Finally, I mustered enough courage to embark on a “Mission Impossible” to clean up my basement, which is turned into a “dumping ground” for anything, and everything, especially after our children moved out. I started from my old office, the only place in the house that I used to have almost exclusive to myself, plus room for everybody to store boxes of “very important things” that needless to say never got important enough to be reused. The room is a big mess but also full of memories and nostalgia.
While going through a file containing cut-out articles from Armenian newspapers, I found an article by the late Dr. Papken Papazian of Beirut Lebanon dated Sep. 5. 1983. I also found pictures of him as head table guest during the ground-breaking ceremonies of the Armenian Community Center of Toronto at 45 Mall Crown Place in 1978. My wife Sona, remembers him also as her teacher in the Armenian school in Baghdad Iraq.
I never interacted with Dr. Papazian while living in Beirut Lebanon in the fifties, but heard him at least once, if not more, as a guest speaker at Armenian community functions. I also read articles from him in local Armenian newspapers specially reviews about Armenian theatrical performances. I have heard that he has been also an actor under the direction of Kaspar Ipekian the founder of Hamazkayin Theater in Beirut but never seen him acting.
I remember those days when the Armenian plays were performed in the “Grand Theater” a magnificent edifice with the elegance of old architecture and decor that fascinated me. I loved to attend theatrical shows especially the old historical plays like Ինկած բերդին իշխանուհին, Ոսկի աքաղաղը, etc. Sometimes even I will attend the same play more than once.
The first time I interacted with Dr. Papazian was in a seminar in Lexington close proximity to Boston Massachusetts in the USA. It must have been in the late sixties or early seventies. It was a strategic seminar to chart a course for the future activities of ARF in the USA. The seminar was organized by the ARF Central Executive (CE) of Eastern United States headquartered in Boston Massachusetts.
Before talking about the seminar and Dr. Papazian, let me say that at the time the ARF leadership was passed on to American-born second-generation ARF members. The CE was headed by Setrag Minas, a law professor, and most of the members, if not all, were American-born successful professionals, businessmen, academics, etc. American-born Dr. Antranig Varjabedian, a medical school professor, was a Buro member from North America. (Buro is the highest executive body of the ARF world organization).
The seminar was split into two focus workshops. One was for the ARF’s policies and activities within the Armenian community in the USA, and the other was for political activities. Dr. Papazian attended the meeting as the official Buro representative then headquartered in Beirut Lebanon. He was a guest attendant and participated in both workshops.
I was on the community activities workshop and Dr. Papazian visited us more than once he was rather a pleasant guy. But at the general meeting where the resolutions were read for final discussions and input, Dr Papazian was very authoritative and confrontational, especially so, when the political workshop presented the resolution to establish a “front” (lobby) in Washington DC.
The resolution was to establish a high caliber Armenian representative body composed of prominent American/Armenian professionals, successful businessmen, and academics as a representative body of the USA Armenians in Washington at “arms-length” from CE, and not accountable to CE or Buro. It was the first time that I heard the expression “arms-length” and then it did not sound that controversial to me.
Dr. Papazian used his best oratory and theatrical skills to denounce any Armenian representation in Washington other than a representative body appointed by CE and with the approval of the Buro. It was like a “clash of civilizations”. Aram Kaloustian a young and successful lawyer and probably the youngest member of CE read the report and passionately defended it while mild-mannered but assertive Dr Antranig Varjabedian ardently supported it with logic and reason. No compromise was possible on this issue.
Typical of Armenian “traditions”, years later, both ideas were put to action and today there are two Armenian political lobbying offices in Washington DC. One as Dr. Papazian envisaged it and is called Hy Tad (Armenian Cause), appointed by ARF, and accountable to it, and the Armenian Assembly, (Assembly) as envisaged by Dr. Varjabedian as an independent body.
Aram Kaloustian was one of the Assembly’s founding members and played a leadership role in its activities, and at his advanced age, still is very active as a Board member or Trusty. Aram was a passionate Armenian patriot and equally passionate defender of the American values, but most of all he was a pragmatic realist.
The second time I met Dr Papazian was in 1978 during the ground-breaking ceremony of the Armenian Community Center (ACC) of Toronto, at 45 Hall Crown Place. Dr. Papazian again attended the ceremony as a Buro member. The night before the groundbreaking ceremony, we paid a curtsy visit to Dr. Papazian at his hotel room with Antranig Artinan to welcome him and brief him of the next day’s activities.
He was in a good and pleasant mood but during the conversation when we said that he had only ten minutes to deliver his message as a head table guest, he does not seem to like the idea and did not argue about it, but when we said this was a “dream come true” for the ARF members and the Armenian community members who support it, it seemed like we waved a red flag at a fighting bull. Dr. Papazian was furious.
He lectured us that no ARF member could have any national dream other than a Free, Independent, and United Armenia, and concluded his lengthy outburst by saying that this was his ten-minute message for us as ARF members and stressed never to forget that our aim is “Դէպի երկիր” (Return to Homeland). We respectfully said that this is an issue to talk about in ARF meetings, not for the groundbreaking ceremony, and left after a heated debate, to say the least.
The next day Dr. Papazian gave an appropriate message for the occasion and delivered it in ten minutes as well and got big applause. Best to describe Dr. Papazian’s generation and the generation that preceded him is to borrow a line from poet Antranig Dzarougian that reads. “Հողի կարօտով հող դարձած մարդիկ”. Աստուած բոլորին հոգին լուսաւորէ.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian