The Glen Echo

From the land of war, to the land of the free

Elise+Tossounian+%28left%29+and+Garbis+Tossounian+%28right%29+are+pictured+in+Yerevan%2C+Armenia.+
Elise Tossounian (left) and Garbis Tossounian (right) are pictured in Yerevan, Armenia.

Elise Tossounian (left) and Garbis Tossounian (right) are pictured in Yerevan, Armenia.

Photo Credit: Pamela Tossounian

Photo Credit: Pamela Tossounian

Elise Tossounian (left) and Garbis Tossounian (right) are pictured in Yerevan, Armenia.

by Alyssa Messikian, Staff Writer

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In the midst of a war-torn country, one family had to make a life or death decision for their own safety and future.

For Elise Tossounian life in Beirut, Lebanon was paradise until the Lebanese Civil War began in 1975.  Their routine of work and school was disrupted as they had to deal with constant war and bombings.

“We had our own business and business was good, we were financially comfortable but we had no security,” Tossounian said.

She told stories of how her husband would leave the family sometimes for days or a week to help other families or people in the Armenian community who could not get bread, water, or basic necessities.   

For her family of five, she had to make one of the biggest decisions of her life. Either to risk surviving the war that seemed to have no end, or face the uncertainty of an unknown country.

“Sending my three kids to school every day was not an easy task. Starting the mornings with the fear of not having my three children back home safely was enough of a startling thought to pack our bags,” she said.

Starting the mornings with the fear of not having my three children back home safely was enough of a startling thought to pack our bags”

— Tossounian

Tossounian’s decision of bringing her family to a foreign country was just as scary as living their lives in fear in Beirut, Lebanon.

“My thoughts on America were definitely better than the reality of it. Looking from the outside, I thought America would be a paradise. Once I got here, the country was not what I had imagined it to be,” Tossounian said. “My husband was without question much more enthusiastic about our move.”

In July of 1983, all of the proper paperwork to get here was finally in order. The family immigrated to the United States and settled in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.

Like many immigrant families, hard work, and perseverance helped establish where they are today.

Out of her three children, Elise’s middle daughter, Ani Messikian, had many memories of their journey.

“Growing up, my parents made this move easy for my brothers and me. I never remembered it as being a traumatic event. I started school in the United States in the third grade, and I honestly don’t remember not knowing how to speak English,” Messikian said.  

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