Remembering Khajag Sarkissian

Khajag Sarkissian
Khajag Sarkissian

Khajag Sarkissian

EDITOR’S NOTE: Veteran ARF leader and activist, Khajag Sarkissian, passed away on December 14. Sarkissian played a crucial part in the advancement of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in the San Francisco Bay Area and served on the Central Committee for several terms. He played an integral role in the development of the Armenian National Committee of America and the advancement of the Armenian Cause. He was a pillar of the San Francisco community and a member of its Krisdapor Gomideh.

Sarkissian was instrumental in the formation of the Armenian community in San Francisco as a founder, and later director of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church Saturday School and a co-founder of Krouzian-Zekarian-Vasbouragan Armenian School

He was remembered at a wake on December 22 at the St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church of San Francisco. Funeral services were held on December 23 at the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church, following which he was laid to rest at Cypress Lawn Cemetery.

This week, we feature some of the eulogies and appreciations spoken during the services in memory of the late ARF leader.

Khajag Had Remarkable Warmth and a Generosity Of Spirit

During Khajag Sarkissian’s wake and funeral, his nephew, Thomas Niesar, presented the late ARF leader’s biography.

BY THOMAS NIESAR

Hello and thank you for joining us today. My name is Thomas Niesar. I am Khajag’s nephew, from Hildy’s side of the family.

Khajag Sarkissian was born on September 6, 1937 in Nazareth Palestine to Arshalouys and Sarkis Sarkissian. He was the third of four brothers; Nazareth, Varoujan and Jirair. He is preceded in death by his two older brothers, Nazo and Varouj. Khajag was the dedicated and loving husband to Hildy, father to Aram and Sevag, and father-in-law to Karen and Tamar. His grandchildren, Alec, Lori, Talar, Artoon and Siran and dozens of nieces and nephews were a source of never-ending joy. And let’s not forget his four-legged buddy, Bogie.

At two years old, Khajag lost his father; a tragic event that significantly shaped his formative years. Khajag was raised in Beirut, Lebanon surrounded by his extended family and the vibrant Armenian community that established itself in Beirut in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide. His loving mother and brothers stuck together through all the joys and challenges before them. He often mentioned his uncles and aunts from the larger Sarkissian and Panossian families. They were instrumental in shepherding him through his early years. He remained very close to his extended family and his three brothers. That relationship was special. They were there for each other every step of the way.

Khajag attended an elementary school in his neighborhood and then attended the Armenian Protestant high school in Beirut, Central High. But, growing up in Lebanon, school was only part of the education. Khajag was active in many of the Armenian youth organizations, especially the Armenian Youth Federation and Homenetmen Scouts. He learned and lived, for the rest of his life, the motto: Partzratzeer; Partzratzoor. Raise yourself up and then bring others along. It was this philosophy that would define his personal, professional and community life.

Khajag was a good student and knew that to achieve his dreams and aspirations, he had to come to America to further his education. It was a well-worn path that others had taken and in 1959, at the age of 22, he left for America. He reminisced often at what an exciting time it was to be in America and his chosen home, the City of San Francisco. For a man who had the good fortune to travel the world, he always kept San Francisco first in his heart. This was his town. This was his home. Khajag put himself through college and graduated from the University of San Francisco.

One of the aspects of Khajag’s college years that needs to be mentioned is the important life-long friendships he developed. He valued his friendships deeply and invested time and energy to cultivate and keep good friends. The gang of friends he ran around with in the early 60’s remained friends for life. Sadly, we lost one of his very best friends just this week. Khajag cared for Zareh Misserlian like a brother, but that was Khajag; he was always thinking about how he could help and serve those around him.

Service, in its many forms, was his calling. But, he needed a partner in life he could share the journey with. In the mid-60’s, while working at Greyhound, he met the love of his life Hildy and so began a partnership of over 50 years. One of the first big adventures together was to found the Caravansary Restaurant with Hildy’s sister and brother-in-law, Ortrun and Gerry Niesar. He’d often say that they had no idea what they were getting in to but, he and the rest all jumped right in and created a huge success, helping define a new wave of cuisine and coffee culture in the Bay Area. The Caravansary was followed up by the Orient Express that remained open until the early 1990s. For many years, it was the place to see and been seen. The work was hard but Khajag and Hildy enjoyed the party that it was. Khajag closed out his professional working years at Giraux Jewelers, joining his brother and family in bringing a little sparkle to other people’s lives.

