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In Memoriam: Assembly Founder Robert Aram Kaloosdian; Assembly & ANI Washington Office Library To Be Dedicated In His Name

Updated: 3 days ago

(l-r) Assembly President Carolyn Mugar, former Assembly Board of Trustees Chairman the late Hirair Hovnanian, Assembly Co-Chair Van Krikorian, former Assembly Board of Directors Chairman Jirair Haratunian, Assembly Board of Trustees Member Annie Totah, and Robert Aram Kaloosdian

Washington, D.C. - With profound sadness, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) announces the passing of Robert Aram Kaloosdian, an Assembly founder and core leader of the organization.

Assembly President Carolyn Mugar, who was among his close personal friends, stated: "Our hearts go out to Aram’s family. Over the course of these many years they generously shared him with the Assembly family and with many of us. That is a debt so great that it can only be paid forward as he taught us."

Speaking on behalf of the Armenian Assembly Board of Trustees, co-chairs Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian shared their sentiments: "Aram Kaloosdian was more than a pillar of our community and especially of our organization. He was its very foundation, and the generations that have succeeded him in office on the board of the Armenian Assembly have relied and built upon his legacy. Hundreds have served on the many boards and committees of the Armenian Assembly, and thousands have supported it through the decades. Rare are those who can be said to have devoted a lifetime of effort and energy, provided wisdom and guidance, inspired leadership and innovation, and remained convinced of the centrality of holding a respectable presence for the Armenian people in our nation's capital. His legacy is secure and his memory cherished by all of us in the Armenian Assembly."

Krikorian and Barsamian added that thanks to a generous donation, the new Washington offices of the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian National Institute (ANI) will have a dedicated library named in Kaloosdian's honor as a fitting legacy to his commitment to building the premier resource center on the Armenian Genocide in our nation’s capital.

Services are scheduled for Thursday, May 16, at St. Stephen's Armenian Apostolic Church of Greater Boston, 38 Elton Ave, Watertown, Massachusetts. A viewing will take place from 10:00 – 11:00 a.m., and will be followed by the funeral and private burial. Gifts in lieu of flowers can be made to St. Stephen's Apostolic Church, the Armenian Assembly of America, and the Armenia Tree Project.

In Memoriam

A lawyer's lawyer, a community leader his entire life, a universally respected activist with a unique set of skills that allowed him to transcend partisanship and communicate with all elements of the Armenian community in all its diversity, a man whom many trusted to advance the welfare of their community and to represent it within the structures of the community and the agencies of the broader society they inhabited, a constant presence in the Armenian Massachusetts scene whose contacts with state and national officials began in the Kennedy era, and the indispensable backbone of the organization to which he devoted decades of his attention to guiding and promoting, the longest serving board member of the Armenian Assembly, a friend to the scholarly community, an author, a firm believer in the potential of the Armenian people, especially its American contingent, and a committed friend of Armenia and Artsakh, Aram Kaloosdian epitomized the best of a generation of Armenian Americans who have left the deepest imprint upon their society.

Robert Aram Kaloosdian was among the original handful of activists who 52 years ago took up the challenge of creating a new entity for the Armenian American community. Approached by Dr. John Hanessian and Dr. Haigaz Grigorian about their idea of forming an Armenian Assembly, he was persuaded by the value of their proposal and became over the course of the next fifty years its most persistent promoter. Along with the other distinguished volunteers, including the likes of Dr. Lionel Galstaun, Dr. Richard Hovannisian, Haig Der Manuelian, soon joined by Dr. Dennis Papazian, and others, he enlisted in the Steering Committee that convened the three community-wide meetings held at Airlie, Virginia, in 1972, 1973, and 1974. He also had a major role in persuading significant donors to support the effort when still in the discussion stage.

Before he knew it, he found himself co-chairing the Armenian Assembly and guiding it through its formative years. He ardently participated in local gatherings and regional conventions from coast to coast explaining to hesitant, inquisitive, and expectant Armenians about the value of establishing an organization in the nation's capital. Through countless meetings, speeches, discussions, and a stream of correspondence, Kaloosdian helped bring closer together a fractious community with no history of sectoral cooperation. While the brightest of his hopes of forming a conclave where broader objectives could be hashed out among the several constituent and competing groups in the Armenian American community were not ultimately realized, nonetheless, out of his efforts an enduring organization emerged that has functioned for the past 50 years in service to the wider Armenian American community by advocating for its interests with the U.S. federal government. In 1983, when the Armenian political parties withdrew from the Armenian Assembly, his continued commitment to the concept of the Assembly held the organization together. Aram and his wife Marianne were both longtime trustees.

