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MISSION HILLS : First Lady of Armenia Visits Ethnic Center

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, the wife of Armenia’s second freely elected president in 600 years, on Monday visited Ararat Home, a community center and retirement home for Armenian Americans in Mission Hills.

The president, Levon Ter-Petrossian, 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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She thanked the local organizations that have 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, Ter-Petrossian is known to Armenians and Armenian Americans as Lucia, the Armenian equivalent of her Russian name.

Among those who paid the $20 admission fee for the luncheon to meet Ter-Petrossian 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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“It’s an honor for us to have her here,” said Alice Bilezikijian, who drove from Laguna Hills to see the first lady, whose actions she has been following in Armenian-American newspapers.

Ter-Petrossian presented to Ararat Home a candleholder made from black onyx--an indigenous Armenian mineral--inscribed with the dates 1915 to 1995 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Armenian genocide by the Turks, in which 1.5 million people were killed.

She also handed out plaques and pins of the Armenian and U. S. flags intertwined to representatives of 30 organizations that have aided her country through the tumultuous events. One group honored was the United Armenian Fund, which for the last four years has sent a monthly plane full of relief supplies to Armenia.

Ter-Petrossian 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 of excellent quality, the nurses are not as well-trained as those in the United States.

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Before she arrived at Ararat Home, Ter-Petrossian met with the staff of UCLA’s nursing school to try to arrange an exchange program through which Armenian girls would be sent to Los Angeles to study and trained U. S. nurses would be sent to Armenian hospitals.

“In Armenia, girls don’t want to go to nursing school,” said Hermine Janoyan, one of the five members of the Ladies Auxiliary to Ararat Home. “Nurses are looked down on,” she said, illustrating the problems she has faced in her two-year effort to develop the nursing schools.

While the first lady is committed to advancing women’s rights in Armenia through such events as the international women’s conference--the first of its kind to be held in Armenia--she said she does not want to present herself as a role model. “I want to learn from the young women,” Ter-Petrossian said. “All Armenian women endure many hardships, and we have to establish and enforce our independent government.”


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