By Aram Arkun
RICHMOND, Va. — Elizabeth Cann Kambourian was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, majoring in history when she decided to write her honors thesis on the first Republic of Armenia. Many years later she became an expert in an important American slave rebellion in Richmond. In both cases, curiosity about people and things around her stimulated her research.
Kambourian was 28 when she went to college, having already gotten married and formed a family. She was working in a jewelry store run by her husband’s family, the Kambourians, and would walk to classes from work. Kambourian explained that her husband’s family history was interesting. The Kambourians were a prosperous family in Erzerum. As a result of a quarrel there, one young son, Manuel, was sent abroad in the early 1880s, initially to France. He then came to New York and became a jeweler like his father. After some business disagreements, he immigrated to Richmond and started a rug business. He had three sons, two of whom took over the rug business — which still is flourishing today in the hands of a fourth generation Kambourian, and the youngest of whom went into the jewelry field.
One relative, Dikran Najarian, married to a Kambourian, was a Tashnag, or member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He went back to the Ottoman Empire in the beginning of the 20th century and got arrested and was executed. His final writing from jail is preserved by the family.