BY RAFFY KARAMANOUKIAN
It is with extreme sadness that the Karamanoukian Family announces the passing of our matriarch, Zepur Leon Karamanoukian. A beloved daughter, adored sister, dedicated wife, loving mother, thoughtful grandmother, award-‐winning artist, pillar of Armenian cultural rebirth, patriot of the Armenian Cause, and faithful believer of God.
Zepur was born to Mayranoush and Yeremia Geukgeuzian, deeply religious survivors of the Armenian Genocide from Marash in Armenian Cilicia. In the midst of their marital bond, Mayranoush and Yeremia instilled in their five children (Zaven, Vartkes, Zepur, Zareh, and Varouj) a fundamental belief and love of God, a survival instinct fueled only through hard work and perseverance, an appreciation of life, an undying commitment to Armenian Nationalism and Repatriation, love of art and music, and a kind human spirit that enlightened every encounter with laughter and hope. The Geukgeuzian family belonged to a long line of ecumenical ministers of the Armenian Protestant Church.
As a child, Zepur excelled in preparatory and secondary school. In Beirut, she demonstrated a commitment to obtain a college degree. She excelled in mathematics and literature; possessing a strong religious foundation in prose and poetry. To this day, friends and schoolmates praise Zepur’s remarkable memory and familiarity with biblical knowledge, prayers, Armenian literature, poetry, and history. She matriculated and received her college diploma at Haigazian College (now Haigazian University). Thereafter, she taught geometry and mathematics at Forty Martyrs School in Beirut.
In 1961, she married the love of her life, Professor Levon Karamanoukian. They’re fondness for each other cultivated an undying solidarity, friendship, and marriage that lasted four decades.
The love that Zepur and Levon had for each other pervaded all aspects of their lives. They formed an impenetrable union, built on mutual respect and love for one another. Zepur was Levon’s “Rock-‐of-‐Gibraltar,” and he appreciated that she was a fundamental pillar in the evolution of his notable career in education. She had an instinctive entrepreneurial spirit with which she built a solid family structure. With each accolade, Levon praised Zepur for her strength, devotion, and love. Their union produced four children; Hrair, Hratch, Tamar, and Raffy. To each, Zepur and Levon imbued a faith in God and love for mankind’s benevolence. Zepur was a robust participant in each of her children’s education, guiding them to all receive professional degrees in the medical sciences. She aspired to higher and higher achievements in all of her children and herself. Zepur inspired by example, not instruction; reading six to eight hours a day to demonstrate the power of knowledge and the written word.
As the matriarch of the family, Zepur Karamanoukian preached humility in one’s achievements and an uncompromising faith in God’s rectitude. Faith in God’s righteousness became a moral platform for her to help those less fortunate. Her prayers to God prioritized the needs of the poor and less fortunate over her own. She taught the virtues of achievement, but sought equity for those less fortunate.
Zepur was a consummate life-‐force. She inspired passion and inspiration in everyone around her, whether materially, spiritually, physically, or emotionally. Her home teemed with blossoming life, whether a sprouting seed from her travels in China to an emotionally-‐joyful friend who Zepur inspired to rekindle a lost love. Zepur Karamanoukian was deeply committed to help mankind deal with the hardships of the world. She preached understanding, compassion, rebirth, forgiveness, and spiritual fortitude.
In many ways, Zepur embodied the indomitable Armenian spirit so proudly and eloquently described by William Saroyan…
“…Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”
Zepur was the daughter of Armenian Genocide survivors who braved one of the deepest chapters of modern history. Her heart bore the sadness and despair of those that suffered; but pulsated by the inherent power of cultural resiliency within the context of the modern Armenian renaissance. She avidly read Armenian history, theology, and literature. On a recent trip to Armenia, she overpowered the tour guide with her professorial fund of knowledge of Armenian history and mythology while visiting Sourp Hripsme church and the Echmiadzin complex. She once sat silently and prayed at the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi Nagorno-‐
Karabakh, lamenting on the countless children who died and were left orphaned during the war of independence.
To her family, Zepur espoused forgiveness and compassion; but she wittingly juxtaposed these virtues with the importance of historical justice and equity. All of her life, she remained a mightiful advocate of the Armenian Cause. She earnestly read every available Armenian newspaper, editorial, political commentary, historical perspective, and social/cultural announcement that she could get her hands on every day of her life; for decades and decades. She read her bible every night, seeking God’s universal wisdom in her life. It was not enough to attend historical, political, cultural lectures at the major universities and churches in Los Angeles; Zepur was inspired to directly engage the lecturer formally and informally in discussion. She marveled scholars from across the Armenian diaspora; even discussing the merits of the Woodrow Wilson legacy with one of his descendants.
To say that Zepur Karamanoukian led a fruitful life is an understatement. She challenged established cultural and social restraints and became a source of inspiration for those around her. She inspired generation after generation to fulfill their aspirations to the fullest. She led by example, always reminding herself that she benefitted most by helping those around her.
In her late adult life, Zepur began to express her creative talents through art. In the late nineties, she explored her artistic inclinations by teaching herself to nurture her creative mind through paintings. Her initial art pieces were not whimsical strokes of a paintbrush on canvas, but were carefully crafted and meticulous watercolor paintings of crumbling Armenian churches and monasteries in Western Armenia. Each piece, represented by months of careful planning and short-‐stroke technique; reincarnated monastic complexes oft-‐forgotten by history. It was, for Zepur, an emotional tribute to her subconscious desire to help those forgotten and less-‐fortunate. Her artwork inspired fortitude and social justice for the Armenian Cause.
