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    Ross Bagdasarian & The Chipmunks: The Armenian Story Behind One of America’s Most Iconic TV Dads

    Ross Bagdasarian & The Chipmunks: The Armenian Story Behind One of America’s Most Iconic TV Dads


    If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, Alvin and the Chipmunks was a permanent staple of your TV diet. And if you were an Armenian kid growing up in the diaspora, finding out that someone called Ross Bagdasarian created your favorite show, probably blew your mind.




    But the story behind Bagdasarian and how he created a beloved cartoon which went on to achieve worldwide fame is as much of a good story as the chipmunks themselves.

    Airing for almost a decade, the animated series followed the adventures of three rambunctious chipmunks - Alvin, Simon and Theodore and their adoptive father and manager David Seville as they tried to make it in the music business. Virtually every episode includes a frustrated Seville yelling “AAAALVIN!” after the trio cause havoc, led by their trouble-making brother Alvin.

    It was Ross’s son, Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. who's responsible for the version that nostalgic late millennials remember well, incorporating his own father’s story into the character David Seville.



    “My dad was the Armenian version of Zorba the Greek” he recalled in an interview. “You felt that he was going to live to be 8,000 years old, so when he passed away that was like an episode of The Twilight Zone for me. The way for me to have my dad around was to resurrect the Chipmunks.”

    But the events that led up to the creation of the three rodents and their firm but fair father happened decades before we ever got introduced to them.

    David Seville was in fact, Bagdasarian’s alter ego, one he created in the late 50s at the request of Liberty Record executives, who thought his real, Armenian name sounded too ethnic. Bagdasarian ended up choosing “Seville” because he was stationed in Seville, Spain during World War II.

    He was born Rostom Sipan Bagdasarian to Armenian parents in Fresno who escaped the Hamidian Massacres and growing troubles for Armenians in the Ottoman Empire to emigrate to the U.S.


    Ross Bagdasarian, front row, 2nd from left. Fresno High School Yearbook, 1936


    Bagdasarian first went in the family business - growing grapes - but he gave up running a 60-acre grape farm to pursue his passion.

    “The business was terrible and my mom and dad said, the music business can’t be any tougher than grapes and raisins, let’s at least follow our dreams,” Bagdasarian, Jr. later recalled in an interview.

    He first found success in 1951, when “Come On-A My House,” the song he co-wrote based on an old Armenian folk song about Armenian hospitality with his cousin, playwright William Saroyan, became a hit for Rosemary Clooney.

    Bagdasarian’s song writing strategy was more Armenian-influenced than people know. He and Saroyan rented an office in Beverly Hills and tried to extend their success by taking Armenian material that had fallen in the public domain and converting them to songs for the American mainstream.

    William Saroyan and co-composer Ross Bagdasarian Sr. making their own recording of Come On a My House with assistance of arranger George Cates.

    Oh! Beauty” had been “Akh, Yavroos” in the original Armenian, though it failed to replicate the success of “Come On-a My House,” with its recitation of delights including the most Armenian of produce items, the pomegranate.

    Even Clooney was cajoled into giving “Come On-A My House” an Armenian spin:

    “Now the fact that it was an Armenian folk song, he wanted an accent. I don’t know how to do an Armenian accent, so I used what I laughingly called an Italian accent, because that was the band I sang with, an Italian band, Tony Pastor.”



    After “Come On-A My House” hit the waves, Bagdasarian moved his family to Los Angeles, thinking that it would be easier to try and make it in Hollywood than California’s Central Valley, but the reality of LaLa Land was as much of slog as farming in Fresno.

    He received minor roles in classics like Alfred Hitchock’s “Rear Window” and Elia Kazan’s “Viva Zapata!” among others, but attempting to navigate the white-dominated film industry as an Armenian was tough.


    Alfred Hitchcock and Ross Bagdasarian on the set of Rear Window, 1954


    “Because he is dark and of Armenian descent, the movies cast him as heavy,” the Indianapolis Star reported in the 50s. “This did not suit his natural exuberance and Ross was not an overnight success.”

    In 1958, Bagdasarian, desperate to hold onto his dreams, took his last $200 and bought a state of the art tape recorder, which allowed him to change speeds on the sounds he was recording.



    He eventually wrote “Witch Doctor” with the help of this new technology, garnering another hit record under his belt. He reportedly drew his inspiration from a book “Duel with the Witch Doctor,” and the fact that teenage records at that time that were selling seemed to have one thing in common, he said - you couldn’t understand any of the lyrics.




    Bagdasarian’s fortunes were now looking up, and people were noticing - a far cry from the typecasting he endured because of his ethnic background.

    “Hey! How’s the Richest Armenian in Hollywood?” shouted actor Eddie Albert at Bagdasarian once while he was having lunch with a Los Angeles Times reporter.

    Bagdasarian was back in the game, and soon Liberty Records came calling for a new novelty hit. Interested in making a longer lasting impact than his previous attempts, he decided to add characters into the mix, but wasn’t sure what species of animal to go with.

