Albert K. Sarkisian: A Pillar of Detroit’s Armenian Community

February 3, 1928 - January 20, 2021

Albert Khajak Sarkisian (1928 – 2021)

The Detroit Armenian community has been blessed with many pillars, which support a foundation established by the immigrant first generation. On January 20, 2021, we lost one of those pillars. Albert Khajak Sarkisian was part of the first generation born in America, the offspring of Genocide survivors. He died just two weeks before his 93rd birthday. 

So what was in Al’s upbringing that led him to become a future pillar typical in his generation of our very homogeneous community? Al’s organizational life began in the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) in the “Christopher” Chapter—one of five in Metro Detroit. He graduated into the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Antranig Gomideh as most of the youth leaders did at that time. 

But Al’s interests were very broad and not limited to just the ARF. Since his father was a Vanehtzi, Al served as a member of the Vasbouragan Society of Detroit. As a Korean War veteran, Al was also an active member of the American Legion, Vartan Post until it was disbanded. He had its Post flag sent to Armenia. At his funeral, a US Army Color Guard performed taps and presented the American flag to his family.

Al’s heart was also in the church. He was active in the local St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church community and subsequently the New York Prelacy office. A typical Board of Trustee member serves two or three terms consecutively, but Al always seemed to be on the Board. He must have held every executive position…more than once! Even when he wasn’t on the Board of Trustees, he was involved in developing the budget and explaining it at the annual church meetings. Of course, he was also a Detroit church delegate to the annual National Representative Assembly (NRA) meetings for more than than one term, and because of all of the above, he became an advisor to the Prelacy finance committee where then-Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan in 2002 awarded him the Prelacy Eagle Medal (Ardtziv).

At his wake in the church, that medal was proudly displayed on his suit lapel. In his left hand was a vial filled with the soil from his father’s village Avantz, located on the shore of Lake Van. It was a gift to him from his sister Bernice’s brother-in-law, Detroit’s own Hachig Kazarian, on his second trip to Western Armenia. This brings me to Al’s loss of his right hand due to an accident in his adult life, something which would have limited most of us. But he remained unstoppable; he still moved more than his fair share of chairs and tables.

I trust you’re starting to get the idea of what it takes to become a pillar of the community. For about six years, Al and I worked together on the Board of Directors of our Greater Detroit Armenian Senior Citizens Housing Corporation. Al was the chairman representing the church, and I represented the Armenian Community Center (ACC), the two owners of the eight-story, 150-unit apartment building on our 12-acre community campus. Al was involved since its inception more than 40 years ago. This December, our 40-year mortgage will be paid off. This project will add about a $14 million value to the community, and if operated as a business can generate at least a $40-thousand monthly income for the community in the future. This year, we completed a $2.4 million gym at the ACC—planned, built and paid for by the pillars of Al’s generation, of which he was a part of 50 years ago when he was in his early forties.

Because of Al’s long history in leadership positions, his signature appears on many transactions along with so many other pillars of the community who are now all long gone. He was always there, for decades, not just years. 

During his funeral, Der Hrant Kevorkian read a special message of sympathy to his family from the Prelate, Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian—an uncommon occurrence for every funeral, but only for pillars of their communities.

Soon, Albert K. Sarkisian’s name will be added to the plaque in the Senior Citizens lobby for those deceased Board of Trustees members and originators of the project. May God grant him peace and the recognition of the Armenian community of Detroit that he deserves.

Albert K. Sarkisian leaves behind his wife Geno; his daughter Renee; his son John (Maria); his son Gregory; his granddaughter Nicole; his sister Bernice Kazarian (the late Kazar) and nieces, nephews and friends. 

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