Rev. Habib Alajaji
The Rev. Habib Alajaji was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1937 into a loving Christian home, the oldest of five children born to Basil and Nartouhi (Khosrofian) Alajaji. He attended Aleppo College and grew up with the dream of taking over and expanding his father’s carpentry business. At the age of 11, with his mother’s influence, he accepted Christ as his personal Savior.
He moved to Beirut, Lebanon at the age of 19 to finish high school and attended a service where a missionary speaker gave a call to ministry. Though he felt God speaking to him, he said no. That night, he was rushed to the hospital in severe pain. When he returned to Aleppo, he had appendix surgery, but found that the cause was actually his colon. After five days, he awoke from a coma and informed his father that he was going to Bible school. Thirty-eight days later, he was moved on a stretcher, by plane, back to Beirut where he had his second unsuccessful surgery, leaving him functional but still not healed. After starting at Ebenezer Bible School, he needed a third surgery for his wound, scheduled during Easter vacation.
After surgery, his situation went from bad to worse and he became angry with God, questioning why he was not healed after committing his life to God. He stopped reading his Bible, quit praying and yet he heard a voice whispering to him, “Joseph forgave his brothers, but you can’t forgive God?” He responded to God, knowing that regardless of the outcome, he would serve Him even if it meant dying. That same afternoon, his father and his father’s friend, Samuel Pashgian (who later became Habib’s father-in-law), prayed over his open wound. They put a copy of a Christian magazine on him, prayed in faith and he was miraculously healed. An eight-month ordeal finally came to a miraculous end.
Habib finished Bible school in 1960, and served in the Evangelistic Center with Rev. Samuel Doctorian until 1970. During this time, he met and married Ruth Pashgian. In September 1970, he was ordained by the Church of the Nazarene in Beirut where he served as Pastor and later District Superintendent of the Lebanon, Syria and Jordan District. His knowledge of Armenian, English, Arabic and Turkish made him a strategic leader in the church’s Middle East efforts. In 1974, he received his Bachelor of Theology degree from the Near East School of Theology.
In 1979, the Church of the Nazarene’s World Mission department convinced Habib to leave the area until the civil war died down. They had planned to stay in the United States for six months, but Habib and Ruth and their four children moved permanently to Glendale, California where they established the first Armenian Church of the Nazarene in the United States. Habib continued his education, receiving a M.A. in Religion and a Ph.D. of Philosophy from the California Graduate School of Theology. He served in Glendale for 25 years, preaching regularly on an Armenian television channel that was televised nationwide. He also traveled to teach in Armenia and Cyprus at the European Nazarene Bible College.
After the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Lord opened the door for Habib to visit and the Lord helped him start churches in Yerevan and Gyumri, beginning the Nazarene ministry in Armenia. The Glendale Armenian Church of the Nazarene was also instrumental in starting churches in Whittier, Pasadena, and North Hollywood, California.
In 2005, he retired from full time ministry, but continued to serve the Lord, preaching and teaching in Australia, Armenia and the United States. He recently celebrated his 80th birthday and continues to serve as Pastor Emeritus in Glendale, leading a weekly Bible study.
His life verse is Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
-Excerpts taken from Dr. Dean Nelson’s “Divinely Displaced” published in Holiness Today.
Rev. Dr. Vartkes Manuel Kassouni
Vartkes Manuel Kassouni was born and raised on the island of Cyprus. His parents, Manuel and Martha (Mississian) had immigrated there from Aintab (father) and Marash (mother). Manuel was the brother of Rev. Yeghia Kassouny, the renowned author and minister. He was a teacher in the American Academy, Larnaca, where he taught for sixty years, and where Vartkes received his elementary and secondary education. His spiritual education and experience was in the local Reformed Presbyterian Church where Rev. Hagop Sagherian was Pastor to the Armenians.
Starting in 1949, three educational institutions played a key role in Vartkes’s development: Bob Jones University, Greenville, SC, (BA 1953); Biblical Seminary, New York City (M.DIV. 1956); and McCormick Seminary, Chicago, IL, (D.MIN. 1991). Under the guidance of the AMAA he and his wife, Adrine (Keshishian) were ready to go to Aleppo in 1956, as youth workers in the area churches, but the Suez Canal war that year prevented them from doing so. Over the next several years, they had four children: Linda Joy (Walker); Nancy Jean (McGinnis); Karen Martha (May), and Timothy Vartkes (Amy).
After working for two years as the Philadelphia Area Director of International Students Inc., he accepted a call to the pastorate at the Armenian Evangelical Church of New York City, where he was ordained to the Christian Ministry by the New York Association of Congregational Church (now United Church of Christ) in 1957. While in New York he served as Moderator of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, and a member of the AMAA Board of Directors. While there he led a major effort to raise funds and buy a building for the newly formed Armenian Evangelical Church of Toronto, Canada. He ministered in New York for five years and then accepted a call from the First Armenian Presbyterian Church of Fresno, CA. in 1964. He served there for 13 years, and led their major move to build three new facilities (Christian Education, Sanctuary and Social Hall). He was a founding member of the newly formed union of the Armenian Evangelical churches and youth organizations of the East and the West coasts.
