Dr. Bill Erysian, one of the original editors and co-founders of Hye Sharzhoom, shared some of his thoughts on the early years of the newspaper during the Armenian Studies Banquet held March 15. His remarks are reprinted below.
It’s not difficult to recall what was happening on this campus, in this community and in the Diaspora thirty years ago. Because of a combination of political events unfolding in the late 1970’s that provoked a resurgent awareness of the complex issues still surrounding the Genocide, a sense of patriotism and historical identity had overtaken many Armenians in the world – 15 years before anyone would have realistically anticipated anything like an independent Armenian nation.
And a handful of young Armenian men and women at Fresno State University, prompted by the need for self-expression, a desire to add a new voice to world events and create a forum for debate and dissemination of thought – in all things Armenian –gathered to resurrect an Armenian students’ organization and create a medium for the message – Hye Sharzhoom. At that same time, an Armenian Studies Program was entering a new era under the guidance of Dickran Kouymjian, who, at that time, was not much older than my current age. Now that’s a measure of time.
We later saw it all as a sort of an alignment of the planets. How was it possible that nearly half of that core group of Armenian students were journalism majors? How was it possible that two of our mentors on the journalism faculty were the legendary former UPI Editor in Chief Roger Tatarian and long-time California Courier editor Art Margosian? It seemed like the perfect opportunity for us, presenting itself at a pivotal time in the history of the Armenian Diaspora. We embraced these exciting times and it was reflected in the diversity of the newspaper – breaking news, local and world events, editorials, arts and culture, poetry, debate, opinions, book reviews – virtually anything we could squeeze onto those pages, including a special Armenian language page.
Thus began the long history of Hye Sharzhoom, the first and only student-run Armenian newspaper in the world, with a circulation that has now reached 7,000 and which is sent to more than 40 countries. You would be surprised at how many places this newspaper has popped up over the years. As one of the co-founders and original editors of the newspaper, I am compelled to recount a couple of interesting experiences I had because of my early association with Hye Sharzhoom that demonstrate the impact this publication has had.
A few years after I graduated from Fresno State, I left for graduate study at the London School of Economics in 1983. After settling into my classes and familiarizing myself with the challenges of higher education in England, I did what every good Fresno-born Armenian college student would do – I started an Armenian students club at the university. And the first thing our very small group did was what every good Armenian students club should do – we had a Kef Night…food, music, dancing and, of course, the mandatory showing of an Armenian Genocide documentary.
Later that evening, a rough looking but soft-spoken young man (obviously Armenian) came up to me and asked if I was Bill Erysian from Fresno. “I’m not sure, who is asking…?” was my first thought, but before I could answer he said, “I know who you are. You are one of the editors of Hye Sharzoom – we used to read that paper all the time when we lived in Armenia….It’s a very provocative newspaper.” I was astonished that the newspaper had somehow found its way into Armenia (and other parts of the world) and that other young Armenians were interested in its contents.
Another time, not too long ago, I was in the Yerevan office of Dr. Samvel Avetisyan, the Armenian vice minister of Agriculture, when I noticed the latest issue of Hye Sharzhoom on his desk. “Do you read that paper?” I innocently asked. “All the time,” he quickly responded. “But it’s in English and you can’t read English,” I replied. “It’s okay…it doesn’t matter what I can or can’t read,” he explained.“What matters is what is written in the paper.”
Perhaps what I remember most about Hye Sharzhoom is the incredible amount of work that went into producing some of those early issues. We had no desktop publishing in those days. Personal computers had not even been invented yet. It was cut and paste, paragraph by paragraph, on a dimly-lit lightboard in the basement of the Daily Collegian university newspaper office, late at night, struggling to meet our printing deadline – with Dickran Kouymjian peering over our shoulders, smoking a cigar.
It was worth every minute…
A surprising number of individuals have worked on Hye Sharzhoom over the years. Those names appear in the booklet on your tables and some of those people are here today. They deserve to be recognized.