Zaruhy began being called Sara by a girl in the neighborhood when she was 9 years old because Zaruhy was too difficult to pronounce. However Sara was not officially used until Junior High because her brother would make fun by calling her Screw-y Zaruh-y. As Sara got older, she became more self confident and rooted in her Armenian identity so she returned to using her name given at birth: Zaruhy.
“Understanding History should be understood by whose eyes recorded it!” – Sara Chitjian
Sara Chitjian was born in Mexico City in 1933 to Ovsanna and Hampartzoum. They were Armenian Genocide survivors from Kharpert and Malatia, Turkey. Her parents would meet in Mexico where they got married and had two children Mardiros and Zaruhy. In 1935 the Chitjian family got a visa to immigrate to the United States where they would settle in East Los Angeles because three of Hamparzoum’s brothers already lived there.
Sara attended The Rowan Ave Elementary School for kindergarten, Stevenson Junior Highl and then Garfield High School from which she then went to UCLA for her college education.
Sara graduated from UCLA in 1956 and began her teaching career which would last for 34 years. She would be the first teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District to establish an Armenian Ethnic Studies program.
These classes for both students and teachers were very successful and it was the beginning of Sara’s devotion to assemble a collection reflecting the life of both parents and herself.
Upon her retirement from teaching, she cared for her parents and devoted the rest of her life archiving The Armenian Genocide.
Sara’s Early Childhood
The happiest memories in Sara’s life were from her early childhood while living in Bonnie beach and then Whittier blvd where the family moved in 1940. Sara remembers being care free and adventurous / mischievous. Her memories are very vivid from this time period even though she was only 4-7 years old.
Sara with her good friend Max
Max and Sara were great friends and went on little adventures together in the Bonnie Beach neighborhood where they lived.Birthdays parties were had with all the neighborhood kids at a big table. These times at Bonnie Beach were the most fun years of Sara’s life.
The Blackout of 1942
It was on the night of Feb. 25, 1942, that Los Angeles experienced the Great Los Angeles Air Raid. It was a night when everyone’s fears apparently were realized — Japan had brought the war to mainland America, and Los Angeles was the target.…
Sara Visits Two World Fairs in one Year
Sara was 6 years old in 1939 and her father’s grocery store had just burned down due to a suspicious fire. It was the night before the family was leaving on a big cross country adventure to experience two World Fair’s one in San Francisco and the other New York. Hapartzoum and Ovsanna put the children to bed and there was a knock at the door. A person at the door tells Hampartzoum that his store is on fire! Hampartzoum rushes to his grocery store and tries to rush into the burning building to get the credit book that kept records of which family owed money for food purchased on credit. The fireman would not let Hampartzoum enter and everything burned down to ashes!
Hampartzoum having just experienced the tragic loss of his business decides to leave everything and continue with the plans of taking the family on their grand tour of two world fairs and visiting relatives along the way. This trip would be a very memorable experience for Sara for which she still remembers in great detail!
High School Graduation
Sara Reflects on her time at UCLA
Sara attended UCLA for 4 years (1952 – 1956) and received a B.A. in Pychology. She then took a year off to decide what career path she would take while working as a bank teller. It was during this time that Sara realized that she wanted to become a school teacher and enrolled in a special program to get her teaching credentials. After her first class experience she realized she was hooked and would devote the next 38 years of her life to the joy of teaching children.
Sara’s time at UCLA opened her love for learning, saying often that she could have been very happy spending her life just going to lectures. She did not want to graduate! However in the beginning of her college education Sara was still insecure about her potential. It was her friend Mary Joan who taught Sara how to take notes and gave her confidence in herself. Sara and Mary Joan are still friends till this day, speaking monthly and sharing articles with each other by mail.
Sara’s 1957 Chevy
Sara Chitjian was given as a UCLA graduation gift from her parents a 1957 Chevy. She drove it for 34 for years and she considered it her lucky charm. She remembers the best years of her life while driving that car. It was a soft baby blue with a white top. Sara eventually stopped driving the car because she was followed by interested buyers and stopped by the police 3 times, fearing she will be getting a ticket, only to find out that they too were interested in buying it. To avoid the hassle, she parked it in her driveway instead.
Three Significant Armenian Holidays
Sara Chitjian addressed the Mayor of Los Angeles to include Three significant Armenian Holidays into the calendar of the city with emphasis placed on April 24th. It was her efforts that created April 24th into the Los Angeles school calendar as an excusable absence for that day.
Moments from Sara’s Life
Sara Finds Her Calling as a School Teacher
Hampartzoum Chitjian was very proud of his daughter Zaruhy Sara Chitjian for her diligence in bringing awareness to her students about Armenian history. “For the first time in my life at the Dixie Canyon School, I experienced a joyous merriment from my daughter… This meant the world to me!” In this school, my daughter taught Armenian and non-Armenian students Armenian History, reading and writing and songs in Armenian. They sang “Hampartzoum Taylah” (a song honoring my “name” day), and two boys bearing candles congratulated me with a hug….
Was this a dream or a reality??
P.S. (This was the first year Hampartzoum was honored with this celebration. He was 76 years old!!)
Sara Chitjian Has two Hero’s!
