Moses Abajian was born in an Armenian refugee camp in Aleppo, Syria on Jan. 19, 1928 to Sion & Bedros Abajian, both natives of Marash (located in the historic Armenian Highlands) and survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
He was the eldest of four siblings: Stepan, Zevart and Maral, and the grandchild of Moses and Feridé Abajian and Armenag and Elmasd Helvajian, also from Marash. As a child he was an avid reader and used to read well into the night under a gas lamp, against the advice of his parents. Upon completing his elementary education in 1940 at Hye Avedaranagan Pétél Varjaran (Bethel Armenian Evangelical School), which was built with the help of his father, he attended a French Catholic middle school during the years when Syria was a French protectorate and as a result he gained fluency in French. Later, he attended Aleppo College, a prestigious private Armenian high school and junior college.
He was the first in his family to graduate from high school (1946) and attain an Associate degree (1948). After some years of managing a student store co-op on the Aleppo College campus, he continued his education and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon (1958) on a full scholarship. During his AUB years, he was known by his classmates as “Le philosophe” (the philosopher) because of his love of intellectualism, philosophy, literature and poetry.
While he was a student in AUB he used to be the go-to person on campus for his study guides and his collection of rare books. Moses went on to be a teacher at Pétél and Nazar Najarian Yegrortagan Varjaran, an Armenian High School in Aleppo. He also served as the principal of Pétél for a short time after which he opened his well-known bookstore in 1965 in Suleymanieh, Aleppo called “El Dorado,” located across the street from Ahwet-Jamal coffee house.
His bookstore was a gathering place for his friends and the elderly men in the neighborhood, where Moses managed his business on the one hand and on the other attended to his guests by playing backgammon with them and serving them coffee that he had prepared in the bookstore kitchenette. Elderly men and women would often stop by Moses’ bookstore to ask him for help when they needed someone to fill out forms or negotiate and advocate on their behalf. In 1972 he met and married his wife Hermine Khanzadian.
Their common interest in literature and education was a point of great attraction for him. He had two children, Suzie and Ara, who loved to keep him company at his bookstore. His daughter would spend hours reading children’s books while his son would set up his own stand in front of the bookstore selling second-hand books.
In 1988, at the age of 60, he immigrated to the U.S. and began a new life with his family in Glendale, California. He worked at Glendale High School (GHS) for twenty years as an ELL instructional aide. He went above and beyond what was expected of him, always bringing engaging and creative activities, word searches and poetry to supplement the curriculum for his students who were English Language Learners from diverse backgrounds. He was highly respected by students and teachers at GHS and fondly known by his colleagues as the “barista” because he would make Armenian coffee for them in the teachers’ lounge during lunch breaks. After his retirement at the age of 81, he enjoyed his time with his family and two grandchildren Emma and Eric. Moses was a voracious reader and a master of words. In addition to speaking five languages fluently (Armenian, English, Turkish, Arabic and French), he had a vast knowledge of history, literature, etymology and poetry.
He was essentially a walking dictionary and encyclopedia. Moses took great joy in writing poetry, singing traditional Armenian songs from Marash, playing backgammon and Belote, making anagrams and religiously watching Jeopardy. He loved frequenting farmers’ markets, the local library and Armenian bookstores. He always wore a suit and didn’t leave his house without his flat cap or fedora hat.
Moses was strong willed, resilient, gentle-hearted and honest to a fault. He lived simply and did not care much for material things except his vast collection of books. Although he was reserved, he had a great sense of humor often employing puns, rhymes and wordplay. He was well loved by his many friends, family and colleagues.
He passed away on May 23, 2016 in his home in Glendale, California.
Moses is survived by his wife Hermine Abajian, his daughter Dr. Suzie Abajian (SPUSD Board Member) and son-in-law Sean Abajian, his son Ara Abajian and daughter-in-law Julie Abajian, his grandchildren Emma and Eric, his two sisters Zevart Bedikian and Maral Jabrayan, his maternal aunts Hermine Sapsesian and Janet Shanlian, his nieces Lory Bedikian (an award winning poet), Sevan Abajian, Maria Abajian and Judy Figueroa, his nephews Varouj Bedikian, Ara Bedikian, Bedig Abajian, Vartan Khanzadian, Raffe Kanzadian, Garen Khanzadian, John Figueroa and their families. Funeral services will be held at the Wee Kirk O’The Heather located in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale on May 31 at 1 p.m.
Donations in his honor may be made to the Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF).