An ARF Mystery: What happened to Unger Sarkis Zeitlian?

On March 28, 1985 during the Lebanese Civil War, Unger was abducted on his way to work in Beirut, Lebanon. His body was never found; his abductors were neither identified nor prosecuted.

Thirty three years have passed, and his case remains unresolved. Why the mystery? Why the silence? In 2015,, on the 30th anniversary of his abduction, some memorials were held but no new light was shed on his demise.

Unger Sarkis was born in 1930 in the village of Kheder-Beg on the slopes of Mousa Dagh. In 1939, his family settled in Lebanon and he graduated from the Nshan Palanjian Jemaran (Academy in Beirut). He was a promising leader and a compelling writer. In 1954, he was sent by Simon Vratsian (the last Prime Minister of the First Armenian Republic and the former Dean of the Jemaran) to Cairo where he taught history at the Kalousdian Armenian School. He also joined the editorial staff of the ARF organ Houssaper, where he eventually become editor.

In 1957, he married his colleague—Sona Zeitlian. She was a teacher at Kalousdian, and her family had survived the Armenian Genocide. Later on in 1963, he turned down an offer with the Asbarez, the ARF organ in California. He decided to move to Lebanon with his family and become the dean of Ainjar’s Harach school. There he became immersed in the ARF Ainjar organization and community.

In 1965, Zeitlian moved from Ainjar to Beirut and became the editor of the ARF organ Aztag. He was later elected to the ARF Bureau in 1972 after serving as a member and then chairman of the ARF Central Committee in Lebanon. He also served as editor of the ARF Bureau organ Aztag Shapatoriag-Troshag.

Many of my close friends and I around the world were fortunate to have Ung. Sarkis as a teacher and then a mentor in Egypt. I am confident young people in Lebanon share our sentiment. Our minds and souls were ingrained with the love of our country and the ideological and moral integrity of the party. We all are what we are today thanks to Ung. Sarkis.

I was fortunate that I was able to stay in touch with him and follow his tireless work and contributions to the Armenian cause. His main objective was to strengthen diasporan institutions, promoting a unity of purpose. He set the standard for the formation of an independent Armenian State. He was indefatigable and adamant on the issue of the Armenians’ right to self-determination, self-assessment, self-enhancement and self-actualization.

On March 16, 1985 in Aztag Shapatoriag-Troshag he wrote, “The issue of issues is to avail ourselves of the current general renaissance of the Armenian people; its cultural, economic and scientific professional accomplishments and manpower in order to increase our organizational strength and political significance on behalf of the completion of the Armenian liberation struggle.”

Zeitlian’s writings always underscored the concept and firm belief that an Independent Armenian state was the only means of salvation of the Armenian people. We now have an independent Armenia.

A compassionate teacher, a distinguished political leader, a superb mentor, a prolific writer—a remarkable track record until he was taken away from us prematurely by a conspiracy.

Why is the crime still unresolved and who was responsible? Why can’t we uncover the truth? Was it carried out as a contract on behalf of the KGB? Was it carried out by militiamen belonging to Walid Joumblatt’s Socialist Party (PSP) an organization that was loyal to the KGB? Was it the ASALA? Were they really involved or were subject to disinformation? Were they falsely being accused?

Who was the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Revolutionary Movement (ARF-RM), whose true identity was never established? In 1985 and 1986, several communiques were issued by them claiming responsibility. A blatant effort to misinform and divert attention from further investigation.

This was an anti-Armenian and anti-ARF act. For reasons that cannot or have not been explained, no full and complete investigation was conducted neither by the Lebanese authorities nor the ARF, neither by the Central Committee in Lebanon nor the Bureau. Several statements have been made by various authorities, none conclusive, none verified, properly followed up or confirmed. Recently there were rumors that the location of his body and his remains were revealed, but nothing happened.

Why can’t we discover unequivocal evidence and bring to justice the responsible parties? This is a heavy debt we owe to Unger Sarkis and his family. It’s our duty and our responsibility to uncover the truth.


