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Winter-Spring, 1975-1976

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The Forum

 

A Quarter Century of Publication:

Tracing the History of Forum

By David Bogosian

(originally published in the March 2002 issue of Forum)

When the AEUNA was formed in 1971, the original by-laws stipulated the creation of a "Department of Publications and Communications," and early board meeting minutes speak of a newsletter (not otherwise named) being distributed quarterly in bulk to the individual churches.

In early 1975, the newsletter was named Forum. The chairman of the Department of Publications, Mr. James Aaron of Fresno, Calif., became the first editor and continued until 1976. Presumably, the choice of a name for this journal was intended to encourage discussion and communication within the fledgling Union.

A (Mostly) Unbroken Succession

Following Mr. Aaron, a series of individuals took the helm of Forum, as documented in the table below. Note that a new editor’s term begins after the biennial convention, in June or July, hence the overlap of years in the table. There has been a good balance between east and west coasts, as well as between laity and ordained ministers. Rev. Darakjian is the only one to have taken on the task more than once, and is distinguished as having had a total of 8 years of service, the most of anyone; his output consists of at least 16 issues. He has also served several stints as associate editor of the Armenian section.

Years

Editor

City

1975 – 1976

Mr. James Aaron

Fresno, CA

1976 – 1978

Mrs. Armine Mardiguian

New York, NY

1978 – 1979

Mrs. Betty Sarian

Philadelphia, PA

1979 – 1980

[vacant]

 

1980 – 1982

Rev. Barkev Darakjian

Chicago, Ill.

1982 – 1984

Rev. Vartkes Kassouni

Los Angeles, CA

1984

Mr. Hagop Loussararian

Los Angeles, CA

1984 – 1986

Rev. Harry Missirlian

Fresno, CA

1986 – 1988

Rev. Barkev Darakjian

Chicago, IL

1988 – 1992

Mr. Steve Surmeian

Los Angeles, CA

1992 – 1994

Mr. Aram Sarkissian

Boston, MA

1994 – 1996

[vacant]

 

1996 – 2000

Rev. Barkev Darakjian

Los Angeles, CA

2000 – 2004

Mr. David Bogosian

Los Angeles, CA

2004 – 2010 Rev. George Kevork Terian Fullerton, CA
2010 – 2014 Vahe Tcharkhoutian Pasadena, CA
2014 – Present Rev. Berj Gulleyan Paramus, NJ

Unfortunately, there were two periods of vacancy; one was caused by the resignation of Mrs. Sarian in 1979, the other by the Union’s inability to find a successor to Mr. Sarkissian in 1994. A forlorn note in the board minutes from April 1995 states, "A publications chairman is needed, plus a committee." By contrast, after Rev. Kassouni’s resignation in February 1984, Mr. Loussararian stepped in to continue publication until a replacement was elected in June.

Nevertheless, the post of editor was on one occasion a sought-after one. Minutes from the 1980 General Assembly at Mills College, Oakland, record that the Chairman of the Department of Publications and Communications was elected from among two nominees, and this after someone requested a secret ballot for the vote.

Marking Time

The frequency with which Forum has been published has fluctuated considerably. While branded a quarterly, it has achieved four issues in only a few of its 25-odd years. Naming the issues has vacillated between months (March, June, etc.) and seasons (Winter, Spring, etc.). Some editors’ penchant for "double-issues" resulted in a roughly semi-annual frequency for some stretches. On the other hand, board minutes from 1984 show that Rev. Karl Avakian recommended it be issued monthly (no doubt much to the horror of the then-editor!).

A complete list of the individual Forum issues available at the time of this writing (January 2002) is shown on p. 3. While these may not necessarily represent all the issues produced, the list likely contains at least 90-95 percent of them.

Goals and Directions

The objectives of Forum have changed somewhat over the years. Initially, its focus reflected its origin as a "newsletter". Minutes from April 1975 record Mr. Aaron’s desire to receive items from churches to make the journal more "newsy". And indeed, in these early issues, the emphasis is entirely on information rather than reflection or inspiration. After all, the AEUNA itself had come into existence only a few years prior, and there was a strong need to "introduce" the member churches to one another.

