Primate Visits St. Kevork Armenian Church of Houston as Community Celebrates Legacy of Gomidas

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HOUSTON, Texas — Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), visited St. Kevork Armenian Church, on Sunday, October 4, as the community gathered to mark the 140th anniversary of the birth of Gomidas, to honor longtime parishioners, and to celebrate the opening of its renovated kitchen.
During his visit, the Primate presented the Diocesan St. Vartan Award to Zohrab and Arpi Tcholakian and Sam and Barbara Hagopian for their many years of service to the Armenian Church. Both couples are longtime members of the St. Kevork Church, having served on the Parish Council, the Women’s Guild, and other organizations.


‘The Church Is Always in Their Hearts’

The “St. Vartan Award” recipients, Zohrab and Arpi Tcholakian, came to the US from Beirut, Lebanon in the mid-1970s. After living in Los Angeles, they eventually settled in Houston, where they became active in the local Armenian community and were involved in the building of St. Kevork Church.

Following a successful career in architecture, Zohrab Tcholakian opened a deli with his wife, Arpi. The couple later expanded the business, establishing a large supermarket.

Called Phoenicia Specialty Foods, the supermarket carries Armenian imports as well as products from Greece, France, Lebanon and other parts of the world. The Tcholakians often donate food for church events and are known in the community for employing newly-arriving Armenian immigrants at their Houston store.

“They are very successful, and at the same time very humble,” said Parish Council Chair Vreij Kolandjian. “The church is always in their hearts.”
The other “St. Vartan Award” recipients, Sam and Barbara Hagopian, moved to Houston in 1979 from the East Coast, where they attended St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Niagara Falls, NY, and St. Paul Armenian Church in Syracuse, NY.

In Texas, the couple ran a pest fumigation company and later started a successful real estate business. Much of their free time was spent volunteering at church and Armenian community events.

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“They keep supporting the church,” said Kolandjian. “They have been active in every way they can.”

The Primate also presented certificates of recognition to Parish Council members, including vice chair Sarkis Ohanian, secretary Dikran Kismisian, treasurer Paul Visser, assistant treasurer Helen Marout and members Arminee Keshishian and Armond Partian.

Also honored were Deacons Hovig and Vrouir Frankian, organist Nancy Tutunjian, Stepan Nazarian and Karabet Balyan.

Armenian School Board Chair Christine Kolandjian awarded an honorary diploma to Kayane Haroutounian for her 10 years of service to the Armenian School. She was also presented with a bust of writer and poet Khachatur Abovyan on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Abovyan’s birth.

During a luncheon and program dedicated to the celebration of the 140th anniversary of the birth of Gomidas, Armenian School students performed Gomidas’s song Gakavig while choir members sang Kele-Kele, Alakyaz and Mer Turaneh.

The Rev. Zenob Nalbandian, pastor of St. Kevork Church, spoke about the life and work of Gomidas, including his birth in the Ottoman Empire in 1869, his survival of the Armenian Genocide, and his tragic death in Paris in 1935. Nalbandian performed the songs Mogats Mirzeh and Hayastan.

“Armenian music would not have been the same without the immense contribution of Gomidas Vartabed, without his commitment to preserving our rich heritage,” the Primate said. “It is inspiring to see the St. Kevork Church family gather to remember his work, and to share it with the young people of this community.”

The program also featured the viewing of a filmed concert by soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian.

“It was a lovely program,” Nalbandian said, adding that it’s important for parishioners, especially the younger generation, to celebrate the legacy of one of the greatest Armenian musicians.

Another highlight of the day was the blessing and opening of the parish’s renovated kitchen — a project generously sponsored by Arno and Lilik Krbashyan and Henrik and Aida Nazarian.

Barsamian blessed the new facility. A wall plaque honoring the Krbashyan and Nazarian families was unveiled in the church hall.