Starting in 1979, Vartkes began a new pastorate at the United Armenian Congregational Church of Los Angeles, following the death of the Rev. Paul Avazian. He served there till 1983, where he played a key role in the startup of the C&E Merdinian Armenian Evangelical School, the first such institution in America. From there he entered a new phase in his ministry, that of serving churches of the Presbyterian Church (USA), to which he had shifted his ministerial affiliation several years before. Starting at the Tustin Presbyterian Church in Tustin, CA, he served six churches (Palmdale, Tustin, Huntington Beach, Garden Grove, Yorba Linda, and Fullerton). In 1986, he was called to be the Associate Executive Presbyter of Los Ranchos Presbytery, as their new church developer. In this capacity, he was the initiating founder of new churches in Laguna Niguel, Plano Trabuco (Rancho Santa Margarita), Yorba Linda, North Huntington Beach, and several union and revitalized churches. He also was the Interim Executive Presbytery of San Fernando Presbytery (1999-2001).
His marriage ended in a divorce, and in 1987 he married Samira Audeh. They settled in Orange, CA, where they currently reside. Vartkes retired twice: once in 1996, and again finally in 2015, bringing him to the final phase of his ministry, that of writing.
Among his many articles written in church-related organs, sermon and lecture notes, he has a book recently published, titled, POINTS OF LIGHT, A Memoir and More. He continues in that capacity while also maintaining an active preaching and teaching ministry.
Rev. Dr. John Markarian
The Rev. Dr. John Markarian was born in Windham, a town in Greene County New York a ectionately named “Gem of the Catskills” on June 7, 1917, two months after the US entered into World War I. Dr. Markarian’s father, The Rev. Hagop Markarian, was born in Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul. He attended the missionary-run St. Paul’s Apostolic Institute and was one of eight Armenian men in the inaugural graduating class of 1893. In 1898, he left Turkey and entered the United States, where he enrolled in Lafayette College and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and was awarded the Astronomy Prize and Math Prize at the time of his graduation in 1901. He went on to Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating in 1904 and was ordained into the Presbyterian ministry.
John’s mother, Dora Benedict Euth, traced her American ancestry thru the Benedict Family whose rst arrival in the United States was Thomas Benedict in 1638. She was the great-great-great-granddaughter of The Rev. James Benedict, founding Pastor in 1776, of the Pittston Baptist Church in Luzerne County, PA. The Markarian family eventually moved to Scranton, PA where Hagop was the French Professor at Scranton Central High School and stated supply pastor of two Presbyterian Churches, Old Forge and Duryea.
John graduated from Scranton Central HS in the class of 1935. For three years, he was employed as a clerk in S.H. Bezdjian Oriental Rugs in Wilkes-Barre, PA. During that period of time, he attended the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Finance evening classes earning The Diploma after three years of study. In 1938, he was employed as a clerk in the Plant Record and Cost Department of the Scranton Electric Company until 1941 and enrolled in Lafayette College as a pre-theological student. He graduated in 1943 with a BA Degree in Philosophy. During his enrollment in Lafayette, he worked the nightshift in the Payroll Department at Ingersoll Rand Corporation where he met Ruth Miller. They married in 1943, after his graduation, and moved to New Jersey where John enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary and Ruth joined the Gallup Corporation in Princeton. In 1945, John graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity Degree. Following in his father’s footsteps, John became an ordained Presbyterian minister in the Lackawanna Presbytery.
In 1946, Dr. Markarian joined the Religion Department at Lafayette College. It was during this time, one of his students, Harry Balukjian, introduced him to the Armenian Community in Philadelphia. In 1955 he took a two year leave of absence from his position at Lafayette to accept an invitation from the Armenian Evangelical Church to organize a church-related college in Beirut, Lebanon, to be named Haigazian. The family of three, his wife Ruth and their 5-year old daughter Joanne, set sail from New York to Beirut on an Egyptian mail line, the SS Mohammed Ali el-Kebir. The completion of Markarian’s dissertation for his Ph.D. in Theology, postponed because of the move to Beirut, was awarded by Drew University Graduate School in Madison, New Jersey in 1963, during a sabbatical for that purpose. This challenging job, the founding and forming of a University college, lasted 11 years until 1966. The family moved to Pella, Iowa, where Dr. Markarian became head of the Religion Department and Dean of the Chapel at Central College, a liberal arts college a liated with the Reformed Church of America. During this three-year period, Ruth lost her life in a tragic automobile accident. Dr. Markarian eventually returned to Beirut and became Professor of Theology and Director of Development of the Near East School of Theology until 1971, when he returned to the Presidency of Haigazian University College.