Sara Chitjian and Others
The Chitjian’s and The Dole’s
The Chitjian’s deeply appreciated and supported the work Elizabeth and Bob Dole did for the Armenians in Washington. It was a relationship of mutual respect. It can be said that Bob Dole’s appreciation of Armenians was spawned because of the Armenian doctor Hampar Kelikian who was an orthopedic surgeon that saved Bob Dole’s arm from amputation because of a war injury.
Senator Bob Dole’s speech acknowledging The Armenian Genocide
The text of Dole’s April 24, 1996 statement follows:
“April 24, 1915 marks the beginning of the Armenian Genocide of the Ottoman Empire. As you gather today to commemorate the 81st anniversary of this crime against society, I want to pay tribute to the victims of this tragedy. I also share with you the hope that society will never again allow such brutal treatment of humanity.
“Though April 24 is the day singled out to mark this tragedy, during the genocide some 1.5 million Armenians were subjected to systematic extermination through a policy of deportation, torture, starvation, and massacre, I join with the Armenian community in mourning the dead and recalling the suffering and sacrifices of the victims.
“I am proud to underscore my unwavering solidarity and support of the acknowledgment of the 1915-1923 Armenian Genocide as a historical fact. Unlike President Clinton, I have been for years willing to recognize the First Genocide of the modern age. Until the recognition of the Genocide suffered by Armenians receives universal acceptance, I stand with you in your efforts to set right the record of the past.
“While today’s occasion is a time for solemn reflection on the suffering of the Armenian people, I also have a strengthened sense of dedication for the independence of Armenia and self-determination for the people of Nogorno-Karabagh. When the 1988 earthquake devastated Armenia, I sponsored legislation which provided U.S. assistance to the victims. It was my privilege to have visited Armenia in 1989 to better determine enacting into law the largest allocation of U.S. assistance to Armenia since independence. I authored the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, which is now law, which prohibits U.S. assistance to any country that blocks the delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance. I have called on Turkey, which is in violation of U.S. law because of its blockade of Armenia, to unconditionally end this inhumane practice. My unwavering support for continuing U.S. sanctions against Azerbaijian also testifies to my commitment to Armenia and Karabagh’s quest for justice, peace, and security.
“I know that the future will be better. Most of you have ancestors who were victims of the Genocide to whom all appeared lost. I too have endured war and its devastations, and have learned from personal adversity to move on. In addition to the genocide, Armenians were forced to live under Communist misrule and repression. But you have lived to see your children prosper in freedom and to witness the historic re-establishment of an independent Armenia. I will never retreat from my commitment to a strong and secure Armenia.
“On this 81st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I know that we can work together to prevent such crimes from recurring. As we remember the past, let us also celebrate the heroic rebirth of the Armenian people.”
(signed) Bob Dole.
Sara befriends a Turkish Student
For many years Sara has supported The Zoryan Institute and has sponsored Turkish, Kurdish, American Armenian and Armenian students to attend a summer program to learn about the history of the Armenian Genocide.
Miss Anna Jenkins
Miss Anna Jenkins was Sara’s Kindergarten teacher in 1938 at Rowan Avenue School in East Los Angeles.
It was Sara’s first time being separated from her mother and can remember crying uncontrollably in the class so a teacher put her in the closet. Sara stopped very quickly so the teacher let her out.
After Sara retired from teaching, students of hers would reconnect many years later as an adult, grateful to have had her as a school teacher.
Students Letter’s to Sara Many Years Later
Sara Chitjian belonged to The Armenian Young Professionals and was responsible to award 10 outstanding students with scholarships.
Its not so hard to revise the History Books!
In the 1980’s while Sara Chitjian was teaching at Ramona Elementary, she noticed in the newly adopted Social Studies book that there was no mention of Armenian history even in the chapter on Turkey. Immediately she contacted the Governor’s office and complained. To her surprise, within a short period of time the school received a new shipment of social studies books that was satisfactory for Sara. The message that Sara wants people to embrace is that by doing changes can be made. Sara never asked the principle or anyone else for permission, she acted on her own volition and saw the results first hand. No one was even aware or questioned why the school received new textbooks.
Sara visits her father’s village in Turkey in 2008
Sara Chitjian is visiting her fathers village in Perri, Turkey in 2008. She is standing in front of the blacksmith’s shop where grandfather was taken for interrogations and beaten to a pulp. Upon release, he was instructed by the authorities to take his four sons to the mektab (Turkish School) and join the caravan out of Turkey. En route, he was murdered by the Turkish soldiers.
Sara visits Iran in 1973
In 1973 Sara Chitjian would travel with her good friend Barbara Andersen to Iran where she traced the footsteps her father took during his escape from the Armenian Genocide occurring in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. Hampartzoum spent two years in Iran before making contact with his brothers in the United States. His brothers would send him $200 which got him to Mexico and then ultimately Los Angeles.
Sara visits Soviet Armenia with her in parents in 1969
Flowers Sara Picked from the Mountains of Urartu in 1979. Sara imagines these flowers growing in abundance during the time when Armenians flourished there.
Hampartzoum and Ovsanna visit Sara at School
For Special Parents
This was the last Anniversary card Sara gave to her parents in August of 1997 as her mother would pass in May of 1998.
Sara with her students attend The 60th Commemoration of The Armenian Genocide
Sara brought awareness and social activism to her students by taking them to and partaking in the annual Armenian Genocide March for Awareness.