Genocide Survivor Bilezikian Dies

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By Caitlin Castello

NEWTON, Mass. (Boston Globe) — By trade, Peter Bilezikian was an electrician, plumber and business owner. But he was also a self-educated philosopher and historian, and above all else, a storyteller.

“He would always leave people laughing, never crying,” said his daughter, Bethel Bilezikian Charkoudian of Newton.

Bilezikian, a survivor of the 1915 Armenian Genocide and a Newton resident, died Wednesday, March 24, at his home. He was 97.

Bilezikian was born in Marash, western Armenia. He arrived in the United States in 1921-22, his daughter said. He, his mother and siblings met his father in New York before traveling and settling in Newton.

In 2005, on the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Bilezikian shared his story with Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham.

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“All I remember is, we were hungry, and I thought that was a normal thing. . . . There were so many people dying. . . . I remember children dying with the big stomachs . . . dropping dead right in the middle of the street,” he said.

Bilezikian never shied from telling his stories to his family, said Bilezikian Charkoudian. He taught his three children not to hate the Turks, she said.

“He brought us up to love those Turkish people who helped save the Armenians who did survive,” said Bilezikian Charkoudian. “We were not brought up with hatred. We were brought up with facts.”

He graduated from Watertown High School in 1932 and earned a full scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He could not attend because he needed to make money for his family, said Bilezikian Charkoudian. He instilled the importance of education in his children.

“Through his love of reading and relating, and his talent for being extremely creative, Daddy built up a successful business, married the woman of his dreams and provided the best for his family, making sure that they all went to college and graduate school,” his daughter, Martha McCool, of Gainesville, Texas, wrote for a memorial service for Bilezikian at Watertown Evangelical Church.

Bilezikian established and ran Newtonville Electrical Company Inc., in Newtonville. He would often forgo payments from people whom he knew did not have the extra money to pay the bill, said his children.

Bilezikian met his wife, Lucille Mae (Vartanian), while living in Newton. They were married for 51 years; she died in 1991.

His wife had a legendary singing voice, said his son, James, of Miami. Bilezikian and his family would sing hymns on Sunday, and his favorite was Amazing Grace. He belonged to the Watertown Evangelical Church. His uncle, the Rev. Vartan Bilezikian, was the first pastor of this church, built in 1939 by their family, said McCool.

“He was the most religious man I’ve ever known. He lived the Christian life,” said McCool. “We would also go to Uncle Vartan’s house, we sang hymns. It was a very religious day for us, Sunday.”

He leaves his children Bilezikian Charkoudian and her husband Levon of Newton, Martha Bilezikian McCool and her husband Kenneth of Texas, and James Bilezikian of Florida. He was the brother of Gulenia Sulahian of California and the late Paul Bilezikian and Rose Gabonlyan; grandfather of Nisha, Deron, Karoun and Lorig Charkoudian and Matt Rogers, Alison Sykes, Caroline O’Malley and her husband John, Jordan, Christopher, Nicolette and Michael Bilezikian and the late Katherine Atikian; and great-grandfather of Shannon and Jack O’Malley and Aline and Raffi Charkoudian-Rogers.

Services were held at Watertown Evangelical Church, on Saturday, March 27. Memorial donations in his memory may be made to the Armenian Heritage Park, 25 Flanders Road, Belmont, MA 02478. Arrangements were made by the Giragosian Funeral Home.

A Tribute to My Dad, Peter Bilezikian
(August 7,1912 – March 24, 2010)

(Editor’s Note: the following eulogy was read by Martha McCool, the daughter of Peter Bilezikian, at his funeral.)

Life is all about choices . . . how we choose to live our life coupled with the goals and standards we set forth, in order to achieve our dream.

Today, I would like to share a few things about the way our Dad definitely followed his dream and enjoyed the trip.

Daddy, who many of you know as Uncle Peter, Pete, Peter Bilezikian, or simply Mr.. B, was a very kind, caring and thoughtful man. Throughout his 97 and a half years of life, Bethel, James and I (along with his many friends) can reflect and acknowledge that it was what he had continued to do unselfishly for others that gave him many of his greatest satisfactions.

