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Montebello, CA. ~ The Montebello community suffered a great loss this week as community leader and activist Michael Minasian passed away at his home in Montebello, California on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. Memorial services will be held at 11am on Saturday, January 28th at Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, 900 West Lincoln Avenue in Montebello. Burial and graveside services will follow at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles, after which a memorial luncheon will be hosted at the Bagramian Hall adjacent to Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral. Memorial donations may be made to Armenian Monument Council, P.O. Box 1935, Montebello, CA 90640.
Michael Minasian was born in 1931 in an Armenian village near Varantzov, Russia to Sukias and Rehan, survivors of the Armenian genocide from the Alashgerd area in historical Armenia. His father and hero Sukias was a devoted man of the church who descended from a long line of deacons. Through his own immaculate example and the telling of heroic stories about honorable knights, his father instilled in Michael a strong sense of morality, integrity, and the courage to stand up for his principles.
Towards the end of the Second World War, he left Russia with his family as displaced persons with the retreating German army. From 1945 through 1949, his family settled temporarily in a camp in Stuttgart, Germany where over 2000 displaced Armenians amassed. There, a rich cultural community was formed which included a dance troupe, theatrical society, scout troops and a school. It was here that he received instruction for the first time in the Armenian language and developed his love for Armenian literature and history. The experience unleashed his creativity as a writer and singer, two modes of artistic expression he would carry with him into adulthood. In that tight-knit community, he also forged the life-long friendships and ties which would later lay the foundation for the Montebello Armenian community to which he would dedicate his life.
In 1949, through the sponsorship of Armenian-Americans, his family immigrated to the United States, first settling in Fresno and eventually in Los Angeles. They arrived with mere pennies in their pockets which required Michael to work many menial, labor-intensive jobs to help support his parents while attending night school to learn English and obtain his high school diploma. Although he was a dedicated student, his work responsibilities eventually forced him to drop his classes. Instead, he developed his language skills and wide knowledge of history, literature and politics through voracious reading in English and Armenian.
Prior to becoming a U.S. citizen, he joined the U.S. Armed Forces in 1953, serving in West Germany as a linguist in the Psychological Warfare Department for two years. As a result of his service, he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in April 1954 before a U.S. military court in Stuttgart.
After completing his military service, Michael returned to Los Angeles where, starting in 1955 he produced the weekly bilingual broadcast of the “Armenian Radio Hour” on various AM radio stations. For 21 years, his broadcasts became a Sunday morning staple for Southern California Armenians, presenting a program filled with Armenian music, recitation and community news.
To help bring his brother’s family to the United States, in 1956, he opened an international music store in East Los Angeles where he recorded his radio program as well as sold vinyl records from Armenia. He later received training to become an insurance agent, eventually opening his own agency which became exceptionally successful.
In 1961, he married the daughter of his beloved teacher and the sister of his best friend from the Stuttgart camp, Lydia Ajemian. Together they raised their four children–Ani Gohar, Raffi Komitas, Murad Mher and Vart Tamar—with a deep commitment to preserving the Armenian culture. They sacrificed a great deal to ensure that all four children attended Armenian Mesrobian School in Pico Rivera from pre-kindergarten through high school. Michael and Lydia’s union spawned a third generation of six grandchildren—Natasha Rehan, Noah Armen, Micah Vahn, Serop Razmig, Daron Setrak and Vaughn Michael—all of whom have also attended Armenian Mesrobian School.
Throughout his life, he was very active in American civic and community organizations, and Armenian community organizations, including the Armenian Revolutionary Foundation and Armenian National Committee. In 1965, he helped organize the first-ever community march and related events in Los Angeles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. One of his greatest accomplishments was as a founding member of the Armenian Monument Council which in 1967, against tremendous political opposition by the Turkish government, spearheaded the development and erection of the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument atop a hill in Montebello’s Bicknell Park—the first monument memorializing the victims of the Armenian genocide to be constructed outside of Armenia, the first of such monuments to be built on public land, and to-date the only such monument in the United States to achieve its substantial scale and prominent placement. Since its unveiling in 1968, for several decades he personally assumed the responsibility of all city-related and maintenance issues of the site, often covering expenses himself, including the costs to place the monument’s identifying signs on the nearby Pomona Freeway–the only signs on an American public highway to display the words “Armenian” and “Genocide” together.
Through his community activism and generous personal contributions, he supported a multitude of charitable organizations, churches, Armenian publications, and local Armenian businesses. He played significant roles in the establishment of the Armenian Mesrobian School and the building of its high school wing, as well as the purchase of the property which now houses the Holy Cross Armenian Cathedral in Montebello.
Michael Minasian believed that Armenians should be active in the American political process to further the interests of the community. He worked tirelessly to develop a wide network of political connections to assist Armenians throughout the world. He also initiated the Armenian Assembly’s internship program which placed young Armenians in the Washington offices of American politicians. Most significantly, he led the successful movement to pass Armenian Genocide-related resolutions in the U.S. Congress in 1975, 1984 and 1985, laying the groundwork for today’s Armenian political lobby.
Throughout his life, he was also very active in local civic and community organizations. Over the years, he served as president of the Montebello Junior Chamber of Commerce and Montebello Jaycees; as chairman of the Montebello Citizens Advisory Committee on Park Planning and Design; on the board of directors of the Montebello Chamber of Commerce and the Armenian Educational Foundation; as a Human Services Commissioner for the City of Montebello; on both the local and regional executives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation; and as an active member of the Montebello American Legion. He was nominated by the Montebello Junior Chamber of Commerce as “Outstanding Young Man of America” in 1966. In 1975, Cong. George Danielson paid tribute to Minasian and his service to the community during a session of Congress and entered his accomplishments into the Congressional Record.
In the early 1990s, while the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabagh faced military aggression from neighboring Azerbaijan, Michael was determined to support their quest for independence and self-determination. His efforts contributed vitally to the victorious outcome in the Battle of Shushi which turned the tide of the conflict and led to the establishment of the Nagorno Karabagh Republic. His pivotal role in this fight saved thousands of lives, earning him an honorary title in the new republic’s military forces and, following his passing, a permanent mention during every memorial service held in churches throughout the country.
Michael Minasian possessed a great love and appreciation for the arts which spurred him to support individual Armenian artists and cultural events so they could enrich the cultural lives of Armenians in the diaspora. He himself was a gifted performer, singer, and storyteller, qualities for which he was highly sought-after as a Master of Ceremonies for countless community, cultural and political events. He wrote sheaths of poems and songs, with tones ranging from powerful to wistful, expressing his nationalism, his love for his family, and his personal philosophies on life.
In later years, he embarked on a third career as a land developer, building multiple tracts of single-family homes. He specialized in “impossible” properties, creatively allocating resources to turn otherwise useless lots into beautiful, well-planned houses. He took great pride in this work, especially cherishing the opportunity to provide young families with the experience and stability of owning their first home.
Michael Minasian was a man of great vision and big dreams, and well into retirement, still imagined immense projects and longed to do more for Armenia and his family. Just as his life has left a profound impression on this community, his passing has created an immeasurable void on the world he left behind. His indomitable spirit, selfless dedication and groundbreaking accomplishments stand as a challenge to future generations to honor and build on his legacy.
Aram Suren Hamparian ANCA Executive Director in Washington DC said, “mourning the loss of Michael Minasian, a great man, a proud Armenian, a powerful advocate, and a pioneering community leader.”
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