In 1973, Dr. Markarian met Inge Wilke, a member of the sta of the German Embassy in Beirut. The two were married in December, 1974, at the Old First Church in Huntington, New York. They spent the years up to 1982 on the door-step of the war in Lebanon. Dr. Markarian retired in 1982 and the two moved to Los Angeles, living there from 1982 – 1986, when they moved to West Pittston where they presently reside. His daughter Joanne lives in Los Angeles, and his grandson, born in 1983 in Los Angeles, now resides in Sydney, Australia.
Dr. Markarian’s memoir, The Thirsty Enemy, was published by the AMAA in 2010.
Rev. Dr. Joseph M. Alexanian
Joseph Manuel Alexanian was born in 1930 to Manuel and Priscilla Yeghoyan Alexanian in Oakland, California, the older of two children. His maternal grandfather was the renowned pastor and evangelist, Rev. Assadour Yeghoyan.
Joseph attended local public schools, graduating from high school in 1948. He acquired a love for music from his parents and studied piano and cornet at an early age. Throughout his public school and college years, Joseph played the cornet in school and community bands, orchestras, and in musical ensembles.
From his parents, Joseph learned to love God and to trust Christ for salvation. In 1944, during a worship service in Fresno, California, he committed his life to the Lord.
In addition to his family, his home church, Bethany Armenian Congregational Church of Oakland, played an important role in his spiritual growth.
Following graduation from high school, he attended Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, graduating summa cum laude in 1952.
After attending Wheaton Graduate School for a year, he transferred to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He graduated cum laude from Fuller in 1955 with a master of divinity degree. While at the Seminary, Joseph married the former Esther Chetakian in 1954. They were blessed with two sons, Daniel and David and two daughters, JoAnn and Debra.
Joseph was ordained to the Christian ministry in 1955 in the Bethany Armenian Congregational Church by a Vicinage Council of Congregational Churches and ministers. In 1975, he transferred his ministerial standing to the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.
The Rev. and Mrs. Alexanian went to Beirut, Lebanon in 1955 and taught full-time at Central High School (CHS) in Eshrefieh, Lebanon. He also inspired his sister Pauline Alexanian Khanjian to join him in teaching at CHS. One of their students, Hagop Bozabalian, became Archbishop Nerses Bozabalian, Chancellor of the Catholicosate in Etchmiadzin, Armenia. He has since passed away. While in Lebanon, Joseph’s wife Esther also taught at CMC Hospital in the nursing program.
During the second year of their stay in Beirut, Rev. Alexanian received a call from Bethany Armenian Congregational Church in Oakland, California to become the pastor. He accepted the call and served Bethany Church from 1957 to 1962. During his ministry, he was elected and served as Moderator of the Armenian Evangelical Union of California, from 1959 to 1960. He visited all the Armenian Evangelical churches throughout California, meeting with pastors and boards to discuss their needs and challenges.
In the summer of 1962, Rev. Alexanian made a change in his vocational career. After a time of personal assessment, he came to the conclusion that he could better fulfill God’s call to teach the scriptures in the teaching profession rather than in the pastorate. He was accepted into the doctoral program of the department of humanities at the University of Chicago (UC).
During the next three years, from 1962 to 1965, the Rev. Alexanian completed the course requirements for the UC. After arriving in Chicago, the Alexanians became members of the Bethany Evangelical Covenant Church. Shortly after, when the pastor of the church moved to Seattle, Washington, the Board of Bethany asked Rev. Alexanian to fill the pulpit Sunday mornings and evenings as often as possible. After a few months, Bethany Church extended an invitation to Pastor Joseph to be the full-time minister. After declining the church’s offer three times, Rev. Alexanian allowed his name to be considered as a candidate. With acclamation, he was elected Pastor of Bethany. The Alexanians lived on the south side of Chicago near the church.
In 1969, Redeemer Covenant Church merged with Bethany Church, and the two churches became the Beverly Evangelical Covenant Church, with Rev. Alexanian as the minister. The merged church had 700 members.
After having guided the two congregations through the transition period, Rev. Alexanian felt he needed to return to his doctoral studies. During the next four years, from 1969 to 1973, he completed all the necessary research and analysis for his doctoral dissertation entitled, “The Armenian Version in Luke and the Question of the Caesarian Text.” Meanwhile, he was offered a teaching position at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois. He began his teaching career at Trinity College as an assistant professor. Over the years, he advanced in rank to full professor of Biblical studies and became Chairman of the department of Biblical studies. He held this position from 1973 until his retirement in 1995.
In July 1994, Dr. Alexanian taught at St. Nersess Seminary in Armonk, New York and in 1995 he taught for two weeks at the Armenian Evangelical Theological Academy in Yerevan, Armenia.
During his academic career, Dr. Alexanian published eleven scholarly articles in various prestigious journals and books and he presented ten major papers to seminars and symposiums. He received a number of awards, and continues to hold membership in more than a dozen academic and religious organizations. Among many articles and publications, Dr. Alexanian published a critical edition of the ancient Armenian text of Acts.
