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A Quarter Century of
Tracing the History of Forum
By David Bogosian
(originally published in the March 2002 issue of Forum)
When the AEUNA was formed in 1971, the
original by-laws stipulated the creation of a "Department of Publications and
Communications," and early board meeting minutes speak of a newsletter (not otherwise
named) being distributed quarterly in bulk to the individual churches.
In early 1975, the newsletter was named Forum.
The chairman of the Department of Publications, Mr. James Aaron of Fresno, Calif., became
the first editor and continued until 1976. Presumably, the choice of a name for this
journal was intended to encourage discussion and communication within the fledgling Union.
A (Mostly) Unbroken Succession
Following Mr. Aaron, a series of individuals took
the helm of Forum, as documented in the table below. Note that a new editors
term begins after the biennial convention, in June or July, hence the overlap of years in
the table. There has been a good balance between east and west coasts, as well as between
laity and ordained ministers. Rev. Darakjian is the only one to have taken on the task
more than once, and is distinguished as having had a total of 8 years of service, the most
of anyone; his output consists of at least 16 issues. He has also served several stints as
associate editor of the Armenian section.
Rev. Berj Gulleyan
Unfortunately, there were
two periods of vacancy; one was caused by the resignation of Mrs. Sarian in 1979, the
other by the Unions inability to find a successor to Mr. Sarkissian in 1994. A
forlorn note in the board minutes from April 1995 states, "A publications chairman is
needed, plus a committee." By contrast, after Rev. Kassounis resignation in
February 1984, Mr. Loussararian stepped in to continue publication until a replacement was
elected in June.
Nevertheless, the post of editor was on one
occasion a sought-after one. Minutes from the 1980 General Assembly at Mills College,
Oakland, record that the Chairman of the Department of Publications and Communications was
elected from among two nominees, and this after someone requested a secret ballot
for the vote.
The frequency with which Forum has been
published has fluctuated considerably. While branded a quarterly, it has achieved four
issues in only a few of its 25-odd years. Naming the issues has vacillated between months
(March, June, etc.) and seasons (Winter, Spring, etc.). Some editors penchant for
"double-issues" resulted in a roughly semi-annual frequency for some stretches.
On the other hand, board minutes from 1984 show that Rev. Karl Avakian recommended it be
issued monthly (no doubt much to the horror of the then-editor!).
A complete list of the individual Forum issues
available at the time of this writing (January 2002) is shown on p. 3. While these may not
necessarily represent all the issues produced, the list likely contains at least 90-95
percent of them.
Goals and Directions
The objectives of Forum have changed somewhat
over the years. Initially, its focus reflected its origin as a "newsletter".
Minutes from April 1975 record Mr. Aarons desire to receive items from churches to
make the journal more "newsy". And indeed, in these early issues, the emphasis
is entirely on information rather than reflection or inspiration. After all, the AEUNA
itself had come into existence only a few years prior, and there was a strong need to
"introduce" the member churches to one another.
For example, Mrs. Mardiguian recalls that
the tear-out-and-fold Union directory (listing all the member churches and their pastors)
in the December 1976 issue was "a big hit". The Spring-Summer 1981 issue
repeated this feature, expanding it from 8 to 16 pp. That issue also contained a
"Whos Who in the AEUNA" with profiles and photos of all pastors.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the great bulk of
Forums pages were filled with informational tidbits from member churches:
banquets, pastoral installations, youth activities, building projects, and so forth. In
essence, it was very similar to the parish newsletter but on a national scale, with a
geographically expanded yet still parochial frame of mind.
Rev. Darakjians influence on the
journals direction is visible in each of his three terms as editor. His first
editorial (Winter 1981) states:
FORUM will be more than proud to record the
wonderful things that God will be doing in and through our churches, the Union, and its
missionary arm, the AMAA.
