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Center Hosts First Lady of Armenia

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

She’s actively involved in reforming her country’s health care system. In October, she is hosting an international women’s conference. Her husband is the president.

Move over Hillary. Meet the first lady of Armenia.

Ludmila Ter-Petrossian is the wife of Levon Ter-Petrossian, who was elected president in 1991 after Armenia gained its independence. Monday she visited the Ararat Home, a community center and retirement home in Mission Hills for Armenian Americans.

The president and first lady are visiting Southern California--home to the largest population of Armenians outside of Armenia--as part of a seven-day tour to promote economic ties with the United States.

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The first lady thanked the local organizations that helped Armenia through its conflict with Azerbaijan and the devastating earthquake it suffered in 1988.

A native of St. Petersburg, Russia, and not an ethnic Armenian, the first lady is known to Armenians and Armenian-Americans as Lucia, the Armenian equivalent of her Russian name.

Among those who paid the $20 admission for the luncheon to meet the first lady was 19-year-old Tamar Ouzanian of Burbank, who said she admires Ter-Petrossian for her down-to-earth demeanor.

“It’s refreshing to see,” Ouzanian said, delighted to be in the midst of more than 600 Armenian Americans.

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The first lady presented the Ararat Home with a candleholder of black onyx--an indigenous Armenian mineral--inscribed with the dates 1915-1995 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the beginning of a genocide by Turks in which 1.5 million Armenians were killed.

She also handed out plaques and pins of the intertwined Armenian and American flags to representatives of 30 organizations that have given aid to her country in recent years. One group honored was the United Armenian Fund, which for the last four years has sent a monthly planeload of relief supplies to Armenia.

She also discussed her project to create boarding schools to teach thousands of young girls orphaned by the conflict and quake to become nurses. She said that although the doctors and hospitals in Armenia are excellent, nurses are not as well trained as those in the United States.

Earlier in the day, she met with the staff of UCLA’s nursing school to try to arrange an exchange program in which Armenian girls would be sent to Los Angeles to study and American nurses would go to Armenia.

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