Kaloosdian remained on the Armenian Assembly board over the course of the decades, as its counsel, and at a critical stage in the life of the Armenian people he was at the helm of the organization. He, along with other leading figures at the time, including Jirair Haratunian and Hirair Hovnanian, believed strongly that the Armenian Assembly should lend every form of support to the emerging Republic of Armenia and do so in the non-partisan manner it conducted affairs. Under his firm leadership, the Armenian Assembly was well positioned to respond to the major humanitarian crises that struck Armenia with the 1988 earthquake, the Karabakh Movement, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. By the time Armenia became formally independent in 1991, which occurred during Kaloosdian's chairmanship of the Assembly Board of Directors from 1990 to 1992, the Armenian Assembly was already running a busy office in Yerevan extending all manner of coordination between the new country and the Armenian American diaspora.

(l-r) Robert Aram Kaloosdian, Hirair Hovnanian, and Van Krikorian

An attorney who practiced law from his offices in Watertown for his entire professional life, Kaloosdian was a fixture in the local Massachusetts business community. Besides his partnership in the Law Offices of Kaloosdian and Ciccarelli, Kaloosdian also served as a Trustee of the Watertown Savings Bank, and was a member of its Community Reinvestment Committee. He was also Corporator of the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, and an active member of the Rotary Club and its president in 1975-76.

It was a point of pride for Kaloosdian as a lawyer to have been part of the legal defense in a very special case that tested the obligations under the law of the state's educational system in Massachusetts, which was one of only a half dozen states at the time that mandated teaching the subject of human rights and genocide, inclusive of the historical example of the Armenian Genocide. Kaloosdian, and many others in the Boston area, had strongly advocated for the adoption of the relevant legislation. The law was challenged under the argument that it did not permit instruction of a contrary point of view on the subject. While on the surface argued as an infringement on the First Amendment rights of educators to present a case from all points of view, the argument actually was tantamount to requiring educators to teach about denial of the Armenian Genocide. The case known under the name of Griswold vs. Driscoll, the former a teacher and the latter the Commission of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, adjudicated in a state court, was appealed, and even brought to the Supreme Court, which declined to take up the matter, therein ending a multiyear effort that averted establishing the equivalence of historical fact and political denial. Beyond affirming the right of states to determine their own curricula, the critical importance of winning the case rested also on the fact that in 2009 the United States was still 10 years away from formally acknowledging the Armenian Genocide.

Active as well in Massachusetts politics, Kaloosdian was appointed a member of the Ethnic Studies Task Force by Governor Francis Sargent, and testified before both Democratic and Republican Platform Committees.  In 1978, he was sent to Lebanon by the State Department to establish a humanitarian aid program as Co-Director of a USAID grant the Armenian Assembly secured to assist the Armenian population of that country. Over the years, Kaloosdian also organized in Massachusetts several tributes and receptions in honor of U.S. ambassadors to Armenia and dignitaries from Armenia. He was Master of Ceremonies for the 1996 National Tribute Gala honoring the first U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Harry Gilmore, and that same year hosted the reception in honor of then-President of Nagorno-Karabakh Robert Kocharian, later president of Armenia, on his first visit to the United States. In 1995, he hosted the reception in Washington recognizing and thanking Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for his visit to Armenia.

When he was honored by the Armenian Assembly in a gala tribute in Boston, he was hailed by the likes of then-Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Linda Melconian, who had once been chief Legislative Assistant and Assistant Counsel to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas (Tip) O'Neill, who served in that capacity from 1977 to 1987. Melconian was joined by then-Chairman of Armenia's Constitutional Court, and previously Vice President and Prime Minister of Armenia, Gagik Harutyunyan. Others paying tribute included William Parsons, chief of staff of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Professor Richard Hovannisian of UCLA.

For that occasion, Kaloosdian also received congratulatory letters from the two candidates vying for the office of president, George W. Bush, and Vice President Al Gore. Bush recognized "Kaloosdian for his many years of tireless dedication to the Armenian community," and Gore similarly honored "Kaloosdian for his many accomplishments and lifelong dedication to the Armenian community."

Aware of Kaloosdian's commitment to formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the United States, Bush wrote in his letter that: "The 20th Century was marred by wars of unimaginable brutality, mass murder and genocide. History records that the Armenians were the first people in the last century to have endured these cruelties…I would ensure that our nation properly recognizes the tragic suffering of the Armenian people."

Vice President Gore wrote: "Of course I am mindful of the more than one million Armenians who perished and the Armenian community that was destroyed in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. The people of Armenia suffered one of this century's cruelest injustices…As Vice President, I have been guided by my belief that the highest form of dedication to their memory is to make every possible effort to prevent their recurrence in our day."

That was also the theme in Robert Hirshon's tribute to Kaloosdian on the occasion of the tribute gala. The President-elect of the American Bar Association, who personally delivered his remarks, made a special point of noting "Kaloosdian's heroic volunteerism," and revisiting the course of Armenian Genocide affirmation, adding that "we are mindful of the fact that Aram Kaloosdian has played a critical role in the Armenian National Institute’s successes."