Moreover, FORUM will keep its pages open to selective
articles which will contribute to the rise of a new awareness among its readers of the
raison detre of the Armenian Evangelical movement. This will be reflected in the
serious, scholarly articles
. FORUM will also entertain critical articles which are
insightful, positive, and thought-provoking.
The emphasis is still on
"recording" the news, but it is now open to "serious",
"scholarly", and "critical" articles, albeit on a
"selective" basis. While not much of the material from these years can honestly
be categorized that way, at least there was an attempt to steer in this direction. Upon
resuming the editorship in 1986, Rev. Darakjian reported the "need to include
articles of theological focus, movement, and insights, and a lesser need to include events
which occurred in the churches. [Forum] should be intellectual as well as
newsworthy." No doubt this plea forms the backdrop for the following announcement in
his Fall 1986 editorial:
Pursuant to a decision made by the AEUNA
Board of Directors, FORUM has now been transformed into an official mouthpiece of the
Union. It is no more just a newsletter serving as a link among the Armenian Evangelical
churches. The pages of FORUM are now wide open to articles which reflect Armenian
Evangelical concerns over a variety of issues.
And finally, in the standard statement of
objectives reproduced in each of the issues from Rev. Darakjians final term
(1996-2000), we find this:
[Forums] intended purposes are
to present, on the one hand, the Evangelical faith and teachings, and on the other hand,
to become the echo of the life and activities of the Armenian Evangelical churches.
In this statement, news items have clearly
taken on a subordinate role to presentation of "the Evangelical faith and
teachings." The transformation from parish news to theological journal was fully
Of course, the page count reflects these
changes. Early copies from the 1970s were consistently 8 or 12 pages in length; through
the early and mid 1980s, 20-24 pages became the norm. Virtually all the issues between
1985 and 1994 were 32 pages long, but between 1996-2000, the average was 44 pages.
Granted, these were "double issues" that appeared semi-annually, but the greater
bulk of the journal allowed for articles of greater length.
And article length has clearly been a
subject of discussion. In his report to the board in January 1981, Rev. Darakjian
mentions, "I hope I will not antagonize some of our pastors by limiting their
write-ups to one page, as I was authorized to do by this Council." Most likely, some
had already been antagonized. A decade later, Mr. Surmeian issued the following guidelines
to prospective authors: "Articles should be no more than 1,000 words
readers have told us that they lose interest in excessively long articles, even quite
excellent ones." In spite of this, the late 90s saw a surge in lengthy
articles, many running to 4-5 pages.
Another interesting trend is the amount of
Armenian language in each issue. Up until 1982, there was virtually no Armenian content.
But since then, the space devoted to Armenian articles has remained between 15% and 30% of
each issue. This change reflects the demographic influx of large numbers of immigrants
from the Middle East around that time.
"Dont Judge a [Journal] by Its Cover"
The traditional dictum aside, much of the appeal of
a magazine lies in its outward appearance. Over the years, the cover design of Forum has
evolved, as seen in the sampling of covers shown on these pages.
According to Rev. Kassouni, the initial
masthead was designed by Mr. Aaron himself. It was his idea to place the Unions seal
within the "O" of Forum, and the choice of lettering was his as well. This basic
masthead remained unchanged from 1975 to 1994, and the change effected in 1996 was a
subtle one: a plain block font was used for "FORUM" in place of the more
Originally, when the entire issue was only
8 or 12 pages long, cover space was used for article texts. Beginning in 1981, as the
issue length increased, a true cover page became feasible. By far the most common cover
usage was the one listing the contents of the issue. As one who has spent many hours on
cover art, I can vouch for the temptation of this simple approach. But there have been
occasional departures from this standard. Group photos from conventions are the second
most common design, and the cover has also featured photos of Mt. Ararat or the David of
Sassoun monument in Fresno. Original artwork has graced the cover from time to time, most
notably Dickran Kassounys creative composition in honor of the 150th
anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical church.