With each passing year, Zepur’s exploratory period of art became more and more refined. Zepur exploited her ambidexterity, integrating the meticulous detail and aesthetic fluidity of her right and left brain, respectively. She expressed herself through acrylic and cloissone mediums and began to formally learn her discipline. Within a short period, her teachers became her students; often querying Zepur and forensically-‐analyzing her pieces to determine whether she in fact was truly a student taking classes or an experienced artist with formal education. Her artwork awarded her merit at competition after competition; culminating with a gallery exhibition with over one thousand guests. On the 1700th Anniversary of Armenia’s adoption of Christianity, Zepur Karamanoukian’s artwork was presented at an art exhibition sponsored by Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian and organized by the Holy Martyrs Armenian Apostolic Church.
Her artwork demonstrated the many complexities of her mind and the virtuosity of her artistic talent. Her artistic dexterity allowed her to express the beauty of nature, history, human suffering, and religious faith. She personally presented a seminal piece of artwork to His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia for which she received widespread acclaim.
The desire to inspire through example permeated Zepur Karamanoukian’s personal and public life. She participated in numerous social charitable missions throughout her adult life. She met face to face with Pope Benedict XVI while on a medical mission in Krakow Poland. Her industry and social benevolence took her to Vietnam for a medical mission; Haiti to dedicate medical services after the devastating Haiti earthquake, and three times to Armenia and Nagorno-‐ Karabakh Republic.
She remained inspired by the religious and cultural fortitude of the Artsakh people in Nagorno-‐ Karabakh Republic. She met personally with President Bako Sahakian to reiterate the commitment of the Armenia Diaspora to the Armenian cause in Artsakh and participated in the private inauguration of his second term as President; met with Archbishop Parkev Martirosyan, Primate of the Diocese of Artsakh of the Armenian Apostolic Church; and helped fund crucial medical supplies at the opening ceremony of the Central Republic Hospital in Stepanakert. Through these encounters, she remained humbled by her dedicated service to her fellow man under the faithful reverence of God.
Zepur Karamanoukian fulfilled many of her dreams and left few of her aspirations unfulfilled. She is survived by her four children and grandchildren, all of whom were blessed by her intellect, inspiration, initiative, industry, patriotism, and faith. She was a loving mother and grandmother. To her, family was the most important element of her life and she demonstrated her passionate love of family in so many ways. She spent days and nights knitting blankets for her children and grandchildren so that they could stay warm in their beds. Family was priority over all else. Zepur made sure to be the first person present at the birth of her grandchildren. She spent hours cooking intricate Armenian dishes and uniting all members of the family for amazing family dinners.
Her sense of giving pervaded every movement. She would make sure to place cookies and candies in ceramic cookie jars so that at a moment’s notice, visiting grandchildren and children would find special treats all over the house. Whenever a child or grandchild would express their love for a particular dish, she would spend hours cooking it and then drive it to the house so they could enjoy it after school or work. She would retell the story of how each child was born so that the children could revel in the story of their infancy.
As a rule, Zepur attended every birthday party for each of her grandchildren, always giving them an envelope of money with her handwritten well wishes. Christmas and Easter Holidays were cherished in our homes as she delicately placed ornaments on the Christmas tree or hide eggs for an Easter egg hunt. She created tradition, with plentiful meals, love, and generosity. She would cook traditional Armenian dishes for each holiday, and would enjoy teaching each child, daughter-‐in-‐law, and grandchild how to carefully craft Easter cookies.
Easter was special for Zepur. It symbolized rebirth and life to her. She enjoyed traditional Easter meals and would find colorful and creative ways to make the eggs more beautiful and colorful year after year. During each Easter, she was always laughing and helping the youngest grandchild find equity with the older ones by throwing a couple of extra eggs into their baskets during the celebrated Easter egg hunts. She led each Easter meal with a thoughtful prayer, reminding us to help and honor those less fortunate. The culmination of Easter, for her was the celebrated Easter egg contest in which each guest would battle to crack the other’s egg. It showed how competitive she was, carefully analyzing each egg beforehand to find the strongest shell.
Zepur enjoyed travelling the world; always ready and willing to pack her bags and explore unknown lands. China and Asia were inspirational for her. She visited multiple times, each time exploring the infinite expressions of art and food with each turn.
She led an honorable life, as a dedicated daughter, devoted wife, faithful mother and grandmother, and sincere friend. She gently smiled once as we crossed the remote village of Chanakhchi in Armenia with a population of 1,200 and a forgotten history few would know. She recounted out loud that this was the birthplace of Paruyr Sevag, one of her favorite Armenian poets. Years later, we were to learn that he wrote one of her favorite poems, titled “A Mother’s Hands” ՄՈՐ ՁԵՌՔԵՐԸ. It speaks of the undying devotion, sacrifice, and love borne by those beautiful hands of our mother that have and will forever inspire us with warmth that is more unwavering than the morning sun, strength that is stronger than the densest diamond, and softness more supple than the finest silk. Zepur Karamanoukian’s smile resonated throughout any room she was in; her graceful hands enlivened the whitest canvas; her soft-‐ spoken words inspired poetry and prose amongst her surroundings; and her actions brought a Midas life-‐force to everything she touched.
Her loss is unmistakable. She brought so much life and adventure to our family that we cannot fathom an existence without her. Her life is a testament to the good will of God and his ability to create the most amazing creations with His grace. She lived with no limitations and inspired others to live honorably by helping those less fortunate. She lived selflessly, but did so with endless love, laughter, and joy.
With love and dedication. May you rest in peace, beloved mother.