    A chance encounter with a chipmunk as Bagdasarian was driving around Yosemite in 1958 settled the debate. The chipmunk fearlessly jumped in front of his car and Bagdasarian found the tenacity of this creature hilarious and endearing.

    That chipmunk inspired the main character Alvin, who was ready to go on any adventure or take any risk.

    He then added Simon and Theodore in the mix. The three were named after Liberty Record executives, Alvin Bennett, Simon Waronker and Theodore Keep.



    Bagdasarian released “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” under his more American sounding name, David Seville, which went on to sell 4 million copies in seven weeks and win two Grammy Awards. He voiced all three chipmunks by using his tape recorder to produce the squeaky voices.

    The chipmunks were then animated for the first time in a TV series called “The Alvin Show” in 1961 which only lasted a year, but had Bagdasarian continuing to voice all the characters and was also intent on not using a laughter track or showcasing violence, which appeared in other cartoon series like “The Flintstones.”




    In 1964, he set his sights on collaborating with the most popular band in the world: The Beatles. After meeting with them in London and receiving their blessing, he produced a Beatles cover album called “The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles Hits.”



    By the mid 60s, Bagdasarian took a break from the Chipmunks and in a way, went back to his grape farming roots by buying a winery.

    “He was a person certainly of short attention span,” Ross, Jr. said in a 2007 Los Angeles Times article, “but also incredibly focused, really, really smart, and very funny.”

    When Bagdasarian passed away from a sudden heart attack in 1972 at the age of 52, The Chipmunks remained on hold until Ross, Jr. and his wife, Janice Karman tried to revive the series.

    “A way of still having my dad around was to resurrect Alvin and Chipmunks,” he said. “I thought this won’t be hard, it wouldn’t take but a year or so.”


    Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. 


    The attempts were largely unsuccessful until a Philadelphia disc jockey sped up Blondie’s “Call Me” one night in 1980 and joked it was the Chipmunks. The response was massive and soon Ross, Jr. got a call asking if he’d be interested in doing a new album.

    “Chipmunk Punk” was born in 1980, and its success ultimately led to a renewed interest in the three rodents.




    In an interview with the Providence Journal in 2010, Ross Jr. said he was surprised that he ended up following in his dad’s footsteps.

    “I revered my dad, but I didn’t want to do what he had done. This was his creation. Had he remained alive, I never would have done this.”




    In 1983, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” launched on NBC and Ross, Jr, following in his father’s tradition, voiced the characters of Alvin, Simon and David Seville.


    The series ended in 1990, only to be resurrected on the silver screen in 2007, a film dedicated to the elder Bagdasarian. The end credits read: “This film is dedicated to Ross Bagdasarian Sr., who was crazy enough to invent three singing chipmunks nearly fifty years ago.”



    This was followed up by sequels in 2009, 2011 and 2015. In August 2015, an animated TV series called “ALVINN!!! And the Chipmunks” premiered on Nickelodeon.



    With a zeal for the American Dream and a lot of immigrant drive, Ross Bagdasarian’s genius has managed to remain an integral part of America’s pop culture lexicon, inspiring generations of Chipmunk lovers across the world to this day, including Ara the Rat.




    The World to Come: Q&A With Hip Hop Artist Danny Krikorian

    Music is the only thing that really makes sense to Danny K. The Riyadh-born hip hop artist and producer based in Florida who is both Syrian and Armenian recently released his self-produced debut album, “The World to Come,” playfully unpacking his multi-pronged identity and paying tribute to his roots through lyrics and melodies that give the often complicated issues of finding out who you really are a refreshing new take.

    Though “The World to Come” is his largest project to date, Krikorian, who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 7-years-old, has always looked to music for solace.

    “Whenever the world became too harsh, I retreated to my piano, I sang my melodies, wrote my lyrics and lashed out at the world,” he says.

    A lifelong hip hop fan who came to the genre through his love of lyricism, Krikorian got his start as “Krikos” in the music industry after producing a remix track by Brazilian-American hip hop artist NIKO IS called “Floss” which featured Talib Kweli. NIKOS IS and Krikorian founded a collective together called “Colours of the Culture” and have known each other since they were teenagers. Floss became a hit, played live for audiences across the world.

    Influenced by everyone from Eminem, Kanye West to Radiohead and Greek composer Vangelis, Krikorian cites his father as his biggest inspiration. “His musical collection is outrageously thick and cultured,” he says. “When you hear earthy flutes and eastern ballads, that’s my father’s touch. I take pride in the music he has shown me and exposed me to.”

    Danny K chatted with Ara the Rat about music, his single “Lavash,” reading coffee cups and his ongoing quest to discover his Armenian identity through music and hip hop.


    Your album, The World To Come, just dropped. How are you feeling?

    Perhaps the most accurate description of how I feel is fulfilled, at least to a certain degree.

    This project has been in the works for quite some time now. It required a lot of time, sacrifice, dedication, and faith. Almost everything I do has a spiritual component to it, even in its creation.

    So in a sense, by putting this album out to the world, I am fulfilling not only my personal ambitions, but my spiritual purpose.



    What’s your cover art about?

