By Mitch Kehetian
DETROIT—Susan Kadian was born and raised in Delray, a sprawling “neighborhood” of European immigrants with a large Armenian community. It was the new home for Armenians who survived the Ottoman Turkish massacres that silenced the voices of more than 1.5 million Armenians, while thousands more perished in the forced death marches into the burning sands of Syria’s Der Zor Desert.
When asked what motivated her to dedicating a lifetime to writing and collecting an image of Armenian folklore and culture, Kadian smiled and said, “My love for being an Armenian.” Published this year in a 207 page hardcover masterpiece, her work is accurately titled, “Armenian Proverbs and Expressions.”
Kadian was encouraged by the love of her late husband, Archie Gopigian, who supported her throughout her journey of fulfilling a project that came to life in Delray.
Susan spent the 60 years collecting the Armenian Proverbs, starting in her early childhood and continued as a student at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. Many of the proverbs heard on the porches of Cottrell, Harrington, Gould and Solvay streets. It was no easy project, but expressed the folklore history of Armenia, and it was a child’s wish.
Why would an academically talented Detroit public school teacher dedicate nearly a lifetime to a project that grew from its roots in Delray?
Susan’s answer needs to be shared with every Armenian, from Delray to early Armenian neighborhoods in Fresno, Boston, Chicago, Racine, Granite City, Cleveland, Worcester, Watertown and New York. What unfolded in Delray was an impactful gift from Susan to future generations, in tracing their family history from the ancestral homeland to the New World.
In words which cloak every living Armenian across North America, a teary-eyed Susan Kadian-Gopigian said, “I’m haunted by the experiences of my family members who lived through this and those who perished as victims of the 1915 genocide. We, the children and grandchildren, are their voices that, though buried in the desert sands of Der Zor Desert… It’s as if their soundless voices rise up and remind me never to forget.”
Susan warmly expressed, “My love for Armenian folklore stems from my exposure to those immigrants.”
She also describes how West Jefferson was the hub of Delray—like Main Street U.S.A. Armenians toiled at Ford’s Rouge Plant, GM’s Ternstedt – Fleetwood plants, and Solvay Process and Zug Island in order to raise their families. In her opening prologue to the Delray community, Susan informs readers that the old Village of Delray was annexed to Detroit in 1905, after being named Delray. In 1930 the southwest section of Detroit boasted a population of 23,000 residents according to the federal census. In 2016 it was down to 2,763.
In addition to hundreds of Armenian Proverbs and Expressions, Kadian-Gopigian included folklore and oral Armenian history in her masterpiece. It has been said Proverbs are part of a country’s social glue.
The top quality printed Kadian-Gopigian book also features pictorial scenes of Delray landmarks from the Armenian Zavarian Hall, Delray Community Center to McMillan and Cary schools, as well as a host of other scenes from the time machine. This includes Southwestern High School, Susan’s pathway to higher education.
As you walk into Susan’s lifetime you are also taken back to the days Delray was also home to newcomers, from Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and Germany. She opens the Armenian Community Prologue with an inspiring Armenian proverb: “A tree stands taller when it knows its roots.” This was followed by hundreds of Proverbs from genocide survivors from Sepasta, Keghi, Erzeroom, Mush, Van, Bitlis, Kharpet, Malatya and Cilicia.
But Detroiters called the southwest portion “Delray Armenia…Like so many other ethnic conclaves “
Delray has become a blur of the past. In a few years Delray will get a new chapter in history—the new Gordy Howe Detroit – Windsor International Bridge.
Hopefully a bronze marker will be attached to advise that its American side is anchored in old Delray, or as Susan Kadian says, her “Armenian Delray.”
Mitch Kehetian is a retired editor of The Macomb Daily and former board trustee at Central Michigan University.
Editor’s Note: Kadian’s book is being distributed by Michigan State University Press, with a Special Offer if ordered by December 31.
Call: (800) 621-2736
Price: $27 U.S.
Use Code: ARPR0169D
Call: (773) 702-7000
Use Code: ARPR06191