For example, Mrs. Mardiguian recalls that the tear-out-and-fold Union directory (listing all the member churches and their pastors) in the December 1976 issue was "a big hit". The Spring-Summer 1981 issue repeated this feature, expanding it from 8 to 16 pp. That issue also contained a "Who’s Who in the AEUNA" with profiles and photos of all pastors. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the great bulk of
Forum’s pages were filled with informational tidbits from member churches: banquets, pastoral installations, youth activities, building projects, and so forth. In essence, it was very similar to the parish newsletter but on a national scale, with a geographically expanded yet still parochial frame of mind.

Rev. Darakjian’s influence on the journal’s direction is visible in each of his three terms as editor. His first editorial (Winter 1981) states:

    FORUM will be more than proud to record the wonderful things that God will be doing in and through our churches, the Union, and its missionary arm, the AMAA.… Moreover, FORUM will keep its pages open to selective articles which will contribute to the rise of a new awareness among its readers of the raison d’etre of the Armenian Evangelical movement. This will be reflected in the serious, scholarly articles…. FORUM will also entertain critical articles which are insightful, positive, and thought-provoking.

The emphasis is still on "recording" the news, but it is now open to "serious", "scholarly", and "critical" articles, albeit on a "selective" basis. While not much of the material from these years can honestly be categorized that way, at least there was an attempt to steer in this direction. Upon resuming the editorship in 1986, Rev. Darakjian reported the "need to include articles of theological focus, movement, and insights, and a lesser need to include events which occurred in the churches. [Forum] should be intellectual as well as newsworthy." No doubt this plea forms the backdrop for the following announcement in his Fall 1986 editorial:

    Pursuant to a decision made by the AEUNA Board of Directors, FORUM has now been transformed into an official mouthpiece of the Union. It is no more just a newsletter serving as a link among the Armenian Evangelical churches. The pages of FORUM are now wide open to articles which reflect Armenian Evangelical concerns over a variety of issues.…

And finally, in the standard statement of objectives reproduced in each of the issues from Rev. Darakjian’s final term (1996-2000), we find this:

    [Forum’s] intended purposes are to present, on the one hand, the Evangelical faith and teachings, and on the other hand, to become the echo of the life and activities of the Armenian Evangelical churches.

In this statement, news items have clearly taken on a subordinate role to presentation of "the Evangelical faith and teachings." The transformation from parish news to theological journal was fully effected.

Of course, the page count reflects these changes. Early copies from the 1970s were consistently 8 or 12 pages in length; through the early and mid 1980s, 20-24 pages became the norm. Virtually all the issues between 1985 and 1994 were 32 pages long, but between 1996-2000, the average was 44 pages. Granted, these were "double issues" that appeared semi-annually, but the greater bulk of the journal allowed for articles of greater length.

And article length has clearly been a subject of discussion. In his report to the board in January 1981, Rev. Darakjian mentions, "I hope I will not antagonize some of our pastors by limiting their write-ups to one page, as I was authorized to do by this Council." Most likely, some had already been antagonized. A decade later, Mr. Surmeian issued the following guidelines to prospective authors: "Articles should be no more than 1,000 words… Our readers have told us that they lose interest in excessively long articles, even quite excellent ones." In spite of this, the late 90’s saw a surge in lengthy articles, many running to 4-5 pages.

Another interesting trend is the amount of Armenian language in each issue. Up until 1982, there was virtually no Armenian content. But since then, the space devoted to Armenian articles has remained between 15% and 30% of each issue. This change reflects the demographic influx of large numbers of immigrants from the Middle East around that time.

"Don’t Judge a [Journal] by Its Cover"

The traditional dictum aside, much of the appeal of a magazine lies in its outward appearance. Over the years, the cover design of Forum has evolved, as seen in the sampling of covers shown on these pages.

According to Rev. Kassouni, the initial masthead was designed by Mr. Aaron himself. It was his idea to place the Union’s seal within the "O" of Forum, and the choice of lettering was his as well. This basic masthead remained unchanged from 1975 to 1994, and the change effected in 1996 was a subtle one: a plain block font was used for "FORUM" in place of the more stylized original.

Originally, when the entire issue was only 8 or 12 pages long, cover space was used for article texts. Beginning in 1981, as the issue length increased, a true cover page became feasible. By far the most common cover usage was the one listing the contents of the issue. As one who has spent many hours on cover art, I can vouch for the temptation of this simple approach. But there have been occasional departures from this standard. Group photos from conventions are the second most common design, and the cover has also featured photos of Mt. Ararat or the David of Sassoun monument in Fresno. Original artwork has graced the cover from time to time, most notably Dickran Kassouny’s creative composition in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical church.

Contents

But what makes or breaks a journal are the quality and appeal of its contents. I was impressed, scanning through these issues, by the breadth of subject matter and the value of preserving this material for future reference. These pages give a good indication of what was on the mind of the community as a whole.

The most recurrent theme by far was that of Armenian Evangelical identity, purpose, and mission. Apparently, we are not too clear on who we are or what we are trying to do. I counted at least 16 articles on this subject (not including those in Armenian), with one entire issue devoted to it as well (Spring 1986). The titles speak for themselves:

  • "On the Distinctive of the Armenian Evangelical Church" (Rev. Krikor Haleblian, Fall 1992);
  • "Quo Vadis Armenian Evangelical Church?" (Rev. Hagop Chakmakjian, Spring 1991);
  • "The Armenian Church ‘In Crisis’ " (Dikran Hadidian, Spring 1993);
  • "Identity Crisis" (Rev. Barkev Darakjian, Fall-Winter 1999); etc.

Another popular subject has been the dearth of pastoral leadership. With titles like "Who Will Lead Us?" (Rev. Karl Avakian, Fall 1992) and "Where Will Our Future Pastors Come From?" (Rev. Ron Tovmassian, Winter 1994), these articulate our greatest fear. Nor is this a recent phenomenon; writing in the March 1978 issue, Rev. Jirair Sogomian states:

    Where will our pastors of tomorrow come from? Will we have qualified leaders for the special needs of our Armenian Evangelical churches? Though the question of "tomorrow’s leadership" is still a crucial one, we are happy to report that some of that leadership is in the making today! … It is now our pleasure to introduce to the Armenian Evangelical community our leaders of tomorrow.

This is followed by profiles of then-seminarians Peniamin Aroyan, John Mokkosian, and Baghdo Khojikian; but in a twist of irony which underscores our predicament, not one of those three is currently serving an AEUNA church.

I was also interested to discover that, once the shift towards matters of substance had been accomplished, a number of articles took up surprisingly controversial subjects. Rev. Roger Minassian used "Hope for the Sexually Confused" (Autumn 1991) to take a stand against the ordination of practicing homosexuals and urge churches to reconsider their ties with the United Church of Christ. An article by Rev. Edmund Linn argues for the practice of euthanasia in limited cases ("The Right to Die With Dignity", Winter 1985). And in reviewing the film "The Last Temptation of Christ," Rev. Vartan Hartunian minces no words:

    This film, so insensitive to those who revere Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is clearly an attempt to ridicule His divinity and high moral standards. If they can get Jesus to tell lies, to steal, and to commit sexual acts, they will feel better in their lying, thievery, fornications and adulteries. (Autumn 1988)

The role of women in the church was the subject of a few articles. Interestingly, Rev. Missirlian ("The State of the Union", Winter-Spring 1987) laments "We are losing a great deal of Armenian woman ministerial power and talent to other churches. When will we be ready to accept women pastors?" Not long after, the Summer 1989 issue reports with obvious self-congratulation that "Rev. Joanne Hartunian has broken new ground. She is the first woman since 301 A.D. to serve an Armenian church as an ordained minister… [and] to assume the full ministry of an Armenian church."

Also controversial was Rev. Kassouni’s review of Rev. Tootikian’s The Armenian Evangelical Church in the Autumn-Winter 1982 issue, in which he contested two of the book’s premises:

    [The author] then proceeds to outline a "Plan of Union" (Chapter 12) which is visionary and most commendable, but unfortunately unrealistic and unworkable. Furthermore his quest for reunion is inconsistent with his call for intensification of evangelistic fervor… The spirit of ecumenicity and evangelistic fervency have tended to be antithetical.

    We have Armenian Evangelical churches, but not one Church… Our unions are autonomous, and churches within them, in varying degrees, autonomous as well… As lamentable as it may be, it is still a fact that within such pluralism we cannot claim to have one Church! Hence the author’s generalizations about the "Armenian Evangelical Church" are challenged by particular churches on the local level.

