When Joanne Nucho was a child, her metzmama — that’s Armenian for “grandmother” — Isabel Kouyoumjian seemed like a superhero. She was tough, fearless, and even, Joanne says, a little pushy. But it wasn’t until later on that Joanne learned how she had come to be that way.
Isabel’s parents fled the Ottoman Empire (the region known today as Turkey) during the Armenian Genocide. It’s estimated that 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the empire’s ruling party during this ethnic extermination campaign.
Isabel was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon, and would later start her family in Beirut. During the Lebanese Civil War, Isabel and her two daughters came to the United States and settled near Los Angeles, California — the region with the world’s highest concentration of Armenians outside of their home country. That’s where she helped raise Joanne, and two other granddaughters, until her death at the age of 85 on March 3, 2016.
At StoryCorps, Joanne tells her husband, Jeff Ono, about her metzmama’s big personality and the outsized influence she had on her life.
Originally aired March 24, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.