BY RITA HOVAKIMIAN
Arax Sarian was born in New Julfa, Iran on March 8, 1921 to Ashout and Mary Baghdasarian. She comes from a long line of doctors and pharmacists on her father’s side and very successful merchants on her mother’s side. Arax passed away on Monday, May 27 in San Francisco.
From an early age she demonstrated a love for music, theatre, and dance.
She lost her mother at the very young age of 10 and her sister died when she was only 16. These painful experiences shaped her young life and led to her empathy for loss and her unique ability to create and express some of the poetry we have all come to know and appreciate over these many years.
At 18 she married and later had her first of 3 children, her daughter Mary.
When her marriage dissolved, she defied all conventions for those times and left with her daughter, starting up her own entrepreneurial dressmaking business to support them in living independently – a rarity for a formerly married woman in Iran in the 1940’s.
The story goes that one day, while Arax was walking down the street in Tehran with young Mary, she captured the eye of Haik Hovakimian. He turned to his friend and asked: “who is that beautiful woman? I’m going to marry her!”
Haik wooed Arax and lobbied her family, and eventually he convinced her to marry him and let him take her and Mary to America to begin a new life.
In 1949, they moved to San Francisco and Arax quickly found work with the City of Paris department store in San Francisco’s Union Square, as a dressmaker. She very soon became their highest paid seamstress.
She and Haik had 2 children together, Rita and Melvin.
Her independent spirit thrived in the environment of America in the 1950’s.
Arax quickly became a pillar of the Armenian community in the Bay Area. She sponsored many relatives to come to the United States and used her resources to support them.
Eventually she changed careers and expressed her energy and drive to become a real estate agent, as well as a successful investor in Bay Area properties.
Arax brought her energetic participation to community activities. For approximately 20 years, she broadcasted for the Armenian Radio Hour.
In 1973, during the organization of Hamaskayin, the Armenian educational and cultural society in San Francisco, Arax became a founding member and also served as its executive for many years. While a member, her involvement was a great asset to the programs. As a graceful actress, she held leading roles in Levon Shant’s “Ingadz Perti Ishkhanouhin,”, “Gaisreh,” and “Madam X.”
During the same time, for 35 years, Arax was an active member of the Armenian Relief Society, and for 40 years an active member of the Ladies Auxiliary of St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church, and served as their Chairwoman for 14 years.
In addition, she created the monthly luncheon for Senior Citizens. For 35 years she hosted and raised funds to support the lunches, always organizing a lively and fun program for each month’s event. In line with her spirit and loves she designed activities including singing, poetry, music and raffles.
Among many awards and honors, in 2004, Arax was named Mother of the Year by the community. She has presented several community lectures, most recently “The History of Iranian/Armenians for the past 400 years.” She participated in virtually every aspect of community life and devoted her life to serving the church and community with passion and an unrelenting drive for excellence.
Arax truly enjoyed life and often remarked that she did everything that she wanted to do, including her loves of travel, the opera, cooking and entertaining, all the while always presenting herself with elegance and class.
I would like to end by sharing a quote from playwright George Bernard Shaw, which I feel truly captures Arax’s spirit and sense of purpose:
“This is the true joy in life: Being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of nature. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”