Khajag succeeded greatly in his professional life, much more than perhaps was ever dreamed of as a boy in Beirut. However, his hands, heart and soul were meant to serve others, especially in his beloved Armenian community. He felt the responsibility of doing his part to sustain the Armenian diaspora. He and his three brothers were raised to honor their heritage in everything they did. From the minute he arrived in San Francisco his anchor and guiding light was the local Armenian community.

Khajag’s dedication to Saint Gregory Armenian Church, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the Armenian National Committee of America, KZV Armenian School and many other organizations was exemplary. His passion, leadership, humility and generosity of time and talent was universally admired. A class act, to be sure.

Much of Khajag’s volunteer efforts were well known but, he never sought nor wanted attention or accolades. He wanted only for his effort to be in greater service to individuals and the larger community. Beyond his lifelong commitment to a number of organizations, there were many daily acts of kindness. If there were families in Armenia that needed help, he would do what he could. If there was a newcomer to San Francisco, he would connect them to a job. If a person needed a visit, he would be there. If a program could use some guidance, he would share his ideas. Khajag dreamed big, led by example, knew who to work with, how to work with others, who to mentor and he pushed forward until the job got done. This community is filled with successes – and Khajag’s handprints are all over them.

In recent years, Khajag and Hildy retired to Napa Valley, a place they loved so much. He always said that between Beirut, San Francisco, Yountville, Armenia, and his regular trips to France (to visit his brother) he had it made. The best places in the world were his to enjoy. While his dialysis was a burden, he did his best to stay active in Yountville and stay connected to his wonderful San Francisco community. Oh, how he loved to take in a Giants game whenever he could or walk the gorgeous length of Crissy Field in the presence of the mighty Golden Gate. Did you know that Khajag attended weekly Public Affairs discussions in Yountville? Or that he was taking a writing class? For the great wine lover that he was, he was set to take his first wine appreciation course. He was showing no signs of slowing down!

Khajag regularly attended church, ANC meetings, community events and insisted on going to Armenia which he did several times despite his health challenges. It brought him joy to breath the air of a free and independent Armenia. The latest positive developments in his ancestral homeland were especially energizing to him. He shared his last visit just a few months ago with his oldest son, Aram, and planned to return next year with Hildy.

Khajag poured his heart into the aspirations of this community. He held KZV Armenian School and ANC particularly close to his heart. The recent passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution in the US House of Representatives and Senate was a life-long goal achieved. It invigorated him and gave him a tremendous sense of pride for a job well done. As usual, he downplayed his role in all of it. However, everyone in this room knows that if it weren’t for Khajag, and the team of dedicated volunteers he shared this work with both here and around the country, this victory would never have happened.

Perhaps it is fate that with Khajag’s life-work complete, God called him home to join his brothers, family, and recently departed beloved Scoutmaster Akela, and his dear friend Zareh.

As the famous song goes, “I Did it My Way”. Khajag, with strong roots nurtured in his childhood, blazed his own trail in life and through it all he remained a humble servant and class act to be admired and followed.

My uncle Khajag had a remarkable warmth about him and a generosity of spirit – he always had time for you, and when you would visit him you felt as if he had nothing more important to do in the whole world than to sit down and converse with you.

With his love for his culture and through his open spirit, and I believe I speak for all of the Koch and Niesar family when I say this, I’ve always felt like I was part of the Armenian community: its richness and beauty, the amazing food, and its struggle for recognition. Thank you Uncle Khajag.

The Prelate’s Prayer

Western Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian said prayers in memory of Khajag Sarkissian.

We join you in spirit and in prayer as you have gathered to pay your final respects to your beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, and uncle, esteemed community activist, and faithful son of the Armenian Apostolic Church and nation.

The loss of Khajag Sarkissian is being felt far and wide, for his service and contributions to our nation spanned decades and continents. I would like to take this opportunity to first and foremost convey the condolences of His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.

