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ArmenՅԱՆs: Araksya Karapetyan, the Emmy winning Armenian anchor talks her childhood, Spitak earthquake and her path to Fox 11

16:07, July 2

Her beautiful smile is every morning greeting not only Armenian, but also American TV viewers, behind her gentle appearance there is a real “warrior” struggling for justice and truth- a warrior, that is ready to cover people’s stories and global problems despite the difficulties that usually strike before her!

And all these above said is about one of the most renown anchors of American TV, Araksya Karapetyan. Emmy award winning anchor anchors the morning newscasts on FOX 11’s Good Day LA in Los Angeles.

Although it’s been years since she and her family moved to USA, Araksya has never forgotten about her roots. She is actively covering Armenian developments trying to do the best for her homeland: Now the anchor is raising her two daughters, Sevan and Sona, trying to keep them close to Armenian culture and language.

NEWS.am STYLE has talked to Araksya Karapetyan for its column ArmenՅԱՆs.

Araksya, what memories do you have from your childhood in Gyumri?

I have many wonderful memories from my childhood. I spent lots of time going back and forth between Gyumri and Yerevan. Both of my parents are from Gyumri but once my mother was accepted to Yerevan State University my maternal grandparents moved to Yerevan. So, I spent a great deal of time going back and forth between the two cities. My childhood is filled with carefree beautiful moments. It was the simple things like playing in my grandparent's backyard under the apricot trees; climbing the tree to pick cherries or standing on top of the roof to the garage to pick mulberries I treasure most. I loved going to the park and making friends every day. I was an only child for a while, so I got a lot of attention and had quite a routine and schedule. I would go to the park twice a day -- once in the morning, once in the evening. I would go to art galleries and concerts all the time-- I grew up having immense appreciation for the arts at an early age because I was exposed to these things early on. I also loved going to the bazaar! I loved people watching and listening to the conversations as I walked by. There was so much energy and life! For me it is the everyday moments that make up my memories and put a smile on my face.

Unfortunately you have witnessed the tragic earthquake in Gyumri. Did it have any impact on your further life?

I remember that day vividly. I have flashbacks of moments and even of conversations on that day. I was in kindergarten... I had just finished painting a bird and my teacher was walking over to hang my painting for it to dry-- when all of a sudden the whole building tilted to one side. We all lost our balance and fell... the teacher yelled for us to run... so we ran. Down the stairs as the building continued to shake, dust and bricks were coming down overhead. My grandmother was the principal of the school and I remember glancing into her office (the door was open) to see if she was there  -- she was not, so I kept running. Once outside -- the shaking had stopped. We stood there for what felt like forever as parents came to pick their children up. I was one of the last children to get picked up. My mother describes the moment she saw me, standing there covered in dust, with tears coming down my face. We crammed into the car-- my father was driving, I sat in the front with my mother, my uncle's wife and one of my cousins was in the back. We started driving all over town -- looking for our family. I remember people standing around on the corner-- people needed to go the hospital, some were injured, but we had no room and we were panicking... it was pure chaos. We got to the front of the hospital where my aunt worked. She was a doctor. The hospital had not collapsed and we all felt our anxiety lift a little. But then... while waiting in the car we got word that my aunt had left that hospital earlier in the day and had gone to another hospital to check on a patient. And... that hospital had collapsed. At that moment-- I will never forget how my cousin threw her head back and screamed in pain. I will never forget that moment. I was young. I was scared. I knew in my heart something horrible had just happened to her mother, my aunt-- and that this earthquake was going to change so many people's lives.  And it certainly did... nothing was the same in Gyumri after that. There was so much sadness in the city that was once filled with laughter. Months later, I started attending first grade in a "domik", doing homework under candlelight, and we only had running water for a few hours a day. But… my family left that reality and moved to America. For so many though, they lived that reality for years. Those were some dark, cold times.... I think about that all the time.

And to this day when there is an earthquake here in California... my heart skips a beat. I am terrified of earthquakes.

How did your family decide to move to the USA?

My family moved to the U.S. in April 1990. I was 7-years-old. The devastating earthquake, the war with Azerbaijan and the demise of the Soviet Union all contributed to my grandfather's (Rafik Tumanyan) decision to leave.  His brother, my late great-uncle George Tumanjan, had come to America after WWII and he helped us make the big move to America. A move which changed my life. I obviously wouldn't be where I am or be doing what I am doing... I think about him all the time.

Being a foreigner, what difficulties have you faced in America ?

I was so young, so for me it was rather easy to assimilate. I didn't speak any English, but I remember it didn't take very long for me to pick up the language. I imagine for my family it was much more difficult. They left their careers, our extended family, their friends, their memories behind and came to a foreign land to start all over. That cannot be easy. It was emotionally so difficult for them. 

