By Michael Harutinian
This is an interview with Mark Malkasian the first editor of Hye Sharzhoom. On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Hye Sharzhoom the current staff thought it appropriate that he be interviewed to find out what the student climate was at the time of Hye Sharzhoomís conception. We also wanted to get his perspectives on where Hye Sharzhoom has been and how far the paper has come.
What is your present career?
I write high school textbooks on current events and history.
How long were you editor of Hye Sharzhoom?
For the first five issues (spring 1979 to spring 1980).
Why did you decide to take on the task as editor and who approached you about the position if anyone?
Looking back, there were a number of factors that contributed to the establishment of Hye Sharzhoom. First, the civil rights movement in the United States eventually kindled a greater sense of ethnic awareness among all ethnic groups, Armenians included. Because of the large Armenian presence in the San Joaquin Valley and the history of discrimination, this probably hit home more in Fresno than elsewhere. Second, Armenians worldwide were becoming more assertive about recognition of and restitution for the genocide. Of course, by the mid-1970s, we had the beginnings of Armenian terrorism, which, if nothing else, stoked the flames of controversy. Third, the time was right at Fresno State. Dickran Kouymjian had just begun teaching and had injected a new energy into Armenian studies. Moreover, the journalism department was a magnet for Armenians, plus there were two Armenians on the departmentís facultyóRoger Tatarian and Art Margosian. When Dr. Kouymjian suggested in the spring of 1979 that we put out a paper, all the pieces seemed to be in place.
Was being editor easier or harder than you thought it would be?
Since I was a journalism student, I had a pretty good grasp of what was involved in getting out a small newspaper. At the time, however, I saw the Hye Sharzhoom largely in the context of the campus. I imagined our primary audience to be the 400 or so Armenian students at Fresno State. I was honestly surprised at the reaction we got from the larger Armenian community.
Was it hard getting student support for the paper (people to work on the paper) and if so what were the reasons given by students for lack of support?
As I mentioned, the times were different when I was editor. There was no shortage of interest and talent.
What was your proudest accomplishment in Hye Sharzhoom?
There was a sense of pride among us that we had created something new, that in a way we had put the Fresno Armenian community on the map of the larger Armenian world. Letís face it, Fresno State is not exactly an elite academic institution. One would have expected for Hye Sharzhoom to be launched at UCLA or UC-Berkeley, or maybe an Ivy League university, but the initiative was taken here.
What do you think of the job that is being done by the present Hye Sharzhoom staff?
I have to commend Armenian students and the Armenian Studies Program for institutionalizing Hye Sharzhoom. To maintain a publication for 20 years is no easy feat.
Do you have any suggestions on what can be done to better Hye Sharzhoom?
I would like to see the Hye Sharzhoom aspire to a higher level of journalism. Our goal was to broaden the world of the reader ó to explore neglected corners of the local Armenian community and to make connections between the Armenian experience and the broader world. When we started, virtually no one in the American-Armenian press was doing this. Now we have AIM (Armenian International Magazine), but thatís it. There are a lot of potential stories out there, but youíve got to go find them.
What are the changes if any have you noticed in Hye Sharzhoom since your days in the paper and if so what are those changes?
I think the introduction of staff stipends has had a negative impact. When we started the paper, no one was paid a dime. In fact, we were responsible for raising the expenses of printing through advertising, food sales, etc. That gave us a sense of ownership that seems largely missing today.
What do you miss most about working on Hye Sharzhoom?
A nucleus of active Armenian students formed around the Hye Sharzhoom. Even many who didnít work on the paper nonetheless become involved in the Armenian Students Organization because of Hye Sharzhoom. Of course, youth and idealism are both fleeting, but it was exhilarating while it lasted.