Dr. Garabed Belian Dies


Combined Artistry and Dentistry
TROY, Mich. — The art world and the Armenian community suffered a great loss with the sudden death of internationally acclaimed art historian, musician and dentist Dr. Garabed Belian  on Monday, December 14.
Belian (changed from Behesnilian), a survivor, a self-made man and a versatile individual,  was born in Jerusalem to parents who were exiled from Cilicia to the Holy Land, following the Armenian Genocide. His father, Sarkis Behesnilian of Marash, and mother, Haigouhi Markarian of Adana, had settled in Jerusalem and started a jewelry business.  Sarkis Behesnilian also supported and encouraged Armenian pottery makers to continue the artistic tradition of Kutahya ceramic tiles, which has survived to this day.

The Behesnilians had four daughters, Mary, Berjouhi, Vicky and Artemis and one son, Garabed, all of whom were endowed with musical and artistic talents.

Early on, Garabed’s life took a unique path developing into different professional and artistic dimensions.

Immediately following the untimely loss of their father, the Behesnilian family experienced a second exile when war broke out in Palestine in 1948.  They lost their business, home and property and moved to Jordan, hoping things would settle in a few weeks so that they could return to Jerusalem.  After waiting for one year, they lost all hope and moved to Beirut, Lebanon, where Garabed entered the dental school of St. Joseph French University, earning his tuition by playing violin in a local music group.  Upon graduation, he moved back to Amman where he began his dental practice.  In three years, he built his reputation as a prominent dentist, treating royalty, nobility and the general public.

Turmoil and uncertain prospects in the Middle East forced him to abandon his successful practice in Jordan and move to Chicago, Ill., where his older sister, Mary, and her husband, Hovig Etian, were living.

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Following the loss of his father, all family responsibility fell on Garabed’s shoulders; he took care of his mother and sisters wherever he moved.
His foreign degree in dentistry from a French University did not allow him to practice his profession in the US.  At the same time, there were no openings for foreign students to be admitted to a dental school in the US.  Therefore, he decided to expand his education by enrolling in the Chemistry Department of Northwestern University in Chicago, while working at the chemistry lab.  Short of one semester from obtaining his master’s degree in chemistry, an opening was available and he was admitted to the University of Detroit’s School of Dentistry, from which he graduated in 1960. Therefore, once again, he was qualified to practice dentistry.

Upon graduation, he opened his dental practice in downtown Detroit (Vernor Highway). In 1985, he opened his second practice in Troy, next to his art gallery, which he managed with his wife, Zabel. The Belian Art Center became a beacon of arts, exhibitions and concerts in the Troy area.
Although he excelled in his dental practice, the profession seemed too limited for his ambitions and dreams. He had a side real-estate business and developed his hobbies of music and art to a professional level, acquiring his music degree in 1968 from the Detroit Institute of musical arts (violin) and then earning a master’s degree in art history (1975) from Wayne State University.

His interest and expertise in the arts helped him build an outstanding collection of paintings and sculptures, featuring ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and African, as well as modern and avant-garde art — an eclectic collection of exquisite museum quality and taste.

As an art connoisseur and art historian he was a sought-after lecturer on almost all topics in fine arts. He was also fluent in six languages.
In 1969, Dr. Belian’s life had a lucky turn and entered a new phase with love at first sight, when he met Zabel Sapsezian, a nutritionist, a child psychologist and artist in her own right, in Beirut.  Their idyllic love and subsequent marriage in Lebanon is like a page from a romantic novel.  They married and settled in Bloomfield Hills.  They had three children; Ara, Lisa and Raffi, who following in their parents’ footsteps, earned professional degrees.

Three years ago, Dr. Belian was in a life-threatening, head-on crash with a semi-truck, which confined him to a hospital bed for five months.  Thanks to his determination and will to live, he miraculously survived through the loving care and dedication of his wife and children. He was not that lucky this time when he entered Beaumont Hospital for a relatively routine  surgical procedure and succumbed on December 14.

Dr. Garabed Belian had a larger-than-life stature in the Detroit Armenian community.  For the last 31 years, he chaired the Fine Arts Committee of St. John’s Armenian Church, where his wife Zabel was also active. Through his organizational skill, his erudite lectures and through his broad connections with the world art community, he brought the awareness of fine arts to the Armenian community, which was enriched through their acquisitions at the Fine Arts Committee exhibitions.

In addition to his wife, Zabel, and children Ara, Lisa and Dr. Raffi Belian, he leaves a son-in-law, Marc Welch of Los Angeles; sisters Artemis (Dr. Vahan) Bedros and Vicky (Ben) Parian and two grandchildren. He was the brother-in-law of Annie Best and Ohan (Helen) Sapsezian.
Visitation and the funeral were held at St. John’s Armenian Church, Southfield. In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be made to the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem or Terchoonian Home Orphanage

Arrangements were by the to Edward Korkoian Funeral Home, Royal Oak.

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