The Perpetual Youth: A Tribute to Puzant Markarian


By Hagop Vartivarian

He was one of the dominant figures in Beirut’s Hay Yeridasartats Engeragtsutiun [HYE, or in English, Armenian Youth Association]. I knew him while I was still an adolescent, inside the worn rooms of the Zareh Noubar club of Beirut, where he was a permanent fixture. During that era of the 1960s, he had focused his Armenian national service within the sphere of HYE’s “Asbedneru Hamakhmpum [Assembly of the Knights].” This organization was born at the end of January 1957. It was for that generation of youth and those reaching middle age who wished to continue to support the 30-year-old HYE. The Assembly gathered together a knowledgeable and dynamic element which had passed through the ranks of HYE and had attained success career-wise.

At the beginning of the 1950s, Noubar Nazarian came to New York as the representative of his family’s commercial firm, and became acquainted with the Knights of Vartan, which was founded at the beginning of the 20th century. Upon his return to Beirut, he wanted to create a movement with the same spirit in Lebanon. He assembled a group of idealistic Armenians and became their leader. He also invited his brother-in-law, Puzant Markarian, and the latter’s wife, Mari, who in those days was the chairwoman of the HYE Women’s Committee, to participate.

The dream of these idealistic Armenians in this association was to have their own center, a place for games where the association’s adolescent, athletic, cultural and scout movements could convene under one roof. Puzant Markarian’s contribution to this newly created association was immense. The members primarily organized social events in order to work towards the goal of a center for HYE. The initial idea of building a center on land in the Beirut neighborhood of Sin el-Fil failed. Instead, the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s Levon G. Nazarian School came to stand on that spot. However, later the Alex Manoogian Cultural Center was created on land in central Beirut thanks to the generosity of AGBU’s president, Alex Manoogian, and the fund established by the Asbeds. Thus, in 1973, the dream of those years was finally realized, and we HYE members moved from the humble rooms of the Zareh Noubar club to our new center, with its venerable newly-built, seven-story building, open air and enclosed fields and its separate garage.

My acquaintance with the Markarians dates back further than this, however. My uncle’s wife, Lousin, while still a student at the nursing school of the American University of Beirut, was friends with Mari, and his mother-in-law, Satenig Nazarian. Lousin welcomed the arrival of Puzant and Mari’s first son, Alex, to this world, and thereafter they remained friends. They were also connected to my father. My father would often visit the Nazarian brothers, especially Garbis. Puzant, the sole son-in-law of the noted Nazarian family, had his special place in the company. In the future, he would establish, as owner and director, his own business in the port, at which primarily Armenian workers and officials would work.

I met Puzant Markarian for the first time in the summer of 1956, when the HYE had organized its bazaar in the public gardens of Beirut. The president of the Republic of Lebanon, Camille Chamoun, was present. Puzant was a handsome, charming presence who had become a measuring stick in those days for a presentable and successful Armenian. He came to our table to say hello to my father, uncle and Lousin.

The AGBU Yervant Demirjian Elementary School had newly been shut down, and already as a result of the first Lebanese civil war, the internal church crisis had begun and polarized the Lebanese Armenians. The chairman of the Asbeds, Noubar Nazarian, was stabbed in front of his home by different Armenians, while Nazarian’s father, Levon Efendi, was expelled from St. nshan Church, which he loved so much. Although the two secondary schools Hovagimian-Manoogian and Tarouhi Hagopian existed for his pro-Echmiadzin front, there was no elementary school. But in 1957 the AGBU’s Yervant Demirjian School opened and turned into a gift of providence for us youths who belonged to this front.

My parents enrolled me in 1958 in this newlyopened beautiful school and model kindergarten. A year later a respected figure in education, Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL) member Onnig Sarkisian, came to be its principal. And there I became classmates with Alex, and my brother Zareh with Alex’s younger brother, Diran, who was as strikingly handsome as his father. From that day on, I remained friends with Alex, and this has continued now for half a century. We entered the ranks of the scouts together. Alex’s cousin, Levon, was also my classmate, while Noubar Nazarian’s daughter, Vera, was my brother’s classmate. This also became a cause for our social meetings with Puzant Markarian or the Nazarian family to be frequent. During Lebanon’s good days, I and my wife, Arpi, joined the rally. They knew I had become an ADL member, and they considered having an ADL couple in the executive to be useful. I remember while in a circle of fellow members at the new center of the Asbeds when Puzant would say proudly that not only was the new generation of HYE members joining the Asbeds’ movement, but also the ADLers, who no doubt would be useful for the HYE.

Then came the Lebanese Civil War. The Lebanese Armenians already began to scatter in 1977. Each one of us lived in a different place during those days of uncertain fate and disaster. The wheel of fate brought me to New Jersey. And I became surrounded by my kind old friends of the past, Alex, Berge (Setrakian, who already had become a son-in-law of the Nazarians) and Levon. And from that day on, I lived my life amidst the Armenian community life of New Jersey and New York.

Puzant Markarian lost his large and unique factory and finally came to New Jersey to join us. An enterprising and practical businessman, he began to set up his new establishment here. In those days, I was working as the director of Nazar Nazarian’s textile firm. Mr. Nazarian early one morning called me to his office and said, “My son, Puzant has finally settled in New Jersey together with my sister Mari and my mother. They took an apartment in Alex’s building. Look — do whatever he wants, give him whatever merchandise he asks for…eh, he is our Puzant.” These were Nazar’s sincere words. In a short period of time, Puzant established his own company. In those days, I was in communication with him nearly on a daily basis. I saw in him a person who began a business from scratch, an enterprising and ingenious manufacturer.

In this fashion we became very close in New Jersey. He was a perpetual youth and resisted when I called him Baron (Mister) Puzant. It was difficult for me, but he turned into our beloved Puzant.

After the AGBU’s Saddle Brook center was closed, he grew closer to us Democratic Liberals. He felt comfortable/hokeharazad with us, so much so that he henceforth participated in our meetings. During our weekly party meetings on Wednesdays, he always was with us. He planned our programs with us, the work we had to do, bringing to bear his decades of experience. And he was so happy about this, very happy.

In those days, a wave of revulsion arose among us against those straying from Armenian national principles. The closing of the Saddle Brook center and the fate of Cyprus’ Melkonian Educational Institute began to worry us. These matters made us rebellious. Puzant was even more upset than us, as since his own youth, he had had the dream of erecting a youth center and meeting place. It was contrary to his internal world to close down clubs and schools.

Puzant internally possessed a revolutionary temperament, perhaps inherited from his parents, who had raised him with progressive principles. He was able to join his voice of protest to ours and to be with us. Alex also joined us in the steps that we took, contrary to Nazar Nazarian’s cautious position. Levon Nazarian shared our indignation in those days, but remained a sympathizer of our sorrow, while Alex supported us practically.

It must be said that Puzant was a reader of and believer in Zartonk; he had a decade of profound respect for ADL members Kersam Aharonian and Prof. Parounag Tovmassian. Later, he became a reader of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator and Nor Or.

They had sold the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) Youssoufian Center in New York, but the TCA’s leaders of that time promised to allocate the resulting sum of money towards the purchase of a new center. We are talking about a good-sized sum of money. The youth of New Jersey did not have a place in which to assemble. We decided at our Saturday meetings to look toward the Saddle Brook center, which had been placed for sale. Its doors had already remained shut for several years.

The TCA Central Executive had a sum of approximately $500,000 willed to it from the late ADL member Nvart Youssoufian. The Saddle Brook center was for sale for $1.5 million. In order to originally purchase this center for the AGBU, Nazar Nazarian had made a large donation, in recognition of which its main hall was named the Nazar and Ardemis Nazarian Hall. In addition, Alice and Garbis Kirikian, the well-known Armenians of New Jersey, donated the cost of the kitchen.

During one of our meetings, we decided to appeal to these two honorable Armenians and ask that this center remain in our circles in order to be used by the youth. Puzant Markarian agreed to speak with the two of them and persuade them that the center should not be sold. They agreed, and Nazar Nazarian even offered to make renovations in the hall. Unfortunately, the leaders of the AGBU at the time did not want to sell to TCA but preferred instead to sell it to a non-Armenian charitable organization. This was a great loss for our community at large.

The New Jersey Armenian community in general, and our circle in particular, lost a golden opportunity to secure an Armenian national house for our youth. However, from that time on, our TCA group won the true friendship of a wholehearted Armenian in the person of Puzant Markarian.

It is worth writing a few lines about Puzant Markarian’s biography in order to give a more complete picture of his life’s vicissitudes. He was born in Aleppo on June 22, 1918 to Avedis and Lousendzak Markarian. His family was from Aintab, and he had two brothers and two sisters. His brother Garbis was himself a noted Armenian public figure in Lebanon’s AGBU  and HYE circles. Puzant went to Aleppo College and at a young age enrolled in the ranks of the AGBU and HYE. As we noted, the foundation for HYE’s Assembly of the Knights was  established on the initiative of Puzant, and Noubar Nazarian and Sisak Varjabedian. It became a blessing for our organization. He held various posts in the above-mentioned organizations, as well as in the Veterans’ Committee of the AGBU.

Unlike some other respected Armenians of the AGBU, he always had an interest in politics, at the center of which was always Soviet Armenia and the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin and the close relationship and cooperation of the masses of the diasporan Armenians with the former two.

While still very young, at the age of 20, during World War II, the ingenious manufacturer had his factory producing tools and various household objects. These were sold to the English army, and then by expanding his business further with household and industrial tools, it became a unique establishment in the Middle East.

In 1995 his life partner of 40 years, Mari, passed away. He donated in her everlasting memory a dormitory in AGBU’s Camp Nubar in upstate New York.

The 1988 earthquake in Armenia led Puzant and Alex to dedicate themselves to aiding Armenia. Puzant wished to completely renovate and modernize a school in Armenia, both its structure and its educational level, as part of this work.

He invited me one day to his home in Fort Lee, NJ, and asked that I participate in this work actively. There was letter writing, communications, and talking to be done. I could not refuse. Aside from the correspondence, Puzant needed an advisor who was familiar with the realities of Armenia of that time. He always believed in me, and wished that I remain close by him.

On September 8, 2000 the inauguration of the 780-student Puzant and Mari Education Center took place in Nor Aynteb in Armenia. What happy moments he lived each time he received a letter from the ministry of education or the school administration. I too experienced that happiness of being useful to an Armenian school.

•••••••

During a summer vacation, I hosted Stepan Demirjian, president of Armenia’s People’s Party, with his family and his brother Samvel, in New Jersey. They remained for more than two weeks as guests in my home. Stepan’s father was assassinated in the Armenian parliament together with Prime Minister Vazken Sargisian. The late lamented Garen Demirjian was one of the most accomplished state figures from the Soviet order. He had accepted the post of president of the parliament. Those were sad times… My Englewood home turned into a meeting place for intellectuals, our party members and ideological comrades.

One day prior to the departure of Stepan Demirjian, we organized a social farewell gathering in our garden. About 100 friends and party members were present that evening. Puzant Markarian spontaneously asked to speak. Usually he remained in the role of the listener at such public gatherings. This was unexpected for all of us. He spoke in a stormy and moving fashion, urging all of us present to gather around our new republic and the Mother See of Echmiadzin in order to reestablish our people’s direct support for them, as he believed that they would become the substructure necessary to reach our great dream of historical Armenia and Cilicia. My two late lamented party comrades, Antranig Poladian and Eddie Boghosian, quickly approached and said, “Hagop, where is a recording machine?” But it was already too late. Puzant was inspired, and inspired us all with his fatherly words. He also had quietly participated in our general efforts in New York during the Karabagh movement.

In this way, we remained together for years on the same front. Puzant encouraged all our TCA events. He was present at our social affairs and theatrical events. He often was the presenter of memorial placards to our talented actors or industrious executive members. Aside from this, he gave his financial donation to the TCA because he believed in our mission. He knew that in the metropolitan New York area, only Tekeyan was carrying on the exceptional work of national preservation, in accordance with our traditions. Beyond that, he loved the poet Vahan Tekeyan.

We remained friends outside of Armenian national life, in our family relations. Those relations were warm and sincere, those of true family. I was happy when he received medals from Ellis Island and Catholicos Karekin II. And Alex frequently repeated to us that “my wife Sisia and I are so happy to see that your Tekeyan members do not leave our father alone.” He added that when he was with them, he remained perpetually young. We loved him like a second father.

On April 6, 2011 our beloved Puzant left this world silently, leaving behind a pure name and reputation. On April 9, Tenafly’s St. Thomas Armenian Church (NJ) was full of mourners. The Beirut that I knew was there, with all of our circle. No one was absent…and we entrusted his body to the cold earth, in his wife Mari and his mother-in-law Satenig’s grave. Again they were united…how distant from Aintab, Aleppo and Beirut. Your memory will always be with me, beloved “enger” Puzant.

(Translated from Armenian, this tribute appeared originally in the Zartonk daily.)