"Never Forget" by Myra Roberts

Couple Seeks New Home for Painting that Captures Genocide Tragedy, Triumph

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BOSTON — Art and a painful history are intertwined in a painting that southeastern artist Myra Roberts did of Aurora Mardiganian, the noted survivor of the Armenian Genocide. The work was commissioned in 2018 by Laura and Steve Avakian, then based in Sanibel, Fla.

Now, the Avakians, back in Massachusetts, are looking for a good home for the painting, titled “Never Forget,” as they are downsizing.

In a recent interview, Laura Avakian, who had worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before retiring in 2006, said the couple realized that they would rather donate the painting to a deserving Armenian organization rather than to keep it.

As Laura Avakian recalled, she and her husband were approached in Sanibel to be sponsors for an exhibit by Roberts, titled “Spokeswomen,” highlighting her works depicting accomplished, world-famous women, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama and Greta Thunberg. The couple started talking to Roberts about the Armenian Genocide and wondered if she could do a painting on it.

“We wanted to commemorate and honor his [Steve’s] heritage,” Laura Avakian said.

Laura Avakian recalled that Roberts was intrigued and agreed to take on the commission. She delved deep into the subject and landed on Aurora Mardiganian as a subject, with the background featuring Steve Avakian grandparents marching through the desert during the Genocide.

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“Steve and I knew nothing about her [Mardiganian],” she recalled. “She was clearly an inspirational figure.”

The painting, Laura Avakian said, “helps remind people of this tragic story and celebrates survivors.” The work, estimated to be worth $20,000, measures 30 inches by 40 inches.

Steve Avakian was born in New York City in 1945 to immigrant parents. Three of his grandparents died during  the Genocide. Yervant, his father, at age 9 marched in the desert with his mother and three siblings to Lebanon. In his 20s, Yervant found his way to the US and in New York City,  met the woman who would later become his wife, Acabie. Acabie had come to the US in her teens, having been sent to an American-sponsored orphanage in Kharput with her sister in 1915.

His aunt, Elizabeth Caramen Payne, wrote a book on the family’s history, titled Daughter of the Euphrates, which was published by Harper in 1939. It is a detailed portrayal of the family’s village life in Habousie before and after the invasion by Turkish militants, and the orphanage where the sisters were sent after the slaughter of their parents.

Steve Avakian served as John Glenn’s personal aide during his successful 1980 US Senate campaign and went with the Senator to Washington as his press secretary. He  went back to Ohio in 1985 to manage Glenn’s successful re-election campaign, winning all 88 counties.

After the election Avakian opened up his own consulting firm, which he ran for 31 years. He frequently worked with the school districts in Ohio, helping them get tax levies passed to fund infrastructure projects.

Organizations, including universities, are encouraged to send in a letter of application to Laura Avakian at avakianpainting@gmail.com by the end of June, if they would like to obtain the painting, at no cost. According to her, the couple will pick up the shipping tab for the painting, as well. They hope to give the painting a good home where it can generate discussion and honor a painful past.

 

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