Khajag Sarkissian (third from right) was the first recipient of the Western Prelacy's Leadership medal in 2014

Khajag Sarkissian (third from right) was the first recipient of the Western Prelacy’s Leadership medal in 2014

The name Khajag Sarkissian is synonymous with service. Here was a man who devoted six decades of his life to serving others and serving for the advancement of our collective life, for the triumphs of our nation were his triumphs and the pains of our nation his pains. In this Church and community especially, which he was so instrumental in forming, he was a constant, beloved, and respected presence. He was, as you know, a founding member of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church Saturday School, Krouzian-Zekarian-Vasbouragan School, and the local chapter of the ANCA. In addition, he lent his valuable input and contributions to our Church and nation as a member of our Prelacy’s Executive Council, of the ARF, Homenetmen, and Hamazkayin, and was a tireless advocate for the rights of the Armenian people and strengthening our homeland of Armenia and Artsakh.

I had the privilege of knowing Khajag for many years and enjoying a friendship based on mutual respect. He was, truly, an outstanding and honorable individual, a man of staunch faith with a kind and gentle soul and a generous spirit. He certainly left a mark on us all and a rich legacy that the hands of time cannot erase.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). Khajag Sarkissian still had more good work to do. Alas, following a purpose-filled and purpose-driven life characterized by faith, love, benevolence, and good deeds, He was called to rest from his labors in the Heavenly Kingdom where the Lord will say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)

On behalf of the Western Prelacy Religious and Executive Councils, I extend my condolences to you all, praying for the Lord to grant peace and solace to your hearts and souls as you cope with your loss.

May his memory remain ever-blessed.

Prayerfully,
Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian
Prelate, Western United States

Khajag Sarkissian Transcended Boundaries

During funeral services for Khajag Sarkissian, Dr. Viken Yacoubian, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau, presented a euology.

BY DR. VIKEN YACOUBIAN

It does not take much to realize that it is a most daunting task to eulogize anyone. It is indeed impossible to do so with Khajag Sarkissian, as mere spoken words cannot do justice in capturing the essence of the man who lived amongst us. These words cannot symbolically resurrect him as is the intention of a eulogy.

He transcended boundaries in a seamless way, including interests, age, race, ethnicity, and even the zeitgeist of his time. A visionary anchored in the present. Inspired, but never defined, by the past; stepping into the future while firmly grounded in the present. A man of honor who made us feel honored whenever we had the privilege of interacting with him, even for a few minutes. I am sincerely overtaken by such emotions as I speak about him tonight. And mine has been a contact of intermittence, often circumstantial and incidental, albeit very real and always deep. So, I can only imagine what those who were in his life on a daily basis must feel at the moment—his is loving wife Hildy; his two sons, Aram and Sevag; and his four grandchildren; his only surviving brother Jirair and wife Serpoug. Those in whose lives he was every day. I know that the void Khajag left behind can never be filled and attempts to console can only prove futile.

Unger Khajag’s life is inextricably connected to our community in San Francisco. It will remain so eternally as our community’s history and story are chronicled for years to come. When unger Khajag was here in the early ‘60s, there was very little in terms of an organized community. While he was neither one of the original members of the San Francisco community who had settled here in the first half of the 20 th century or a post ‘70s immigrant from the Middle East, as a community member who had arrived in between, Khajag played an instrumental role in bridging the old with the new with very little turmoil or strife. He was involved in his beloved organization, the ARF, from day one. He was a founding member of practically all the grass roots and community-based organizations in San Francisco, including Hamazkayin, Homenetmen, and the Krouzian-Zakarian- Vasbouragan School (KZV) of which he was so very proud.

I think I won’t be mistaken if I say that the Armenian National Committee was at the core of Unger Khajag’s identity. And at the core of the Armenian National Committee’s identity, Unger Khajag will hold an eternal place. The ANC will remain forever grateful to him. A few weeks ago, we witnessed the Congress pass the resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Unger Khajag, as his life came to close on this earth, also bore witness to the passing of the Senate resolution. He was the person who had introduced the ANC to Nancy Pelosi and sensitized her to our cause—a legacy for which we will all be forever grateful.

I remember Unger Khajag as a man who was honorable at so many levels. His humility was so deeply anchored that it was almost intimidating. He was the guardian and supporter of generations of Armenian students, who were recent immigrants from the Middle East, many of whom went on to become active members of our community and successful businesspeople themselves and many of whom I’m sure are here with us tonight.

I knew him as “Unger Khajag,” with all that the word that “Unger” denotes and implies to a Tashnagtsagan. To me, he was also a renaissance man. A distinguished member of the San Francisco society, especially in the culinary circles, having established and operated famous restaurants, creating dishes with Middle Eastern flavors when they were still not in vogue. He also produced his own wine in Napa. In fact, my last conversation with him after an ARF meeting was about wine, a passion we shared; a passion that connected two Tashnagtsagan ungers for the last time in the parking lot of the Armenian Center.

May you rest in peace and may God bless your soul.

Khajag Sarkissian: The Aedificator

Armenian National Committee of America National Chairman Raffi Hamparian delivered a eulogy, highlighting the late Khajag Sarkissian’s contributions to advancing the Armenian Cause, during the wake.

The late ANCA leader Khajag Sarkissian pictured in 2006 after receiving the prestigious Vahan Cardashian Award from the ANCA Western Region.

The late ANCA leader Khajag Sarkissian pictured in 2006 after receiving the prestigious Vahan Cardashian Award from the ANCA Western Region.

BY RAFFI HAMPARIAN

The Latin word aedificator comes as close as any word can to capturing the essence of Khajag Sarkissian.

It was used in ancient times to describe a builder, architect, or maker. A creator.

It’s a start to describing the remarkable life of Khajag Sarkissian, to explaining why his legacy will endure long after his death this past December.

Khajag, a proud member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), was an exceptional creator.

He helped establish and long helped lead the Saint Gregory the Illuminator Saturday School.

He helped start and sustain the Krouzian-Zekarian-Vasbouragan School in San Francisco.

He helped launch the first Homenetmen Chapter in San Francisco.

He was the brilliant architect of the modern Hai-Tahd (Armenian Cause) movement in the San Francisco-Bay Area, and beyond.

More broadly, Khajag was the builder, architect, maker and creator of the modern Armenian American community in San Francisco.

For all these reasons, the name Khajag Sarkissian will forever personify the gold standard for an Armenian American leader. He led with strength and honor, but always with humility. He was honest and earnest. He was kind to a fault. He loved his family and his community, was deeply dedicated to America and profoundly proud of the twin Republics of Armenia and Artsakh. Khajag was a man for all seasons. He taught me and a generation of my peers what it means to be Armenian and American, inspiring us to dream big, work hard, and always invest in our common future.

I am grateful to have learned from Khajag Sarkissian and humbled to have been asked to deliver a eulogy (below) on behalf of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) at the national funeral held in his memory by the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

In just a few days, on January 26, 2020, Saint Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco, California will mark the 40th day memorial service since the passing of this Armenian American hero.

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Heroes are not born. They are forged.

Khajag Sarkissian was and will remain an Armenian American hero.

For the ANCA – Khajag was and is an iconic and brave pioneer. He imagined the ANCA. He helped create the ANCA. He built the ANCA. He sustained the ANCA. He fought for the ANCA. He sacrificed for the ANCA.

He was no summer soldier or sunshine patriot – Khajag was the real deal. And all that he did for the ANCA–he did with a manifest passion–for his people and our just cause.

When today’s hymns and prayers have ended. When the church bells rest, the candles have burned, the kushotz stand silent, and the khoong (incense) wafted away-one fact will remain–for all time.

Know this. Khajag Sarkissian was a titan of the Armenian Cause.

In many ways–in service of those known and unknown to us –he carried the ANCA on his back–on his strong shoulders–with joy–for decades. A happy warrior.

For this loyal son of the Armenian Nation – we can thank God, his family and this community.

After all–it is in Galatians 6:7 that we read, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

When the founder of the first Armenian Republic–our national hero Aram Manoogian died on January 29, 1919–his funeral–as historians have noted–was the most widely attended the Armenian nation had ever witnessed.

On that day, ARF Leader Nikol Aghbalian delivered the eulogy and shared these perfect words: “When the night falls, withdraw into the back chambers of your souls, speak to your conscience, and ask: Have you worked for the Armenian people as Aram has? Have you been as self-sacrificing? Have you dedicated your entire life to the Armenian people as Aram has?”

Khajag Sarkissian’s entire life – his very being – was a long form answer to Nikol Aghbalian’s question.

And today we would do well to ask–have we served our community and cause–as Unger Khajag did?

For now – it is left to us – the living – to carry forward his cause – with his love – with his passion – with his vision – with his humility – with his awesome strength, with his iron determination, and signature smile.

Farewell to our Hai-Tahd hero.

Well done, our good and faithful servant of the Armenian Cause.

Khajag Sarkissian: An Unwavering Servant of the Armenian Cause

As a founding member of the Armenian National Committee of America and the San Francisco Bay Area chapter, Khajag Sarkissian was “an unwavering servant of the Armenian Cause,” according to Roxanne Makasdjian, who delivered remarks on behalf of the ANCA San Francisco – Bay Area chapter, during the wake.

BY ROXANNE MAKASDJIAN

There is no one that better personifies and exemplifies the identity of the Armenian National Committee, than our San Francisco chapter’s founding father, Khajag Sarkissian.

An unwavering servant of the Armenian Cause, Khajag was involved in the establishment of all facets of this community – educational, spiritual, political, social and cultural. But speaking particularly about his work in the ANC, it was abundantly clear that the Armenian Cause was not just a hobby or a pastime for Khajag. It made up the core of his life and his lifestyle, and it was part of a total worldview that encompassed human rights issues that went well beyond the Armenian case and which better informed and motivated his ANC work.

Roxanne Makasdjian with Khajag Sarkissian during the ANCA-WR 2006 Annual banquet, where he received the Vahan Cardashian Award

Roxanne Makasdjian with Khajag Sarkissian during the ANCA-WR 2006 Annual banquet, where he received the Vahan Cardashian Award

Not too long after the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 1965, Khajag began advocating for a more structured, professional, and higher-profile organization to pursue issues important to Armenian-Americans in the United States. That goal seems so straightforward and obvious to us now, but back then, it was something of a mysterious and dubious prospect. Driven by a strong sense of obligation and sheer faith, Khajag promoted these ideas confidently and enthusiastically, as the only serious means by which we would succeed in the American political system.

He literally built the San Francisco chapter from the ground up, and served at all levels of the organization with the highest distinction, including years of service as one of the ANCA Western Region’s board of directors. The board honored Khajag’s service in 2006, when it presented him with the Vahan Cardashian Award, fittingly named after the lawyer from Gesaria who established the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia in 1919, which was the predecessor of the Armenian National Committee of America.

For more than half a century, Khajag was directly involved in helping set policy and strategy for our ANC, rallying our community behind the cause, establishing strong, long-lasting relationships with, and helping to elect, public officials in local, state, and national positions of leadership. Those early relationships are still bearing much fruit today. A single example is the recent passage of Armenian Genocide resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Senate. It’s not a coincidence that Bay Area representatives Nancy Pelosi, Anna Eshoo, and Jackie Speier all had key roles in the resolution’s passage and that it was Khajag who led our team in introducing those, and so many other Bay Area public officials, to our issues – educating them, supporting them, and maintaining those solid relationships that we continue to have with them.

Indeed, when Khajag was unable to join us in visiting Anna Eshoo after the House resolution passed, she immediately called him on the phone personally to share the victory with him and thank him for his years of work.

Khajag’s contributions have not been lost on other public officials, as well, who have been touched by his work:

California Governor Gavin Newsom sent Khajag’s family a letter today, in which, among other words of appreciation, he wrote: “Through his founding and vision of the Armenian National Committee of America, San Francisco Chapter, Khajag was a pioneer whose quiet, effective leadership shaped the organization into an agent for change… He helped ensure that, in remembering the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide, we also honor the strength and resilience of the Armenian people… He gave a voice to the voiceless. Our state is a more inclusive place because of Khajag.”

And San Francisco Mayor London Breed wrote to the Sarkissians as well, saying in part:

“Mr. Sarkissian personified values that San Francisco holds dear: his relentless pursuit of social justice, a dedication to advocacy and community organizing, and a deep love of family… Mr. Sarkissian was known by his colleagues to be a leader, personal mentor to many, and inspiration to us all… We are truly grateful for his life and contributions.”

