BY LILIT DAMIRYAN
The Armenians in the Diaspora have the charm of a broken pearl bracelet. The scattered pearls shine and convey a special charm and quality to the surrounding environment.
Each of those pearls has a value and richness that is unforgettable. The existence of each of them is individually essential and substantial, but when those pearls are united, their brilliance is a décor for not only the environment, but the whole world as well.
The life and career of gifted Armenians are an honor for any country and make that country reputable, but they are brilliant when they are united in their Homeland.
Knowing this every well, the Turks perpetrated the Armenian Genocide in the early 20th century to not only “Turkify” historic Armenian territories, but also to extirpate the brilliance of Armenians living and creating “in those territories” and wipe them off the face of the earth.
The story of a pearl
Alecco Bezikian’s father, 6-year-old Aram, was the only one in his family who survived the Armenian Genocide, reached Lebanon and got married to an Armenian, who shared his fate.
Aram’s son would grow up and become one of the successful businessmen in Europe, knowing at the same time that he was one of the “pearls” of the Armenian nation and that he would owe it to the small and newly established Armenia the Homeland for his gene and type. Only 76 years after the Armenian Genocide would Armenia declare its independence.
Alecco and Annie Bezikian were recently in Armenia to carry out another charity act. On June 13, they participated in the opening of the Annie Bezikian Youth Center where the girls of socially disadvantaged families or orphanages of different provinces of Armenia will study free-of-charge in Yerevan.
Yerevan-based Yerkir Media’s Hayern Aysor program had an opportunity to meet the Bezikians and talk to Alecco. Below is the interview.
HAYERN AYSOR: Mr. Bezikian, your and Annie’s parents survived the Armenian Genocide. Could you please share your families’ stories?
ALECCO BEZIKIAN: Yes, my and Annie’s parents were from Western Armenia. My father, Aram, and my mother, Berjuhi, were from Adana, My father-in-law was from Zeytun, and my mother-in-law was from Urfa.
My father left a recollection of his family that suffered during the years of the Armenian Genocide. The Turks executed my paternal uncle, 17-year-old Alexander in front of his parents and annihilated all the members of the family. My father, 6-year-old Aram was the only one who survived. He sat in a caravan, traveled through the deserts, reached Aleppo and stayed at the “Trchnots Buyn” Armenian orphanage until he was 12 or 13.
Later, my father read books and learned how to become a tailor. He got married to my mother and settled in Lebanon. After a while, his business grew and allowed him to establish a sewing factory.
The tragic death of my paternal uncle was the reason why my father named me not after his father, but his brother, Alexander.
I was the fourth sibling born after my three sisters. My parents wanted to have a boy.
H.A.: You have worked hard during your teenage years and in your prime and have met the expectations of your parents, who have experienced great sorrow. How long did you stay in Lebanon?
A. B.: I stayed in Lebanon until 1975 or 1976. After receiving my general education, I got accepted to a university, but my father was concerned that I wouldn’t able to continue the family business and help him maintain the family. That’s why I applied for a job. I would work in the morning and at night and would study in the daytime. I would study and work for 18 hours a day. That’s how my family’s business grew until 1970 when my father passed away. My mother had passed away in 1968 at the age of 54.
Whenever I talk about my years of study, I always remember a phrase that I would often hear, and that phrase is “haiou ktor mn eh” (he’s a piece of an Armenian). That’s how the Arabs would refer to foreigners who didn’t speak their language. However, that phrase compelled me to learn Arabic and helped me speak Arabic better than the Arabs.
I’m a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun. My ideological mentor is Simon Vratsian, and my educator was the late Catholicos Zareh I of the Great House of Cilicia. I named my younger son after him.
I received my education, got married to Annie in Lebanon and we had two sons, Aram and Zareh. Later, we decided to move to Italy and continue my father’s business. Our business grew more, and the quality was perhaps higher. The name of the organization was and still is “Aram Institution”.
