She was always so courageous, strong and decisive.
We looked at each other and she said, "'Ara, let’s do it,’” Ara Barsoumian beams when describing Hasmig, his wife. “She was always so courageous, strong and decisive.” Hasmig Barsoumian was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1945 to survivors of the Genocide. The youngest of four, she was dedicated to the Armenian community she grew up in. She would ultimately settle her life an ocean away but she never severed her Armenian roots and would only continue to sow them in her new home. Her impact on the Californian Diaspora community, in which she was so beloved, lies in the care she showed her students through the years.
As a young graduate of Alexandria’s Saint George Business School, Hasmig was ever committed and ambitious. While working as an office manager for Alitalia, an Italian airline in Alexandria, Egypt, she frequently attended events in the Armenian community. In 1967, Hasmig attended an AGBU event that would change the course of her life forever. She would meet Ara Barsoumian, a chemist and geologist, who would become her husband in just a few years.
Forty-three years of marriage, two sons and four grandchildren later, Ara still recalls seeing her for the first time, “She was charming and warm, and my heart was beating so fast—in that moment, I said to myself, ‘I will not let this girl go!’” He continued to pursue her, getting pulled into AGBU events because she was so active in the community. At the time, Egypt was embroiled in regional conflict that introduced instability into everyday life. Despite this, the couple wed and in 1973 decided to move to the United States. Their love and ambition would take them across the world to Canoga Park in California, where they would begin their life as a young family.
Once in California, Hasmig began working as an executive secretary for Sunkist and although she was successful, it was still just a job. She felt she needed to be productive in the Armenian community, especially after the birth of her two sons, Levon and Paul. Hasmig wanted them to have access to an Armenian education and fortunately, the Barsoumians settled in a neighborhood where an Armenian school was just beginning to be established.
A decade after the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School was established in 1976, it officially moved to a permanent campus. Hasmig would drop off and pick up her sons from class daily and it wasn’t long before she was noticed by the director of the school and invited to participate in student life in a professional capacity, as Director of Student Affairs. From 1986 to 2006, Hasmig dedicated her energy to empowering thousands of students. “Besides their scholastic issues, they would come to her with their personal issues,” Ara recalls, “She was like a second mother to them.”
Generations of Armenian youth were affected by her presence. So much so, when she decided to retire, the school officially established an endowment fund in her honor. By the time she retired, she had left a legacy of youth empowerment for new waves of Armenian leadership.
After two decades of service, Hasmig still had more to give. In 1989, the Barsoumians began a small local food business they called Amoretti. By 2006, they would move miles away from their home to a five-acre plot of land, to expand their manufacturing. Today, Amoretti, a purveyor of unique food goods that began with only four dedicated employees, boasts a team of 150 people and ships internationally. Hasmig was one of those four, there at the beginning, contributing to what was just a dream at first.
A woman whose life intersected so profoundly with AGBU, across generations, continents and communities, Hasmig passed away in September 2015. Her family’s success is a testament to her strong, courageous and decisive character as a dearly loved wife, mother, grandmother, as well as a trusted counselor and a passionate educator. The ways in which she inspired others are innumerable and the endowment fund in her name continues to uplift the Armenian youth she so loved.