But what makes or breaks a journal are the quality
and appeal of its contents. I was impressed, scanning through these issues, by the breadth
of subject matter and the value of preserving this material for future reference. These
pages give a good indication of what was on the mind of the community as a whole.
The most recurrent theme by far was that of
Armenian Evangelical identity, purpose, and mission. Apparently, we are not too clear on
who we are or what we are trying to do. I counted at least 16 articles on this subject
(not including those in Armenian), with one entire issue devoted to it as well (Spring
1986). The titles speak for themselves:
- "On the Distinctive of the Armenian Evangelical
Church" (Rev. Krikor Haleblian, Fall 1992);
- "Quo Vadis Armenian Evangelical Church?" (Rev.
Hagop Chakmakjian, Spring 1991);
- "The Armenian Church In Crisis "
(Dikran Hadidian, Spring 1993);
- "Identity Crisis" (Rev. Barkev Darakjian,
Fall-Winter 1999); etc.
Another popular subject has been the dearth
of pastoral leadership. With titles like "Who Will Lead Us?" (Rev. Karl Avakian,
Fall 1992) and "Where Will Our Future Pastors Come From?" (Rev. Ron Tovmassian,
Winter 1994), these articulate our greatest fear. Nor is this a recent phenomenon; writing
in the March 1978 issue, Rev. Jirair Sogomian states:
Where will our pastors of tomorrow come
from? Will we have qualified leaders for the special needs of our Armenian Evangelical
churches? Though the question of "tomorrows leadership" is still a crucial
one, we are happy to report that some of that leadership is in the making today!
is now our pleasure to introduce to the Armenian Evangelical community our leaders of
This is followed by profiles of
then-seminarians Peniamin Aroyan, John Mokkosian, and Baghdo Khojikian; but in a twist of
irony which underscores our predicament, not one of those three is currently serving an
I was also interested to discover that,
once the shift towards matters of substance had been accomplished, a number of articles
took up surprisingly controversial subjects. Rev. Roger Minassian used "Hope for the
Sexually Confused" (Autumn 1991) to take a stand against the ordination of practicing
homosexuals and urge churches to reconsider their ties with the United Church of Christ.
An article by Rev. Edmund Linn argues for the practice of euthanasia in limited cases
("The Right to Die With Dignity", Winter 1985). And in reviewing the film
"The Last Temptation of Christ," Rev. Vartan Hartunian minces no words:
This film, so insensitive to those who
revere Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is clearly an attempt to ridicule His divinity and
high moral standards. If they can get Jesus to tell lies, to steal, and to commit sexual
acts, they will feel better in their lying, thievery, fornications and adulteries. (Autumn
The role of women in the church was the
subject of a few articles. Interestingly, Rev. Missirlian ("The State of the
Union", Winter-Spring 1987) laments "We are losing a great deal of Armenian
woman ministerial power and talent to other churches. When will we be ready to accept
women pastors?" Not long after, the Summer 1989 issue reports with obvious
self-congratulation that "Rev. Joanne Hartunian has broken new ground. She is the
first woman since 301 A.D. to serve an Armenian church as an ordained minister
to assume the full ministry of an Armenian church."
Also controversial was Rev. Kassounis
review of Rev. Tootikians The Armenian Evangelical Church in the
Autumn-Winter 1982 issue, in which he contested two of the books premises:
[The author] then proceeds to outline a
"Plan of Union" (Chapter 12) which is visionary and most commendable, but
unfortunately unrealistic and unworkable. Furthermore his quest for reunion is
inconsistent with his call for intensification of evangelistic fervor
The spirit of
ecumenicity and evangelistic fervency have tended to be antithetical.
We have Armenian Evangelical churches, but
not one Church
Our unions are autonomous, and churches within them, in varying
degrees, autonomous as well
As lamentable as it may be, it is still a fact that
within such pluralism we cannot claim to have one Church! Hence the authors
generalizations about the "Armenian Evangelical Church" are challenged by
particular churches on the local level.
