14 The Armenian Reporter | April 11, 2009 Community Liver transplant spurs national Knights of Vartan commander by Tom Vartabedian WATERTOWN, Mass. – Haig Deranian is truly a knight in shining armor. 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 upbringing.” 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 medicine.” 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: Knightsofvartan.org. 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 products. 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 state. 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 less. 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 intended. 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 standard. 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 Kassabian. 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 community.