National, International, Armenia, and Community News and Opinion

National, International, Armenia, and Community News and Opinion

14 The Armenian Reporter | April 11, 2009


Liver transplant spurs national Knights of Vartan commander

by Tom Vartabedian

WATERTOWN, Mass. – Haig

Deranian is truly a knight in shining


Ten years ago, he was at death’s

door before a liver transplant saved

his life. A donor stepped forward

when the situation became critical

and gave him a new lease.

Today, he’s the national commander

of the Knights of Vartan,

an organization that dates itself

back to 451 c.e. when Vartan Mamigonian

led the surge that preserved

Christianity for Armenians.

Deranian doesn’t carry a sword.

He has no shield. His only weapon

is the Armenian spirit and he wears

it proudly.

“It was not my time and I was

blessed by God,” he says of the

transplant. “God decided whether

I would live or die. I have a great

deal of faith which was part of my


Little is revealed about his life-ordeath

struggle back a decade ago,

just the way Deranian would prefer.

He’s not an individualist and wants

no purple heart for his survival. He

puts his organization before himself.

“I don’t know who the donor was,”

he says. “There’s no question organ

transplantation is a miracle in


But talk Knights of Vartan and

Deranian is all action. If he did have

a sword, it would be Excalibur. And

if this Knight ever came alive, well,

it’s as close to a Robin Hood scenario

as you can get.

His Sherwood Forest is the diaspora.

The mission is equality among

all Armenians everywhere.

Armenians need to unite with

one voice,” he points out. “I believe

Haig Deranian. Photo:

the Knights of Vartan is the perfect

organization that can cross all lines

to get things done. My involvement

and ultimate success are more of a

team effort. I might be in the right

place at the right time and was always

trying to make a difference

with my life.”

My late pastor, Rev. Vartan

Kassabian, was a Knight as well

as an arf member, the leader of

a church as well as an entertainer.

He was the consummate Armenian

who would rob Peter to pay Paul.

The former chairperson of our

Armenian National Committee of

Merrimack Valley is another Knight.

When Joe Dagdigian isn’t attending

meetings, he’s involved with the

arf Lowell Gomideh as well as the

Cosmic Ray Division in Armenia. In

fact, he joined the Knights to gain

added clout for the crd.

Deranian is also trying to make a

difference. With a membership that

has 23 lodges throughout the United

States and Canada, along with a

body of more than 3,000 Knights

and Daughters, it’s Deranian who

remains the catalyst.

The 67-year-old has been a Watertown

resident for the past 55

years. He attended local schools before

graduating from Northeastern

University. He has a wife (Donna

Pino) and three children (Gregory,

Jason, and Jennifer) and is

president and ceo of a company

called Jad Imports, an importer of

lighting products, and Deran Lamp

& Shade Company, manufacturer

and distributor of portable lighting


He has taught Sunday School at

St. James Church in Watertown

since 1997 and has a list of credentials

the length of your arm with

the Knights of Vartan. No need to

A community regroups after its pastor’s death

repeat everything, Suffice it to say,

he’s made the Armenian community

his priority.

Two years ago, Deranian chaired

the New England Pontifical visit of

His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos

of all Armenians.

He has helped deliver school supplies

to destitute schoolchildren in

Armenia, promoted hygiene and

sanitation in Armenia, sponsored

and renovated schools, and distributed

scholarships. Two of my ayf

children were K of V recipients.

According to one report, $19

million has gone to school projects

in Armenia. For every dollar

the brotherhood raises, the World

Bank matches $9.

This July, the City of Boston will

be converted into a metropolis for

Knights from every corner of the

country. More than 400 members

are expected to converge at the

Westin Copley from July 1 to 5.

Had he been alive, Der Vartan

would have played a key role as

commander of the Arakadz Lodge

of Merrimack Valley. In the entire

history of this organization,

no cleric has ever assumed such

a leading role and the reason why

he joined runs parallel with others

who’ve taken an initiative.

They wanted to make a difference.

“We believe that the preservation

of our racial, religious, and cultural

heritage is our sacred obligation,”

Deranian points out. “However we

achieve that means is up to us.”

