New citizen cherishes freedom and his first vote

By Bill Althaus

When Dikran Jaghlasian entered the United States six years ago, as one of the lucky Syrians who managed to escape the horrors of war that gripped his homeland, he was terrified.

He had defied the odds by using stealth and grit to leave his home and all his possessions behind – except the money he stuffed in his boots to pay off drivers who helped get him to Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport.

Dikran Jaghlasian stands next to a statue of president Harry S. Truman on the Square in Independence. He is holding the pen he used to vote for the first time in his new homeland.

After some hold-your-breath moments as he waited for his passport to be approved, he entered the plane that would take him to Los Angeles, where his wife Maria, son Hovan and daughter Daniella would be waiting after a three-year absence.

"When the plane landed in America, in Los Angeles, I was so afraid that I might not be allowed to enter the country," Jaghlasian said, as his wife Maria sat next to him on the couch in their new home in Blue Springs.

"I had to talk with a woman who saw that my profession was a physician, and she asked why I was coming to America and I told her to escape the war in Syria."

The immigration official picked up her stamp, approved his passport and said, "Welcome to freedom."

"Welcome to freedom," Jaghlasian said, smiling and looking skyward. "I thought of her, and what she said last Saturday when I voted for the first time. I came from a Third World country where we had one party and two questions on a ballot – yes or no.”

"You could vote how you like, but you had to think twice if you voted no.”

The former ENT physician is now a clinical documentation inpatient specialist at St. Mary's Medical Center. Maria, who speaks several languages, is returning to school. Hovan, now 16, is a junior at Blue Springs High School, and Daniella, 11, is a sixth grader at Brittany Hills Middle School.

Two months ago, Jaghlasian took the oral test to be a United States citizen and passed with red, white and blue flying colors. This past weekend, he was joined by two friends from a Friday night Bible study group as he cast his first ballot.

"I became a United States citizen Aug. 26 and voted for the first time this past Saturday in Independence. I was so excited and so proud when I filled out my ballot," Jaghlasian said. "By voting, I am helping to determine the future of my country here in the United States. That is something you would never even think about in Syria.”

"If you believe something is wrong, you can fix it by voting here in America. That is very powerful to me."

It is also powerful for his wife. As he talks about Syria, Maria makes a comment about her love of this country, and her husband.

"I have never been as proud of Dikran as I was when he became a United States citizen and voted for the first time," said Maria, who had taken their two children and moved in with relatives in Los Angeles and waited for Dikran to join them.

"This country is a blessing, and we must do everything we can peacefully to make sure nothing happens here like happened in Syria. We have seen the riots (in Syria) and it is scary to see so many riots here in this country."

But Dikran is quick to add, "Peaceful protests are the best way to make a change. A peaceful protest is an important way to make change. That, and voting."

They nodded in agreement and Maria added, "Thank you United States of America for giving us a home for our family and giving Dikran the opportunity to become a United States citizen.”

“We are so appreciative of our new home and are so thankful to have made so many wonderful friends here who took us in and helped us learn so much about this wonderful country."