Tribute to Prof. Parounag Tovmassian, Part 2


Dr. Parounag Tovmasian and other ADL activists and leaders celebrate.

By Hagop Vartivarian

Lebanon had already turned into the center of Armenian life in the Middle East. The Eighth General Representative Assembly in Cairo, from October 23, 1946 to November 2, with a concluding session from October 11 to 22, 1947, became fateful for the ADL for various reasons. First of all, the slogan “With the homeland, and for the homeland” was adopted.

The party headquarters was transferred from Cairo to Beirut and Parounag Tovmassian was elected chairman of the Central Executive. Kersam Aharonian was elected secretary. Tovmassian remained in this post until 1982, for a full 35 years.

The repatriation movement began, emigration from the diaspora to Armenia. Approximately 100,000 Armenians repatriated from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Greece and France to Soviet Armenia. The ADL played a central role in this large-scale undertaking.

Immediately afterwards, the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union began. As a result of this, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed, and included Turkey, which did not participate in World War II. As a result of the Cold War, the ARF officially took the side of theWest and the sad consequence of this was the division in Diasporan-Armenian life and the Cilician See.

Tovmassian remained as the always-alert watchman of Armenian-Diasporan relations. Nearly every year he visited Yerevan, where he examined all the important issues affecting Armenian national life together with men of state. Sometimes he acted severely towards those led by the anti-nationalist counsel instructed by world communism who sometimes forgot our Armenian values. Through his very delicate, innate diplomatic talent, Tovmassian had a beneficial influence on these relations.

Beginning in the1950s, the opportunity was given to the graduates of Lebanese secondary schools to study in the establishments of higher education in Soviet Armenia. These individuals then returned to their communities and took on important Armenian national or political party positions. They became editors of our official newspapers, and the talented among them wrote important books on the political party and ideology.

Tovmassian was able to assemble around him healthy-thinking university graduates who were successful in their fields and were party members. He formed his central executive from them, and it was able to give direction with a single will to the ADL practically until the Lebanese Civil War.

I can quickly note some constructive accomplishments which took place during the period of his chairmanship.

Land was bought in Bourj Hammoud and the Vahan Tekeyan School was erected, in particular with the unwavering support of comrades of the Baikar chapter. The Tekeyan chapter’s land became property in the heart of Beirut, and then the beautiful seven-story Tekeyan Center rose up, this time generally through the Zartonk chapter comrades.

Similarly, our chapter arose on the land allotted by Patriarch Yeghishe Derderian of Jerusalem. In Athens, the Nor Ashkharh weekly began to appear. Moving from Boston to Watertown, a place full of Armenians, the chapter obtained the Baikar building. Nor Or, a newspaper published every three days, moved from Fresno to its new building in Los Angeles. All this took place despite the Cold War, the civil wars and the persecutions directed at our leadership.

He cooperated extensively with the elder generation of political party members living in Beirut, including Hmayag Kranian, Hovhannes Seksenian, Mikayel Natanian, Nerses Shirinian, Mgrdich Mserlian, Dr. D. Bezirian, Hagop Torosian and Garabed Abajian. Enthused by them, Tovmassian planned his future work. The number of political party chapters quadrupled throughout the world. We achieved great successes in Canada. Hundreds of youth came and joined our ranks. In Lebanon alone, the Mgrdich Portoukalian university youth chapter, the Shoushanik women’s chapter and, during the days of Lebanon’s civil war, the Armenag Yegarian defense detachment — which played a life-saving role in securing the physical safety of leaders and the people of the Armenian-populated quarters — were formed. The Arshag Chobanian chapter was founded in Yerevan for the diasporan university students in Armenia, and later Armenia’s Democratic Liberal Party was formed. The publication of political party literature was given new impetus.