H.A.: Mr. Bezikian, you and your wife are so energetic and have so many plans that many young Armenians need to aspire to be like you and achieve all that you have achieved. What is your secret of staying young? What happened when you moved to Italy?
A. B.: First of all, I’ve known my wife for more than 52 years and we’ve been married for 47 years. We’ve achieved everything together. We’ve decided and worked together.
The secret of staying young is hard work. I think a person must always aspire for something more, set goals and work hard to accomplish those goals. We have lived and worked in Italy for 36 years.
We considered providing our sons with the best education a priority, and that’s why we decided to send 13-year-old Aram and 11-year-old Zareh to Switzerland to study at one of the best boarding schools. They studied for seven years, became self-established and successful.
When providing Aram and Zareh with an education, we attached more importance to helping them use their brains and expand their world views than find jobs according to their professions.
However, there was something that was the most important for my children’s education. They had to be well aware of the Armenian identity, had to keep the honor and dignity of every Armenian at a high level and had to know the Armenian language.
My wife, Annie was responsible for providing our children with an Armenian education and speaking Armenian fluently, and it’s safe to say that it’s thanks to my wife that not only Aram and Zareh, but also our 9-year-old granddaughter, Annie, all speak Armenian wonderfully.
On this occasion, I would also like to make an interesting observation. We’re certain that Armenian cuisine serves as the best opportunity to stay connected to the nation and preserve the national traditions abroad. My wife has always made traditional Armenian dishes at home. When my sons and their friends would go to a diner, restaurant or fast food restaurant, some of them would order spaghetti, and the others would order McDonald’s, but Aram and Zareh would order kebab and kufta. When they would order the food, they would be asked what food that is and how it tastes.
Armenian cuisine becomes a way to preserve the national identity at home and for any Armenian teen.
H.A.: You have been involved in the activities carried out by the Armenian National Committee for many years. On the occasion of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, you helped turn the once Armenian orphanage for child survivors of the Armenian Genocide into a museum.
A. B.: We lived in Italy for 36 years, after which we moved and currently live in Switzerland. I’ve worked and continue to work with the Armenian National Committee Office in Brussels. I’ve been the representative of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia in the Vatican for many years. In Italy I opened the Chapter of Homenetmen where hundreds of Armenian children learn the Armenian language and Armenian history. I also pursue the Armenian Cause in Switzerland.
There’s something I’d like to emphasize. Every April 24th is a non-working day for our organization. On that day, hundreds of representatives of dozens of European companies and organizations have the opportunity to ask about the motives behind the Armenian Genocide. We talk about the horrible crime that the Turkish authorities perpetrated in Western Armenia in 1915. Our European colleagues understand us and respect us for holding all of our ceremonies dedicated to that day of sorrow and remembrance.
In July, we will reopen the Armenian Genocide Museum, which used to be an orphanage for Armenian children. My family and I rebuilt the “Trchnots Buyn” orphanage where my father had stayed when he was a child and turned it into an Armenian Genocide Museum.
H.A.: Mr. Bezikian, during the years following the 1988 Spitak Earthquake, you made your unconditional contributions and helped hundreds of orphans get back on their feet. Could you tell us a little about those years?
A. B.: Yes, I regret to state that my first visit to the Homeland was in 1989, right after the devastating Spitak Earthquake. We established the Bergamo-Spitak Solidarity Foundation, which helped hundreds of Armenian orphans get back on their feet not only during the first years following the earthquake, but for the following 18 years. For 18 years, we provided 350 children with food and dwellings and covered their expenses for medicine and education. We didn’t want to leave the orphans at orphanages and found caretakers for them. Every September, we would visit Armenia for 15 days and bring packages for the children devastated by the earthquake. We would often have so many clothes and writing utensils that we would even distribute them to the other residents of Spitak. I would like to mention that we maintained contacts with all children under our protection and covered their expenses for education. We even covered expenses for surgeries in case of need. When the time came for them to get accepted to universities, we reached an agreement with the RA Ministry of Education and Science and paid tuition for 42 excellent students who got accepted to various universities in Yerevan. We found jobs for most of the orphans in the service sector so that they could take care of their daily expenses to a certain extent and become established as independent people. We paid the rents for apartments that the children had rented in Yerevan.
Over the past years, some of them have got married, and we have become their godparents. Today we’ll be hosting two sisters, one of which, Hermine, had a problem with eyesight when she was little and was told that she would become visually impaired. My wife didn’t cope with that and took the child with her to Italy. After keeping the child at our house for two months, we took her to see the best experts. Hermine underwent surgery, and today, she sees perfectly. Now she is raising her child very well.
H.A.: It’s not hard to guess why you decided to establish the Annie Bezikian Youth Center. I believe you, based on your personal experience, had the goal to create the necessary conditions for the youth of socially disadvantaged families to continue their education.
A. B.: You’re right. After the 42 children got accepted to universities, we had a better idea of the problems that the children of socially disadvantaged families or orphanages faced in the provinces. For most of them, receiving a higher education often becomes an invincible obstacle since they can’t find places to stay in the capital of Armenia. After long searches, we finally obtained an appropriate land parcel located on the Tbilisi Highway where we built a center with 40 rooms. We thank RA Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan, who appreciated our efforts and honored the opening of the Center with her presence.
The children of socially disadvantaged families or orphans of provinces having moved from Armenia’s provinces to Yerevan for study purposes will stay at the Center under the supervision of the Congregation of Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and Sister Arusyak. The Center is designed for only girls. After finishing their studies, the Armenian girls can stay at the Center, work and live until they get married.
H.A.: Mr. Bezikian, you and your wife are provident and have made sure your granddaughter is born and feels love for the Homeland. Today, you and Annie cut the red ribbon at the entrance to the newly built youth center. Even though your granddaughter’s mother is non-Armenian, the girl is growing up with the value system of Armenians thousands of miles away.
A. B.: When my wife and I found out that our first grandchild was going to be born, it took us a long time to decide what to give her as a gift. We eventually realized that Annie’s gift had to be symbolic. We asked one of the best masters of Europe to create a painting that would show a cross in the upper part and would portray the map of Armenia in gold, with the mountains and the Ararat Valley, Cilicia in the lower part and Lebanon even lower than that. Italy is portrayed in the bottom part from the left in the form of a shank, and our following message is written on the right side:
Child of an Armenian living far away,
Don’t forget your sweet mother language,
Stay clung to your roots,
Respect and love your ancestors.
The painting has been hung on the wall facing Annie’s bed since the very first day she was born. It “talks” to her and “leads” Annie on the right track in this big world.
Her entire room is filled with three colors and is decorated with various items representing Armenia.
We’ve told Annie that her name is the name of one of the ancient capitals of Armenia that was seized and destroyed by the Turks. We’ve told her that even though she lives in Bergamo, she must always remember Mother Armenia, Cilicia and Lebanon and remember that the sacred duty of all Armenians is to transmit the national values inherited from ancestors to the future generations.
H.A.: Mr. Bezikian, we thank you for setting the best example for the young generation of Armenians with your life and career. What is your wish to all Armenians who are just entering life?
A. B.: I would also like to thank the RA Ministry of Diaspora and Minister Hranush Hakobyan for appreciating my life and career. Frankly, I didn’t know that I was going to receive the Gold Medal. The award is inspiring and binding.
I would advise all Armenian parents to sow the seeds without a feeling of pity because their children will reap the seeds that are sown now. The best seed is knowledge that any prudent Armenian parent must give his child. Our 9-year-old granddaughter is now fluent in three languages.
I would like for young Armenians to be hard-working and have unbreakable will to pave the difficult path for the prosperity and development of our Homeland. We can create an established and developing Homeland, if we have a powerful Armenia and a powerful Diaspora.