Robert Aram Kaloosdian

BELMONT, Mass. — Robert Aram Kaloosdian of Belmont, died on May 12, 2024.

He was the husband of Marianne (Voynick)  Kaloosdian; father of Paul (Carl) Kaloosdian, Lori (Roland) Pease and Sonia (Brian) Hale; grandfather of Marianna and Nathaniel Pease, Alexandra, Julia and Emily Hale and great-grandfather of Ava.

He was a founder of the Armenian Assembly founder and core leader of the organization.

A lawyer’s lawyer, a community leader his entire life, a universally respected activist with a unique set of skills that allowed him to transcend partisanship and communicate with all elements of the Armenian community in all its diversity, a man whom many trusted to advance the welfare of their community and to represent it within the structures of the community and the agencies of the broader society they inhabited, a constant presence in the Armenian Massachusetts scene whose contacts with state and national officials began in the Kennedy era, and the indispensable backbone of the organization to which he devoted decades of his attention to guiding and promoting, the longest serving board member of the Armenian Assembly, a friend to the scholarly community, an author, a firm believer in the potential of the Armenian people, especially its American contingent, and a committed friend of Armenia and Artsakh, Aram Kaloosdian epitomized the best of a generation of Armenian Americans who have left the deepest imprint upon their society.

Robert Aram Kaloosdian was among the original handful of activists who 52 years ago took up the challenge of creating a new entity for the Armenian-American community. Approached by Dr. John Hanessian and Dr. Haigaz Grigorian about their idea of forming an Armenian Assembly, he was persuaded by the value of their proposal and became over the course the next 50 years its most persistent promoter. Along with the other distinguished volunteers, including the likes of Dr. Lionel Galstaun, Dr. Richard Hovannisian, Haig Der Manuelian, soon joined by Dr. Dennis Papazian, and others, he enlisted in the Steering Committee that convened the three community-wide meetings held at Airlie, Va., in 1972, 1973, and 1974. He also had a major role in persuading significant donors to support the effort when still in the discussion stage.

Before he knew it, he found himself co-chairing the Armenian Assembly and guiding it through its formative years.

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Kaloosdian remained on the Armenian Assembly board over the course of the decades, as its counsel, and at a critical stage in the life of the Armenian people he was at the helm of the organization. He, along with Jirair Haratunian and Hirair Hovnanian, believed strongly that the Armenian Assembly should lend every form of support to the emerging Republic of Armenia and do so in the non-partisan manner it conducted affairs. Under his firm leadership, the Armenian Assembly was well positioned to respond to the major humanitarian crises that struck Armenia with the 1988 earthquake, the Karabakh Movement, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

An attorney who practiced law from his offices in Watertown for his entire professional life, Kaloosdian was a fixture in the local Massachusetts business community. Besides his partnership in the Law Offices of Kaloosdian and Ciccarelli, Kaloosdian also served as a Trustee of the Watertown Savings Bank, and was a member of its Community Reinvestment Committee. He was also Corporator of the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, and an active member of the Rotary Club and its president in 1975-76.

It was a point of pride for Kaloosdian as a lawyer to have been part of the legal defense in a very special case that tested the obligations under the law of the state’s educational system in Massachusetts, which was one of only a half dozen states at the time that mandated teaching the subject of human rights and genocide, inclusive of the historical example of the Armenian Genocide. Kaloosdian, and many others in the Boston area, had strongly advocated for the adoption of the relevant legislation. The law was challenged under the argument that it did not permit instruction of a contrary point of view on the subject. While on the surface argued as an infringement on the First Amendment rights of educators to present a case from all points of view, the argument actually was tantamount to requiring educators to teach about denial of the Armenian Genocide. The case, Griswold vs. Driscoll, was appealed, and even brought to the Supreme Court, which declined to take up the matter, therein ending a multiyear effort that averted establishing the equivalence of historical fact and political denial.

Kaloosdian was appointed a member of the Ethnic Studies Task Force by Governor Francis Sargent, and testified before both Democratic and Republican Platform Committees. In 1978, he was sent to Lebanon by the State Department to establish a humanitarian aid program as Co-Director of a USAID grant the Armenian Assembly secured to assist the Armenian population of that country.

When he was honored by the Armenian Assembly in a gala tribute in Boston, he was hailed by the likes of then-Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Linda Melconian, who had once been chief Legislative Assistant and Assistant Counsel to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas (Tip) O’Neill, who served in that capacity from 1977 to 1987.

From left, Assembly President Carolyn Mugar, former Assembly Board of Trustees Chairman the late Hirair Hovnanian, Assembly Co-Chair Van Krikorian, former Assembly Board of Directors Chairman Jirair Haratunian, Assembly Board of Trustees Member Annie Totah, and Robert Aram Kaloosdian

A strong believer in preserving the Armenian heritage and especially the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, of which stories he had heard from his father, Kaloosdian always encouraged academic research in Armenian studies. When the Armenian Assembly established the Armenian National Institute (ANI), dedicated to the study, research, and affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, Kaloosdian was asked to head the undertaking. He quickly formed a Board of Governors and an Academic Council to guide the new enterprise and led the group from 1997 through 2010. He convened several conferences, most notably at the Library of Congress on the topic of America and the Armenian Genocide, held in 2000, out of which emerged another publication under the editorship of Dr. Jay Winter issued by Cambridge University Press.  The ANI webpage on the Armenian Genocide, which is available in English, Turkish, Spanish and Arabic, emerged of the course of the years as an important repository of records on international affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and continues to serve as a major resource for educators, researchers, reporters, and policymakers.