Despite the unfriendly policies of the Lebanese state authorities of the time, the ADL always participated in the parliamentary elections as a political force, presenting its candidates — Hratchia Shamlian and Megrdich Messerlian. It was able to politically gain the favor of Lebanon’s other faction, and the friendship of Muslim leaders in general, assuring Armenians’ security. His frequent visits to various districts, and in particular in the United States, became useful in order to maintain ties between the center and the districts. Armenian-American political party members, trusting in his person, participated through large-scale donations in the plan for the Vahan Tekeyan School’s land and then the building’s construction. It was the same in the case of the Tekeyan Center.

From the Eight to the Sixteenth General Representative Assembly, the ADL had the good fortune of remaining distant from serious internal political party crises. The party turned into a trustworthy and respected political organization thanks to Tovmassian’s prudence, state of organization, and consistency.

The 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was commemorated in a pan-Armenian fashion, and after this, the frosty relations between the two political parties ended. Relations proceeded in a warmer atmosphere, which in general benefited Armenian communities everywhere. Tovmassian provided serious and lasting works for publication on the Armenian Case, among which the monumental work Houshamadean Medz Egherni [Memorial to the Great Catastrophe], edited by Kersam Aharonian, will remain unparalleled.

He participated as one of the representatives of the three Armenian political parties who met with Turkish political officials in Zurich in connection with the Armenian Case.

The policy of “positive neutrality” adopted by the three political parties during the Lebanese Civil War turned out to be a blessing. Unfortunately, two-thirds of the Lebanese Armenians, more than 200,000 Armenians, emigrated. Tovmassian became dispirited by witnessing this panicked exodus. His advanced age, together with a series of illnesses, forced him also to leave Lebanon and settle in Watertown with his sister, Flora Gopoyan.

Tovmassian, beginning in the 1960s, had together with his brother-in-law a trading company, Tateossian-Tovmassian Company, which was involved in importing from European countries.

On April 18, 1982, in Irwin Hall of American University of Beirut, the 50th anniversary of Tovmassian’s national, education and public activity was commemorated under the honorary chairmanship of Patriarch Yeghishe Derderian and the presidency of Alex Manoogian. Other participants included Dr. Haroutiun Yozghatian, chairman of Lebanon’s Regional Executive, and Antranig Antreassian, who had come specially from Los Angeles; Vartkes Bedrosian, president of the Writers Union of Armenia; Garbis Nazarian, chairman of the AGBU Regional Committee of Lebanon; Hovhannes Tabakian, chairman of the TCA executive of Lebanon. Tovmassian himself spoke.

Parounag and Angel Tovmassian donated $250,000 towards the construction of a TCA center in Yerevan.

Some Personal Memories

Tovmassian maintained an ongoing correspondence with everyone, big and small. I have a folder full of correspondence from him. I was appointed in Boston to the position of executive secretary of the TCA Central Executive, and he, frequently with his wife, would come during the summers to visit his sister, who also happened to be the treasurer of the TCA Central Executive. He would encourage me; he would embolden me to remain in office. No matter how thorny the path was, new forces would always come to take the place of the old. He visited the Baikar offices nearly every day. He turned it into a habit, just as in Beirut he would visit Zartonk.

After I moved to New Jersey, he would still come and visit me. Taking advantage of his presence, I organized a reception in our house in Kearney. The editor of Azg, Hagop Avedikian, was also present. Most of the ADL members from New York and New

Jersey attended. There were around 100 faithful and friends. We took oaths of membership from five new people, including my wife, Arpie. Tovmassian spoke paternally, and occasionally flavored his words with humor. In his presence, we would ascend one level and see the Armenian national horizon differently.

It had been one year since I had accepted the Boston position. He wrote me in a letter dated August 12, 1977, “In general I am stingy in my praise. Stingy towards the truly faithful, dedicated and unselfish workers of the Democratic Liberal Party because I believe that praise can be encouragement for them, but I fear that true political figures, leaders who are guided by a non-personal spirit, one of sacrifice, would consider that praise as reward. In that circumstance, something would be missing from that unbreakable true happiness which comes from the depth of the soul and mind, from the inner world, from the feeling, the thought, of having served our magnificent Armenian people.”