Vart Adjemian

Vart K. Adjemian was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1943. He became an ARF member at the age of 16 and was a contributor to the Armenian daily newspaper “Houssaper.” Adjemian worked for a German company in Egypt that was awarded the project of saving the Abu Simbel Temples, as well as for the Australian Embassy in Cairo. In the early 1970’s, he moved first to Montreal, Canada, and then to the United States. Adjemian worked for the Continental Grain Company (New York) for 30 years, holding executive positions in the United States, Italy, Switzerland, and England; the last 8 years of his tenure was as executive vice president and chief operating officer. In 2005, he retired to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He is an avid supporter of the ANCA and a regular reader of the Armenian Weekly.

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  1. There are a number of reasons why the disappearance of Sarkis Zeitlian is still unknown.
    1. Too many groups had an interested in seeing him dead. In addition to the ones mentioned in the article, there are Turks or Turks collaborating with the Israelis.
    2. The bedlam of the Lebanese Civil War.
    3. The notorious Lebanese political mores.
    4. The people responsible are dead (thirty-three years have elapsed.)
    5. The ARF might be reluctant to investigate because…
    A. The party doesn’t want to dig up old bones that can start fresh hostilities.
    B. The part might have formed an alliance with the assassins in the ever-changing Lebanese political tapestry.
    C. The assassins now embarrassing ARF secrets which they can reveal if accused by the ARF.

  2. A Cold Case shrouded in mystery.
    It is encouraging and a positive sign to see that there is a call to revive the the questions surrounding the abduction and asassination of Sarkis Zeitlian.
    The silence has been deafening.
    It is time to be resolved conclusively.

  3. Perhaps the answer to Mr. Adjemian’s thoughful message lies in his following thought:

    “…no full and complete investigation was conducted by the… ARF, neither by the Central Committee in Lebanon nor the Bureau…”
    That is a primary question.
    And with the question “why”, Mr Tutunjian’s 5A-C may well frame the answer, resting with the “party”. That is, unless the answers are with those who have passed away.

  4. Vart Adjemian was a classmate of mine both at Kalousdian school and later at St. George’s College.We both were students of the Zeitlian family Vart under Unger Sarkis Zeitlian and I was under Ms Sona Zeitlian.
    The tragic disappearance of Unger Sarkis Zeitlian was never solved and the mystery continues.My surprise is that party members of Unger Sarkis Zeitlian do not continue the investigation of his disappearance to bring this tragedy to a conclusion.

  5. I am sure somebody knew something then and even today somebody must know what happened.
    Unles ARF and Bureau are not really trying hard to find out what happened because THEY ALREADY KNOW….AND DO NOT WANT TO OPEN FRESH WOUNDS…..

  6. It has been over 30 years. I will not talk about the who and the why and who to blame. I will just say that since its formation in 1890 and to this day the ARF has had individuals, organizations Armenian or otherwise in Armenia and in the Diaspora working against it to topple it but they failed with flying colours. Yes the ARF has made mistakes in the past and today, however only those who do something for Mayr Hayrenik do mistakes, others stand by and proudly point fingers and blame the ARF for what has happened. I have said it many times, and I say again IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE ARF WE WOULD NOT HAVE HAD OUR ARMENIA OF TODAY – during the 70 years of communist regime the ARF was the only Armenian political party in the Armenian diaspora that PROUDLY flew the Armenian Tricolor flag – the YERAKUYN- on all its Churches, community centers, schools and sports organizations while the others sheyed away – and to this day the ARF continues and will continue to pursue and protect and strive for the well being of our sisters and brothers in our Homeland. yes Unger sarkis has gone but he mentored and left behind a generation of Sarkises who follow in his footsteps and continues to carry the torch. I did not have the privilege of being one of his students while he was teaching in the kalousdian Armenian National school in Cairo, Egypt but I was fortunate to be mentored by him in the ranks of the youth division and then in the ARF in Egypt. VARTSKET GADAR UNGER SARKIS.

    • Mr. Adjemian’s commentary does not question the value and contributions of the ARF.
      No one is questioning that so let’s not deflect from Mr Adjemian’s prime point.
      It is “about the who and why to blame”.
      This is about the tragedy of a devoted and charismatic individual who may have been the target of those inside the organization who felt a threat ( to their positions?) based on his existence.
      Time has eroded the ability to definitively connect the dots.

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