Dr. and Mrs. Alexanian moved to the state of Washington in 1995 to be nearer to most of their children and other family members. Currently, Rev. Dr. Alexanian is continuing his research while participating in various ministries of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America and Armenian Missionary Association of America. He continues to preach and teach in churches when asked.
This biography is an amended version of Rev. Dr. Joseph Alexanian’s biography in the Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian’s book “Fifty Years of Christian Service,” 2000, pages 30-32.
Rev. Jerair Bizdikian
By Mihran Jizmejian, AMAC President
Rev. Jerair Bizdikian was born in Athens, Greece, in 1927 in an Armenian Evangelical home, and attended the Armenian Evangelical School of Athens. As a young child, he regularly attended the Sunday School and the church. Later, as a young man, he joined the youth group of his church, the Christian Endeavor Society. In 1942, during World War II his father died, hence his education was interrupted.
Twelve years after the death of his father, Jerair, at the age of twenty-six, continued his education at the Nazarene Bible School in Beirut, Lebanon. At the same time, he followed English language and literature courses at the British Council. Successfully passing a series of exams, he received a certificate of proficiency in English from the University of Cambridge, England in 1957. That same year he also graduated from the Nazarene Bible School.
He married Alice Mardirossian in the summer of 1957. God blessed the family with four children: three boys and one girl. Jerair was admitted to Haigazian College and the Near East School of Theology (NEST) in the spring of 1958, and graduated with a B.T. degree in 1962. After graduation, he served as Pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Athens and was also appointed Director of the Church’s School. Occasionally he has served the Athens Church as a visiting pastor, relieving the local pastor for short periods.
For two semesters in 1965-66, he attended the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California. Then for two years he returned to NEST for graduate studies. During these two years, he served as Assistant Minister and Youth Leader at the First Armenian Evangelical Church of Beirut.
In 1968 the Bizdikians moved to Montreal, Canada. For a year, he worked at an institute as a supervisor of teenagers aged 12-18 years for whom the institute was a temporary home. Later, as an English language teacher he worked in the adult education system. In 1970, he was appointed as an English teacher in a public high school. He attended the McGill University and received his teacher’s diploma. He worked as a full-time teacher until he retired in 1992. As a part-time teacher, he taught English at the College of Mt. Morrency for eighteen years and retired from this teaching post in 1995.
Almost all his free time has been absorbed in serving the Armenian Evangelical Church of Montreal as a Board member, Assistant Pastor and Choir Director. He has also served as a visiting pastor for 18 months at the Memorial Church in Watertown, MA, and for three months at the Belmont Armenian Evangelical Church in Boston, MA.
Pastor Jerair received his pastoral license in 1962 from the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Middle East. He served as Pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Church of Montreal from 1978-80, and from November 1987- April 1992. From 1996 – 2002 he served as the visiting pastor to the Armenian Evangelical Chicago Church where his ordination took place in 2001 by the AEUNA.
Rev. Bizdikian has been serving in various capacities as a visiting pastor, interim Minister, instructor, and administrator in the Armenian Evangelical Churches, and has prepared a textbook for the Seminarians in the Armenian language, entitled “Introduction to New Testament.”
He is also a visiting pastor in the local Presbyterian Churches in Quebec.
Rev. and Mrs. Bizdikian have five grandchildren whom they dearly love and give thanks to the Lord.
Gilbert Bilezikian, Th.D.
By Louisa Janbazian
Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, affectionately renamed “Dr. B” by his students, was born to Genocide survivors who escaped to France from their native town of Marash, Turkey. His maternal grandfather was Pastor Garabed Kupelian, one of the nineteen ministers and missionaries who were killed on their way to a church convention near Adana in 1909. A native of Paris, he received his B.A. from the University of Paris. He then went to Boston to obtain the M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and his Th.D. from Boston University. He has also pursued a seven year post-doctoral program at the Sorbonne in Paris under Professor Oscar Cullmann.
Dr. Bilezikian’s professional life began in Paris where he taught seven years at the European Bible Institute while serving as Minister of Christian Education at the American Church in Paris. In 1961 he came to the United States and served for five years as Pastor of the Loudonville Community Church in Albany, New York. He then joined the Wheaton College faculty where he taught for twenty years until his retirement. In 1968, Dr. Bilezikian interrupted his tenure at Wheaton College to assume the position of the presidency of Haigazian College in Beirut, Lebanon, after which he taught for two years at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois before returning to Wheaton College.
“The call to go to Beirut and join Haigazian College came inauspiciously while the 1967 ‘Six Day War’ raged in the Middle East,” says Dr. Bilezikian. “I was then happily ensconced in the academic life of a tranquil Midwestern university in the United States.” As Haigazian College needed an administrator who was an Armenian, Protestant and Evangelical, who spoke English, Armenian and French, who knew American and European educational systems, who had the necessary academic credentials and whose professional experience spanned the continents, the California-based Haigazian Board of Trustees convinced him to take the position.
