Prof. Aramice Malkhasian, center, at his retirement gathering with faculty of King Abdulaziz University

Aramice Malkhasian: Chemistry Professor to Saudi Royalty


STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. — Armenians have made quite a name for themselves throughout the centuries and throughout the world for their expertise in science, business, and the arts. Whether in the Middle East, the Russian sphere, or the Western world, Armenians have been bankers to sultans, military advisors to czars, and physicians to senators. Arab rulers since the rise of Islam have valued Armenian advisors for their intelligence and their ability to serve as a bridge between the Western and Eastern societies.

Dr. Aramice Y. S. Malkhasian has followed in those footsteps, recently retiring from an extensive career in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, England, Canada, and the US, as a chemistry professor and research scientist. Among his proudest achievements were his 12 years teaching at King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia, where he gained the respect of the Saudis and upheld the Armenian reputation for learning, intelligence, and excellence as a valued minority in Arab society.

Prof. Malkhasian receives a plaque from King Abdulaziz University

Baghdad Roots

Aramice Yerwant-Sarkice Malkhasian was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in the time of King Faisal II. Both of his parents were born in Baghdad to Armenian genocide survivors; his grandfather was a native of Moush and his grandmother was from Akshehir. After attending a local Armenian elementary school, he graduated from an Iraqi state secondary school, and then went to the University of Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1974. Coming from a family which highly valued education, his late sister Beatrice Malkhasian graduated from the College of Education for Women at the University of Baghdad, and worked as secretary to the first female Minister of Higher Education in Iraq, Dr. Suad Khalil Ismail, who served in the Iraqi Cabinet from 1969-1972. (Beatrice moved to the US in 1980 where she worked for Gulf Data and upon retirement served as secretary to the Board of Trustees of the Ararat Home in Los Angeles for many years.) Malkhasian stresses that his paternal aunt, Dikranouhi Malkhasian, was a major support to the whole family including Ar,amice and Beatrice.

Beatrice Malkhasian

Earning his master’s degree at the University of Baghdad in 1977, he then obtained a position working at the same university, where he remained for three years. During that time, he had the opportunity to work with the world-renowned Romuald Zalewski, one of the highest-honored and awarded scientists in Poland, who was working as a visiting professor in Iraq at the time. The two were able to have their study on acidity functions of organic molecules published.

Aramice Malkhasian with his young family, mother, and paternal aunt in Iraq

In 1981, the Iraqi government granted him a scholarship to study in Canada, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1985 from Concordia University in Montreal. There, he studied with noted chemist Dr. Cooper H. Langford, who Malkhasian praised as “one of the great scientists,” as well as Dr. Bryan Hollebone.

Aramice Malkhasian with his young family, mother, and paternal aunt in Iraq

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Returning to Iraq in 1985, he received a position at Salahaddin University in Erbil. (It should be noted that in 1981 the Iraqi Ba’ath regime had moved the University of Sulaymaniyah to Erbil and renamed it “Salahaddin University,” fearing anti-government activity in the Sulaymaniyah region.) He taught chemistry and advanced chemistry for master’s degree students. One of his students from that era is now the head of all universities in Northern Iraq.

Malkhasian worked at Salahaddin University for six years. In 1987, he married his wife Elizabeth, an Armenian from Kirkuk, and they had two daughters, Nayree and Lena. When the First Gulf War started in 1991, Malkhasian took his family and fled the country, seeking political asylum in Canada.

A New Life In North America

Settling in Montreal, Malkhasian worked at McGill University as a postdoc. Working with Prof. M. A. Whitehead, he did computational calculations on the reaction of tin compounds on the surface of silicon dioxide (i.e. quartz, the primary component of common glass). He also worked with his former supervisor, Langford. “We were able to publish in the best journals in organic chemistry,” Malkhasian recalled.

In 1999, the Malkhasian family moved to Metro Detroit, where they still reside in the suburb of Sterling Heights, which is home to many Chaldean and Iraqi-Armenian immigrant families who have fled turmoil in Iraq. In Michigan, Malkhasian worked on numerous research projects; at Wayne State University with Drs. John Petersen and John F. Endicott, where he published a paper on the effect of magnetism in inorganic complexes; at Oakland University with Drs. Ferman Chavez and Michael Sevilla, where he published five papers, including one on the ideation of nucleic acid; and at Michigan State University with Dr. John McCracken, where he learned new techniques on EPR spectroscopy. Although his work was published in the best academic journals, Malkhasian’s career as a professor did not seem to take off in Michigan.

A Royal Invitation

In 2010 Malkhasian was invited to Saudi Arabia to teach at the university level. “They were the best years of my life,” he said. Not only was he teaching, but he was also sent nine times by the Saudi government to London to participate in chemistry research in conjunction with British academics as well as to Oakland University in Michigan. He published about 22 papers while he was there and worked for 12 years teaching chemistry and biochemistry for five different universities, including King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, the largest in the country and one of the most prominent in the entire Middle East.

“They are very good people,” he stated of the Saudis. “They [the students as well as staff] were even coming and kissing my shoulders and my forehead.” Parents would come and shake his hand with thankfulness. He describes the reverence in which the Saudis held their teachers due to their valuing of science. “One of the best professors, Dr. Tarek al-Fadek, loved me so much. He loved the Armenians and the Armenian duduk, and he was a member of parliament.” Malkhasian explained that Saudis were very aware of the Armenian Genocide and sympathized with the Armenians. They also viewed Armenians as intelligent, talented people who were good in science and all skilled areas; this is why they brought Armenians to Saudi Arabia to teach their people.

Among Malkhasian’s students was Prince Faisal, son of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Al-Saud, the richest man in Saudi Arabia.

As for his frequent trips to London, one of his most important research studies was done with Dr. Brendan J. Howlin of the University of Surrey, and published in 2019. Studying the mechanisms of enzymes, the researchers tried to find a way to make artificial enzymes that in the future could replace real enzymes. Using computer-generated models, the two scientists came up with a new way to design anti-cancer drugs. The research may be able to help those who are deficient in enzymes like cortisone and suffer from Myeloid Leukemia, which is one of the most lethal forms of cancer.

Another major study in which Malkhasian participated was with Clifford Kubiak of the University of San Diego. The team studied the conversion of carbon dioxide into a hydrocarbon that can be reused. The project won Kubiak the highest prize from the American Chemical Society (ACS). Per the ACS website, Dr. Guy Bertrand of U San Diego stated: “With the tremendous global interest in carbon-based solar fuels, the Kubiak laboratory has become one of the most important centers internationally for studies of the reduction of CO2. His most recent work defines the best and most advanced understanding of mechanisms of the catalytic reduction of CO2 to higher energy content carbon-based fuels and fuel precursors.” Malkhasian is proud to have been a part of this research team.

At the end of his career, Malkhasian was honored by the Principal of King Abdulaziz University. He retired in June 2022 and returned to his family in Detroit.

Prof. Malkhasian displays his many awards and honors from Saudi Arabia in his Michigan home

When asked how he enjoys retirement, Malkhasian has a typical “hardworking Armenian” answer: “It is very difficult. Sometimes I volunteer, I don’t like to retire. I called Saudi Arabia and said ‘please get me back!’” He taught 650 students in each year alone, who went onto dentistry, pharmacology, nursing and medicine in Saudi Arabia, and has published 35 papers to date.

As for Armenia, he has always been proud to represent his ancestral homeland and its people among Arab society, and he describes his visit to Armenia as “the most beautiful journey.” He states that that “I am standing strongly with the Armenian cause and supporting Karabakh, and to bring justice to all Armenians for the Genocide.”

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