By: Christine Soussa
Anyone who has met Nora Shirikian knows of her contagious zest. Her love and enthusiasm infiltrates all she does. Many of her conversations start with a joyful and genuine “Hi Anoosheg!! Laves?” Always with a smile, Nora is a community celebrity among bay area Armenians. In all she does she serves her beloved family, cherished friends, and volunteers to do what’s right in support of many organizations.
Born in Aleppo, Syria, Nora has a deep love for education. Upon graduating high school from Aleppo College for Girls, Nora applied to colleges in America and attended La Verne College with a declared major in Child Development. On March 6, 1980 the brave and eager Nora left behind her familiar life, family, and friends in Aleppo and journeyed to California. Shortly after moving, she met Sako Shirikian; on August 22, 1981 they were married. Nora moved again, this time as a bride to San Francisco. In 1983 Sako and Nora welcomed their beautiful daughter, Kohar and in 1985 their handsome son Vache was born.
Nora wanted to maintain the Armenian heritage and community for her children, thus, in 1987 she stared taking her children to Los Altos Armenian Community School, a parent participation school started by the communities Mom’s. The intent was to create an educational Armenian community to teach history, morals, values, culture, and language. In 1992 this vision evolved to be the ARS Erepuni School in Walnut Creek. Nora says, “I loved being a stay at home Mom, but I needed to do more, I wanted to be involved in the community.” During this time Nora also became an active member of the ARS West Coast Regional Oakland Erepouni Chapter.
Accrediting her motivation and drive to her parents, Alexan and Noyemy Der Yeghianian, Nora says, “my parents were proud Armenians. My Father in particular used to say, ‘wherever you go in life, remember to love and honor your background as an Armenian.’ ” Nora reminisces saying, “as a young girl I didn’t really understand the sentiment but after moving from Syria, getting married, having children, opening businesses and being very involved in the community, I have come to understand how profound and important my father’s guidance was.” Life’s journey takes us to many places, throughout we experience countless things, Nora says in all things it is important to stay true to the faith, morals, heritage, values and culture that is rooted in the core of our makeup. Growing up in Aleppo, her parents would say that Armenians are different. Nora shares that she can distinctly remember her fathers voice, as he would say, “Armenians may not be many, but we are all over the world, we have a country. It may be small, but it is ours! Armenians are smart, hard working, likable and very creative. And Armenian’s are survivors!” He was right! When Nora left Syria, her parents reminded her to maintain and honor the Armenian background, to be proud of it and to maintain the essence of what it means to be an Armenian.
A recognized and respected member of the Armenian community, for 10 years Nora has served as Principle of the Armenian Relief Society Erepouni Chapter Friday School and has been teaching for over 20 years. She says, “when I see children learn I am overwhelmed with satisfaction.” In addition to being an educator, Nora serves as an Executive Committee member for ARS; she is involved in the Ladies Society through church. An avid chef, Nora often donates her time to cook for the community and often hosts cooking classes in her home.
Nora’s birth Mother, Kohar Der Yeghiaian, passed when Nora was 2 ½, she was a member of ARS in Lebanon, so it was natural for Nora to become a member as well. Being a member is very personal for Nora. Her dedication to the cause is also a way for her to connect with her birth Mother’s legacy. In 2012, ARS Regional awarded Nora with the honor of the most dedicated member of the Erepouni Chapter. Nora and Sako visit Armenia regularly. As active community members they participate in ARS projects and some personal initiatives throughout the country.
Nora encourages all to participate. She says one of the most important things we can do, as a community is to contribute as individuals. Nora urges, “It doesn’t matter which organization you support, ARS, AIWA, AMAA, AYF, Homenetmen, AGBU, there are many. I don’t take sides, as a family we were involved in many Armenian organizations, preserving, celebrating and honoring our rich culture is what is important.“
While Nora is committed to the betterment of the community, she dedicates herself most to her family. A Mother and Grandmother, Nora says love, curiosity and education comes from the home first. Within her household there was a tradition to read or write Armenian for at least 1 hour every Saturday morning. “Regardless of the weekend activities, Sako and I made sure that the children spent at least 1 hour every Saturday focusing on Armenian language acquisition.” She encourages all families to establish a similar tradition even if parents don’t know how to read and write. Nora shares that her Mother didn’t know how to read and write, but would always sit with Nora when she did her homework. “When I was older, I realized that my Mother’s encouragement and involvement in my studies wasn’t only to support me and make sure I got good grades, it was because ultimately, I taught her how to read and write.” In this way, parents who do know something can learn through and with their children.
As we chat, I am increasingly motivated by Nora’s desire to impact positive change. She says that she starts each day with the Serenity Prayer. As she recites the Prayer, her tone changes to a humble conviction, I get goose bumps. Saying the Prayer daily, “ it helps me put things in perspective and gives me the balance needed to embrace the challenges of the day.” Nora insists, “Never give up. Never! Do what you have to do, Trust in God!” She advises not to listen to the noises of criticism and judgment, rather she encourages focus on doing what’s right and what motivates ones’ heart regardless of others opinion. Nora acknowledges that people will criticize, judge, and have an opinion, “I am saddened by the negative impact this can have on the overall mission of doing what’s right.” Thus, she says it’s “very important to stay focused, stay positive, and keep a good attitude so you can continue to keep your faith, family, and focus strong.” It is with this committed wisdom that Nora does what she does with love, smiles, and yummy food.
A natural leader, AIWA-SF honored Nora as Woman of the Year in 2012 at the annual gala themed Armenian Women: Past Present and Future. We thank Nora for all she does to motivate, educate and love our community!