In Memory of Haritun Arto Shahrik

June 22, 1923 – June 20, 2021

Haritun Arto Shahrik (1923 – 2021)

Haritun Arto Shahrik died on Sunday, June 20, 2021 peacefully from complications that began with a compression fracture. He passed away two days before his 98th birthday. 

He was born on June 22, 1923 in Istanbul, Turkey to Parsegh Shahrikian of Shabinkarahisar, Turkey and Azniv (Fermanian) of Tokat, Turkey. He was the younger of two siblings; his late brother Hrant was 11 years older, also born in Istanbul.

Haritun was a man who was larger than life with an enormous presence, a gentle demeanor, a brilliant smile and a twinkle in his eye. He immersed himself in science, and almost equally in philosophy, religion, spirituality, the arts and the psychology of the human condition. A romantic at heart, he had an extraordinary mind; he was a deep thinker and seeker of knowledge from medical research to Armenian and world history and culture to the mysteries of the universe. He always encouraged and inspired his children and grandchildren to question everything and never stop learning. “I’m 85 and am still learning. The lessons never stop,” he once said. He was full of deep wisdom that he imparted on his family over the years. Whether he was sharing a life lesson, posing a question or simply recalling a funny memory, he pulled you in with his cadence of perfectly timed words and pregnant pauses that often had his listeners at the edge of their seats. His blue eyes smiling throughout, he would often end with an “ayo” or “ays kan.”  

Haritun attended St. Michel High School in Istanbul and spent a year studying French at Istanbul’s Faculty of French Language and Literature. He pursued dentistry at Istanbul’s Faculty of Dentistry, graduating in 1952. During his third year of dental studies, he took an interest in basic science research into diseases of the oral cavity under the supervision of the University. In 1956, he immigrated from Turkey to Boston and accepted a position at the Forsyth Pediatric Dental Clinic, where he continued to work as a dentist for two years. During his second year at Forsyth Dental, he expressed his desire to continue the research he had started in Istanbul characterizing the diseases of the human oral cavity. He was granted permission to start his own lab at the Forsyth Dental Clinic, initiating the rebuilding of what would become a famous research center. He advanced his training in dentistry at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, earning his second degree as a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) following two years of study.

Despite his involvement in clinical practice, research continued to be an important part of his career. Initially inspired by Pasteur’s biography when he was in high school, he remained committed to pursuing research on the human body throughout his career in dental medicine.

Following graduation from the Tufts School of Dental Medicine, he was asked to join two Tufts professors in their research of the cellular impact of disease on the human oral cavity tissue. Over time, his research focus narrowed, and his interests became centered on the cellular world of the human oral cavity, including understanding the mechanisms that led to pathologic changes in disease and the physiologic changes in health. He continued his research work for eight long years, during which he gave lectures in academic centers across the US and all over the world including in Lebanon, Istanbul, Tehran and Europe. His works have been published in a number of academic journals including the Archives of Oral Biology, The Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, Advances in Oral Biology, The Journal of Dental Research and Science.

He opened a dental practice in Belmont and served his community until retiring in his eighties. He was universally loved by all his patients and was often called “the painless dentist.” 

In his early years, he lived on Curtis Street in Boston with his mother Azniv. He met his wife Nina Oganian at an Armenian Student’s Association dance in Boston. They married on July 29, 1962. Together they raised two children, Anahid and Lilian. They eventually took up a residence in Lexington, Massachusetts, which became the family home for decades until Nina passed away of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1998.

Haritun loved life. He had a joie de vivre essence that transcended the physical riches of life. It was the richness of heart and mind, his love and devotion to family and the simplicities of life that brought him the most joy. Stop and smell the roses was not a mere saying, he lived it, literally and figuratively. He was always amazed by the wonders of nature. He’d often point to a flower blooming or leaves turning color and say with the deepest sense of gratitude, “This is life, beautiful.” Unconditional love, kindness, empathy, generosity, endless gratitude and self-care were values he embraced throughout his life and blessed his family with and those around him.

He loved to dance and had quite the moves, which was still very present in him, well into his nineties. He enjoyed dancing with his daughters, niece and granddaughters to some of his favorite songs from greats including Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra. His favorite style was Latin, and every once in a while, he danced to the tunes of Cabaret, as if he were performing on-stage. He was young at heart and always ready to play a round of tavloo, kick around a soccer ball, shoot a basket or even play tennis with his daughters and grandchildren. You’d always see him at school recitals, soccer and basketball games and dance performances, cheering his grandchildren on with a gleam in his eye…and maybe even coaching from the sidelines.

He seemed most happy when sitting around a dining table with his family and close friends, enjoying good food and wine… and lots of bread (and lemon) celebrating special occasions, sharing stories, laughing and relishing each bite. He was always seated at the head of the table and always orchestrated the perfect mix of joy and inspiration.

A proud Bolsahye, Haritun was an active member of the local Armenian community and the Knights of Vartan. He often generously donated to many charitable causes from the Armenian hospital in Istanbul to local Armenian churches and schools and many non-Armenian causes.

Haritun Arto Shahrik with his daughters and grandchildren

Haritun was the beloved husband of the late Nina (Oganian) Shahrik. He was the devoted father of Anahid Shahrik and Dr. Lilian Mahrokhian and her late husband Vahe Mahrokhian. He was a loving grandfather to Diran Shahrik, Shant, Sanan and Sarine Mahrokhian. He was predeceased by his brother Hrant Shahrik. He was a dear uncle to Nadia Shahrik; Barbara Seda Kaligian and her husband Dikran Kaligian; and Armen Aghamianz. He was a granduncle to Jacqueline Phillips, Andreas, Keri, Rosdom and Yeraz.

Funeral service will be held at Saint Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church, 38 Elton Avenue, Watertown on Thursday, June 24 at 11:00 a.m. Relatives and friends are kindly invited to attend. Visiting hours will be at the Aram Bedrosian Funeral Home, 558 Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown on Wednesday, June 23 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. 

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Saint Stephen’s Armenian Church; the Armenian Relief Society, Inc – Artsakh Fund, 80 Bigelow Avenue, Watertown, MA 02472; or Cure Alzheimer’s Fund.

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Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.
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