Armine M. Saryan (1921-2015)
Armine Manoukian Saryan was born on Feb. 11, 1921, in Talas, Asia Minor, and passed away on May 13, 2015, at her home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., with her children by her side. She was the fourth child of Ohannes Manoukian and Guluzar Ohanian of Gesaria (Caesarea). Her father was a teacher and school principal from a large family, and her mother was a skilled seamstress from a large and well-to-do family that traced its ancestry to the princely Mamigonian house of ancient Armenia. Her mother’s brothers were engaged in the silk rug trade and had established commercial connections in Egypt and England. Both of her parents were survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
Her parents were married in 1912. During the genocide, her father, like many other Armenian men, was drafted into a labor battalion and was engaged in road construction. He became ill and ended up in a “hospital” where poison was being administered to the patients. He was rescued by his wife, who had refused to join the deportation caravans and instead taken her family (a niece Dikranouhi, a daughter Marineh, and a son Sarkis) into hiding. They would travel by night in the Greek villages near Gesaria and remain concealed during the day. After the danger had passed, Guluzar nursed her husband back to health, but lost her first three children in difficult circumstances. Over the next few years Ohannes taught in the National Coeducational School of Gesaria, after which he taught at the American College in Talas.
In 1921, Armine moved with her parents to Antelias, Lebanon, where her father was employed as a teacher at the American Near East Relief orphanage. He was instrumental in gathering Armenian orphans from Turkish homes in the Gesaria region to Antelias. After the orphanage facility at Antelias was transferred to the Catholicosate of Cilicia, Armine moved with her family to Eshrefiyeh (a district of Beirut), where her father established a school and continued to teach. As Armine once wrote, in those days Armenian school was just as important as bread for survival.
Armine soon entered the Jemaran (College Armenien of Beirut) where she studied under Levon Shant, Nikol Aghbalian, and Parsegh Ganatchian, three of the leading intellectuals and teachers of the Armenian Diaspora. Both Shant and Aghbalian had served in prominent roles in the government of the first independent Republic of Armenia. Armine excelled in Armenian (both Western and Eastern dialects) as well as French language and literature, and could recite from memory the works of numerous famous poets. After graduating from Jemaran in 1939, she taught there for eight years under Shant’s direction. It was there that she met her future husband, Sarkis Saryan, who had traveled from New York to Beirut to study Armenian while working at the American University of Beirut.
In 1947, she was accepted as an undergraduate at the American University in Washington, D.C., traveling to the United States on a student visa. Within a year she married Sarkis; they would share 54 years together and raise 4 children. The family settled in Wilmington, Del., where Armine taught French at Carrcroft School. Meanwhile, she found time to teach the Armenian language at the Shant Varjaran in Broomall, Pa. She also performed in amateur theatre; in 1964, she played the leading female role (Teofano) in a highly acclaimed stage presentation of Shant’s “Gaisr” produced by the Armenian Educational Committee of Philadelphia. She had a sweet soprano voice and would often perform impromptu with tarist Haig Ohanian at the famous Hillside Lodge resort in Tannersville, N.Y.
In 1971, the family moved to Rockford, Mich., where Armine was active as chairwoman of the Grand Rapids ARS Chapter. With her husband she retired to Cape Cod, where she took up oil painting, creating over a dozen beautiful canvases of medieval Armenian churches. She traveled to Armenia several times with her husband and children. An avid reader, she voraciously consumed the historical prose of Dzerents, Malkhas, and Raffi, as well as the poetry of Siamanto, Daniel Varoujan, and Charents. After her husband’s passing in 2001, she moved to California to be near her youngest daughter Arlene, who provided care for her mother during her final years.
She contributed regularly to the Hairenik publications (Hairenik Daily, Armenian Weekly, and Armenian Review) with poems, articles, and translations. Her poetry, especially, was appreciated by late editor Reuben Darbinian and leading critics. She followed current events and would regularly correspond with newspapers on contemporary issues.
Armine’s teachers, whom she held in utmost esteem, forever remained the guiding lights in her life. She felt herself extremely fortunate to have enjoyed such a high-caliber education despite her modest circumstances. She was a wonderful mother who sacrificed herself for her children and their education, and was immensely proud of their many accomplishments. She adored her grandchildren and great-grandchild and was excited to learn of their progress.
She is survived by her brother Varoujan (of New York); four children, Levon (Shirley) of Wisconsin, John (Debbie) of Andover, Mass., Judith (Victor Zarougian) of Cambridge, Mass., and Arlene (Christian Alexander) of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; eight grandchildren, Ani Saryan, Armen Saryan, Diana (Diran Balekian), Valerie Saryan, Melanie Saryan, Laura Zarougian, Garen Alexander, and Sean Alexander; and a great-grandson, Jack Balekian.
The funeral was held on May 23, 2015, at St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church in North Andover. Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to St. Gregory Church (158 Main St., N. Andover, MA 01845), the Armenian Apostolic Church of Ventura County (c/o St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, 1 Church Rd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91362), or the Wisconsin chapter of the Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (P.O. Box 210313, Milwaukee, WI 53221).
Link: Armine M. Saryan (1921-2015)