He was happy about my move to New York, and my pursuing my personal business: “New York is not only the pulsing heart of America’s [Armenian] national life, but of the world. There, you will be able to serve both the nation and our political party more seriously.”

Thoughts about Tovmassian

•The ADL 16th General Representative Assembly: “You became the flag bearer of the fortification of homeland-diasporan relations for the sake of the vitality of the Armenian diaspora, aiding in the indivisibility and unity of our people.”

•Archbishop Torkom Manougian: “He demonstrated indestructible loyalty towards the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin, and unswerving conviction about the unity of the Armenian Church, the preservation of centuries-old traditions, and the supremacy of Holy Echmiadzin.”

•Lawyer Hratchia Setrakian: “You are completely worthy of our people’s full appreciation.”

•Haigashen Ouzounian: “As a source of authority in the security of all these national establishments, and the dissemination of the Armenian faith and understandings, you endowed the ADL with imperishable moral prestige, turning it into the centripetal force of Diasporan-Armenian life.”

•Archbishop Serovpe Manoogian: “It is the appreciation of nonnegotiable patriotism, dedication to our people’s spiritual values, and our church’s historical role and the pure defense of its hierarchical orders; he not only was the leading figure for these ideals, but also inspired an entire generation through them.”

•Dikran Tosbath: “It is not given to everyone to have a calling of responsibility, never having the slightest care of turning it into a career, which he never sought; he pursued two goals, to serve, and to know how to serve.”

•Dr. Nubar Berberian: “Your benevolent attitude towards our press arises without a doubt from your political party and national sense of duty and constant zeal, which compose the necessary and irreplaceable impulses of a true leader.”

•Dr. Robert Jebejian: “The circumstances favorable to Armenians that have been created by your and your fellow travelers’ efforts have become a delight for all of us and a model inspiration.”

•Nazar Nazarian: “I recall those old days with great pride when hundreds of us as students would await your classes.”

•Antranik L. Poladian: “Those youth who received a university education through Professor Tovmassian’s advice and arrangements are large in number. Many of them, again on the advice of their mentor, entered into national service, and at present hold responsible positions throughout the Armenian diaspora.”

•Edmond Y. Azadian: “And how many have traveled that journey with you and after you, and today with profound admiration remember your wisdom, your patriotism, your faith in and love for the future of the Armenians.”

•Missak Haigentz: “Your person and work are identified with the last half-century of the wonderful work of the ADL making the nation prosperous, and Armenian-nourishing enchanted thought.”

Death and Funeral

Tovmassian died on December 25, 1991 in Watertown. The funeral was conducted with suitable solemnity at St. James Armenian Church, presided over by Archbishop Khajag

Barsamian, the Primate, who in an impressive eulogy reflected on Tovmassian’s national and church service. Tovmassian’s body was buried in Ridgelawn Cemetery, Watertown.

The Nazarian brothers, Garbis, Noubar and Nazar, were present on behalf of the AGBU, along with Dr. Pergrouhi Svajian.

After the memorial meal, the editor of Baikar weekly, Krikor Keusseyan, conducted a short program. Dr. Haroutiun Arzoumanian, Hampartzoum Berberian, Dr. Nubar Berberian, Dr. Vatche Ghazarian and Fr. Papken Maksoudian spoke. The brother-in-law of the deceased, Haig Tateossian, spoke words of thanks on behalf of Tovmassian’s family.

That very evening, we participants in the funeral ceremony, Sarkis Paskalian, Bedros

Piandarian, Vatche Ghazarian, Sonig Vayejian and I, returned in the same car to New York. There was emotion. It was a giant oak of Armenian national life that had fallen. Not one word was exchanged during those four hours. There was nothing left to say at that time.

Tovmassian has been set in the pages of the history of the ADL alongside such names as

Vahan Tekeyan, Arshag Chobanian, Mihran Damadian, Ardag Tarpinian and Hratch Yervant as an enlightened individual and as a great and true national, political leader.

(This article was translated into English for the Mirror-Spectator from Armenian.)