Roupen Barsoumian, a loyal friend, brother, and Armenian, unexpectedly left us a week ago. A resident of New York for more than four decades, he was one of the last representatives of the post-genocide, second-generation Aleppo-Armenian teachers and community leaders, whose personal virtues and extraordinary intellectual stature was unknown to many due to his modesty.
He was one of the founders of the New York branch of Hamazkayin, an organization he served tirelessly for more than four decades. A close friend of American-Armenian writers, such as Hagop Garabents and Jirayr Attarian, Roupen once half-jokingly said they told him not to write, “so we have a reader,” in recognition to his sharp literary critic’s eye.
The proud son of Ayntap Armenians, his first language was Turkish. When he was five years old, he returned home crying from his first day at school, as he had been unable to understand his classmates and they had not understood him. “Ermenice konuşurlar, yavrum” (“They speak Armenian, my child”) his grandmother had told him. He left this world mastering Armenian as very few do, a language he revered. One of his greatest concerns was the restoration of the classical or Mashtotsian orthography in the homeland, a goal he pursued without being deterred by the considerable obstacles for its accomplishment. The unhealed wound of his life was his brother Hagop Barsoumian’s kidnapping and disappearance in unknown circumstances in Beirut, during Lebanon’s civil war.
Until the last days of his life, the fate of his brother weighed on his soul. Orphaned at an early age, Hagop, Roupen, and their sister Silva (currently living in New York) spent their childhood and teenage years at Aleppo’s “Badsbaran.” Always surrounded by friends and loved by them for his unconditional generosity of the Ayntap Armenian, fate had it that he parted alone and orphaned.
Roupen passed away without any moral debt and left us indebted to him. We hope he joins his brother and his two friends, who left us a year ago—Aris Sevag, one of his closest friends in New York, and Bedros Hadjian, a friend and colleague from their youth in Aleppo. They were all devoted Armenians, who kept the torch of Armenian culture burning and passed it on to the new generations. Fundamentally, in the purest sense of the word, they were good men. God bless Roupen’s soul and give solace to his family and loved ones.
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