Heartfelt remembrances also came from former Senator Barbara Boxer, back when Khajag was honored by the ANCA in 2006. She said, “Together we fought to establish Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. Together, we have fought for increased aid to Armenia. And every year we have worked together to recognize the atrocities of 1915 for what they indeed were – genocide.”

Khajag’s steadfast, yet humble leadership inspired generations of Hye Tad advocates into action, including me. I met him when I first came to San Francisco as a graduate student, and he quickly became a father figure and mentor to me. As a consummate gentleman and patriot, he taught me how to be an ANC’er – unwavering, unapologetic, yet humane, tempered, and diplomatic.

And later, when he asked me to take the reigns of the chapter, I could only agree if he promised to stay alongside me, which he did, a huge source of support and guidance. And when the chapter’s torch was passed to Matyous Senekeremian, now about a decade ago, Mato continued to benefit from Khajag’s valuable perspective, having regular discussions about Hye Tad and our chapter activities.

Khajag was also the first to encourage the creation of The Genocide Education Project, in 2005, and enthusiastically signed on as one of our founding board members.

All the way up until his passing, Khajag continued his active involvement in the ANC. His vision, humanity, decency, and diplomacy which were so instrumental to our success, never dimmed. He has been our anchor and our cheerleader all along, continuing to inspire the rest of us to think big and to act always with the best interests of our community in mind.

We’re so deeply gratified that we were able to have one last ANC meeting with Khajag, just this past December 8. His sheer presence, his eager attention to the agenda and our discussions, including our elation with the passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution, left us all invigorated, with a renewed sense of purpose. After the meeting, Khajag and I went into church together. Sitting beside him in meditation, filled me with appreciation for having in my life; it’s another moment that I’ll cherish forever.

Another enormous consolation for us as we struggle, heartbroken, to accept this major loss, is the fact that Khajag was able to see the passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution in the Senate, as well. Those Khajag spoke to that day, including my husband, Ara, say that he was overjoyed. These victories were as much his own to be proud of, as anyone else’s. He was one of those who laid down the groundwork for these and other major achievements with his arduous work and determination. As a testament to the extent of his influence, our dear local ANC’er, Yeghsapet Chouldjian, who has been, as she says, “temporarily” working for in the ANC Washington DC office for decades now, told me that after the Senate’s passage of the resolution, Khajag was the very first person she contacted with the good news.

That thoughtful gesture, is just one of many examples of how Khajag’s energy, optimism and perseverance were truly contagious, inspiring so many of us to turn our devotion to the Armenian Cause into everyday action, both in pursuit of a better future for Armenians, and of an America which better lives up to its values. He touched our personal lives in profound ways – mentoring, supporting, and keeping in touch with us always. He didn’t confine our interactions to the business of the ANC, but he showed us how to live in this world – being productive, serving the cause, and also including culture, recreation, travel into our lives, and how to nurture family. He took a sincere and active interest in our families, too. My son, Razmig, knows and appreciates Khajag as well as any other adult figure in our community, and that has everything to do with Khajag having built that familiarity at every available moment during meetings and community gatherings.

On behalf of our chairperson, Matyous Senekeremian and the entire Armenian National Committee of San Francisco, we will carry his memory, his pure commitment to the Armenian people, his activist spirit, his positive outlook, and his infectious laugh with us forever.

With that, we express our genuine condolences and thanks to the entire Sarkissian family, beginning with Hildy, without whose love, support, and endless patience, Khajag could not have served his nation as he did; and to his devoted brother, Jirair, a true comrade in arms during all of Khajag’s great and challenging life experiences, to his children, Aram and Sevag, such upstanding men and active community members in their own rights, with Aram, instrumental in establishing Sacramento’s Homenetmen chapter, and Sevag gallantly carrying his father’s torch as one of our ANC San Francisco board members, and to all of their extended families.

May our Sireli Khajag, have a well-deserved, peaceful rest.

A Son’s Final Farewell

The late Khajag Sarkissian’s son, Sevag, delivered a eulogy to his father during the funeral.

BY SEVAG SARKISSIAN

It is hard to find the right words to express how Mom, Aram and I feel right now. There is a lot that can and should be said. However, those stories, and lessons and memories will be shared and discuss over time as we reminisce and remember with each of you.

What is important to say right now is: Thank you. We feel the collective embrace of this community. You have been the warm ray of sunshine during this cold and dark time. Your love sustains us.