The political turmoil that prevailed during that time in the Middle East had deep repercussions on the campus of Haigazian College and some students became politically radicalized. They started publishing inflammatory underground papers and tried to organize demonstrations of a terrorist nature on the campus. As Dr. Bilezikian opposed attempts to turn the campus into a political battleground, he received death-threats from the extremists who were frustrated in their attempts to gain control of the College. Fortunately, the Students’ Government stood firmly on the administration’s side to protect the academic integrity of the College. It was during this time that the Bilezikian’s nine year old daughter, Christiane, was shot in the back while playing on her school grounds. Fortunately, the injury was not fatal. But, as a result of this and similar incidents, Dr. Bilezikian took his family back to the United States and returned to Beirut alone to continue his service at Haigazian until 1971. At that point, Dr. John Markarian, the founding President of the College, graciously agreed to assume its presidency again.
During Dr. Bilezikian’s time in Beirut, the administrative structure of Haigazian College was consolidated, the scholarship program was expanded, the finances of the college were managed on a secure basis, the faculty was upgraded, a Faculty Manual was produced to standardize teaching and grading procedures, the weekly campus paper, Haigazian Herald, started to be published and a Student Manual was instituted. As the student body grew, finding additional space became a priority. A magnificent building across the street, formerly occupied by the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), was vacant. With the help of the Stephen Mugar Foundation, it finally became possible to purchase it, to move the library to the new building and to create more classroom space. This purchase was successfully finalized under Dr. Markarian’s administration soon after Bilezikian’s departure from Beirut.
Dr. Bilezikian is also a founding leader of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one of the fastest-growing and most innovative churches in the nation. He has been called the “most forceful advocate of the church as community on the current religious scene.” An important part of Dr. Bilezikian’s life-ministry has been his advocacy for the recognition of women’s gifts and participation in leadership on the basis of their ability to serve, as a condition for community to function biblically.
As a professional theologian and a church growth expert, Dr. Bilezikian has been frequently asked to lead seminars and to lecture both in the United States and abroad. The AMAA called upon him to teach and conduct seminars in the late 1990s, including the worldwide celebrations of the 150th Anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Paris. He was the speaker at the convention of the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East which was held in Anjar, Lebanon. He also taught three non-consecutive semesters at the AMAA’s Evangelical Theological Academy in Yerevan, Armenia, and he still mentors some of the former students of the Academy. He has also preached frequently from the pulpits of Armenian Evangelical Churches, especially in California, Boston, Canada, Australia, Lebanon, Armenia, Belgium and France. A congenial tradition that started in 1974 and which is still continuing to this day has Dr. Bilezikian bring the message at the Armenian Evangelical Church of Chicago every Palm Sunday.
In addition to numerous articles, Dr. Bilezikian is the author of The Liberated Gospel (1977), Beyond Sex Roles (1985), Eglise, ouvre-toi! (1991), Christianity 101 (1993), and Community 101 (1997). His books have been translated into several languages. In 1992, he became Professor of Biblical Studies Emeritus of Wheaton College where he also received the unique distinction of being awarded the citation of Professor of the Year twice, just ten years apart.
Currently, Dr. Bilezikian and his wife Maria live in Wheaton, Illinois. They have four adult children and two grandchildren, John-Michel and Sophie.
Rev. Dr. Peter B. Doghramji
By Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian
The Rev. Dr. Peter B. Doghramji was born in 1929, in Aleppo, Syria. He grew up in the Syriac Evangelical Church within the Armenian Evangelical Union. He attended the one-room school of the church, until the Rev. Edward Tovmassian, his pastor and hero, enrolled him in the fourth grade of the elementary section of Aleppo College, where he continued through high school and his freshman year in college. The Rev. Dikran Antreassian helped him enroll in the Seminary in Beirut in 1948. He graduated in 1953, with a B.A. from the American University of Beirut and a Diploma in Theology from the Near East School of Theology (NEST).
There he met his future wife, Marie Bedikian, an elementary school teacher who wanted to pursue her career in Christian Education. They were married in 1953 and headed to Badveli Doghramji’s first parish in Hassakeh, Syria, where ISIS is in control today. He preached in Arabic to a congregation of mostly Arabic-, but also Armenian-, Aramaic-, Kurdish-, and Russian-speaking people. He also was principal of the elementary school and taught English at the public high schools because English teachers were not available. Their first son, Karl, was born there in 1954. Badveli Doghramji was ordained by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (Arab Presbyterian).
The following year, Rev. Dr. Doghramji joined the faculty of Aleppo College as a teacher of religion and philosophy. Paul, their second son, was born in 1957. In 1959, Rev. Dr. Doghramji was elected as the first national President of Aleppo College. He was given a year’s leave for graduate study at Harvard University Divinity School, where he studied under such luminaries as Paul Tillich. He received a Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree in 1961.
From 1961 to 1966, he served Aleppo College as President and professor of religion. He was also the interim pastor of the National (Arab) Evangelical Church in Aleppo. Their third son, James, was born there in 1963. Rev. Dr. Doghramji resigned his position in 1966 to continue his doctoral studies in a joint program between Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary. His doctoral dissertation was “Christian Ethics in the Muslim Context.” He was awarded a Ph.D. degree, magna cum laude, in 1970.
