MONTEBELLO, Calif.—Long-time community activist Michael (Mkhitar) Minasian passed away at his home in Montebello on January 17.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, January 28 at Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, 900 West Lincoln Avenue in Montebello. Burial services will follow at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles, after which a memorial luncheon will be hosted at the Bagramian Hall adjacent to Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral. Memorial donations may be made to the Armenian Monument Council, P.O. Box 1935, Montebello, CA 90640.
Michael Minasian was born in 1931 in an Armenian village near Varantzov, Russia to Sukias and Rehan, survivors of the Armenian genocide from the Alashgerd area in historical Armenia. His father and hero Sukias was a devoted man of the church who descended from a long line of deacons.
In 1944, toward the end of the World War II, Minasian left Russia with his family and moved as a “forced laborer” with the retreating German army. From 1945 through 1949, his family settled temporarily in a ‘displaced persons” camp in Stuttgart, Germany where more than 2,000 displaced Armenians were housed. There, a rich cultural community was formed which included a dance troupe, theatrical society, scout troops and a school. It was here that he received instruction for the first time in the Armenian language and developed his love for Armenian literature and history.
In 1949, through the sponsorship of Armenian-Americans, his family immigrated to the United States, first settling in Fresno and eventually in Los Angeles. They arrived with mere pennies in their pockets which required Michael to work many menial, labor-intensive jobs to help support his parents while attending night school to learn English and obtain his high school diploma. Although he was a dedicated student, his work responsibilities eventually forced him to drop his classes. Instead, he developed his language skills and wide knowledge of history, literature and politics through voracious reading in English and Armenian.
In 1953, prior to becoming a U.S. citizen, he joined the U.S. Armed Forces, serving in West Germany as a linguist in the Psychological Warfare Department for two years. As a result of his service, he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in April 1954 before a U.S. military court in Stuttgart.
After completing his military service, Michael returned to Los Angeles where, starting in 1955 he produced the weekly bilingual broadcast of the “Armenian Radio Hour” on various AM radio stations.
To help bring his brother’s family to the United States, in 1956, he opened an international music store in East Los Angeles where he recorded his radio program as well as sold vinyl records from Armenia. He later received training to become an insurance agent, eventually opening his own agency which became exceptionally successful.
In 1961, he married the daughter of his beloved teacher and the sister of his best friend from the Stuttgart camp, Arek Lydia Ajemian. Together they raised their four children–Ani Gohar, Raffi Komitas, Murad Mher and Vart Tamar—with a deep commitment to preserving the Armenian culture. They sacrificed a great deal to ensure that all four children attended Armenian Mesrobian School in Pico Rivera from pre-kindergarten through high school. Mkhitar and Arek’s union brought about a third generation of six grandchildren—Natasha Rehan, Noah Armen, Micah Vahn, Serop Razmig, Daron Setrak and Vaughn Mkhitar—all of whom have also attended Armenian Mesrobian School.
Throughout his life, he was very active in American Armenia civic and community organizations. In 1965, he helped organize the first-ever community march and related events in Los Angeles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. One of his greatest accomplishments was as a founding member of the Armenian Monument Council which in 1967, against tremendous political opposition by the Turkish government, spearheaded the development and erection of the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument atop a hill in Montebello’s Bicknell Park—the first monument memorializing the victims of the Armenian genocide to be constructed outside of Armenia, the first of such monuments to be built on public land.
Through his community activism he supported a multitude of charitable organizations, churches, Armenian publications, and local Armenian businesses. He played significant roles in the establishment of the Armenian Mesrobian School and the building of its high school wing, as well as the purchase of the property which now houses the Holy Cross Armenian Cathedral in Montebello.
In later years, he embarked on a third career as a land developer, building multiple tracts of single-family homes.