Apigian-Kessel: Remembering Araxi Baliozian (1914-2010)

Araxi Baliozian passed away during the early morning hours of Jan. 28 at her home in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, one week short of her 96th birthday. She was surrounded by her devoted daughter, Dirouhi, and well-known diasporan writer, son Ara Baliozian. She was their beacon of love and strength to the very end.

Ara describes the mother-daughter relationship: “They were like Siamese twins, always together.”

The love of Araxi’s son can be summed up by his own words: “The love of children goes much deeper than their identity. Even the word ‘mother’ makes me cry, but when I cry I feel closer to her, I feel connected.”

Araxi was born in Adana. Her father was murdered by the Turks but her mother survived the genocide. Ara continues, “Mother did not remember the massacres because she was only a baby when it happened.”

Araxi and her sister Vartouhi were raised in a French orphanage in Beirut where the nuns trained her as a nurse. A woman of high intelligence, Araxi could read and write Armenian fluently as well as French. She also learned to speak Greek, Turkish, and English. It was no wonder her children, too, developed into highly educated people.

At the age of 19, Araxi went to Greece to wed Avedis Baliozian, and this is where Dirouhi and Ara were born. Interestingly enough, Avedis originally came from Sivrihisar, the birthplace of Nasreddin Khoja.

Ara describes his mother as a very religious person, who at one time sang in church choirs. “We were brought up as Catholics but when we moved to Canada in 1956, we attended Armenian Church.”

That is where I first met the attractive Araxi and Dirouhi, at an after church coffee hour at the Cambridge, Ontario Armenian church.

Misfortune struck the Baliozian family while in Greece. At the beginning of World War II, German bombs demolished Avedis’s grocery store and their house, necessitating their move to the suburb of Dourghouti, a mile from the center of Athens where three Armenian churches—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protesant—were located.

Says Ara, “Father was too busy trying to survive World War II, the German occupation of Greece, followed by the Greek Civil War.” Times were tough and Ara gives much credit to the generous support of relatives in America—namely, Godar, the mother of Harry Terzian of Detroit—for their survival.

Araxi’s sister Vartouhi emigrated to Armenia after World War II, where she was visited by her doting sister on four occasions. Vartouhi died about 10 years ago and one of the last words uttered by Araxi was her sister’s name: “Vartouhi.”

The well-respected Baliozian family has been bolstered by the visits of area family and friends, as well as the Armenian and Protestant pastors who have extended their support and condolence.

Araxi Baliozian was preceded in death by her husband Avedis in 1962. She has surviving relatives in Greece, Armenia, and Los Angeles—mostly daughters and grandsons of her sister Vartouhi.

I first met Ara in 1987 when I attended a summer reunion weekend at the Cambridge Armenian Church of Armenians who got their start in the Brantford, Ontario area. I had read his articles for years in the Armenian Weekly. Once I landed at the motel, I looked up his phone number and introduced myself. We agreed to meet the next day at the church picnic.

Localites were surprised and delighted to see their literary friend who seldom frequented such events. Ara, his friend Varouj Pogharian a Canadian narcotics officer, and I sat in the cool of the community center talking about our connection to the Armenian community, our viewpoints, and everything we could fill into a four-hour conversation. We totally ignored the festivities going on outside, including the fragrant kebabs. We didn’t care. It was a rare opportunity to establish a friendship that has endured to this day.

Let me tell you a little about my friend, Ara. Intelligent and well read? Absolutely. Genius? No doubt he is, although he won’t admit to it. Provocative? Opinionated? Yes, and yes. Many Armenian papers no longer print him, to their loss.

Ara was first in his class in Greece and was sent on a four-year scholarship to the Mekhitarists in Venice where he studied everything from algebra and Armenian literature, to philosophy, music, and physics. At university, he studied economics. He later worked as a translator in an Armenian paper in Athens.

In addition to his literary accomplishments, Ara served as an organist in both Canadian Catholic and Armenian Orthodox churches. He is a well-known writer, translator, critic, and vocal commentator on Armenian issues. He has always been a mentor to me, as well as friend and advisor. Our friendship is bound by the Armenian blood we share and respect for each other as writers.

He has tried to make me a more “honest” writer rather than, as he describes it, a “philanthropic journalist.”

My friend is hurting deeply now with the loss of his mother. As his loyal friend I reach out to him and Dirouhi to soothe their sorrow. It has been a difficult task. Ara is inconsolable, as I knew he would be. Many years ago he told me that he could not survive her death. He will and he must. As his mother said to them in order to save them from the pain she knew they would feel: “Don’t love me too much.” Only a loving mother would attempt to spare her children with these words. Araxi Baliozian was a very fortunate mother, but her children were really the benefactors of this women’s devotion.

We all share the loss of Araxi, a genocide survivor and fellow Armenian. May she rest in peace with the angels and her loved ones. She was a dignified lady.

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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