Daddy had always been very strong and independent like the American Cowboy and he had the perseverance that we all deeply admire. Daddy married our mom, Jennie, the woman of his dreams and he was always true to his wife, his children, his family, his mother and father and his brother and sisters. Daddy was always there to lend a helping hand to his relatives, friends and neighbors. And, customers who didn’t have enough money to pay for the work were never billed. Throughout the years, many of his customers, neighbors and acquaintances often became his very close friends.

Even though life was not always easy for Dad, his faith in God and Jesus Christ sustained him throughout the most difficult periods. Our Dad was always warm, friendly and upbeat. Yes, charm and leadership were among Dad’s strengths. As a teen, he knew how to work hard, make friends and accomplish and build up so much from nothing. For those of you who have known my Dad over the years, you of course, realize that he rarely took credit for being the instrumental and driving force in so many successful ventures and accomplishments. Beginning with nothing but perseverance, talent and hard work, Dad was primarily the instrumental force in the expansion and construction of Newtonville Electrical Company Inc., located on Newtonville Ave. in Newtonville, Mass. He and his brother built their successful 50 year business and livelihood from the ground up.

Although Dad was born an American citizen of Armenian decent, he was not born in America. He embraced the American way of life and made many positive contributions to it. When Daddy graduated from high school, it was the depression and he had to work very hard to support his parents and his sisters by taking on many jobs and working very long hours. Despite the fact that he was unable to accept the full scholarship he had been awarded for MIT, he was extremely well read, intelligent and knowledgeable . . . he was a self-educated man! Through his love of reading and relating and his talent for being extremely creative, Daddy built up successful businesses, married the woman of his dreams and he provided the best for his family, making sure that they all went to college and graduate school (even though in those days, the old timers would tell him not to waste his money educating his daughters)!

As many of you know, Daddy brought a lot of passion to whatever captured his interest . . . whether it was his wood working projects, his weekly fishing trips with his children and grandchildren, his lively philosophical / ideological / discussions at the Sunday dinner table, his wonderful garden with the huge sweet tomatoes and delicious Armenian cucumbers, his heated backgammon games with the dice crashing and the yelling out of scores, or his love of music and his frequent efforts to learn to play his favorite hymns on the piano . . . he did it all with gusto! And he instilled in so many that he came in contact with, to aim high and that it is not only a pleasure but a privilege to be able to work. Being able, whatever your gift is, find it and be productive; in that way he would say that you become part of the solution.

Looking back over the years, I truly believe that Dad has followed these 8 rules for successful living:

1.  Never wait. You are in charge of your life and your career, with God’s help.
2. Like what you do . . . Look for the positives in every situation. Play the hand you’re dealt.
3.  Stay connected . . . Develop and nurture relationships.
4. Practice free speech . . . Communicate all the time.
5. Get over it . . . Try not to dwell on the past.
6.  Develop your funny bone . . . Lighten up, loosen up and laugh.
7.  Swim upstream and aim high . . . Strengthen your backbone . . . do the right thing when it’s not easy or popular.
8.  And most importantly, develop the abilities God has given each of us.
For those of you who knew our Dad very well, you knew he privately took to heart his own advice. One more word that describes Daddy is gratefulness. When you’re grateful for the good things in your life, you can give of yourself to other people.

I credit our parents for making certain that we knew about our Armenian heritage and instilling in us the work ethic. Mom and Dad never doubted that if we wanted to do something that we could do it. And all of our children and grand-children understand that they also have choices in life. Our parents always encouraged us to follow our dream and work hard at it.

Yes, life is all about choices and how we live our life to achieve the dream. Today I salute my father, Peter Bilezikian, and thank him for everything! Daddy, you will be greatly missed, but I know you are happy in heaven with our mom Jennie and my daughter, your grand-daughter Katie.

— Martha M. McCool