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Aida Kouyoumjian was born in Felloujah, Iraq. When she and her sister were old enough to attend school, her family moved sixty miles east to Baghdad.
In 1952 Aida won a year-long Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Washington in Seattle. As the eldest daughter, she was the first in her family to leave Baghdad. The Iraqi government, a monarchy at the time, gave her its blessing. After the year was up, Aida reapplied and stayed another four years. At the end of that period, her father warned her of unrest in Iraq and advised her to extend her stay. Aida married an American—a fellow student—but she still received deportation notices. Her politically savvy in-laws appealed her case to Senator Warren G. Magnuson, who introduced a special bill in congress allowing her to stay in the U.S.
Aida’s path to citizenship was further delayed by her engineer husband’s frequent moves. Finally his work allowed them to stay in Warrensburg, Missouri, for the requisite two years, thus allowing her to study and pass the citizenship exam in 1962. Her family, which now included three sons, eventually settled in Mercer Island.
After Aida’s father died in 1965, she was finally able to bring her mother Mannig to this country. A year later, Aida’s brother joined them. Her sister had left Baghdad in 1953, a year after Aida, and settled in South Carolina.
At the age of 69, Mannig was hired by the UW to tutor graduate students in Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic. She remained on the UW staff for seven years before retiring. Not long before her death in 1985 at the age of 79, Mannig was one of ninety survivors who attended the 70th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in Washington, D.C.
After thirty years of teaching in public schools, Aida currently offers a course on Iraq at Bellevue College and is a popular speaker at schools and public service organizations. She is a former winner of the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Prize for Non-fiction. She was also awarded first place by the Washington Association of Press Women for an editorial that appeared in the Seattle P-I.
Aida has been active in Seattle’s Armenian community since her University days. After Armenia’s great earthquake of 1988, she helped organize Seattle’s relief effort. In 1989 she spearheaded the formation of the Armenian Cultural Association of Washington (ACA) and was elected first president of its board of directors.
Aida has three sons, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.