During his last year at Princeton, he served the Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church (AMCC) in Havertown, PA, as part-time interim pastor. He declined the invitation of the church to be their permanent pastor due to his commitment to teach at NEST as professor of theology. But after two semesters of teaching there in Beirut in 1969-70, he and his family moved to Havertown, where he resumed the ministry of the church on a full-time basis.
After serving the church for nine years he resigned in 1979 to join the staff of the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ as an Assistant to the Conference Minister. In 1985, he became the President and Minister of the Conference. Having served a full term of six years, he retired in 1991. During his tenure in Collegeville, PA, he received the Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) degree from Ursinus College in 1986.
His retirement was interrupted several times: first, in 1993 as interim pastor of Immanuel Armenian Congregational Church of Downey, CA; next as interim (1993-94) and then senior pastor (1994-96) of the United Armenian Congregational Church
in Hollywood, CA; twice as interim pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Church of New York (2000-03 and 2006-12); and as Executive Director, Armenian Missionary Association of America in 2004.
Rev. Dr. Doghramji was a Trustee and Adjunct Professor of Theology at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He served the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America as the first Executive Secretary (1979-84), Moderator (1984-86), and Chairman of the Theological Commission (from 1996). He has been widely known as a theologian, Biblical scholar, preacher and teacher. He is the author of the soon-to-be-released book on the Apostles’ Creed, Exploring Our Faith (published jointly by the AMAA and the AMCC), as well as the 2004 collection of reflections, In Other Words, (published by the Armenian Evangelical Church of NY and AMAA), both of which are available through the AMAA office. He and his wife continue to reside in Havertown, PA, and they have seven grandchildren. Sons Karl, Paul and James are practicing physicians in the Philadelphia area.
Rev. John Avediz Zarifian
By Mihran Jizmejian, President AMAC
The Rev. John Avedis Zarifian was born in Marseille, France in 1926. A few years later the family moved to Aix-en-Province, a university city near Marseille. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1944 from “College du Sacre-Coeur” in Marseille. He was called to military service from October 1947 to January 1949 in Paris. He studied at Aix-en-Province Theological Seminary from September 1949 to June 1951.
In November 1951, John was sent by the Armenian Evangelical Union of France to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he became Pastor of the Armenian Holy Trinity Congregational Church. He continued his theological studies at the Theological Seminary of Buenos Aires and received his Master of Divinity degree in 1955.
He was ordained on August 22, 1954, by Bishop John Gatinoni of the Methodist Episcopal Church of South America, Rev. Kevork Balikian, and Rev. Nazareth Salibian with the consent of the Armenian Evangelical Church and the Theological Seminary of Argentina. He was married to Lois Balikian in May 1952 and they were blessed with a son in 1955.
After serving in Buenos Aires from December 1951 to March 1962, Rev. Zarifian received an invitation to visit the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the United States.
In September 1962, Rev. Zarifian came to Salem, NH and pastored the Armenian Ararat Congregational Church until the end of 1966.
From 1967 to February 1977, for almost 11 years, he served as Pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Church of Montreal.
From 1977 to 1980, he served in the Middle East as an evangelist.
From March 1, 1980 to June 30, 1998 he served in the Armenian Euphrates Evangelical Church in Rhode Island.
During his ministry, Rev. Zarifian was a visiting evangelist in the following countries: France, Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Turkey and Armenia.
Since his retirement from active ministry in 1998, he accepted a call from the late Executive Director of the Armenian Missionary Association of America Rev. Dr. Movses Janbazian without remuneration, (travel expenses only covered by the AMAA), to be a visiting evangelist in Syria, Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Armenia and South America. Rev. Zarifian has devoted all of his time, talents and energy to evangelism, and has been instrumental in bringing many to Christ.
Rev. John Zarifiian has been a faithful servant of the Lord for almost 65 years.
In recognition of his selfless services to both the Providence church where Rev. Zarifi has served 18 years, and the Armenian Evangelical Church of Montreal for six years, the churches have granted him the honorary Pastor Emeritus title.
Currently Rev. Zarifiian and his wife Lois reside in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
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.
Rev. Jirair Sogomian
By Harry Stephey*
Reverend Jirair Sogomian was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1937 and received his elementary education in Alexandria at Armenian private schools and at the St. Mark French High School. Soon thereafter he decided to pursue a career in the ministry, in part due to the inspiration of the Reverend Theodore Daghlian of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Alexandria.
It was at this time in his life that he journeyed to Beirut to attend Haigazian College. After completing his freshman year at Haigazian, he spent the next three years at the American University of Beirut before continuing his education at the Near East School of Theology.
