Rev. Barkev Darakjian
By Ani Darakjian, M.D.
My father, Barkev, was the youngest of five boys born to Pastor Nazareth and Mrs. Arousiag Darakjian. Pastor Nazareth died from malaria when my father was 18 months old leaving his mother, Arousiag, to raise five boys on her own. My father is said to have been a fairly chubby schoolboy and was called “Tomboulig” or “Tombig.” Many years later he would write a children’s book called The Adventures of Tombig, based on his childhood memories.
After father finished elementary school at the Bethel Armenian Evangelical Church of Aleppo, he could not continue his education because of the family’s financial situation. He spent his teenage years being apprenticed first to a tailor and then to a goldsmith, but he was not suited to either of these trades. He subsequently opened a bookstore, which was closer to his heart. He loved to read. His motto was to not sell a book, be it in Armenian or in English, without having read it first. During these years, Barkev stayed close to the church, teaching Sunday school and serving as a youth group leader. His bookstore became the hang out place for the church youth. His friends at church saw in him the potential for a future pastor, and urged him to attend a Bible college, but he had neither the money nor the high school diploma necessary to attend college.
By this time my father had married Armine Andreassian, daughter of Rev. Dikran Andreassian, who was the Chair of the Mussa Dagh Defense Council which defended the population against the Turkish hordes whose aim was to wipe out Armenians in the area. I am the first child of the couple. Father was not a very good businessman. It has been told that a customer walked into his bookshop and asked the price of an item. Thinking that the man would bargain with him, he gave him an inflated price. The man did not bargain. He paid the money and left with his purchase. Father’s conscience bothered him so much that he ran after the man, apologized for overcharging him and returned the amount he had overcharged.
My mother soon realized that if her husband did not attain his goal of serving the Lord as a pastor, he would be miserable for the rest of his life. She encouraged him to study for, and take the exams for the British high school equivalency test called the GCE. This is where Barkev’s extensive reading and self-education, as well as his wife’s and sister-in-law’s (his present wife’s) tutoring, paid off. He passed the exams and together with my mother, they went to see President Dr. John Markarian at the newly opened Haigazian College in Beirut. Dr. Markarian agreed to give my father a chance and thus he became enrolled as a college freshman at the age of 33. After successfully completing his year at Haigazian College, he took additional exams and was accepted to the American University of Beirut and the Near East School of Theology. He graduated with Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Divinity degrees in 1965, at the age of 40.
After graduation, he became the Director of the Christian Endeavor Society, the youth organization of the churches of Syria and Lebanon, and eventually the Editor of its three publications Chanasser, Badanegan Artsakank, and Louys. He was well suited to the position of youth director, because he had so recently been a college student himself. He was loved and respected by the youth whom he served.
Despite the fact that he had grown up in a Turkish speaking Aintabtzi household, he had acquired a depth and breadth of knowledge in Armenian language, literature, and history, through extensive reading and self-education. He was asked to fill the position of Armenian language teacher for four upper classes in a local high school. During these years, my father was not the pastor of a particular church. But I remember him getting up early on Sunday mornings, and taking some form of public transportation – since we did not own a car – to preach to shut-ins at the Armenian old age home, or the tuberculosis sanatorium located in the eastern suburbs of Beirut. He would also accept invitations from different churches to preach on special occasions.
In 1974, Barkev was invited to become Pastor of the Armenian Congregational Church in Chicago. He was almost 50 years old then. During his 21 years in Chicago, he served not only his church, but the entire Armenian Community. He established close ties with the clergy of the Armenian Apostolic Churches. He taught Armenian language classes at the request of the local AGBU chapter. He mobilized his church to help the Armenian refugees arriving in Chicago from Baku, by providing everything from furniture and clothing, to orientation and help with filling out forms. His love of learning led him at age 60 to attend Mundelein College, a Catholic college where my mother served for many years as Registrar (now part of Loyola University) in Chicago. He subsequently received a Master’s degree in Religious Studies specializing in Historical Theology.
My father began to write at the age of 15, and his love for literature led him to a career of writing along with his pastoral work. He has written extensively on various subjects, such as, Armenian Evangelical church history, theology, ecclesiology, philosophy, literature, and on issues of educational and national interest. He has translated several mystery and detective story books for young readers into Armenian under the pen-name Never. One of the books that he authored, The Adventures of Tombig, won an award for best Armenian children’s book in modern times. His more serious works include The History of Protestant Thought: From Luther to Our Times; Armenian Evangelical Identity: Historical and Theological Perspectives; Indispensable Heritage; and a Prayerbook for worship services.
My father began his service as editor of the FORUM, a bi-lingual quarterly publication of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America (AEUNA), in the 1980s, while he was still in Chicago. After his retirement in 1996, the family moved to Glendale, California, where he continued as editor for a number of years and continued to write articles in the FORUM and other publications, such as the AMAA NEWS and the UACC HERALD.
In 2000, my father became the Founding Pastor of The First Armenian Evangelical Church of Glendale. After losing his wife to leukemia, he married Agnes Andreassian in August of 2004.
Looking at the life of this fatherless and penniless young man who attained his goals of continuing his education and serving God as a minister, one might say that he was lucky, or that he was smart, or that he married the right woman, who worked to support him for many years as he went to school. But we Christians don’t believe in luck. We believe in God’s providential care for us, and “we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 Vartsked gadar, hayrig.