Antranig, The First Born, Is No More

Dr. Vahe H. Apelian, 14 April 2011

It's not everyday that a book written by a Diaspora Armenian sells 75,000 copies. Yet a Detroit resident, a recent immigrant from Lebanon, achieved this unlikely and remarkable success. And to add icing to the cake, the author donated proceeds from that book's sale to the Artsakh cause, at a time when that Armenian province was embroiled in a life-and-death war with much-stronger Azerbaijan. The book, published in Armenian and English,  later  Spanish and Turkish, was the biography of Kachn Antranig, one of the greatest Armenian heroes of the past century. The author was Antranig Chalabian.- Ed.
 

On the evening of Tuesday, April 12 my cousin broke the news of the passing away of her father and my elder maternal uncle, Dr. Antranig Chalabian. The Good Lord had bestowed upon him unusual talents, which he put in good use as an accomplished medical illustrator, calligrapher, cartographer and historian. He leaves behind a void and a legacy of extraordinary accomplishments. He exemplified the indomitable spirit of the first post Genocide generation who were born to parents who were orphaned during the Genocide.

Dr. Vahe H. Apelian, 14 April 2011

It's not everyday that a book written by a Diaspora Armenian sells 75,000 copies. Yet a Detroit resident, a recent immigrant from Lebanon, achieved this unlikely and remarkable success. And to add icing to the cake, the author donated proceeds from that book's sale to the Artsakh cause, at a time when that Armenian province was embroiled in a life-and-death war with much-stronger Azerbaijan. The book, published in Armenian and English,  later  Spanish and Turkish, was the biography of Kachn Antranig, one of the greatest Armenian heroes of the past century. The author was Antranig Chalabian.- Ed.
 

On the evening of Tuesday, April 12 my cousin broke the news of the passing away of her father and my elder maternal uncle, Dr. Antranig Chalabian. The Good Lord had bestowed upon him unusual talents, which he put in good use as an accomplished medical illustrator, calligrapher, cartographer and historian. He leaves behind a void and a legacy of extraordinary accomplishments. He exemplified the indomitable spirit of the first post Genocide generation who were born to parents who were orphaned during the Genocide.

Dr. Antranig Chalabian was born in Keurkune, Kessab on March 11, 1922. He was the first born son of Khatcher Chelebian and Karoun Apelian who were married in late 1910 in their make shift camp in Deir Attiyeh, Syria on their way to their ancestral village having survived the horrid ordeals of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
 
Antranig and his siblings, Zvart, Hovhannes and Anna were orphaned at their tender ages having lost their father on February 2, 1930 at the age of 38. Antranig was a brilliant student and remained so until the twilight of his later years. After graduating from the Armenian Evangelical School of Keurkune he was awarded scholarship to continue his education at Aleppo College. He graduated with distinction and won the coveted Altounian Prize. After graduation he taught in his former school in Kessab for one year then returned to Aleppo College where he taught English and mathematics to the middle school classes from 1945 to 1949.
 
In 1949 Antranig moved to Beirut where his family had settled four years earlier. He taught English for one year at the AGBU Hovagimian-Manouginan High School. He then took a position in the Physiology Department of the American University of Beirut (AUB), where he remained for twenty-seven years as a research assistant and physiology laboratory instructor to the medicine, pharmacy and nursing students. During the last fourteen years at AUB he worked as a free-lance medical illustrator and calligrapher. He single handedly illustrated three medical textbooks, countless research papers and theses and calligraphed many diplomas. Meanwhile he contributed articles to the city’s Djanaser, Spurk and Nayiri papers.
 
In 1977 Antranig immigrated to the United States with his family and settled in Detroit where his paternal uncle Garabed (Charlie) had settled in early 1920’s having survived the Genocide. He assumed the position of Public Relations Director of the AGBU Alex Manougian School and continued to contribute articles to various Armenian periodicals. In 1984 he published his first bi-lingual book General Antranik and the Armenian Revolutionary Movement. The book became an instant best seller and was printed in more than 75,000 copies in Armenia. He donated the proceeds from that print to the Karabagh freedom fighters. In 1989 the History Department of the University of Armenia invited him to defend his exhaustive historical study. Upon successful defense he was awarded a doctorate degree in history.  The book was later translated into Turkish and Spanish.
 
