If life begins at 80, as they say, then it really blossoms at 90.
For a group of elite Armenians, their longevity and subsequent activity appear to be giving geriatrics a positive image.
Let’s look into the lives of a few venerable folks:
H. Martin Deranian
With a new play opening in Boston and his work with the Armenian orphan rug, Dr. H. Martin Deranian only seems to be getting better with age.
The prominent Worcester dentist teamed with Joyce Van Dyke in bringing the story of his mother to the stage. Deranian is the son of Varter Deranian, who provided Van Dyke with the inspiration and much of the research on which the production, “Deported/ a dream play,” is based.
Martin Deranian’s ongoing quest to have the President Calvin Coolidge orphan rug given its rightful place in American history has never weaned. Despite his advanced age, he continues to be a public speaker of note, promoting the Armenian Cause, and giving the genocide added exposure through a rug that was woven by 400 orphans during 1924-25 in a town called Ghazir, just 40 miles north of Beirut.
The rug subsequently wound up in obscurity inside the White House as Armenian historians and archivists like Deranian look for a more permanent home, bringing greater exposure to the heirloom.
Dr. Deranian has turned himself into a self-imposed rug ambassador in seeking the cause of justice. By unraveling this mystery, he hopes to provide greater credence to the Near East Relief and the scores of orphans saved during the years 1915-23.
At the ripe age of 95, Manoog S. Young continues to remain an icon with the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), which he helped initiate in 1955 and where served as a Board member for 47 years, now chairman emeritus.
His resume appears like a veritable “Who’s Who” when it comes to service in the Armenian community. Suffice it to say, he’s never recanted when it comes time to promote his heritage.
Succinctly, the Belmont resident served as the first school committee chairman of the AGBU School and has been a Board member since its inception of “Facing History and Ourselves” National Foundation.
At a time when education was at a premium, he received a mathematics and physics degree from Northeastern University and a master’s in history and international relations from Clark University.
“When Armenian studies needed to exist at top universities throughout the country, Manoog Young was a visionary,” said Marc A. Mamigonian, the director of academic affairs for NAASR. “It goes without saying that NAASR owes him the debt of our existence. We’re indebted to him for the strides made by Armenian Americans over the past half century, politically, culturally and most assuredly educationally.”
We caught up with Ardashes Aykanian at 9 a.m. on a weekday morning, heavily involved in a meeting with five other experts on the West Coast. The subject at hand: transforming waste into energy for the BIG Island of Hawaii.
The soon-to-be 90-year-old says landfills are overflowing with waste and he’s working toward a plan to convert garbage into electricity and liquid fuel.
This is the same guy who invented the flexible straw (Bendi-straw), the spoon straw for slush consumers, foam-core, the blue strip on car windshields, the first form of Tupperwear, and 26 other patents involving plastics, including the liter containers for Coca-Cola. On a chemical note, he was among the first group of scientists that ever extracted uranium.
Now, he’s trying to help save the world as an engineering consultant.
“I’ve been working my fanny off all my life and can’t stay idle,” he says. “So long as I can solve problems people present to me, my purpose in life will always be stimulated.”
These days, California is home to the Springfield-Indian Orchard native who came through the AYF ranks and served his time improving the youth organization as a member of the ARF Central Committee.
He lost his first wife in an auto accident and later married a woman 21 years his junior. Four children and six grandchildren help keep him young at heart. A brother Ara and sister Araxie are both in their 80s and reside in Massachusetts.
Aykanian served with the U.S. Navy in World War II before securing an engineering degree from UMass and a master’s degree from MIT.
His success in the engineering field could very well be attributed to one of his UMass instructors. He happened to be Manoog Young, also featured in this piece.
Music mentor Armen Babamian sang his first solo at the age of 12 in Holy Cross Armenian Church of Union City, N.J. He hasn’t stopped. At age 97, he remains the epitome of inspiration to his family, church, and community.
He was born on Christmas Day in 1915, the year of the infamous genocide. Through music, he has weaved the fabric of culture for his people throughout the diaspora.
Babamian has served as choirmaster for St. Illuminator’s Church in New York for 25 years and was choirmaster of Sts. Vartanantz Church in Ridgefield, N.J. His conducting career actually started in 1949 with the Armenian National Chorus of New York, with which he was principal soloist.
In 1999, he was presented the Mesrob Mashdots Medal and Holy Encyclical by Catholicos Aram 1 of Antelias.
“We’re very grateful for the invaluable service he has performed toward the preservation of our precious cultural legacy,” said Charles Kasbarian. “He always encouraged the youth.”
Daughter Lucine Kasbarian concurs, calling to mind the impact Babamian had upon herself and her brother Antranig.
“Those who know him can vouch for how he has measured up to his birth date,” she feels. “Armen has embodied the spirit of Christ and the resurrection of our people throughout his lifetime as a guardian and disseminator of our great Armenian musical legacy. He is that rare talent and patriot who knows the context of the music so that his resulting interpretation contains all the emotion and authenticity the musical subject matter requires.”
