A.R.S. Babayan Kindergarten, Armenia, Armenian, Armenian Genocide, Armenian people, Armenian Relief Society, Independence of Armenia, Kololian Elementary and High Schools, Mount Ararat, Mrs. Armenouhi Kololian, orange pekoe tea, Toronto
Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,
Welcome to our regular feature ‘Afternoon tea with …. people of note.’
Knowledge, passion, warmth and wisdom
Today we are having afternoon tea (virtually!) with Mrs. Armenouhi Kololian, a woman who at 80-something, stands tall (very tall indeed!) in the Armenian community in Canada. This is a lady who, with her late husband and two young children, immigrated to Canada in 1962 to start a new life in the new world, and despite some early teething problems (like finding a suitable apartment), went on to become leading citizens of their adopted community. We are proud to bring you the story of this remarkable woman.
A pot of simply splendid Orange Pekoe tea has steeped, and with a touch of milk, we begin to get to know this serene lady who exudes knowledge, passion, warmth and wisdom.
You came to Canada from the Middle East with two young children and very little assets. How did your family become so successful, so involved in the Armenian-Canadian landscape?
I owe a lot to my late husband (Kevork Kololian died in 2006 at the age of 78). He was an irrepressible man with a joie de vivre and a relish for challenges. We started a new life and we started new business. A year after we arrived in Canada, we established K.K. Precision Industries, a manufacturer of highly specialized components for aviation, marine and energy applications. I did the invoicing, the children helped with the mailings and we all drove to the post office on the way home in time to make the last pick-up of the day. We loved Canada, our adopted country, so we took on many community projects.
What advice would you give a young family emigrating today to Canada?
My advice is simple: Have a knowledge of the English language. Be prepared for hard work. Also, don’t look behind… look forward and be optimistic. Then, if the family still wants my advice, here is what I would offer: husband and wife should share responsibilities for raising the children; make the children’s education the top priority and then set your mind to adapting to Canada and its climate as quickly as possible.
You are in a new country, just starting a huge business, what prompted you to become involved with the Armenian Community in Toronto?
This is the story of our nation. After the Armenian Genocide, wherever and whenever we re-establish ourselves, we make sure we have a church, a community centre and foremost, an Armenian school. In Toronto, the centerpiece of the community is the set of buildings at Victoria Park and Highway 401: An Armenian school offering education from kindergarten through to high school graduation, a Church, a community centre, a youth centre and a multi-purpose auditorium. We started with the community centre; then our community got together and built the school. As a result, Armenian Relief Society’s Babayan Kindergarten and Kololian Elementary school opened in September 1979 with 75 students and today, A.R.S. Babayan Kindergarten, Kololian Elementary and High Schools have 540 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 and I am so proud my grand-daughter, who has a Master’s degree in Education, will be teaching at the school starting this month.
What is your current involvement with Armenian Relief Society (A.R. S.)?
A. R. S. is an independent, non-sectarian philanthropic society serving the humanitarian and cultural needs of the Armenian people. Its mission is “With the people for the people”. I am so proud of the young members of the A.R.S. We have passed the torch to them, and fully trust them. We now sit back and sometimes advise them. If there is an upcoming event and if I can have an input, I am there with a helping hand. For instance, our annual bazaar is approaching. There is so much work to be done. I am here to help.
What is your wildest dream?
My dream is to see Mount Ararat, our national symbol, on Armenian soil. In our mythology, Mount Ararat is the home of the Gods, much like Mount Olympus is in Greek mythology. Ararat is revered and features prominently on our coat-of-arms. Ararat dominates the skyline of our capital, Yerevan, but is currently situated in Turkey. This situation, as you know, dates back to the Armenian Genocide – the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of over one million Armenians from their historic homeland. It took place during and after World War 1. Today, scholars recognize the Armenian Genocide as one of the first modern genocides, because they point to the organized manner in which the killings were carried out to eliminate the Armenians, and I believe it’s the second most-studied case of genocide after the Holocaust. So this is my most passionate dream – to see Mount Ararat on Armenian soil.
I also thank God that one of my dreams has already come true: Our generation saw the independence of Armenia, on September 21, 1991.
What are your favourite pastimes?
As you can see, I don’t sit still for very long, so I find great satisfaction in volunteering in the community, spending time with my family, grandchildren and great grand-daughter, with my friends and finally, cooking is joy.
What makes you angry?
I hate gossip; violent movies and foul language; I also find politicians who abuse their power make my blood boil.
If you could address the UN General Assembly, what would you say?
First of all, let me tell you, if more women had more say at the UN, I think the UN would be a more efficient, more humane organization. I don’t think the UN is justifying its existence, for example look at its dismal record on world peace (what is it doing about the atrocities in Syria?); its failure to dent third world sickness and hunger. We need a new approach. There is no excuse today for a single child to die from malaria, or hunger. It’s not acceptable.
What types of books do you read?
I prefer reading biographies. Margaret Thatcher, Lloyd Robertson, Raffi.
What is a typical day for you?
I start my day by reading the Toronto Star, from A to Z. I do this with my morning tea. If for some reason, I miss reading the paper, I feel disconnected from the world. After reading the paper, I start planning my day. My lovely daughter, Nairy Shahinian, diligently phones me to greet the morning and we plan together the rest of the day. We make a point going out with my friends for lunch and once a week, I exercise with a trainer.
Another cup of tea?