In 1991 Dr. Antranig Chalabian published his second book in Armenian titled, Revolutionary Figures. Dr. Ara Avakian translated the book in English. In 1999 he published his third book, Armenia After the Coming of Islam in English. The book became a very popular reading and had two printings. In 2003 he published his fourth book in Armenian titled Tro. The book traces the feats of the legendary Armenian freedom fighter, Trasdamat Ganayan. His son, Jack Chelebian, M.D, translated the book into English. In 2009 Indo-European Publishers printed the book. Dr. Antranig Chalabian was also an invited contributor to the internationally acclaimed Military History magazine where he published articles dealing with Armenian history. Without any assistance, he prepared the print ready formats of his books and articles by typing them both in Armenian and in English, proof read them without resorting to spell check, painstakingly prepared the indices and drew the maps that appear in his books.
 
Before writing and publishing his books, Dr. Antranig Chalabian collaborated with Dr.Stanley Kerr after discovering Dr. Kerr’s personal notes in the attic of the Physiology Department. Dr. Stanley Kerr had moved to New Jersey after retiring in 1965 from his distinguished career as the Chairman of the Biochemistry Department of the American University of Beirut. However, he had left his notes behind assuming that the notes were long lost through the years. Stanley Kerr had kept his notes and taken hitherto unpublished pictures while serving in Near East Relief. In 1919 Stanley was transferred to Marash, in central Anatolia, where he headed the American relief operations. The outcome of their collaborative work was the publication of Dr. Stanley Kerr’s The Lions of Marash in 1973. The Kerrs hosted the Chalabians as their overnight houseguests during the latter visiting America in 1971.
 
While collaborating with Dr. Kerr, Henry Wilfrid Glockler, a one-time controller at AUB and a neighbor of the Kerrs in Princenton, entrusted Antranig Chalabian his personal memoirs. Chalabian edited the memoirs and had it published in Beirut in 1969 by Sevan Press. The book is titled Interned in Ourfa. In private conversation Antranig Chalabian noted that he heeded to Kersam Aharonian’s call in 1965 urging Armenians to encourage non-Armenian authors to publish about the Armenian Genocide. Kersam Aharonian is the late eminent editor of Zartonak Daily in Beirut. In 1976 by sheer coincidence my first job interview in America was at the American Cyanamid Corporation where the personal director in charge of college relations happened to be to a handsome young man named Robert who turned out to be Henry Glockler’s son. We made the connection during the interview that will always remain the most memorable interview of my career, especially for a first job interview in the New Land. Interest in Armenian history indeed has its own unexpected collateral benefits!
 
Dr. Chalabian received numerous accolades and recognition. Armenian organizations in various states invited him to lecture. The mayor of Southfield designated in 2005 a day as Dr. Antranig Chelebian Day in recognition of his goodwill ambassadorship of the city through his readers worldwide. He continued to live in Southfield, MI with his wife Seran (Tootikian) who preceded him in death in 2010. In 1995, his compatriots, the Kessabtsis, honored him as a noted professional and dedicated the 2003 Edition of the Kessab Educational Association’s yearbook and directory in his honor.
 
My earliest childhood impression of my maternal uncle Antranig is vividly embedded in me when he interrupted an ongoing traditional kessab circle dance during a festivity in Keurkune and took the guns away from two dancers who had joined the dance with their hunting guns dangling from their shoulders. I realize now that my very first childhood recollection of him was a reflection of his innate total aversion of guns and anything remotely violent and by the same token his instinctive appreciation of those who, as a last resort, resorted to gun as Armenian freedom fighters. He made the preservation of their legacy his cause. Years later he prepared the graphical presentation of my first Master of Science thesis.
 
