Panel discusses drug use, denial among Armenians

Trends in drug use and addiction are no different in the Armenian community than other groups, but how they’re dealt with can be challenging due to a strong sense of denial at home, experts said at a panel discussion Wednesday.

“The problem with us Armenians is that so many of us don’t want to talk about the bad things that happen around us,” Attorney Garo Ghazarian, who serves on the city’s Civil Service Commission.

Having represented many Armenian youth as a criminal defense attorney, Ghazarian said he observed a “fundamental breakdown” at home that led to them astray. He called for greater awareness among Armenian parents of their children’s activities.

“I strongly urge you all to take away your [children’s] 1st Amendment rights,” he said, adding that parents should “ration them away somehow” and “monitor everything closely.”

The substance abuse and drug addiction discussion at St. Mary’s Church was the first in a series of four community forums organized by the Armenian Relief Society of Western USA and Pacific Clinics.

The discussions were created to address stress issues within the Armenian community, said Lena Bozoyan, the society’s chairwoman.

Angelique Shirvanian, program director of Action Family Counseling, works with Glendale parents and teens who are struggling with drug- or alcohol-related issues, but who often don’t seek help.

“The saddest thing to see in Glendale is there is nobody coming in,” said Shirvanian, who runs programs in Pasadena and Glendale.

She added that Armenian parents are often afraid of their own children.

“It’s scary, but it’s a reality and it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Shirvanian said. “It’s OK to ask for help.”

Prevention must happen in the home and it is a parent’s responsibility to do that, said Pasadena Police Sgt. Greg Afsharian.

He said what bothers him when he arrests Armenian youths is that “we think we are always better than other people.”

“We are not,” Afsharian said. “We need to get out of that denial mode.”

Afsharian described incidents in which he encountered Armenian parents who he said blamed other people for their children’s actions and attributed their behavior to fads.

Suzanne Douzmanian — chairwoman of Pacific Clinics’ Armenian Advisory Board and the panel’s moderator — also works in the public school system and has seen drug issues increase over the years.

“It’s common to hear the mother tell me, or tell the dean or the principal, ‘Please don’t tell the father, please don’t tell the dad,’” she said. “So what is it that we are doing? Is that a behavior as a group that we have?”

Drug use is often not discussed in Armenian families, she said, because of the “shame” factor. That lack of discussion, she said, makes support networks critical.

“Many of us come here with the skills that we have learned over there and many of us don’t have the skills to tackle drug addiction,” Douzmanian said. “It’s also cultural too. There is a shame factor.”

She described parents who were tortured inside because they don’t have anyone to talk to about drug issues.

“This is an attempt to have a conversation about the issue,” Douzmanian said.


Follow Veronica Rocha on Google+ and on Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA.


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