Haig Deranian is alive today because

he had God on his side. He’ll

never dispute that. Nor will he ever

contradict the work of his organization,

much less the interaction of

Armenians everywhere, regardless

of political or fraternal affiliation.

For that, he is to be admired.

by Tom Vartabedian

Weeks after his death, a community

continues to mourn the loss of

its beloved pastor.

The passing of Der Vartan Kassabian

March 12 has sent the Merrimack

Valley reeling with aftershock

and cast parishioners from

St. Gregory Church into a bereaved


It’s not something anyone can

forget overnight – or after an eternity.

But like he would have wished,

grief must be replaced by healing

and the congregation must persevere.

If anything, this pastor always

preached vitality and encouraged

his flock to settle for nothing


As Sunday School students come

to grips with reality, several are

looking to the church for strength.

The priest who once humored them

with a casual Sunday sermon is no

longer there.

He taught them well. Hopefully,

the lessons will guide them toward

greater maturity.

Local genocide-commemoration

committees will miss his sturdy

presence at events where prayers

will mourn his loss. If anything,

they will remember the man for his

oratorical brilliance and the knack

for always finding the right words

in a dire situation.

Two years ago, when vandals destroyed

some genocide billboards

around Greater Boston, Armenians

everywhere were aghast.

Could this be another vile Turkish

prank Such vandalism made

the Boston papers with pity.

As the Armenian public criticized

the act, Der Vartan found a positive

side. In an invocation he delivered,

he told the audience that such acts

were “a blessing in disguise.”

“The publicity we received from

this caught the eye of every sympathetic

reader and underscored

nine decades of intolerance by our

people toward Turkey,” he pointed

out. “You can’t buy this kind of

press. They did us a favor.”

With his pearls of wisdom, Der

Vartan was like a firefly on a moonless

night, casting certain radiance

where there was none.

The elderly continue to grieve.

Each Sunday he would regale them

with words of inspiration, whether

it was from the altar or during a

coffee hour. Shortly after his father’s

death, Mgo walked into an

Armenian School class and sat with

the younger students.

His place, he felt, was with them

as words of encouragement flowed

from his mouth. A year ago this

time, his essay on genocide recognition

took first prize. As another

contest took effect, he urged the

students to enter, get involved,

make a difference in their church,

much the same way his father had


As another phase of a renovation

project takes place inside the

church, there seems to be greater

initiative than ever to get the work

accomplished in his memory. A better

tribute couldn’t be possible.

The Easter season took on greater

significance this year as in the past

with the death of Christ resurrecting

an entire Christian nation. In

some ways, the same could be said

for Der Vartan’s demise.

Life after death.

Visiting clergy continue to do

their part until a replacement is

named. Every promise has been

made by the hierarchy to find a

suitable pastor. To walk in his

shoes would be a daunting task for

any cleric.

Meanwhile, a congregation has

been enamored to carry on the

work he so delegated to others.

Jesus Christ died two centuries

ago. Presidents like Abe Lincoln

and John F. Kennedy are gone. Our

rich, classical composers, Bach,

Beethoven, Mozart set their own


Are they really dead Are not

their words and music still heard

Der Vartan had no illusions of

grandeur, yet he was grand in his

own humble, charismatic way. The

man some predicted would never

make a good priest was fit to be a

prince of his church.

It isn’t the quantity of life – the

number of years – that matters, but

rather the quality, how that life was

lived. Der Vartan lived his 51 years

exceptionally well.

In an age of takers, he was a giver.

Like the coin of life, his life was

dedicated to two sides, his family

and his work. For that, he leaves

Der Vartan


behind a rich legacy we have all

grown to appreciate.

He took the time to love and

laugh – to serve and enjoy countless

friendships. He took the time

to dream, play and reflect a little

more than we ordinarily would.

Der Vartan didn’t need a clock

in his timeless journey, or a schedule

to maintain. He killed time by

working it to death.

What you do for yourself unfortunately

dies with you. But what

you do for others lives on after

you. A man such as Der Vartan will

never die in the eyes of a grateful


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