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1: Early Life

Armen Hrant Donelian was born to Armenian parents in Jackson Heights, New York City, on December 1, 1950.

Armen's mother, Lillian Sarkisian Donelian (1915-1978), was born in West New York, NJ. Her parents emigrated to the USA around 1905 from Damascus, Syria. Lillian came from an artistic family. One of her brothers, Pip, became a painter, as her grandfather had been, and another brother, Bart, played music. Lillian, who also developed a love for music, was a devoted mother of four (John, Gary, Armen and Margaret) with a reputation as a fine Armenian cook.

Armen's father, Khatchik Ohannes Donelian (1914-1991), was born in the Turkish village of Bourdour (near Izmir). He was two years old when his parents, Ohannes and Elizabeth, fled from Turkey with their children to escape the Armenian massacres which claimed the lives of 27 relatives. Ohannes, a designer of oriental carpets, was forced to abandon a lucrative rug manufacturing business. He and his family eventually found their way to the USA, where he re-established his trade. Khatchik, who loved music and played violin as a child, graduated from Columbia University and went on to become a brilliant scientist and nuclear engineer.

Although they knew and occasionally spoke Armenian, Khatchik and Lillian conversed in English at home. The Donelians observed holidays and gatherings with their extended family. Armenian specialties were frequently served alongside American food. It was a multi-cultural household before that phrase became politically correct. Always, Armen heard his father's recordings of Classical and Armenian music playing in the background.

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