When Dad arrived in San Francisco, he had energy, passion and maybe more than a few revolutionary ideas. All of that zeal had to be placed somewhere. It needed to be absorbed and nurtured. This community, all of you and those that came before, embraced Dad. You gave him the latitude to learn, lead, and mentor along the way to strengthen this community. We want to express our deep sense of gratitude to you all for being his partner on this journey.

Aram and I have spent our whole lives receiving compliments about our father. It has filled us with a tremendous sense of pride and has been an infinite well from which to draw inspiration.

We knew his community commitments were a top priority. It was normal for him to come home after a long day at the restaurant only to grab a different briefcase and head out the door for one or more meetings late into the night. That was just the way it was. It was an honor to share our father with this community. I would like to also like to add that Dad’s community life was enabled by Mom’s ceaseless support and understanding. Thank you, Mom.

While Dad’s dedication to a number of organizations and projects was complete, two organizations he held particularly close to his heart were KZV Armenian School and the ANCA San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, Hai Tad.

This year, we had quite a banquet at the KZV Armenian School. During the preparation for the banquet, I was talking to Dad about how things were shaping up. He commented that helping found the Armenian School may have been his life’s most important endeavor. In preparing the next generation of Armenian-American leaders, KZV is the gift that keeps on giving and Dad always felt that the school is the fountain of hope for the future of this community.

As for Dad’s ANC Hai Tad crew, you meant the world to him. You know who you are. Dad took you under his wing and this chapter soared, notching critical wins year in and year out. Perhaps the pinnacle being the two recent victories in Congress with the passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution.

In recent years, as Dad enjoyed retirement and dealt with some health challenges, it was so touching to see how you all always kept him informed and involved and made special efforts to visit him in Yountville or move meeting dates and locations to accommodate him. The deep mutual respect was earned on both sides, and your teamwork had an enormous impact. Thank you for giving Dad the pleasure of serving the Armenian Cause with you all; an eager, dedicated and talented group.

While this community was essentially part of Dad’s extended family, I want focus for moment on his biological family.

Dad always felt very close to his brothers Nazo, Varouj and Jirair and their large circle of cousins. Despite the passage of time and great distances that separated them, they all made the effort to stay connected to each other, bringing joy with phone calls, emails, text messages and personal visits. It is really is quite an example to behold. The love of brothers and cousins was so genuine, so deep. It was a great blessing in Dad’s life and was a bountiful source of happiness.

Dad’s desire to stay connected to family did not stop at his generation. His nephews and nieces had a unique and special relationship with him. Dad reached out regularly to them. It was an act full of love. A ball game here, an espresso there, an afternoon lunch, a phone call on a rainy afternoon, his annual Christmas party, he found ways big and small to seek them out and over the years developed a beautiful relationship with the next generation of our family. Dad’s nephews and nieces returned the love in kind. His loss is particularly hard for them. Dad had a special place in his heart for each of you. I know you felt his love and will continue to do so moving forward. He is still with us in spirit and he would want you to call upon him any time.

And that goes for all of us here today. Let us remember and celebrate the life he lived and continue to draw inspiration and guidance so we who remain can propel our community to ever-greater heights. What we accomplish together moving forward is part of Dad’s legacy.

Mom, Aram and I are truly touched at the outpouring of love and appreciation for Dad. We are grateful for the countless words of support and acts of kindness over the last week from our family and the entire community. We share this this loss with you. We share your pain. We share the memories and the joy.

Thank you.

A Word of Gratitude from the Sarkissian Family

During the funeral services for the late Khajag Sarkissian, his nephew, Sako, delivered remarks of gratitude on behalf of the entire family.

BY SAKO SARKISSIAN

On behalf of the Sarkissian and extended family, I want to thank you for being with us today; as we walk together one last time -shoulder to shoulder- alongside our beloved Khajag.

Khajag meant so much to so many different people, it is hard to imagine that he is gone. Like a pillar being removed from a building, our family and community is shaken with this loss.

Khajag once told me: “To live a life worth living, a man has to stand for something bigger than himself.”

Khajag not only believe in the Armenian Cause, he lived it every single day.

And yet he was so much more…

Like most, his younger years formed his ideology & outlook in life.