    The album cover is a graphic design I put together. It’s three pieces; the blue wall; the frame; and finally the image in the center.

    This image captures the sentiment and aesthetic I am trying to convey so well. It is borrowed from Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov’s, “The Color of Pomegranates,” a biography of the life of famed poet and musician Sayat Nova.

    Sayat Nova’s life is reminiscent of the trials I experienced growing up in a sense; lost in translation, caught between various cultures and identities, all expressed similarly through lyric, poetry & music. There is a famous line of his: “I am the man whose life and soul are torture.” This reminds me of my trials as an Armenian-Syrian immigrant in the US without living without the normalcy & perks of formal citizenship - not to mention just being an Armenian-Syrian and the cultural and historical implications therein.


    You grew up in Florida after moving to the U.S. in 1996 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Tell me about your family background and journey to the U.S.

    Being born in Riyadh, for an Armenian, is not exactly an ideal scenario. My father often balked at the closed society in which he had to work. The reality for many Middle Easterners was to find work in Saudi Arabia and send money back home. Armenians had found refuge, and essentially weaved themselves into the very fabric of Middle Eastern society.


    What do you remember from your time in Riyadh?

    I don’t remember very much about Saudi Arabia except my neighborhood complex which is probably because of the limitations in the country.

    I remember playing soccer with the neighborhood kids and beating them all 5 against 1. I was a champion. In fact, I believed in my heart that soccer might be my dream. I was really good! My dad’s love for Damascus, and Syria generally, is something I’ve never in my life compared anything to. It was not only his and his father’s, and his grandfather’s refuge. It was his culture. The tolerance, diversity, the Syria which he knew, defined us. Even religiously, my family was almost uniquely liberal. There was always a strict notion of faith and obedience to God and principles of familial obligation; but intellectually, my family was very open. This left them estranged in a country like Saudi Arabia. That’s why perhaps my family decided it was time to leave.


    Where did they end up going?

    It was either back to Syria, where money was scarce; or to consider visiting America; a land my father had only dreamed of visiting. His father, Yervant Krikorian (my grandpa) came to America in 1920, the first ever Armenian-Syrian to attend MIT. He was forced to return home, and his brilliance, unfortunately, never saw the light of day, since, the Middle East, for the most part, had little appreciation for such brilliance. So coming to America was like breathing life back into my father.


    Yervant Krikorian


    Your new album and some of your previous music explores your Armenian identity. Why do you think you sought out to explore your heritage through your art?

    The exploration of my heritage came quite naturally. Since my early youth I wrote poetry, and overtime more and more cultural influences found their way in. I was always in tune with my Armenian identity, thanks to my father, who made sure to lecture me over the years on the extensive history of our family name, who we were related to, and where our ambition comes from. “We are proud Armenians!” He would proclaim. Armenians make the best of everything. The best coffee; the best mechanics; the best shoe designers; engineers. In every sense of the word, I was Armenian. The concept for this album - the title - The World to Come - draws on religion and eschatology. As the album’s overall sound and the lyrics came together, it became evident to me that I was searching even deeper for a sense of selfhood and identity.



    Let’s talk about the song “Lavash.” After listening to it so many times, I find myself randomly saying, “I’m with the Armenians cooking up some bread.” What was the concept behind this track?

    “I’m with the Armenians cooking up some bread…” The play on words, “Stacking this bread” is a phrase used in hip hop denoting making money. I realized I had just written the “hook” or chorus. I felt like I was tracing the footsteps of my destiny with every lyric I wrote. I knew I had to do this, like I was being guided by some greater force.

    When I realized what sorcery had just been crafted, I knew I had to shoot a video. That’s when I remembered there was an Armenian restaurant close by, that sold Lavash, as well as another small local cafe actually named Lavash! It was a wrap by then…

    Perhaps more importantly and subconsciously, I felt it to be a duty. An innate desire and obligation to express not only my musicality but my Armenian identity and to make known our trials and triumphs as a people. When I was much younger, my father would speak of the Genocide. I remember my uncle from California visiting us when we first came to the states. He handed me a System of a Down CD. It was like my baptism. Haha. My attachment to my Armenian identity; this pride; coupled with a sense of a reawakening in the Armenian community globally; prompted me to delve deeper into the greatest minds of our rich heritage.



    You also filmed a really great video for “Lavash.” Huge props for actually finding a restaurant in Orlando called Lavash and also some Lavash to toss around in an Armenian deli, which was awesome. How did it all come together?

    Actually filming the video for Lavash was an adventure of its own. The warmness with which the Armenian community received me and opened their doors to resources was humbling. The owners of the restaurant are Russian-Armenians, very nice fellows, though I must say, as we filmed the scene, I couldn’t help but feel I was living out a scene of a mobster movie. I had a duffle bag in my hand, walking by booths filled with Eastern European families. I’m pretty sure I saw a mother wave her hand over her child’s eyes as I walked by with my duffle bag, but that could have just been my imagination, or paranoia rather. The best part was convincing me to toss the Lavash bread while customers were shopping. I almost felt I was disrespecting my culture and heritage, which the videographer reassured me wasn’t the case. “Come on its funny you have to!” The look on the cashier’s face was priceless.





    How did you get your start in hip hop?

    My roots in hip hop are unique, the way I came into it that is. I’m from the generation of 1988. This generation grew up in the apex of hip-hop’s concluding golden era. That meant BIG & Tupac had just passed; and artists like Eminem & Jay-Z were left to the fill the void. I came to the states in 1995 - at 7 years old. I had heard a little bit about hip-hop, names like Wu-Tang, Rakim and Tupac were familiar, but upon arriving in the US I was introduced to Bone Thugs; Biggie; Snoop Dog; etc. To me, I was growing up in foreign territory. Anything I knew about rhyming had to do with poetry. I loved poetry as a kid so I would write simple ones. It wasn’t until I became more familiar with this emerging artist, Eminem, who I felt like I could identify with in terms of style and sentiment. I was introduced to this thing called battle-rapping, which in my days was so popular on the internet. Kids would text battle each other; like spitting verses in person to see who could outdo the other. That’s where I really developed my rapping skills; my lyricism; wordplay; multis.


    Why do you think you gravitated towards this genre more than others?

    I didn’t grow up in the slums - in fact slums are almost scarce in Orlando - with some exceptions - but I definitely didn’t grow up like the privileged kids of Dr. Phillips, a rather affluent part of the city. Growing up in an apartment complex, for 20 years, really influenced me, as a human being, but also as an artist.

    My struggle with immigration papers and just being an Arab-speaking Armenian-Syrian minority in the US, was enough to make me feel more comfortable with other minorities. I naturally gravitated to hip-hop because that was our shelter. Our refuge. Our abode. I remember there was this African-American family that lived in my neighborhood. I became such close friends with each member of that family. I remember going to their house for the first time and seeing the older brothers’ studio. It wasn’t anything special, but for the time, it was like I had just visited the mecca of rap. It was an apartment bedroom. They saw something special in me. I remember they handed me a CD of snares and kicks. I still have that cd somewhere.


    In your Instagram stories you’re always making Armenian coffee, do you ever read your fortune? If so, what was your latest one?

    Coffee is a Gift from God. Like many natural things. When I drink it, it is almost a religious experience. A ritual, rather. But there is nothing like Armenian coffee. The right, careful balance of cardamon with the darkened roast of coffee beans - ground probably somewhere in south America - the balance is everything. But that first sip, whether you are drinking it with a cigarette, by itself, with a joint…It's like therapy. Like the morning sun when it rises.

    A form of poetry in its own.

    I’ve certainly had my fortune read; my mother is an expert. I asked her to do one especially for this occasion - here what she saw:

    “Somebody's watching me, there are multiple ‘eyes’ on me.

    I'm standing, reaching to grab something, and it’s not far from my grasp,

    but there are what appear like two mountains in front of me.

    There is a fish like creature, swimming below me, which symbolizes a gift of money coming my way.”


    Purchase Danny K's new album on iTunes 

    Stream on Spotify

    Other tracks:


    Social Media:



    'ArmComedy' Duo Changing Armenia One Laugh at a Time

    'ArmComedy' Duo Changing Armenia One Laugh at a Time

    Originally published by The Armenian Mirror Spectator

    ArmComedy comedians Narek Margaryan (left) and Sergey Sargsyan will be performing their first-ever stand-up shows in Boston, Glendale, and San Francisco to benefit the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenia Tree Project.

    The two comedians from Armenia write and perform their own satirical news show, called “ArmComedy,” three times a week on the ArmNews TV channel.

    They have had many prominent guests on their show, including Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, various Armenian ministers and politicians, including opposition figures, filmmakers, singers and even American comedian Conan O’Brien during his 2015 visit to Armenia.

    Like many political satirists, their intellectual and fresh approach to news attracts a wider audience than straight political academic analysis. Their straight-faced, suited presentation of the news, has won over many fans.

    They both have academic backgrounds, but these are in ostensibly unrelated fields. Margaryan has a doctorate in English while Sargsyan has one in philology, and both have been lecturers in Armenian universities. Their unusual path to the professional world of comedy was a long one.

    After finishing their studies, they used their linguistic skills to find jobs in international development organizations and developed new specialties. For example, Sargsyan worked for various US government-funded development projects in Armenia concerning elections, political party programs, and corruption for seven years.

    Margaryan said this line of work taught them a lot about politics, as “we could see a lot of things from the inside — how politics works or doesn’t work. We found a lot of inconsistencies and ironies.” Sargsyan added, “Anti-corruption is an area you don’t study in the university.” During this period, they tried to write some satiric articles, and found that though the reports and serious language prepared by the political organizations in which they worked got little attention, they, in Margaryan’s words, “could bring focus to issues of interest through satire, and it worked.”

    The two had become friends at the university, when they found they had a common sense of humor. Sargsyan exclaimed that they were the only “Simpsons” fans in Armenia. While studying at the university they performed at some functions and tried to make people laugh. Even as young children, they both were class clowns or cut-ups, and would get yelled at by their parents for joking too much.