A native of Watertown, Kaloosdian was involved with many of the old and new organizations that made the city a center of Armenian life in America. For 10 years, he served as chairman of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia, which had been created as far back as 1918 by American public figures advocating for Armenia. He served on the Central Committee of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in the United States. He resigned from the ARF when the party distanced itself from the Armenian Assembly. In 1965 he was among the organizers of the United Committee of Greater Boston, the first time all segments of the community worked together, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  In another example of his strivings for greater community development, Kaloosdian headed the steering committee, which under his chairman, oversaw the construction of the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center in Watertown.

Kaloosdian prized his heritage, and after a lifetime of gathering evidence about his father’s family and birthplace, he published a marvelous account of the life of his forebears titled Tadem My Father’s Village. To his surprise, and his family’s pride in this accomplishment, the book won two awards.  In an appreciation of the volume, Dr. Richard Hovannisian wrote: “Kaloosdian has made a lasting contribution through his meticulous combination of historical sources, memoirs, and oral histories…” Dr. Taner Akçam observed: “Kaloosdian has documented the collective memory of anyone and everyone that he could reach who had lived in a specific region. Taking each of these personal accounts and combining it with research that he conducted, he has developed a new form of local history. The book you hold in your hands contains the collective memory of an Armenian village called Tadem and it is a significant achievement for this reason.”

In course of his research, Kaloosdian developed a considerable archive on the village of Tadem and its surroundings, including the transcriptions of audiotaped interviews with many of the living survivors he knew personally. At the same time, he also assembled an exquisite collection of historical works covering a wide range of subjects with Armenia and the Near East as its focus. Kaloosdian twice traveled to historic Armenia and visited his father’s birthplace to document what little remained of Tadem. A work full of pathos about life in that ancient village, Kaloosdian traced his father’s countless ordeals from the time of his boyhood growing up after the Hamidian massacres through his years of captivity during the time of the Genocide, his father’s forcible conversion to Islam, his employment as unpaid help living alone without friends or parents upon the deportation of the population, his escape through the mountains to the Russian frontier and flight across Siberia during the Russian Revolution, refuge in Japan, and arrival in America and a cross country journey at last to join relatives on the East Coast. He patiently reconstructed from scattered scarps of evidence the travails of each of his relatives, especially the tales and treatment of the handful of women who survived their banishment through the desert, and his father’s traumatic witnessing of the murder of his brother in a moment of thoughtless innocence.

When in 2002 Carolyn Mugar founded a chair in Modern Armenian History and Armenian Genocide Studies at his alma mater, Clark University, she asked that, in addition to honoring the memory of her parents Stephen and Marian Mugar, it also be named in honor of Aram and Marianne Kaloosdian. The recipient of numerous honors for his years of service to the Armenian people, Kaloosdian was bestowed the Prince of Cilicia award by Karekin I Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia and recognized by President Levon Ter-Petrossian of Armenia with the Mekhitar Gosh medal.

Kaloosdian graduated in 1952 from Clark University, where he was vice-president of his class, President of the Inter-fraternity Council and president of his fraternity. After serving a tour of duty at the U.S. Army Medical Field Service School during the Korean War, Kaloosdian entered Boston University School of Law where he received a JD degree in 1957 and a Master of Law in Taxation in 1962. He was a member of the Delta Theta Phi Law fraternity of which he was the Tribune. He also served as a Special Assistant to the President of the Massachusetts Bar Association. His law firm concentrated in the areas of business, real estate, taxation, probate and estate law.  He remained in practice for over 50 years and was a of the Member American Trial Lawyers Association, Middlesex Bar Association, and Massachusetts Bar Association.

Assembly President Carolyn Mugar, who was among his close personal friends, stated: “Our hearts go out to Aram’s family. Over the course of these many years they generously shared him with the Assembly family and with many of us. That is a debt so great that it can only be paid forward as he taught us.”

Speaking on behalf of the Armenian Assembly Board of Trustees, co-chairs Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian shared their sentiments: “Aram Kaloosdian was more than a pillar of our community and especially of our organization. He was its very foundation, and the generations that have succeeded him in office on the board of the Armenian Assembly have relied and built upon his legacy. Hundreds have served on the many boards and committees of the Armenian Assembly, and thousands have supported it through the decades. Rare are those who can be said to have devoted a lifetime of effort and energy, provided wisdom and guidance, inspired leadership and innovation, and remained convinced of the centrality of holding a respectable presence for the Armenian people in our nation’s capital. His legacy is secure and his memory cherished by all of us in the Armenian Assembly.”

Krikorian and Barsamian added that thanks to a generous donation, the new Washington offices of the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian National Institute (ANI) will have a dedicated library named in Kaloosdian’s honor as a fitting legacy to his commitment to building the premier resource center on the Armenian Genocide in our nation’s capital.

Funeral service will be at Saint Stephen’s Armenian Church, 38 Elton Avenue, Watertown on May 16.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Saint Stephen’s Armenian Church, Armenian Assembly of America, Washington, D.C. or Armenia Tree Project, 400 W. Cummings Park, Suite 3725, Woburn, MA. 01801. Veteran U.S. Army, Korean Conflict.


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