Growing up in the buzzing Eshrefye neighborhood of Beirut Lebanon, Khajag and his 3 brothers were raised in a single room with a widowed young mother named Arshalous surrounded my aunts and uncles who stepped in to fill any void they may have felt.

Many years later when I visited their home, I was shocked to find a dim, dusty, old tool shed. Standing there in that abandoned room, picturing their young family living there, I started to appreciate the determination it must have taken those boys to become the men they were to become. I imagine that excuses were not tolerated in that household.

Khajag visited fondly those years… the educators, teachers, and community leaders that shaped him; as well as, organizations like HMEM & AYF who provided the support their community needed.

Khajag never forgot the lessons he learned during those formative years. For Khajag, family and community were ONE in the same.

So much depth, so much character.

Khajag had an intense curiosity about life…

One day his eldest brother Nazo eagerly ran to the local Agoump to watch a boxing match that was being promoted on the streets. When he walked into the crowded room, he saw his 12 year old brother staring down his challenger. After the match Nazo walked Khajag home holding Khajag’s ear the entire way. When he asked him why he did such a stupid thing, Khajag answered: “I wanted to see if I can do it.”

Even in his older years his curiosity never flickered, and it carried over into his personal relationships.

Khajag had the ability to appreciate the beauty in life. Whether he was home alone watching a baseball game, listening to classical music, attending the opera, or simply walking by a particularly beautiful rose… He took it all in.

Khajag was a student of life. A voracious reader, he enjoyed learning about history, culture, and had an appreciation for the arts. This apatite for learning did not stop. Even in his later years he joined local political discussion groups and started a personal memoir which was sadly interrupted two Saturdays ago.

Khajag was fearlessly optimistic…

He had to be to travel half-way around the world at age 22 in search of the American Dream. To work odd jobs so he can achieve a higher education.

To meet the love of his life, a stunning German girl named Hildy.

To take Hildy’s hand and together reinvent modern retail coffee, start a family, and create a restaurant among restaurants- the Orient Express- which gave countless immigrants their opportunity.

To stand on an empty dirt lot with other men and women and dream that one day there would be an Armenian school built under their very feet.

To think that a small group of activists – against all odds – can stand up to the powerful Turkish lobby, and win.

Above all, Khajag cared about people, that was his gift to all of us.

To the men and women who served with him at the ANC & Hai-Tahd. On a personal level, you need to know how much you meant to Khajag. The deep respect & admiration he had for each of you, and the solemn work you did together. I don’t need to name names, you know who you are & we feel the pain in your hearts today.

To the love of his life, Hildy… What an incredible journey you had together!
With all of life’s ups and downs you were his co-pilot, best friend, and confidant & I know he would not have wanted it any other way. You have much to remember and cherish. .

To Aram and Sevag you were his pride and joy, you meant everything to him, and nothing eclipsed this except the love, and admiration he had for Karen & Tamar.

To his grandkids Alec, Lori, Talar, Artoon, & Siran. With all the interests, passions, & hobbies this man enjoyed; nothing compared to the smile you would bring to his heart.
He will love you eternally.

Khajag was not only my uncle, he was my friend. He was a friend to so many of us.

His loss means so much to us because WE meant so much to him.

This past week has been harder than I could have imagined.

As was with the news of our uncle Varoujan’s death a little over a year ago.
When I heard about Khajags passing, just for a few moments it felt like time had just stopped, and all the emotions and memories started flooding in. What he meant to me, what he meant to this community, and what he meant to all of us.

His spirit and how he approached life, how he shared his life with us, will live in our hearts forever.

[In Armenian] A lot has been said about Khajag’s passing, & we appreciate all the support and love extressed. Some have commented on how difficult it was to think about Khajag’s last moments- how he may have suffered. It was hard for me to picture his last moments as well… but one thing we have to remember… old LIONS die hard.

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One Comment;

  1. ardachece barseghian said:

    He was certainly one of the beacons of our community with a force of conviction based on the ideals of justice at the service of our people, our nation. He must have experienced great moment of happiness having rewarded his unconditional dedication with humanism. A rich family of service to the other, with the ideals for the defense of a noble cause. It is for me an example, a model that I must try to imitate, but, modestly, impossible at this level.

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