Dr. Mihran Agbabian

Dr. Mihran Agbabian, Community Activist, Co-Founder of American University of Armenia, Dies


LOS ANGELES — A founding member of the American University of Armenia, where he was President Emeritus, and life-long community activist and educator, Dr. Mihran Agbabian, died on Tuesday, February 12, in Los Angeles.

Agbabian was born in Cyprus in 1923 and he grew up in Aleppo, Syria, before moving to Beirut, Lebanon to study at the American University of Beirut. He received a bachelor’s degree in physics (1944) and bachelor’s degree in engineering (1947), and he came to the United States in 1947 to continue his education at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) where he received his master’s degree. He completed his studies at the University of California at Berkeley where he received his PhD in civil engineering in 1951.

After working as a structural engineer at several engineering companies, he co-founded the engineering consulting company, Agbabian Associates, in 1963.

In 1984, Dr. Agbabian was appointed as the Fred Champion Professor of Engineering at the University of Southern California. He served as chairman of the Civil Engineering Department and director of the Environmental Engineering program from 1984 to 1992.

He was the founding president of the American University of Armenia in Yerevan which started its operation on September 23, 1991, the same day when Armenia declared its independence. The university, known as AUA, is affiliated with the University of California system and is sponsored by the Armenian General Benevolent Union.

After serving AUA in the capacity of founding president, he retired in 1997, and he was appointed by the Board of Trustees as President Emeritus, working on special assignments for the growth of the university.

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Dr. Agbabian was married to Elizabeth Apkarian who worked with him serving their community. They have three sons, Paul (married to Kate Nyberg); Bryan (married to Valina Ghoukassian); and Michael; as well as three granddaughters, Sabrina, Erika, Lori, and a grandson. Arman.

He was elected Member of the US National Academy of Engineering (1982) , the Armenian National Academy of Sciences (1990), and the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (1995).

Dr. Mihran Agbabian and his wife, Elizabeth

He received the University of California at Berkeley Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Citation and the Caltech Distinguished Alumnus Award.

He received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Yerevan State University and was Honorary Member of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and its past president, and he was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 1955 he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition Organization of New York for outstanding contributions as an immigrant.

Agbabian received the Movses Khorenatzi Medal (2001) from the President of the Republic of Armenia for exceptional achievement in educational development. The Armenian Church recognized Dr. Agbabian with the Sahag-Mesrob Medal from Catholicos Karekin I, the St. Mesrob Medal from Catholicos Aram I, and the St. Vartan Medal from Catholicos John Bedros XVIII.

Agbabian served the Armenian community in a number of organizations. He was member of the Central Board of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, a founding member of the Armenian Film Foundation, vice president of the Armenian Missionary Association of America, vice-chairman of the Board of Haigazian College, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Armenian Assembly of America, and General Chairman of the First Congress of the Armenian Engineers and Scientists of America.

He was also a former board co-chair and longtime member of the Armenian Assembly of America.

With members of the Armenian Assembly in 1986

“Dr. Mihran Agbabian’s spirit, character, and great sense of humor was inspiring to all who were fortunate to know him. His generosity, dedication, and commitment to the Armenian Assembly and preservation of our Armenian heritage knew no bounds. He was a humanitarian whose contributions touched the lives of so many people. Dr. Agbabian was a gem, admired and respected by all. The Armenian people benefited greatly from his interest and generosity as did the Assembly, and we are deeply grateful.  His passing is a tremendous loss,” stated Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian and Assembly President Carolyn Mugar.

“It was always such a pleasure to hear his ideas and comprehensive thinking. I loved working with him,” Mugar added.

Dr. Agbabian and his wife Elizabeth were members of the Assembly since its formative years. Dr. Agbabian participated in the Airlie House conference that established the Assembly in 1972. He was co-chairman of the Assembly from 1982-1983, served on the Board of Directors from 1979-1986, and was an Executive Committee Member in 1980. Mrs. Elizabeth Agbabian served on the Assembly’s Board of Directors from 1992-1999.  In addition, longtime community leaders, Dr. and Mrs. Agbabian, hosted many special events in Los Angeles that contributed to the expansion of the Assembly’s membership base and support in southern California.

Their sons, Bryan and Michael, participated in the Terjenian-Thomas Assembly Internship Program in Washington, D.C. in 1981 and 1990 respectively. Michael was a keynote speaker at the Assembly’s 2017 Newport Beach Gala honoring the 40th anniversary of the Summer Internship Program. Valina Agbabian currently serves as the Assembly’s State Chair, and is based in San Francisco.

The Agbabian family is also supportive of many groundbreaking initiatives in California, including the opening of the Republic of Armenia’s Consulate General in Los Angeles, and have long been guiding stewards in the Armenian Evangelical Church.

President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian sent a condolence letter on Agbabian’s death.

“With a deep sorrow I have learnt about the death of Professor, foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, Founding President of the American University of Armenia (AUA), AUA Honorary Chairman Mihran Agbabian. Mihran Agbabian was one of the greatest sons of our people who was always with the homeland with his activities.

“Being one of the best specialists in the field of engineering seismology and seismic resistance construction, he visited Armenia shortly after the Spitak earthquake and provided professional support to the native specialists.

“The American University of Armenia, one of the best universities in the region, has been created in 1991 by the initiative of Agbabian and a group of dedicated specialists. Mihran Agbabian chaired the University until 1997 and later became its Honorary Chairman.

“Understanding quite well that education is going to be the key of Armenia’s future, Mihran Agbabian greatly contributed to developing that field in our country with his activities.

I offer sincere condolences to his family, relatives and share their grief,” the president’s letter noted.

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