A strong believer in preserving the Armenian heritage and especially the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, of which stories he had heard from his father, Kaloosdian always encouraged academic research in Armenian studies. When the Armenian Assembly established the Armenian National Institute (ANI), dedicated to the study, research, and affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, Kaloosdian was asked to head the undertaking. He quickly formed a Board of Governors and an Academic Council to guide the new enterprise and led the group from 1997 through 2010. He convened several conferences, most notably at the Library of Congress on the topic of America and the Armenian Genocide, held in 2000, out of which emerged another publication under the editorship of Dr. Jay Winter issued by Cambridge University Press.  The ANI webpage on the Armenian Genocide, which is available in English, Turkish, Spanish and Arabic, emerged of the course of the years as an important repository of records on international affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and continues to serve as a major resource for educators, researchers, reporters, and policymakers.

A native of Watertown, Massachusetts, Kaloosdian was involved with many of the old and new organizations that made the city a center of Armenian life in America. For 10 years, he served as chairman of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia, which had been created as far back as 1918 by American public figures advocating for Armenia. He served on the Central Committee of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in the United States. He resigned from the ARF when the party distanced itself from the Armenian Assembly. In 1965 he was among the organizers of the United Committee of Greater Boston, the first time all segments of the community worked together, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  In another example of his strivings for greater community development, Kaloosdian headed the steering committee, which under his chairmanship, oversaw the construction of the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center in Watertown.

Kaloosdian prized his heritage, and after a lifetime of gathering evidence about his father’s family and birthplace, he published a marvelous account of the life of his forebears titled Tadem My Father’s Village. To his surprise, and his family’s pride in this accomplishment, the book won two awards.  In an appreciation of the volume, Dr. Richard Hovannisian wrote: "Kaloosdian has made a lasting contribution through his meticulous combination of historical sources, memoirs, and oral histories…" Dr. Taner Akcam observed: "Kaloosdian has documented the collective memory of anyone and everyone that he could reach who had lived in a specific region. Taking each of these personal accounts and combining it with research that he conducted, he has developed a new form of local history. The book you hold in your hands contains the collective memory of an Armenian village called Tadem and it is a significant achievement for this reason."

In the course of his research, Kaloosdian developed a considerable archive on the village of Tadem and its surroundings, including the transcriptions of audiotaped interviews with many of the living survivors he knew personally. At the same time, he also assembled an exquisite collection of historical works covering a wide range of subjects with Armenia and the Near East as its focus. Kaloosdian twice traveled to historic Armenia and visited his father’s birthplace to document what little remained of Tadem. A work full of pathos about life in that ancient village, Kaloosdian traced his father's countless ordeals from the time of his boyhood growing up after the Hamidian massacres through his years of captivity during the time of the Genocide, his father's forcible conversion to Islam, his employment as unpaid help living alone without friends or parents upon the deportation of the population, his escape through the mountains to the Russian frontier and flight across Siberia during the Russian Revolution, refuge in Japan, and arrival in America and a cross country journey at last to join relatives on the East Coast. He patiently reconstructed from scattered scraps of evidence the travails of each of his relatives, especially the tales and treatment of the handful of women who survived their banishment through the desert, and his father's traumatic witnessing of the murder of his brother in a moment of thoughtless innocence.

Introducing the setting to his father's and Tadem's story, he wrote: "By the time my father was born, in the 1900s, the Golden Plain [of Kharpert] had lost its glimmer…Tadem itself was in ruins: the horrific massacres of Armenians by local Kurds and Turkish mobs in 1895 had left behind a wreck where once a hardworking people had built their homes and their lives…My father's youth evolved under the shadow of terror: stories of flight and hiding, of slaughter, and devastation. The village was an emotionally wounded community. Memories of the massacres were still fresh in the minds of my father’s elders, as nearly every Armenian family in Tadem had paid a heavy price. A young person growing up in the early years of the twentieth century learned that massacre and murder were part of the experience of being Armenian in the Ottoman Empire."

When in 2002 Carolyn Mugar founded a chair in Modern Armenian History and Armenian Genocide Studies at his alma mater, Clark University, she asked that, in addition to honoring the memory of her parents Stephen and Marian Mugar, it also be named in honor of Aram and Marianne Kaloosdian. The recipient of numerous honors for his years of service to the Armenian people, Kaloosdian was bestowed the Prince of Cilicia award by Karekin I Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia and recognized by President Levon Ter-Petrossian of Armenia with the Mekhitar Gosh medal.

Kaloosdian was the beloved husband of Marianne (Voynick) Kaloosdian and the devoted father of Paul (Carl) Kaloosdian, Lori (Roland) Pease and Sonia (Brian) Hale. He graduated in 1952 from Clark University, where he was vice-president of his class, President of the Inter-fraternity Council and president of his fraternity. After serving a tour of duty at the U.S. Army Medical Field Service School during the Korean War, Kaloosdian entered Boston University School of Law where he received a JD degree in 1957 and a Master of Law in Taxation in 1962. He was a member of the Delta Theta Phi Law fraternity of which he was the Tribune. He also served as a Special Assistant to the President of the Massachusetts Bar Association. His law firm concentrated in the areas of business, real estate, taxation, probate and estate law.  He remained in practice for over 50 years and was a Member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Middlesex Bar Association, and Massachusetts Bar Association.

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.


NR# 2024-20

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