    They eventually began to do standup comedy in a Yerevan club in 2007. Margaryan said it all started out as a fun side activity, a hobby on the side, until it began to be noticed. By 2009 they had turned their energies to preparing a satiric news site. They discovered George Carlin and then the online, which gave them inspiration. The website turned into a web series on CivilNet’s internet TV channel, and after two years, in 2012, they began airing on a regular network television.

    The switch from international development jobs to fulltime comedy was not taken well by their parents. Sargsyan said that his mother said, “You mean to say you are quitting your international development job, a real job, for joking!…It took a lot of convincing and explaining that this is fine.” On the other hand, the international organizations and especially the expatriates working there supported this career change. They shared the English-language articles written by the duo with others, and expected that they would move in this direction, though they were doing well in their development jobs too. He jokingly said that he was doing so well in his job that he basically eliminated corruption while he worked in that field. Of course, after he left, it picked up again.

    In addition to writing and performing their show, which they do three times a week, they also have written four movie scripts, of which two have been produced (they only starred in one of them). As the television season in Armenia is from September to July, they only get one month off. They usually write one movie a year, so they have a full schedule.

    Sargsyan noted, “One of the most frustrating experiences and moments in my life was when I googled the script writing staff of the “Daily Show” and I saw 14 people working on each show. They have the same amount of time and same amount of shows as us. We realized that we should have demanded a writing staff in the very beginning.”

    Despite the tight schedule, they enjoy their lives. As Margaryan said, “We are in that happy spot where your hobby is your job,” and what they do comes easily to them. His colleague said, “We just watch the news and the script is already forming in our brains. We already know what this guy has said, and how many controversial things are in this or that political moment, so it comes very naturally and quickly.” They file away in their minds all kinds of information about whose uncle works where, and what statements people made in the past, in order to bring it up when inconsistencies arise.

    When asked about whether their satirical treatment of institutions or people in power in Armenia has led to any dangerous repercussions for them, Sargsyan responded that “There is a certain balance, and you keep pushing the line further and further. … There is usually some kind of physical risk. But people who would have been offended three years ago have now learned to laugh at themselves, hopefully also through us pushing them toward that understanding that it is okay to be self-ironic, to laugh at your own mistakes. We try not to have personal insults, but mock the situation and lead the person to understand that he is funny.” Margaryan said that a major difference with American shows is that in Armenia they cannot directly call someone an idiot.

    It seems that their show has had a concrete effect on politicians’ behavior. Margaryan noted that there was such a case in parliament. He said, “When they had a ridiculous lull in discussion they said, ‘oh come on now, ‘ArmComedy’ is going to show this’ — and yes, we did. So maybe there is a little mind shift in that way.”

    Furthermore, when the show focused public attention on specific issues, it had the most success in engendering change. Sargsyan said that cases of great excess in government spending were good examples. The government spent $300,000 on a bio-toilet that does not work. For a few months, the show focused its attention on this, and the government ended up declaring it to be a mistake. It never again bought such a toilet that does not work at such a great price. Ministers buying luxury cars paid for by the public are another example. Sargsyan said they used exaggeration, like saying government officials might as well buy Jacuzzis too, to get a greater reaction.

    Margaryan mentioned another difference with American shows. Jon Stewart, formerly of “The Daily Show” can call US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a turtle on his show, and would never run into McConnell’s grandmother in the supermarket. On the other hand, he and Sargsyan run into people’s uncles and grandmothers all the time, and it is very real. Sargsyan said, “Sometimes they just stop talking to us forever.”  Luckily, Margaryan said, they also have large numbers of people who support the show loyally.

    Last year, after the April War in Artsakh, “ArmComedy” produced four English-language episodes on the situation in Karabakh. Sargsyan noted that they got a big viewership. People from America watched it, including people from the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian Tree Project (ATP). This led the two organizations to decide to host the first US tour of “ArmComedy.”

    Arpi Vartanian, regional director of the Assembly, declared, “Anytime you watch their show or talk to Narek and Sergey, you realize the depth of their comprehension of current issues in Armenia, the US, and elsewhere, especially by their amazing capacity to present these issues through non-partisan comedy. By sharing these young talents with America, we are able to bring our nations closer, perhaps bridge some gaps, and strengthen US-Armenia ties. We are bringing a piece of Armenia home to Armenian Americans.”

    Sargsyan joked: “I am a big fan of trees. Some of my best friends are trees.”

    Margaryan declared, “We have been dying to have a chance to write and do standup in English because almost all of the comedy we watch is in English, and the way of our thinking is basically in English. When we write our Armenian shows, we would write first in English and see if it were translatable into Armenian. So, this is a chance for us to really go ahead and do the jokes we always wanted to do. English has such a great structure — it is really convenient for comedy.” Sargsyan then interjected, “But to be clear, when it comes to sad stuff, we always think in Armenian.”

    The two noted that the idea of mockumentaries and standup, especially standup based on personal problems, itself comes from the US and the West. Nearly all American television series are watched in Armenia and have great influence.