Immaculate, driven to precision and perfection to any task at hand, fastidious to personal hygiene, tireless researcher and scholar; his is a legacy of extraordinary accomplishments. Few years ago his son – Jack Chelebian, MD – presented his father and his father’s work in Rochester, NY where Jack practiced psychiatry. One of the attendants of the presentation summed up his assessment and emailed Jack noting that Dr. Antranig Chalabian is a “ true renaissance man”. He was indeed a talented man. He leaves behind his daughter Garine’ and her husband Hovsep Koundakjian, Annie and her husband Tom Hoglind, Jack and his wife Gail and eight grandchildren: Lara and Garo Koundakjian; Anthony, Anneli and Anika Hoglind; Alex, Simon and Charlie Chelebian. He will be sorely missed.
10 comments
  1. Dr. Stanley Kerr

    According to Zoryan Institute, Dr. Stanley kerr’s book, – The Lions of Marash- "remains, to this day, one of the most insightful, first-hand accounts of the atrocities committed in Marash". 

    As a further note of interest, he is the father of Malcolm Kerr, the former president of the American University of Beirut, and grandfather of NBA player Steve Kerr, both of whom are born in Beirut, Lebanon. Dr. Malcolm Kerr was gunned down in his office in 1984.

  2. Dr. Antranig Chalabian

    I knew Dr. Antranig Chalabian through my friend and one time colleague Vahe Apelian. When I was working at Michigan State University I visited him at his home in Southfield, Michigan. he was a gracious host to me and other recent immigrants. When he was growing up in Syria opportunities for advancement were limited. Yet what he achieved as an author was remarkable. He was a true intellectual and a credit to the Armenian nation. He is gone but his lagacy will live on.

  3. Vahe, correct me if I’m

    Vahe, correct me if I’m wrong, but I am concluding that Mr. Antranig Chalabian was a member of the Armenian Evangelical Church, since you mention that he has contributed articles to Djanaser, which reminds me of Chanaser (the publication of the community).

    1. Antranig’s Denominational Affiliation

      Raffi,

      Antranig Chalabian’s father was of Armenian Apostolic faith, as the Chelebians of Keurkune were, otherwise in an Evangelical village. His mother Karoun Apelian was a staunch Armenian Evangelical.

      He was not a Lebanese, although he lived in Beirut for 3 decades, therefore had no official denominational affiliation, as Lebanese had then.

      Their parental house was across the Armenian Evangelical Church of Keurkune and the children of the family were very much involved with the Chanits in their formative years. He was married by Armenian Evangelical rite in Beirut, at a time when the Armenian Evangelicals did own a sanctuary. His memorial will be held this Saturday at the Armenian Congregational Church of Detroit. He was a member of the Armenian Evangelical Church of Beirut on Mexique Street and was also a member of the Armenian Evangelical College, High School Board.

      Antranig also felt very close to the Armenian Apostolic / Orthodox Church and also attended mass at St. John’s Armenian Church in Detroit and expressed at times a desire to perpetuate his father’s legacy.

      So Raffi, I will neither affirm nor negate your conclusion that he was an Armenian Evangelical but tend to agree with you.

      1.  Vahé thank you for the

         Vahé thank you for the clarification and the ample information. So, the publication that you mention, Djanaser, is the same Chanasser that is still published?

        Most probably, the church where he was married was the First Armenian Evangelical Church in Mexique Street, Beirut.

        1. Վահէ to Ռաֆֆի

          Raffi,

          These comments may be perceived narrowly personal, but non-the-less. Djanasser is the Chanaser you refer to.

          Antranig and Siran (Toutikian) were married in Arab Evangelical Church where the Armenian Evangelicals held service, as the church on Mexique street was not there then. That was of course well before your time.

          The Church they were married was at the left hand side of the street up the slope from the present Cinema Capitol / Ryad Solh square. The NEST was next to it or may have been part of the same complex. If my recollection serves me well, the Armenian Evangelical College (AEC) High School was within that complex as well.

          I visited Beirut over a decade ago. Much is changed around that area. I attended Sourp Nshan School at the Sourp Nshan Church complex. Hovagimian-Manougian High School faced us on the other side of the street. Neither school is there anymore.

