Garbis: In Remembrance of a Young Man

I first met Peter Bilezikian at the home of his daughter, Bethel, in Newton, Mass. That was in 2004, when he was in his early 90s. He physically looked and moved about like a man in his late 60s, yet his stamina and lust for life was of someone far more than half his age. He was driving and had a tight schedule, attending a Bible class several times a week and meeting people throughout the day. Every time I met him I was more amazed and even intimidated by his agility and capacity for accomplishment by consistently setting goals and fulfilling them successfully. After my first few encounters with Peter, I began to refer to him respectfully as the “Young Man.”

Peter Bilezikian

His memory was fully intact and he recalled stories from his life to share with me. One evening he told me about his experiences as a young boy in Marash, which had been immersed into citywide chaos trapped by the inferno of the Armenian Genocide. He was alone and struggling to stay alive among crowds of living ghosts, barely able to stand erect. It was a “normal thing” for him to witness people dropping dead all around him, he said. Somehow he managed to survive and at the end of his journey out of Western Armenia found his way to the Boston area. As a vivacious adult he eventually managed to open Newtonville Electrical Company, Inc., a sales and repair shop for electrical appliances in Newtonville, where he lived for the rest of his life. With his wife Lucille Mae (Jennie) Vartanian, they raised three children and ensured that they received top-quality higher education; Bethel herself attended Radcliffe College.

At the time I was moving through a period of soul searching, having emerged from a turbulent phase in my life and seeking the path I would eventually find, and continue to follow. He shared with me his own pain he had experienced when he was in his 20s, when he was angry and bitter without any clear reason or motivation—perhaps it was his defense mechanism in coping with his horrific childhood. Then one day, as he conveyed to me, he attained a divine awakening, and from that time onwards embraced a devoutly spiritual life, replacing his malaise with pure, pristine joy.

I had been meeting him at least twice a week for several months, eager to tap into the spring of wisdom and life experience that he discreetly fostered. Then I moved back to Armenia. Nearly two years ago during a visit to the Boston area I went to visit Peter, who at that time had been living in a convalescent home having endured several setbacks in his health. His memory had already begun to fade and he did not remember who I was, but the lust for life was still fully intact. I remember he had wanted to read the newspaper and somehow keep mentally active. We did not speak for very long, but the 10 minutes or so that I spent with him were among the most memorable in my brief stay at the time. Three weeks ago I learned that Peter passed away at the age of 97.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.” I think this philosophy directly applied to Peter’s hunger for attaining the highest level of serenity through the pursuit of righteousness, along the upward footpath that indeed ultimately led him to God. It was his life’s sole purpose.

Christian Garbis

Christian Garbis

Christian Garbis is a writer and experimental filmmaker born and raised in Greater Boston. He received his BA in English and Certificate in Film Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has been contributing to the Armenian Weekly since 1994 and has served as an assistant editor for the paper. He lives in Yerevan with his wife and son and maintains two blogs documenting his impressions: Notes From Hairenik and Footprints Armenia. His first novel is partly based on his experiences in Armenia.


  1. Dear Garbis,

    Thank you for the wonderful article on my Uncle Peter.  He was such a joy to be with and always had many, many stories to tell.  He was so vivacious and loved life.  Again, thanks for sharing your experiences.  I hope others who didn’t know him will understand the true meaning of being a survivor.

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