I wouldn't say I faced difficulties necessarily... but without a doubt I did battle with balancing out who I was and my new surroundings. I wanted to fit in-- yet I didn't want to lose who I was. As the years have gone on, I have learned to balance this part of my identity rather well. I take the best of both worlds; and if anything over the years my connection to Armenia has only strengthened.

When did you become interested in TV journalism?

People ask this question all the time ... and the answer is--- in a way I stumbled into it. At the same time, this is what I was meant to do with my life. I know this now. I went to Syracuse University in upstate New York. While majoring in International Relations I found out Syracuse had one of the best broadcasting programs in the country. So I double majored at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. It was meant to be...

I will say though that once I graduated I was still uncertain if this was what I was going to pursue. I came back to Los Angeles confused and a little lost. I applied to the London School of Economics ( I got accepted) -- I was debating going to get a master's. I thought about going into the Peace Corps, I considered Teach for America, I applied for jobs in Advertising and Public Relations (I got the jobs) ... I just hadn't interned anywhere yet and didn't have a job lined up so I felt intimidated to apply for jobs in broadcasting. I also really did not want to move to a small town in the middle of nowhere to begin my career in this field. 

So, I decided to go to Armenia in 2006 to escape reality. I wasn't ready to make a decision. It was during that trip that my passion for journalism and for telling people's stories came to life. I went around interviewing people in the community and that experience sparked my hunger for journalism. I came back to LA and started interning at a number of places, made a resume tape, sent my tape all over the country (to small towns I had never heard of) , got several offers, randomly picked Idaho Falls, Idaho -- and just went for it!

What did you have to overcome before getting to the place you are now?

With this career you have to have patience and be willing to work hard. If you are focused on money, you aren't going to make much money in the beginning... I believe it is a true test to see if this is your passion. In many ways this industry is all about timing. I landed the morning anchor job in Los Angeles because my timing was right --  in addition to many other factors of course. After two and a half years in Idaho, I moved to Portland, Oregon for two years, then decided to make the move back home to LA. I had an offer to go work in New York City and overseas as a network correspondent, but my family was in LA and that's where my heart was.

It’s been a long time since you moved to the USA, but you have remained so Armenian. How did you manage to be so devoted to your roots in such a big country very far from your homeland?

I don't know.... as I mentioned previously over the years my connection has intensified. I feel a pulling in my soul for Armenia. It has been many years since I have gone back because I have been so focused on my career , marriage and now children-- but that feeling of when I step off the plane onto Armenian soil is magical. I feel as though I can breathe at last. I feel like I have come home. When I see Ararat in the distance, my eyes fill with tears. The soil calls me. It isn't something I can explain. It is a feeling. A feeling that gives me strength, yet makes me incredibly emotional at the same time.  

What's interesting is when I visit Gyumri, my Gyumritsi accent comes out immediately;  words start coming out of my mouth that I didn't even know I knew! It is remarkable how that just organically happens.

Being so far away and not using the language as much as I would like does frustrate me at times, but at the same time I am comforted by the fact that the feeling I was describing above has not left me.

Araksya, now you have two beautiful kids. Do you teach them Armenian?

Yes I try to. My eldest was speaking well, and then COVID happened and we distanced ourselves from family which impacted her exposure to the language a great deal. She also started school and started to only answer back in English. I just kept speaking in Armenian. I know she listens and is absorbing it. When I read to her, I read in English, then say what I read in Armenian. When she asks a question I reply in Armenian. When she doesn't know a word I say it in both languages. I am trying my best, it certainly isn't easy. I also have enrolled her in ToTalk Armenian courses, where she has zoom classes with a teacher in Armenia twice a week. We don't live near any Armenian communities, so it  makes things harder on my end. But I am committed and I am stubborn... so I won't give up!

You’ve been to Armenia in 2006 for the last time. Do you plan to come back in near future?

I had made grand plans to go in 2018, but I was expecting my second child and the doctor advised against my travel. I was so disappointed. 

Of course I plan to go and take my family with me. I can't wait to show my girls where I grew up and take them to the places I remember as a child.

What is your biggest success and what dreams do you have?

I have always been career oriented. My focus has always been work-- but once I became a mother that changed somewhat, and I am glad about that. I feel I have a better balance now. Children help put things in perspective and you realize what's really important in life. I take the responsibility of being a parent seriously (as one should).  My focus is to make sure they grow up to be good people and to be the best version of themselves-- as I try to be the best version of myself. 

Syune Arakelyan


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