In 1962, at the age of 25, Jirair came to the United States and attended Milligan College in Tennessee, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963. He next travelled to Hartford, Connecticut, where he continued his theological studies at Hartford Seminary and received his Master of Divinity degree in 1965. One of his mentors in Hartford urged him to pursue a PhD, but Jirair responded that he was more interested in becoming a pastor. His first parish was the United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church in Troy, New York, where he was ordained and served for three years. Following his service in Troy, he served for a short time as Minister of Christian Education and Youth at the United Church of Christ (UCC) Wapping Community Church in South Windsor, Connecticut.
His second Armenian parish was the Armenian Congregational Church of Detroit in Southfield, Michigan, where he served from 1970 through 1974. In 1975, he accepted a call to serve as the first Chaplain of Haigazian College (now University) in Beirut, Lebanon, where he was also a Professor of Religion and was active in recruiting young people for future leadership in the ministry. Asked why he would leave a parish that he had sparked to dramatic growth, he responded, “Because Haigazian means a lot to me. It provided the vital link between my French-Arabic education and my college education in English. The small college with its personal touch has provided room for creativity and free thinking, and I want to help preserve it.” Soon after going to Beirut, civil war broke out in Lebanon and Rev. Sogomian sustained a gunshot wound to his hand. He returned to the United States in 1976.
After returning to the United States, Badveli Sogomian first served as Pastor of the Immanuel Armenian Congregational Church in Downey, Ca-lifornia, and later at a non-Armenian UCC church in Simi Valley, California, before receiving the call from the Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church (AMCC) in Havertown, Pennsylvania. He served as Pastor at AMCC for almost eleven years from August, 1990 until April, 2001. As his longest consecutive term of service, he considers his ministry at AMCC to be one of the highlights of his career. He epitomized the term “pastor,” which means “shepherd” in Latin. When asked what he thought was the most important part of being a pastor, he responded, “being close to the people and sharing their concerns with them.”
Following the untimely death of Rev. Dr. Movses B. Janbazian in September 2000, Badveli Sogomian was called by the Armenian Missionary Association of America to be its next Executive Director, starting in April 2001. Multi-lingual and known for his exceptional ability to preach and teach the Gospel of Christ, Reverend Sogomian is equally recognized for goal-oriented administrative skills and organizational leadership. He spent his career traveling to places where he could be of the most service to others.
In 2003, Rev. Sogomian and his wife Lorraine “retired” to Huntington Beach, California, to be close to their children and grandchildren. His retirement was interrupted by a call to serve as Interim Pastor of the Immanuel Armenian Congregational Church in Downey, California, where he served for six years until his final retirement in 2011. He still stays in touch with many of his former parishioners. Together, the Sogomians have five children – Mark Sogomian (Daria), Sharon Mequet (Brian), Michael Deovlet (Carol), Sheri Olson (Scott) and Allison Vamvas (Sterling) – who have blessed them with nine grandchildren – Jake and Colin Mequet, Sophie Sogomian, Danielle and Ali Deovlet, Chloe and Lily Olson, and Ani and Sosie Vamvas.
*Harry Stephey is a member of the Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church of Havertown, PA.
Rev. Emmanuel Darakjian
Reverend Emmanuel Darakjian was born in Aintab, Turkey on January 19, 1920, to Pastor Nazareth and Aroussiag Darakjian during the heroic war of resistance in Aintab.
Pastor Nazareth, Emmanuel’s father, was born in an apostolic family but his mother sent him to the Sunday school at the local Armenian Evangelical Church. Nazareth lost his father when he was three which forced him to leave school early and start working in the fabric weaving industry, acquiring the name “Darakhji” which was later Armenianized. As a teenager he went to the Evangelical Church with his friends, not so much to benefit from the service but to disrupt it. At some point he started listening to the sermons and accepted Christ in his life at age 18. Initially he devoted himself to Christian work while continuing his work but at the age of 24 he gave up his profession altogether and became a full time evangelist pastor.
When the Aintab war ended, the family moved to an area near Antioch where Pastor Nazareth served the local Armenian Evangelical churches. In 1926, in the city of Kirik Khan, Pastor Nazareth succumbed to malaria at age 41 leaving behind a wife and five very young boys ages one to ten. The family moved to Aleppo where Aroussiag’s brother Nejib Shirikjian lived. Nejib helped the family survive in these difficult circumstances.
Emmanuel received his elementary education at the Bethel School in Aleppo and went on to Aleppo College graduating in 1939. That same year at the ripe age of 19 he was sent to Kessab to serve as school principal for one year. In 1940 he entered the American University of Beirut and also attended the Near East School of Theology (N.E.S.T). In 1944 he received his B.A. in Theology and went back to Aleppo to serve as Principal in both Bethel and Emmanuel schools. In 1948 he married Mary Cholakian, a teacher at the Bethel school. Soon after the wedding they moved to Kessab where Pastor Emmanuel served the churches of Ekiz-Olouk and Keorkune for four years. They were blessed with their first daughter Arpy in 1950, and in 1952 the family moved back to Aleppo where Pastor Emmanuel served the Armenian Evangelical Church of Eshrefieh (also known as Davoodieh). In 1953 the family was blessed with a son Nazareth and Pastor Emmanuel was ordained.