           

          1. Re: Ռաֆֆի to Վահէ

            As a side discussion, this is an interesting historical flash-back, that tracks not only where the Armenian Evangelical Church held its services, but also about the Armenians and Armenian organizations that were actively involved in Beirut. I haven’t yet encountered a book or a project that tracks all the schools, churches, organizations, shops, people, institutions that were once vibrant in Beirut.

            The geographical locations that you mention lead me to go to Wikimapia that makes use of Google Maps, but is much more powerful, since it allows crowdsourcing like Wikipedia.

            This is a link to the geographical area that you mention, near Riyad el-Solh square:
            http://www.wikimapia.org/#lat=33.8952033&lon=35.5004364&z=18&l=0&m=b

            The Arab Evangelical Church you mention should be the National Evangelical Church and on the other side of the street is the famous Armenian Apostolic Sourp Nshan Church.

            As for the Armenian Evangelical College being within the same complex, I am not sure about that either.

            The Sourp Nshan School became Yeghishe Manougian High School, I think.

          2. Վահէ to Ռաֆֆի-2

            Raffi,

            I would like to end my comments in this regard with the following note.

            The general area of the map you directed me to view was the heartland of the Armenian West Beirut. The project you envision would be a cherished walk down the memory lane to many of my generation, now spread across the globe, whose parents were the store owners, the grocers, the barbers, the butchers, the tailors, the carpenters, the shoe repairmen, the delicious pastry makers all with shops they operated along the roads that lead to the Armenian churches, schools, the community centers, the athletic fields and so forth.

            My father ran his business a bit down, on Allenby Street. Many of the businesses of Rue Weygand that crossed Allenby Street were owned by the fathers of my friends, Berj, Garo, Ani, Varoujan, Moushegh to mention few.

            It was probably either in 1974 or 1975 that the Armenian businesses heeded to call of the young and the restless Armenians and closed their businesses on April 24. Going to my father’s place I was at owe if you will. Down town West Beirut seemed to have practically come to a standstill. To this day, I remember my thoughts. This cannot be I said to myself. We should not have asked the business owners to close their stores and shops. It made so innervingly evident I thought, the hold on the business of West Beirut the Armenians had come to master over the decades. Then in 1976 the great fire engulfed many of the businesses, then came the looting and one thing lead to another and into the protracted civil war that altered the lives of many for ever. The civil war continues to rage in one way or another albeit without bullets. 

            I do not relate to the map you show even though many of the buildings are there. It is more Hariri-Land now, it seems, a la Solidere.

            As to Saint Nshan School, which was a middle school, became Khanamirian High School.

             

             

  4. In Greek As Well

    Yesterday (4-30-2011),  I attended Dr. Antranig Chalabian’s memorial service that was held in the Armenian Congregational Church in Southfield, MI. The memorial service was followed by a reception.

    Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian, a fellow Kessabtsi and Edmond Azadian eulogized the deceased. His daughter, Annie, spoke on behalf of the family..

    I found that Chalabian’s book – "General Antranik" – was also translated into Greek, along with English, Turkish and Spanish.

     

  5. Dr. Antranig Chalabian

    I was saddened to hear the passing of my old friend Dr. Antranig Chalabian. I knew him when I was living in Detroit where I grew up. I really got to know him after I reviewed his book on General Andranik. We started to correspond in the old fashioned way… though handwritten letters. He was a wonderful, intelligent, humble, and warm man. Our correspondance was infrequent and that was entirely my fault and loss.

    I was delighted that he was honored so for his books, especially in Hayastan. That meant a great deal to him. He wrote in a narrative style and yet his books were not novels. He wrote historically and accurately yet his books were accessible not only to scholars. He wrote for everyone. Everyone could and did read his books.

    Once I began reading it, I could not put the General Andranik book down. It should be in every Armenian home and every Armenian should read it.

    Antranig Chalabian was a great Armenian. I am honored to have known him and consider him a friend.

    Asdvadz hokin lusavoreh.

    Mark

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