It is understandable that such language should create a stir, particularly when typical Forum articles were unfailingly positive when it came to our community affairs. Even as significant an event as the dissolution of a member church must be inferred by reading between the lines, as in the following item:

    The presbytery of San Joaquin has voted to donate $10,000 to the AEUNA 75th anniversary campaign. The funds are from the sale of the Armenian Presbyterian Church of Kingsburg. (Winter 1975)

The bulk of news items documented everyday events in our community. Banquets honoring departing pastors, banquets commemorating church anniversaries, banquets by/for women’s groups, banquets for fundraising: the parade of sumptuous meals, inspiring messages, and formal musical entertainment is never-ending. Even as recently as the early 1990’s, Forum carried birth, wedding, and obituary announcements, particularly when these related to pastors. The cover of the Winter 1985 issue is even emblazoned with photos of two pastoral offspring with the epigraph, "May their generation increase." Reports of graduation parties, wedding anniversaries, and youth camps; news of pastoral arrivals and departures; even such mundane items as pastoral statistics ("The Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian’s record of service in 1985 revealed that there were six baptisms administered; five weddings performed; fourteen funerals officiated…") and bake sales ("The youth at Armenian Memorial Church had a muffin sale Oct. 2nd and raised $60 towards their expenses at the APYF Fall Convention") contributed to the journal’s homey feel.

But in hindsight, perhaps this was a necessary role for Forum to play during the formative years of the Union. As Rev. Missirlian recalls of his tenure, the goal was to "keep churches united, share each other’s joys and successes, to create an esprit de corps so we could all work towards the same goal." The vision of the AEUNA was primarily one of a super-parish, an organization that facilitated fellowship among Armenian Evangelicals across the continent.

The Editorial Experience

In my conversations with previous editors, I was most curious about their joys and frustrations. Primary among the latter was the need for feedback. As Mr. Surmeian noted, publication "is like broadcasting, but you don’t know if anyone is receiving." Most editors were frustrated by the lack of material and the burden of generating enough articles to fill each issue. Each new editor issued a steady stream of appeals for letters and articles, as exemplified by these excerpts:

    We welcome letters, responses and reactions from our readers. We request our churches to assign a reporter to mail us articles and pictures of significant events. It is sad that hardly any church sent in material without much urging from us. Gleaning from church publications is tedious and not satisfactory enough. (Vartkes Kassouni, Spring-Summer 1983 editorial)

    Is FORUM a forum? I would hesitate to give an affirmative answer, because today FORUM is not a venue ‘for the discussion of public matters.’ And this troubles me… What happens when a matter of public interest is highlighted in FORUM? Unfortunately, nothing happens: no reaction, total indifference. ("Let Us Make the Forum a Forum!" Aram Sarkissian, Autumn 1993)

And surely, the editor’s task is a difficult and often thankless one. Mr. Surmeian would travel to Bakersfield to meet with Rev. Missirlian before finalizing each issue. Mrs. Sarian recalled staying up until 4 a.m. to work on articles, and the intense requirements of the job led to her feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and inadequate as a wife and mother, which in turn led to her resignation. The editorial process and the highly public nature of the work makes editors lightning rods for criticism. Several editors remembered difficulties with individuals who reacted negatively when their articles were edited or omitted. Rev. Darakjian makes no attempt to hide his frustration in a prickly response to a letter complaining about "theobabble" in previous articles:

    Thank you for your letter, the content of which has convinced me that many of our readers have failed to grasp the aim and purpose of this publication. (Spring 2000)

But the picture is not entirely bleak. Every editor agreed that the greatest joy was receiving a letter of appreciation, though some implied this was a rare occurrence. Rev. Kassouni deemed it "a labor of love." And for Mrs. Sarian, "it was the most rewarding volunteer activity I’d ever done." Speaking personally, I heartily concur.

 

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Autumn-Winter, 1982-1983
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Winter 1985
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Spring 1992
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Fall 1996
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Summer-Fall 1997
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Rev. Barkev Darakjian
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Rev. Vartkes Kassouni
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Mr. Steve Surmeian
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Mr. Hagop Loussararian
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Mrs. Armine Mardiguian
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Rev. Harry Missirlian
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Mr. Aram Sarkissian

     

 

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