mark's answer was "Yes", and that he had a strong accent. Also, he kept the style of always addressing another man as "My dear sir", or "Mr. ...". Mark also noted that the oriental rug business is one where a middle eastern accent was a benefit.

I asked if the grandparents and/or parents spoke Armenian when they talked together. Mark said that no, they spoke English to each other.

While we were looking at some old pictures that Tom provided Azad made the comment that Armenian men of the 19th and early 20th centuries always had moustaches, but that the Ottoman Empire would not allow them to grow beards.

Bedros always maintained a positive attitude and that irritated his sons according to Tom & Mark.

He kept working until he died, which is what people of that generation did. They wanted to stay active.

Bedros's wife, Zabel, was from Constantinople. She was very well educated at a French school there and spoke Turkish, Armenian, French and English. When she married Bedros and came to St. Paul it was noted that the Armenian that she spoke in Constantinople was very different from that of the other Armenians in town who were from the Anatolian plateau. When she first came to St. Paul in June she loved the city. After a while, though, she decided that she preferred bigger cities and spent some time living in New York City and some time in California with her mother. After her sons grew up, married and had kids, she moved back to St. Paul. She also started calling herself Isabelle to sound more American.

Bedros had started a rug business in St. Paul but then moved to Chicago where he worked for Pushmans, then worked in New York for a while, then returned to the Twin Cities.

Mark mentioned that at one time there was a string of oriental rug businesses on Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues in Minneapolis, all run by Armenians. They were friendly competitors and recommended the other stores if their own store didn't have an item that a customer wanted.

The discussion continued for a full two hours and covered many other topics, but I'll cut my notes here.

The book for February will be "Silences: My Mother's Will To Survive" by Alice Tashjian. Joe Tashjian has some copies available. A pdf of the book was posted on Facebook a while back and you may still be able to find it there, too. I'm planning on hosting the February meeting at my house. I'll let you know if that plan changes.

For March, I am recommending the book "Hummus and Homicide" by Tina Kashian, a police mystery, although it won't be published until February 18th. Let me know if you agree or have an alternate proposal.

Until next month, keep reading!


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