It is understandable that such language
should create a stir, particularly when typical Forum articles were unfailingly
positive when it came to our community affairs. Even as significant an event as the
dissolution of a member church must be inferred by reading between the lines, as in the
The presbytery of San Joaquin has voted to
donate $10,000 to the AEUNA 75th anniversary campaign. The funds are from the sale of the
Armenian Presbyterian Church of Kingsburg. (Winter 1975)
The bulk of news items documented everyday
events in our community. Banquets honoring departing pastors, banquets commemorating
church anniversaries, banquets by/for womens groups, banquets for fundraising: the
parade of sumptuous meals, inspiring messages, and formal musical entertainment is
never-ending. Even as recently as the early 1990s, Forum carried birth,
wedding, and obituary announcements, particularly when these related to pastors. The cover
of the Winter 1985 issue is even emblazoned with photos of two pastoral offspring with the
epigraph, "May their generation increase." Reports of graduation parties,
wedding anniversaries, and youth camps; news of pastoral arrivals and departures; even
such mundane items as pastoral statistics ("The Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikians
record of service in 1985 revealed that there were six baptisms administered; five
weddings performed; fourteen funerals officiated
") and bake sales ("The
youth at Armenian Memorial Church had a muffin sale Oct. 2nd and raised $60
towards their expenses at the APYF Fall Convention") contributed to the
journals homey feel.
But in hindsight, perhaps this was a
necessary role for Forum to play during the formative years of the Union. As Rev.
Missirlian recalls of his tenure, the goal was to "keep churches united, share each
others joys and successes, to create an esprit de corps so we could all work
towards the same goal." The vision of the AEUNA was primarily one of a super-parish,
an organization that facilitated fellowship among Armenian Evangelicals across the
The Editorial Experience
In my conversations with previous editors, I was
most curious about their joys and frustrations. Primary among the latter was the need for
feedback. As Mr. Surmeian noted, publication "is like broadcasting, but you
dont know if anyone is receiving." Most editors were frustrated by the lack of
material and the burden of generating enough articles to fill each issue. Each new editor
issued a steady stream of appeals for letters and articles, as exemplified by these
We welcome letters, responses and reactions
from our readers. We request our churches to assign a reporter to mail us articles and
pictures of significant events. It is sad that hardly any church sent in material without
much urging from us. Gleaning from church publications is tedious and not satisfactory
enough. (Vartkes Kassouni, Spring-Summer 1983 editorial)
Is FORUM a forum? I would hesitate to give
an affirmative answer, because today FORUM is not a venue for the discussion of
public matters. And this troubles me
What happens when a matter of public
interest is highlighted in FORUM? Unfortunately, nothing happens: no reaction, total
indifference. ("Let Us Make the Forum a Forum!" Aram Sarkissian, Autumn 1993)
And surely, the editors task is a
difficult and often thankless one. Mr. Surmeian would travel to Bakersfield to meet with
Rev. Missirlian before finalizing each issue. Mrs. Sarian recalled staying up until 4 a.m.
to work on articles, and the intense requirements of the job led to her feeling
overwhelmed, exhausted, and inadequate as a wife and mother, which in turn led to her
resignation. The editorial process and the highly public nature of the work makes editors
lightning rods for criticism. Several editors remembered difficulties with individuals who
reacted negatively when their articles were edited or omitted. Rev. Darakjian makes no
attempt to hide his frustration in a prickly response to a letter complaining about
"theobabble" in previous articles:
Thank you for your letter, the content of
which has convinced me that many of our readers have failed to grasp the aim and purpose
of this publication. (Spring 2000)
But the picture is not entirely bleak.
Every editor agreed that the greatest joy was receiving a letter of appreciation, though
some implied this was a rare occurrence. Rev. Kassouni deemed it "a labor of
love." And for Mrs. Sarian, "it was the most rewarding volunteer activity
Id ever done." Speaking personally, I heartily concur.