    At their forthcoming American shows, they explained, there will be a general introduction of Armenia and America through satire, some paradoxes, and some things which will seem unusual or ironic from a foreign perspective about Armenia. They plan to draw cultural and political parallels. They said they would not avoid the orange elephant in the room and would talk about current affairs internationally.

    Another topic they will tackle at the show will be the Armenian sense of humor. They said that Armenian humor is primarily Armenocentric, with everything having to be about Armenians as the center of the universe.

    Margaryan said that as comedy and tragedy are really close, the difficult Armenian historical experience may be why Armenians have similarities with the Jews culturally. Perhaps comedy is a coping mechanism for both peoples.

    Sargsyan said it is important to note that Armenians have taken over the comedy scene in Russia, “so we have taken over one of the great powers.” Margaryan interjected that actually both superpowers are run by Armenians and China will be next.

    Margaryan went to school in Russia and both he and Sargsyan speak fluent Russian, and therefore, in addition to performing in Armenian, they also have some episodes of their television show in Russian. In other words, they joked, they are ready no matter what the result of the next world war will be.


    “ArmComedy” English-language performances will take place in:

    Winchester Town Hall, Boston, April 28

    Stars on Brand, Glendale, May 4

    Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, San Francisco Bay area May 6 

    To purchase tickets please visit Armenia Tree Project's website


    Official T-Shirts & Tote Bags can also be purchase at Ara the Rat, with all proceeds going towards helping #MakeArmeniaGreenAgain


    Top 5 Reasons You Should See The Promise

    Top 5 Reasons You Should See The Promise


    If you're of Armenian descent and you haven't been living under a coffee cup, you've heard of The Promise - or at least the buzz surrounding the film.

    By this point, you're either excited by the prospect of seeing it or sick of people talking about it.

    No matter what you're thinking, here are a few reasons to contemplate before seeing The Promise when it hits theaters in the U.S. and Canada on April 21st. 


    1. All profits are going to charity

    In a rare move, Survival Pictures, the production company created by Armenian-American businessman and philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian that produced and financed “The Promise” will be donating all proceeds from the theatrical run of the film to non-profit organizations. 

    Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, who produced the title track for the film, will also be donating proceeds from the song to the International Rescue Committee, a global organization that aids refugees and people whose lives have been impacted by conflict and disaster.

    The film's proceeds are slated to go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) as well as other human rights and humanitarian groups.

    “The film’s theme #KeepThePromise can be interpreted as keeping the promise to remember and learn from the atrocities of the past, as well as keeping the promise to end AIDS,” Elton John recently told the Hollywood Reporter. “At EJAF, we are committed to #KeepThePromise and raise awareness about this powerful film that uses classic storytelling to inspire people to take action today.”


    2. It was one of Kirk Kerkorian’s last wishes

    Kirk Kerkorian’s life is the quintessential self-made, rags to riches story: born to a poor family of Armenian immigrants in Fresno, Calif., Kirk “Krikor” Kerkorian left school in the 8th grade and went from amateur boxer, to private pilot to businessman, eventually amassing a multibillion-dollar fortune and becoming an instrumental force and pioneer in developing the Las Vegas strip as we know it today.

    Throughout his various business ventures, including building the world’s largest hotel several times over, investing in film production companies and claiming a stake in the American auto industry, Kerkorian gave over $1 billion in charity to Armenia through the Lincy Foundation helping to rebuild northern Armenia after the devastating 1988 Spitak earthquake, renovating cultural institutions and financing the highway connecting Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. 

    Creating Survival Pictures was in essence the last part of his robust legacy, a homage to his roots he wanted to leave to the world about a forgotten human rights crisis that flung survivors to all corners of the globe.

    Producer Eric Esrailian is the man Kerkorian entrusted with his wish. Esrailian told an audience at the Toronto International Film Festival that The Promise took almost seven years to make.

     “The film…really wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for Kirk,” Esrailian said. “We talked about the film as a concept for several years and he was overexcited about somebody doing it. During his life it was something that he was thinking about, and he put the ball into motion.”


    3. It’s the first time a film about the Armenian Genocide has been successfully made for a mass audience

    Let’s back up a few decades - this isn’t the first time a film has been made about the Armenian Genocide. There’s been “Ravished Armenia” (1919), “Ararat” (2002) and Fatih Akin’s “The Cut” (2014). There was also Elia Kazan’s classic, “America, America,” (1963) which depicted the journey Greek and Armenian Anatolians took to America in the backdrop of atrocities against them. But due to a number of reasons, including budget, execution, limited funds and meddling from Turkey (more on this later) these incarnations never reached their full cinematic potential.

    The making of The Promise is important, because it’s the first time the Armenian Genocide has been depicted for such a mainstream audience on a wide scale.

    Costing nearly $100 million to make and starring Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac of Star Wars fame, Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo and French-Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon (and several prominent actors of Armenian descent including Angela Safaryan, Kevork Malikyan and Roman Mitichyan) the film follows Kerkorian’s original, focused vision.

    In an interview with Deadline, Esrailian talked about executing the film after Kerkorian passed away in 2015.

