Obituary: Jirair Haratunian (1927-2010)

WATERTOWN, Mass.—Jirair Haratunian, 82, died on Mon., August 9, leaving a rich legacy of service to the people of Armenia and the United States.

He was born in New York City in 1927 to Mihran and Maryam (Eghigian) Haroutounian, both from the village of Kahrad in Sebastia and survivors of the genocide.

Throughout his life, Haratunian played a leadership role in Armenian organizations. In his youth, he was a frequent delegate to the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) annual Convention and was elected to its Central Executive committee. He was one of the founders of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia, the ARF political action committee that later became the Armenian National Committee. Beginning in the 1950’s, Haratunian was also actively involved in efforts to unify the Antelias and Etchmiadzin churches in the United States and Canada. After those efforts failed, he served on the Central Executive Council of the Prelacy and as a delegate to, and chairman of, the church’s National Representative Assembly. In the 1960’s, he was an active member of the committee that purchased the Soorp Khatch Church in Washington, D.C. and that built its community center. Most recently, Haratunian was a frequent commentator of current affairs and regular contributor to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator and Armenia Now.

Haratunian was particularly active in the Armenian Assembly of America, attending the Airlie House conference in the early 1970’s that served as the catalyst in the formation of the Assembly, serving as vice chairman of the Assembly’s Board of Directors from 1984-86 and as its chairman from 1986-89. As chairman, Haratunian helped lead the U.S. humanitarian relief effort in response to the devastating 1988 earthquake in Armenia, supported Armenia’s independence and the Karabagh movement, and played a central role in the Assembly’s efforts to secure U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide. Haratunian had the distinction of serving as master of ceremonies at the Assembly’s 1987 Tribute Banquet honoring California Governor George Deukmejian, where he welcomed then-vice president George H.W. Bush, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Senator Robert Dole (R-Kansas). Haratunian also served as chair of the Assembly’s Office of Research and Analysis and as vice chairman of the Assembly’s Armenian National Institute (ANI). In the Summer of 2010, the Assembly awarded Haratunian its prestigious Distinguished Service Award “in recognition of his lifetime record of distinguished service to the Armenian Assembly and the Armenian people.”

Professionally, Haratunian spent over two decades in the service of the U.S. government. He became the chief of the Armenian Broadcasting Service of the Voice of America (VOA) in 1959 where he supervised daily Armenian language broadcasts into the USSR and Near East. Haratunian later served as chief of the Office of News and Current Affairs, where he was responsible for the editorial content of all news broadcast by the VOA’s 38 language units around the world and established a network of VOA correspondents and news bureaus around the world. Beginning in 1973, he served as deputy public affairs officer in Bangkok, Thailand, and in 1976 he transferred to Athens, Greece where he served as counselor for public affairs, serving as the official spokesman for the U.S. Embassy. He returned to Washington in 1979, after which he was named deputy director of the VOA and then acting director of the entire VOA during the first year of the Reagan Administration.

In the decade following Haratunian’s career in public service, he oversaw the international operations of the National Association of Broadcasters, where he helped advocate for open standards for digital high definition TV and for satellite radio.

Haratunian was the husband of the late Matilda (Vemian) Haratunian and is survived by his three daughters (Meline Lachinian, her husband Garo, and their children; Marta LaCasse, her husband Lawrence, and their daughter Laurel; and Lori Jaworski and her husband Joe); his brother Michael (and Marie) Haratunian; his loving companion Lita Chaderjian; and his cousins, nieces, and nephew.

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