Harutun Ajemian’s life was both humble and transcendent. He was exemplary through his hard work, altruism, and love of family, friends, and Armenian culture, much like many, many others from the community of Armenian displaced people, our “DPs.”
The second of five children born to Armenak and Araxi Ajemian, Harutun had a life which was both an adventure and achievement. A good part of his youthful days was lived as the oldest male in the family, his father Armenak was jailed and exiled by the Soviet government for his membership in the Dashnak party.
Harutun’s life was extraordinary by our contemporary measure, but typical to his fellow Armenians who wound up as displaced people in Germany after World War 2. Like other DPs, his dreams were changed by the circumstances of the world war: the migration to Germany, the bombings, work as a Gastarbeiter, sponsorship through ANCHA and the migration to America, marrying a fellow displaced Armenian, Mariam Nranian, and raising a family in America.
Like his fellow DPs, Harutun had many skills and succeeded at them. He was an auto mechanic, carpenter, plumber, painter, and electrician. He built everything from a doghouse for his sister’s children to a bedroom and bathroom for his family. Working thirty years as a responsible employee of General Motors, Harutun was a devoted family man, taking his family on memorable summer trips throughout the American West. A good part of his time was taken with work for the Armenian community, from cleanup at the Armenian Center after bingo games to construction of a temporary altar at Mesrobian School while the Armenian cathedral in Montebello was being built in the early Eighties. He was an honorary member of “Club Mesrobian” because of his help year after year in setting up the Mesrobian fireworks booth. His work as a carpenter included key construction along with his brothers and brother-in-law at AYF Camp Big Pines.
His wife and he were married almost sixty-three years. In addition to their four children, they had seven grandchildren. He loved his siblings’ children and grandchildren, earning the nickname of “Kit Kat Babig” because of the chocolate bars of Kit Kat which he would give away to them. (Two of his grandsons would occasionally raid his stash when they visited his house.)
The wife and he were one of seven DP couples which laughed and cried, played and worked together. Of the fourteen people memorialized by friend Misha Hagopian in the poem “Seven Friends”, there are three still living.
It is inspiring to know of the resilience which he, his parents, and siblings showed in the face of life-altering events. Caught up in the torrent of tragic history, with danger, death, and displacement repeatedly tormenting the family, Harutun, like many displaced Armenians, adapted, survived, and thrived. Schooling and dreams disrupted, he, nevertheless, made the best of circumstances.
Harutun is of a generation, of a time, of a people who made an indelible mark in the lives of their peers, children, and grandchildren. Like others who had a Soviet education, Harutun had an appreciation for classic literature written in Russian and Armenian. When in Germany, he kept a diary in Russian and Armenian. Here in America, he recorded and played Armenian and Russian folk music. Cherished habits of his included tuning in to Michael Minasian’s “Armenian Radio Hour” Sunday mornings and playing one of his favorite songs, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from the classic American musical “Oklahoma.”
Harutun’s was a wonderful life.
The funeral will take place at Memorial Chapel, Rose Hills Cemetery, Whittier, California, on Friday, September 2, at 1 p.m. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to one of three community organizations, namely, the Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, Montebello, California, 323.727.1113; the Armenian Mesrobian School, Pico Rivera, California, 562.699.2057; or Armenia Tree Project, www.armeniatree.org, 617.926.8733.