    “We wanted a powerful story about our culture and heritage. He said to make it epic, to make sure it had a love story,” Esrailian recalled, adding that Kerkorian specified he wanted it to have leading actors and remind him of the films that people considered great when he was growing up.

    Because of Turkey's continued denial of the Armenian Genocide and various business and political ties between America and Turkey, producing a film about the Armenian Genocide has always been a challenge in Hollywood. In the 1930s, MGM decided to produce an adaptation of the Franz Werfel novel, "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh," before the Turkish government pressured the movie studio to drop it. In more recent years, both Mel Gibson and Sylvester Stallone were tied to reviving it, though their efforts were also stalled by Turkish meddling.

    The Promise itself has faced similar challenges. There were distribution issues, which the filmmakers and others like Atom Egoyan who made the 2002 film "Ararat" have linked to the "denialist lobby" being very well organized. The film's IMDb page fell under the attack of internet bots, receiving over 86,000 user votes for one-star ratings, despite the fact that the movie hadn't even been released yet.


    4. The opening weekend’s box office sales are critical in securing a long theatrical run for this film and the continued impact it can have.

    “The Promise” is being released in America and Canada on April 21st, just a few days before the worldwide annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on April 24th. Its performance during opening weekend will determine just how many people both in North America and the world see the film, and more importantly, learn about the horrors and aftermath of one of the 20th centuries first human rights disasters.

    "A bad opening will usually kill a movie and kills all the potentials of the movie," says Bob Levin, the former president of worldwide marketing and distribution for MGM, adding that all the other things like television, home video and DVD that are tied to the release. "All those other revenue strings on a global basis are so driven by that success or failure in the domestic box office. And so that is driven by that opening. It becomes critical for the entire lifeline of the movie."

    A 2009 study in the Journal of Academy of Business and Economics also determined that opening weekend box office revenue is not just an important source of income, but "a crucial preliminary indicator of long-run financial performance of a motion picture."


    5. It highlights the connection to the kind of human rights abuses that are still continuing today.

    The Armenian Genocide, or that of Assyrians and Greeks during the same time period doesn't exist in a vacuum. Over 100 years on, humans in various parts of the world have continued to experience immeasurable tragedy - from the Holocaust to the Rwandan, Bosnian, Cambodian and Guatemalan Genocides as well as war crimes and other crimes against humanity that have taken place in Sudan and Syria, where close to 500,000 people have died in the Syrian Civil War, which descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors have also been impacted by.  There are now over 4.8 million Syrian refugees outside of Syria requiring humanitarian assistance. 

    Their stories, in many ways, mirrors the trauma that Armenians suffered a century ago. The film's producers have kept this connection in mind, as recently expressed in a letter by Esrailian.

    "We hope to inspire people to take action to help those in the world today and to promote peace, love and tolerance in the world for people of all backgrounds," he wrote.

    Esrailian also mentioned in a Deadline interview, that Kerkorian wanted to not just make a film, but help people too. "By making films that have this kind of social impact and them making sure the proceeds are donated to help others makes a second impact," he said.

    The fact that The Promise has gotten this far  - made possible by Kerkorian's initial vision - is in itself pioneering. It sets the wheels in motion for not just more people to learn about the events that changed the course of Armenian history forever, but to do more to stop them from happening again. 



    How Armenian Immigrants Built an American Candy Empire

    How Armenian Immigrants Built an American Candy Empire


    By Liana Aghajanian


    This is a story about how six Armenian immigrants escaping looming atrocities in the Ottoman Empire, came to America and created a candy empire in small town Connecticut, winning a permanent place in confectionary history forever. It is a story about immigration, ingenuity and the quintessential American dream, except its coated in chocolate and filled with shredded coconut, of course.

    Armed with a huge bout of naive ambition, Peter Halajian's intrepidity gave America two of its most "indescribably delicious" inventions: The Mounds bar and Almond Joy.

    Yes, an Armenian-American immigrant is ultimately responsible for the single most contagious TV commercial jingle: "Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't."

    Born in 1873 in Turkey according to United States Census records, Peter Halajian set off for America in 1890, just as large scale hostilities were increasing in Anatolia against the Ottoman Empire's Armenian community, in what later became known as the Hamidian Massacres.

    Peter Paul Halajian


    As he settled in New Haven, Connecticut, Halajian found work in the rubber factories of a small community called Naugatuck. He realized that the local towns people were having difficulties in pronouncing his last name (sound familiar?), so he made the decision to legally change it to Peter Paul.

    But ever the entrepreneurial and stubborn Armenian, Paul wanted to make a name for himself running his own business, instead of working for someone else. After he finished his day at the rubber factory, he'd sell fruits and confectionary goods with his daughters by his side.  There was enough fanfare around his products that he decided to open his own shop in 1897 selling ice cream, sweets and an assortment of fruits.


    Newspaper advertisement from 1897


    "Although fruit is scarce and hard to get, Peter Paul has a large supply and the prices asked are very reasonable," read a 1901 newspaper ad.

