By Ara Aharonian
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Dr. Arshag Der Margosian was born in the village of Habousi in Kharpert (Turkey) in November 1872. His family had adopted the Armenian Evangelical faith and young Arshag was growing up in that milieu. In those days Yeprad (Euphrates) College — a top educational institution affiliated with Americans — had opened its doors to welcome Armenian students, who upon graduating would leave Kharpert to further their education and specialties overseas in their preferred branches of study. Arshag became one of those graduates, completing his college education, in 1894 at age 22. Like many of his contemporary young graduates he dedicates himself to the Armenian national liberation movement making him a target for persecution by the Sultan’s secret police in the days before the Hamidian massacres.
There were a number of famous colleges and universities within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire, including what was then known as the American College of Beirut (later the American University of Beirut (AUB), where Arshag choose to pursue his graduate courses in the field of Medicine. However, within a few months of his arrival in Beirut his persecutors learn of his whereabouts and follow him there. In imminent danger, Der Margosian makes his way to the Eastern shores of the United States of America, where other similarly situated Kharpert citizens had fled finding refuge from the oppression and persecution of the Ottoman Turks.
Once in the United States, because of his knowledge of English, Der Margosian was able to adapt relatively quickly and easily to his new surroundings. He dedicated himself to working long hours to both earn a living and attend Yale University as a premed student. Thereafter, he attended Jefferson University in Philadelphia, receiving his medical degree. Following his admission into the medical profession, Der Margosian established his practice in Providence, in 1901, where he remained until his death, becoming the first Armenian physician in that state. His life partner was Haiganoush Pezeyan, the daughter of a prominent local Armenian family, and together they formed a long lasting and fruitful union.
In Providence, Der Margosian joined the ranks of the Hunchak Reformed Party, many of whose members had arrived in the Boston and Providence at the start of the 20th century from London, where their leader, Mihran Svazlian, had successfully developed the party’s political and organizational agenda. Within the party, Der Margosian in a short time became a primary figure in the organization. The 1903 assassinations of Reformed Hunchak Party leaders Mkho Shahen and Badveli Karekin Chitjian in the Caucasus created an intense situation among the party membership, especially in the newly established immigration centers on the East Coast. Der Margosian became the principal moderator in this situation.
In Boston, a daily publication named Voice of the Nation, which was considered to be the news organ of the Reformed Hunchak Party, was already in circulation by 1899. Der Margosian zealously backed the paper and became involved in its distribution and advertising management. Other ideologues like Dr. Hovannes Dzovigian from Boston and Dr. Movses Housepian from New York, who shared our doctor’s ideologies, soon joined him. This respected trio of Armenian doctors was able to amalgamate the different political currents of the reformed Armenian Liberal (Azadagan) and Democratic (Ramgavar) parties. After the successful union of these two parties in 1921, Dr. Der Margosian continued his dynamic national community duties, especially with the distribution of the Baikar daily newspaper.
Diradour Dikijian, Captain Jim Chankalian, Dicran Simsarian, Esq., and the former representative of the Ramgavars in the First Republic of Armenia, originally from the region of Van, Rev. Arsen Georgizian, became Der Margosian’s political allies and co-workers. Throughout this time, Dr. Der Margosian continued his participation and involvement in the reorganization and revitalization of the newly established Armenian Democratic Liberal party (ADL/Ramgavar) and AGBU Chapters on the Eastern Coast of the US. After holding a number of different leadership positions within the community, Dr. Der Margosian became the chairman of the Eastern US District of the Ramgavar Party, a position he held for several years, devoting his time to this worthy cause, while his friend Captain Jim Chankalian had become the chairman of AGBU’s very first Central Committee.
In 1932, the first English-language Armenian-American weekly was born as a publication of the ADL under the leadership of Dr. Der Margosian. Like all of his projects, this too would be a cherished one. In 1933, the assassination of Archbishop Tourian created a tumult among the ADL East Coast leadership, including Dr. Der Margosian, an Evangelical Armenian. Der Margosian displayed his leadership skills by rallying various groups in the community sworn to the Holy See of Echmiadzin around the Armenian Apostolic Church, members of the ADL and the Knights of Vartan. Der Margosian also became a major benefactor to the small yet active Armenian nucleus in Providence, with its compatriotic organizations, political parties and religious establishments. Additionally, he provided assistance to the many immigrants from his hometown of Kharpert, even providing many with free medical services.
Dr. Der Margosian played a pivotal role in the fundraising for the “David of Sassoun” armored tanks that were donated by the Armenian American people to the Soviet Army. In fact, he became one of the main fundraisers. He was a fervent believer in the revival of Armenia after the victory of the Allied forces, especially since Turkey, an ally to Nazi Germany, was defeated at the end of WWII. Soon after, Der Margosian helped raise the sum of $1 million toward the fruition of the emigration project of Armenians from the Diaspora to Armenia.
Despite his relatively advanced age, as he had already retired from his medical practice, his sense of duty and obligation compelled him to participate as a delegate from the ADL Eastern District of the United States to the 7th General Assembly of the ADL in Paris, France. His presence at the Assembly was key during the conference and his reconciliatory nature was a turning point in the Assembly’s adoption of new and revitalizing projects, including the relocation of the ADL Central Committee’s offices from Cairo (Egypt) and the party’s opening its doors to young bloods, who would become the future party leaders and nation builders.
The Armenian community of Providence enjoyed Der Margosian’s dedicated medical care and wonderful personality for almost half a century. He remained well respected and venerated by all who knew him. He passed away at the age of 88 in January 1960. His funeral services were held at the Armenian Evangelical Church in Providence and his eulogy was given by his friend, Dicran Simsarian.