As soon as he arrived in Eshrefieh, Rev. Emmanuel embarked on a major project to build a church, a school and a manse. This bold project was completed fairly quickly thus creating a sanctuary for the congregation to worship in, classrooms for the school children and a two bedroom apartment for the pastor and his family to live in. Rev. Darakjian served both as Pastor of the church and Principal of the school while his wife Mary served as a teacher in the school as well as the church organist and choir director and led the weekly women’s worship service.
The family was blessed again with the births of a boy Hrair in 1957, and a daughter Suzy in 1966.
In 1966 the family moved to Lebanon where Rev. Emmanuel assumed the role of Principal at the Armenian Evangelical Shamlian Tatigian Secondary School in Nor Marash, Bourj Hammoud. In 1968, Rev. Darakjian received an invitation to serve as Pastor of the Assyrian Evangelical Church near Beirut on a part time basis, which gave him the opportunity to reenter N.E.S.T as a student one more time, and acquire the degree of Bachelor in Divinity, and a few years later the degree of Master in Divinity.
After the Lebanese civil war erupted, Rev. Darakjian left the Near East in 1975 and moved to the United States with his family settling in Chicago. There being no empty pulpits in the Armenian Evangelical churches in the U.S. at that time, Rev. Darakjian found a position as an editorial assistant at Commerce Clearing House, a company that published books for the legal profession. In Chicago he attended the Armenian Congregational Church and often participated in the service by preaching.
In 2015 Rev. Darakjian lost his lifetime partner Mary. He currently resides in Chicago with his daughter Suzy.
Rev. Dr. Solomon Alexander Nigosian
By Mihran Jizmejian, President AMAC
Solomon, also known as Solo, was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1932. He grew up in an Armenian Evangelical family and a larger church family – The Armenian Evangelical Church of Alexandria.
He received his general certificate of education (GCE) in 1949 and a Sunday School teacher’s certificate from the Evangelical Teacher Training Association, USA in 1953. He received a certificate of mechanical drafting in 1956 from Montreal Institute of Mechanical Drafting, and in 1957, he was awarded a diploma in estimating from the Toronto Graphic Arts Association.
In 1955 he left Egypt with his family and settled in Toronto, Canada, where he started and organized the Sunday School at the Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Toronto from 1957-1960.
A small group of Armenian Evangelical families resolved to establish an Armenian Evangelical Church in Toronto in 1960. They elected a Church Council of five members and selected Solo as their lay preacher. Soon after the Armenian Evangelical Union of Eastern States took the newly formed church under its umbrella, they ordained Mr. Nigosian to Christian ministry in 1963.
Rev. Nigosian was a full-time minister until 1968. He served diligently, helped establish organization in the Church, strengthened the ties of his Church with other Armenian churches, and with the help of the Church Council, drafted the Church’s Constitution and published the Canada Armenian Press. From 1968-1970, he served as the interim Minister of the Armenian Congregational Church of Greater Detroit. During this period, he was involved in the Armenian Evangelical Union of Eastern States and Canada and became Moderator of the latter from 1968 to 1969. Prior to his election, he was a member of the Union’s Board. In 1971, when the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America (AEUNA) was formed, the new Board appointed him Associate Editor of the Armenian-American Outlook.
Upon his resignation from the Church, Rev. Nigosian pursued an academic career and received his B.A. degree from the University of Toronto (Victoria College) in 1968. In 1970, he received his M.A. degree in religious studies from McMaster University and in 1975 the McMaster University awarded him a doctorate degree, with a major in ancient Near East (Hebrew Bible) and minors in early Christianity and Hindu religious history.
Academic Career 1972-2012
While still at the University, Rev. Nigosian started his teaching career, teaching Hebrew Bible, New Testament and World Religions and became a Professor of Religion and Near Eastern Studies. Having achieved language competence in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, French, Armenian, Syriac and Koine Greek, Rev. Nigosian indulged in research work.
Publications: Books and Articles
Over the years, Rev. Nigosian authored the following books: World Religions, Occultism in the Old Testament, Modes of Worship, Judaism, Islam, Date of the Song of Moses, World Faiths, From Ancient Writings to Sacred Texts: The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The Zoroastrian Faith: Tradition and Modern Research, The Middle Eastern Founders of Religion: Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Zoroaster. He also published over 20 articles in academic scholarly journals and over 30 articles in church periodicals.
Rev. Nigosian has received over 20 scholarships from different sources, including the Department of External Affairs (Government of Canada), Ministry of Culture and Recreation (Ontario Government), and Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council. He is the recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award from the School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto. In 2012 he was named Associate Emeritus, Victoria College University of Toronto.
Rev. Nigosian and his wife, Hnazant, who passed away in 2007, had two children (a boy and a girl); four grandchildren (three boys and a girl) and two great grandchildren (a boy and a girl). Rev. Nigosian currently resides in Toronto where he enjoys his grandchildren and great grandchildren.