BY ARA JAMES NAJARIAN
On Saturday, April 15, 2023, Dr. Vartkes Najarian passed away peacefully at his home in Glendale surrounded by his wife, children, their spouses, grandchildren and great grandchild.
Vartkes Najarian was born April 4, 1930 in Kessab, Syria to Hagop, an evangelical minister, and Rebecca. They had five children: Sirvart, Ardashes, Vartkes, Vasken and Vrej. At an early age, the family moved to Beirut, Lebanon.
After attending the Armenian Evangelical High School, he graduated from the American University of Beirut and received a scholarship to enter the AUB Medical School. In his spare time, he worked as a lifeguard on the Mediterranean beach and was a star athlete and national rowing champion.
He graduated from Medical School in 1957, and came to the United States to continue his medical training. After an internship in New Jersey, he went to Chicago, where he trained under the famous Dr. Hampar Kelikian. In 1958, while in Chicago, he married Mary Kevorkian a registered nurse and AUB graduate.
He completed his orthopedic training at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, where he settled down and raised four children: Ara, Armen, Raffi, and Maro. In the 20 years he spent in Cleveland, he served the community by volunteering as the sports team physician for Hawken School and the West Geauga School District.
In 1980, the family moved to California to be closer to his extended family and the flourishing Armenian community. He started his private orthopedic practice in Glendale where he pioneered the first weekly successful health program on Armenian Television.
His first visit to Soviet Armenia in 1984 sparked a burning passion to help his people.
Armenia’s health care system at the time was that of a third world country’s. He broke down political barriers in order to bring Armenia up to modern medical standards. He was the first doctor in the entire Soviet Union to perform arthroscopic surgery. In addition to bringing the valuable arthroscopic surgical equipment, he brought Armenian orthopedic surgeons to the United States to strengthen their training.
Even beyond orthoepedics, Dr. Najarian helped to develop modern eye care centers in Yerevan. The shortage of medicine in Armenian compelled Dr. Najarian to create the first aspirin tablet manufacturing facility in Yerevan.
When the 1988 earthquake rocked Armenia, Dr. Najarian was asked to be on the first US State Department emergency medical response team to assess the needs. This was the first time since the start of the Cold War that a US military plane was permitted to land in the Soviet Union. He established a humanitarian organization, Medical Outreach for Armenians, to facilitate his charitable projects.
Dr. Najarian with the help of the Armenian Community, arranged for 120 children, who had lost limbs in the earthquake, to obtain necessary surgical treatment and prosthetics in promiment Los Angeles hospitals. That same year, he sent millions of dollars of medical supplies, filling over 50 containers, to Yerevan.
In 1991, during the fierce fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, then Minister of Defense Serge Sarkissian stated that during the war “our soldiers wanted two things: medical care and a combat communication system. In those two areas, the Najarians played the major role.”
The radio systems the soldiers used were very heavy, obsolete, and unable to be used properly to direct troops. Dr. Najarian and his friends in Los Angeles purchased and delivered Alyenko radio systems to the Army which was crucial in turning the tide to victory for the Armenian and Artsakh forces.
Dr. Najarian had to leave his private medical practice in Los Angeles so he could spend more time in Artsakh attending to the troops. It was there that he would perform surgeries by candlelight in trenches and in bombed out basements, under the shelling of bombs and bullets.
After the war, Dr. Najarian, along with Medical Outreach, renovated 11 floors of the Military Hospital in Yerevan. The Najarians spent 8 years making a once run down building into a modern and well equipped military hospital. In Artsakh, Dr. Najarian renovated a 30-bed trauma center in Stepanakert. When not in Armenia and Artsakh he was always sending more medical supplies and assistance. Because of his sacrifice and heroic acts, Defense Minister Vasken Sarkissian honored Dr. Najarian with the rank of Colonel in the Armenian Army.
Among the numerous awards he received include the Vachagan Humanitarian Medal from Artsakh, the Soviet Medal of Honor, the Nelle Reagan Award, the Fridjen Nansen Award from the Russian International Humanitarian Organization, the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom and Presidential Medal of Honors from Artsakh President Arkady Ghuougassyan, Bako Sahakyan and Armenian President Serge Sarkissyan. He received Letters of Commendations from Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton.
Vartkes is survived by his wife Mary of 64 years, is sons Ara (Palmira), Armen (Naira), Raffi (Arda), Maro (Stephan Yacoubian) and Grandchildren Vartkes, Mary, Alexander (Anna Tutundjian), Christopher, Shant, Vahe, Daniel, Daron, and Elizabeth, as well as his great-grandson Edward.
Ara James Najarian is a member of the Glendale City council and served as the mayor of the city in the past.