Viken Ajemian was one of the younger members of the first generation that built and expanded the operations of Armenian Community Centers in Toronto, both, at 18 Dupont street, and 45 Hall Crown Place. Viken personified the ideals and dreams of all those ACC members who wanted to create a social hub where young and old could come together and have a good time as Armenians.
Maybe the idea worked better at 18 Dupont street where apart from playing backgammon and cards, also new games were introduced including billiard, ping pong, and other game machines. Being mostly, if not all, new immigrants, the need was there, and it worked.
Here I should mention that Mr. Atikian, “Hyrig”, a newcomer from Jerusalem who managed the ACC at 18 Dupont street, was a very likable guy and his tasty “Lahmajune” and sandwiches were good enough to satisfy “hungry” young men who needed it the most. (Hyrig although from Jerusalem but his origins were from Kessab Syria and were also intimately called Shbain “friend” in the Armenian dialect of Kessab)
Viken had come to Toronto from Aleppo Syria today unfortunately is ruined because of a devastating civil war that is going on for over four years. The one-time prosperous Armenian Community of Aleppo is in the ruins and most Armenians have left and scattered all over the world as refugees. In December 2015, they started to arrive in Canada in big numbers. Many are coming to Toronto and are going through many difficulties typical of all other refugees. Thankfully the Armenian community is doing a great job to get the refugees to settle and THANK YOU to all those many many volunteers who are helping to minimize the difficulties and make them “feel at home”.
Viken was an “out of the box thinker” and daring person, and a no-nonsense personality to match it. But underneath that bold-looking veneer, there was a loving and caring person with a BIG HEART. Viken was a problem solver if I may say so. Whenever there were difficult issues Viken always came up with logical and practical solutions. He had a habit of leaving the meeting room during hotly debated issues, to have a “cigarette break”, and during that break, he “smoked out” good compromising solutions came back and helped cut the debate short with logical and comprising proposals and thus indirectly helped those who were going at it by repeating themselves. Viken was a man with strong ideas and opinions but never “hard-headed”. He was a good listener and a man of the reason.
In the late nineteen eighties, Viken was instrumental making a deal between ACC and York University to bring about twenty University graduates from Soviet Armenia to be trained by the University and then placed in businesses in their fields for “hands-on” experiences before returning back to the Soviet Union. The program was about thirty days long. It was during the heydays of “glasnost” and “perestroika” of the Gorbachev era. These two Russian words that meant openness and restructuring captured the essence of Gorbachev’s philosophy of restructuring the Soviet economic system that eventually brought the end of the Soviet Union rather than saving it.
York University had created this program to help Canadian businessmen understand the workings of the Soviet Union. York University invited Academics, professionals, young University grads, etc, from the Soviet Union to interact with Canadian counterparts and “feel” each other, and hopefully make deals. The often-used phrase for making deals was “Mutually Beneficial Joint Venture”.
At one of the lectures that we attended with Viken, the speaker was a representative of the cooperative union, and devoted all his time to criticizing everything except the co-ops, while saying hardly anything about the co-ops, and what kind of business opportunities they offered. During the question period, Viken asked a question something like “you criticized everything and hardly talked about what the co-ops do “. Viken had a sharp mind and spoke his mind boldly, if I may say so.
Later on, while we were trying to do business in Armenia we found out that, criticizing others was the “norm” for Soviet educated people to promote themselves by criticizing everyone else. It was repulsive, to say the least, especially so, after meetings, where they glorify each other with lavish toasts Բաժակաճառ that they performed rather eloquently and immediately after the meeting, during private conversations, they did not hesitate to criticize the ones they glorified and warn you to be careful and not trust them.
During that time Viken was also instrumental in forming an investment company with fife thousand dollars per share exclusively to invest in Armenia with a clause that any benefit realized will be reinvested back in Armenia for the first two years. It was called “Armen Trade”. Viken was Chairman of the board, and Kevork Kololian the President. There were about twenty-five shareholders and about one million dollar binding pledges were signed, and the initial seed money was paid upfront. But after two years and a serious effort, and despite all good intentions and patriotic feelings, it did not succeed.
It is hard to talk about Viken Ajemian without mentioning his contribution to the upkeep of the diverse accounting system of the ACC. As a successful Chartered Accountant, Viken was like an unofficial adviser/controller of the ACC accounting system and many considered him to be the accounting “whiz kid” and sought his advice to solve even their own accounting problems, and he seldom refused to give his professional advice free of charge.
Viken passed away in Cuba of a heart attack while on a business trip at a relatively young age probably in his mid to late sixties. His wife Arpi, and children Nairy and Vahan lost a loving and caring husband and father, and his young grandchildren that he loved and adored, lost a loving and caring grandfather, and the ACC establishment lost a great leader. Աստուած հոգին լուսաւորէ.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.