Antranig and Lucine Kasbarian began singing in Babamian’s choir at ages 6 and 5, respectively, and still embrace the man fondly for his vast contributions.
“Our experience directly contributed to our active involvement in Armenian community affairs,” she confirms. “Many of his young singers were touched by his example and followed in his footsteps by performing and teaching our Armenian musical heritage.”
Until recently, Peter Khanbegian took his airplane for a spin. But a minor accident forced him to ground the aircraft for safety’s sake and focus his attention on more sedate activities—like writing his third book.
The Windham, N.H. resident is determined to finish his trilogy, which started with “Groong” (The Crane) and followed with “Flames of Artsakh,” two fictional accounts.
“The best means of introduction to the history of a people, past and present, is through a well-researched and documented novel,” says the one-time hi-tech writer, who served with the U.S. Navy in World War II. “It’s been a lifelong ambition to tell the story of my people through the printed word.”
As a young man, Khanbegian worked in his father’s dry cleaning store in Lawrence. He later enjoyed building model airplanes and motorcycling along Brooklyn’s circumferential parkway.
“He was also a good artist who painted and sketched when inspiration came knocking,” said his friend Vahram Sookikian. “He’s still as sharp as a tack and sets a good example for people in their 90s.”
Rose (Vartanoosh) Derderian
A typical day for Rose Derderian might include time spent cultivating a garden, sewing, crocheting baby clothes, shopping, cooking, and reading. An independent lifestyle is putting it mildly.
On election day in Indian Orchard, you’ll find her at the polls checking in voters—a job she’s held the past 30 years in addition to one at the Citizens Council and Survival Center assisting families in need.
As a member and supporter of St. Gregory’s Church for 73 years, she could easily pass for the “matriarch” of her community. She’s been the consummate mom to son Harry, an AYF Olympic King from Springfield-Indian Orchard and Armenian National Committee (ANC) activist, and daughter Marion Merigian, another avid booster for her church, AYF, and Armenian Relief Society (ARS) chapter.
For many years, Rose Derderian was a member and supporter of the ARS. In addition to raising her family, she worked 25 years inside an accounting office.
As a pioneer in the United States’ nuclear weapons program, Nerses Krikorian has been labeled an “alumni of distinction” at Niagara University, from where he graduated in 1943.
Krikorian arrived here from Armenia in 1925 after the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Upon graduating with honors, he landed a job with Union Carbide in Niagara Falls and worked on the now-historic Manhattan Project.
When the project closed, he was assigned to the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory in New Mexico. He was a charter member of the lab’s intelligence council and met with representatives of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear research program.
Krikorian was at the forefront of dialogue between the Soviets and United States in breaking down the barriers of the Cold War.
More recently, he’s been awarded an honorary doctor of science degree from Niagara.
Krikor George Elmasian
Krikor Elmasian proudly served his nation with the U.S. Army in World War II, commuted for years from his home in Providence to a job at Fort Devens, Ayer, and like many of his peers, put service above self when it came to his church and community.
After losing his wife Anahid 40 years ago, Elmasian spent much of his time caring for others. He would take his nephews to Boy Scout meetings and follow their progress in both the athletic and educational arenas of Rhode Island.
For years, he served as a caretaker for his mom Araxie until she was finally moved to a nursing home. Three children and a grandson bring him all the joy and comfort he can imagine.
“He is the kind of guy you can always approach if you need information on just about any topic,” said his nephew Steve. “His path is always lined with vigor and vitality.”
When it comes to the Armenian Relief Society, Rose Narzakian is all heart. And for good reason.
The Lowell Chapter is named after her mother Lousintak.
Throughout a resourceful 60-year ARS career, she’s helped many Armenian charities and orphanages, touring Armenia twice with her late twin brother Harry.
Among her more satisfying moments these days are socializing with her ARS sisters and joining them each July at the Lowell Folk Festival. Baking Armenian pastries and sharing recipes have always remained her passion.
She’s lived in Lowell her entire life, worked 40 years for Raytheon Corporation, and helped her brother operate a variety store.
“I’ve lived a full life,” she says. “I see the sun shining and am happy to be alive. The fact I was born and raised an Armenian has been a privilege and I’ve done my best to promote that.”
On any given Sunday, Charlie Zamgochian will drive 30 miles to church, involve himself with carpentry projects, and put his skills to use as a butcher when it comes time to trim the meat. He’s been a philanthropist of the utmost kind, a friend in need, and a living testament to morality and goodness.
Quite possibly the most active 90-plus church-goer you’ll find around Merrimack Valley, time seems to complement him nicely.
“Look at Charlie,” people may boast. “Not bad for a 91-year-old.”
“Make that 91-and-a-half,” he’ll quickly retort. “When you get my age, don’t forget the half. Each day counts.”
Every community has its 90-somethings. Some are more active than others, and all deserve a hug as they count down the years to their golden centennial.
Though we limited our comments to 10 individuals, in no way would we slight others not mentioned in this piece. We’ll leave it up to the communities to give them the credit they deserve.
To all the remaining Armenian Genocide survivors, you represent the living legends of our community. You are our inspiration and our aspiration.