    Though he had reached an unprecedented level of success, Paul's dreams were bigger and sweeter than just a fruit and confectionary shop in small town Connecticut.

    So in 1919, he gathered five of his closest Armenian friends who had also emigrated to the U.S. to escape the Armenian Genocide, and persuaded them to get into the candy business.

    George Shamlian, Cal Kazanjian, Jacob Chouljian, Harry Kazanjian and Jacob Hagopian agreed. The Peter Paul Candy Manufacturing Company was born.

    It was Shamlian, a chemist, who came up with the recipe in 1920 for what was to be known as the Mounds Bar - a dark chocolate bar with a creamy coconut filling named after the way it looked.



    Just as the company was growing, Peter Paul Halajian passed away due to ill health in 1927. His brother-in-law Cal Kazanjian soon took over.

    Despite the fact that they were competing with other emerging candies on the market like the Oh Henry! bar and Milky Way, Peter Paul Manufacturing continued to expand - moving from cramped quarters to a big candy factory employing over 500 people. The company decided quickly that it wasn't interested in competing with other candy manufacturers by coming up with new products, but sticking to what it was already doing well: making the best coconut bars anybody could buy for 5 cents. Its products were generally sold through brokers who worked on commission.

    "Mr. Kazanjian used to carry a little box of 'Mounds' around with him,"wrote reporter Wesley S. Griswold in a 1935 article in the Hartford Courant, "When he entered the broker's office, he would take one of the coconut bars out of his pocket, remove its tinfoil cloak, deftly break the chocolate-covered confection and offer the broker a taste. Invariably this routine was awarded with an order."


    Calvin K. Kazanjian


    Peter Paul manufacturing plant in Naugatuck, Connecticut, 1930.


    During the depression, the company took a risk and doubled the size of the Mounds bar at a time when many others were cutting back on products. They also repackaged the bar in cellophane rather than tinfoil to save money without compromising the quality of their product.

    The strategy was a massive hit. But by the early 1940s, another series of events forced the company to take another direction. Literally.

    When the Japanese invaded and occupied the Philippines - where Peter Paul was sourcing its entire supply of coconut - the company turned to the Caribbean. In order to evade German submarines, they used smaller, more discreet boats to transport coconuts - their most important raw material - to Florida.

    Though it had its international equivalents, the Mounds bar never appeared in the overseas market itself - except for one very unusual incident involving a Nazi prisoner of war extradited to the U.S. in 1945.


    "German General Is Found to Be in Possession of Peter Paul Mounds,” read the headline in 1945.


    The general, whose name remained unknown, was found to be in possession of the iconic red box after being searched by American officials when he arrived in New York, on his way to a prisoner of war camp.

    "Sticking out like a sore thumb among the array," the Naugatuck Daily News wrote, was [sic] A BOX OF PETER PAUL MOUNDS!!!!"

    One possible explanation for why a Nazi general would be in possession of an American candy bar could be encounters with Peter Paul's biggest customer at the time. The company was almost exclusively producing Mounds for the army, instead of civilians. Because the United States military regarded chocolate as both a morale boost and high-energy treat for personnel, Peter Paul was supplying 5 million Mounds bars to the U.S. army during WWII.

    The Centralia Enterprise and Tribune in Wisconsin soon called the firm the "largest manufacturer of coconut candy in the world."

    By this point, the company had achieved the kind of success that seemed impossible for a group of immigrants who came to America with nothing. But Peter Paul had more work to do.

    In 1946, they added a new product that would rival the Mounds bar and make the company one of the most successful candy manufacturers of the 20th century: Almond Joy.



    Made with milk chocolate, coconut cream filling and a toasted almond on top unlike the plainer and darker Mounds, the Almond Joy turned out to be its predecessor's biggest rival and made Naugatuck synonymous with chocolate - instead of rubber factories - forever.

    Having long been considered candy manufacturing pioneers in the advertising world, Peter Paul recruited marketing jingle maven Leon Carr who came up with the lyrics,"Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't," an ear worm that has been going strong since it was debuted in the 1970s.



    By 1976, the Chicago Tribune reported that the company had sales topping $87 million. But two short years later, Peter Paul was sold to British confectionary firm Cadbury. When Hershey acquired the U.S. operations of Cadbury, Peter Paul went along with it too. Thus, a once independently thriving company from Connecticut is now part of one of the largest candy manufacturers in the world.

    In 2007, the Naugatuck plant that had been running since the company's earliest days closed after more than 84 years, but the Mounds bar and Almond Joy are found across the country, having maintained their popularity for close to a century. 

    The company's mantra, "give the consumer top quality and honest value and your business will thrive," as quoted in a 1959 edition of the Naugatuck Daily News has proven true.

    And while other chocolate bars now seriously rival the creations of Peter Paul, the state where the company was founded has stayed loyal to the now long gone enterprising Armenian immigrants - Almond Joy is indeed the number one candy in Connecticut.

    This post is part of a new, ongoing series called "Dining in Diaspora: The Armenian-American Experience Through Food." Got any interesting food stories dealing with Armenians in America? Please get in touch




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