In Memoriam: Van M. Aroian (1927-2021) ~ Long-Serving NAASR Board Member and Charter Member

In Memoriam NAASR Van Aroian

NAASR announces with sadness the passing on July 14, 2021 of Van M. Aroian of Worcester, MA, the senior member of its Board of Directors, at the age of 94. Aroian was a Charter Member of NAASR, having joined in the organization’s first year, 1955, and served on its Board of Directors since 1992, including many years on the Executive Committee. 

He is survived by Mary, his wife of more than 60 years, and sons Mihran and Raffi and their families, and nieces and nephews including fellow NAASR Board Member Bruce W. Roat, who recalled his uncle as “a strong, positive leader in my extended family and a great role model of the greatest generation.”

Visiting Hours will be held Monday, July 19, from 5-8pm at Callahan, Fay & Caswell Funeral Home, 61 Myrtle Street, Worcester. A funeral service will be held at 11am on Tuesday, July 20, at Armenian Church of Our Saviour, 87 Salisbury Street, Worcester. Burial will follow at Hope Cemetery.

As a Board Member who was involved with NAASR from its very outset, Aroian brought a wealth of experience and knowledge but always wanted the organization to be looking ahead, rather than backwards. Current NAASR Chairman Yervant Chekijian remarked that “Van, as one of the longest serving members of the Board, believed in active participation in NAASR’s administration, planning, and vision for the future,” and indeed until recent physical setbacks slowed him down Van remained a highly involved member of the Board and a fixture at NAASR programs, logging many miles of driving between Worcester and Belmont.
Former NAASR Chairman Nancy Kolligian stated “Van meant so much to all of us—not only as a dedicated NAASR member and Board member but also as a man of keen intellect and knowledge who contributed so much to NAASR for decades. I valued him as a friend and mentor and will be forever grateful that he was a part of my life.”
Photo: Van and Mary Aroian with George Krikorian (left) and Nancy Kolligian (right) and locals in Kharpert in 2006

NAASR Director of Academic Affairs Marc Mamigonian, who worked closely with Aroian for more than 20 years, called him a “stalwart” and “a man of ideas and of integrity, decency, and commitment to what NAASR represents.”

Van M. Aroian was born in Boston on June 5, 1927, to Mihran and Satenig (Tashjian) Aroian, respectively of Kharpert and Hussenig, Historic Armenia. They married in Boston and raised Van and his sisters Alice and Myra. He earned a BA at Boston University and MA in Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. He was a fellow in Urban Geography at Clark University and an Urban Planner and Deputy Director of the Worcester Redevelopment Authority. He later joined his brother in-law, Kevork, and wife Mary Balekdjian Aroian in importing and retailing Oriental carpets.

It was during Aroian’s time as a graduate student at Harvard that he met and studied with Prof. Richard Frye. In 1999, during the celebration of NAASR’s 45th anniversary, Aroian recalled that “as a graduate student in 1951-1952 I approached Dr. Frye and stated that it was time to get a professorship in the Armenian area. He agreed strongly and urged me to go out and see what could be done. I canvassed the gamut of political and religious leaders; the consensus was there, but the apparent mechanism was not. One day I entered the office to find Prof. Frye and Manoog Young and the other founders [Thomas Amirian and Arra Avakian] in serious discussion. … By 1954 NAASR was formed and in five short years by 1959 with the establishment of the Harvard chair, the dream of Professors Blake, who had passed on in 1950, and Frye who had carried the idea forward had been realized. The rest is history.” Photo: Van Aroian with Prof. Richard Frye and Dr. Eden Naby Frye
Van served NAASR in many capacities over the years, including as a member of the 40th anniversary committee, as chairman of several of NAASR’s academic conferences, as recording secretary of the Executive Committee, and many more. He was also active in the Worcester Historical Society, of which he was a past chairman; the Worcester Ecumenical Council; and the Armenian Church of Our Savior in Worcester. Photo: Van and Mary Aroian on the 2009 NAASR trip to Cilicia

Characteristically, while he initially was skeptical of NAASR’s plans to build a new headquarters, Van came to embrace the idea and was a joyful presence at the grand opening on November 1, 2019. NAASR Executive Director Sarah Ignatius remembered “how meaningful it was for Van along with his fellow NAASR elder statesman, the late Jack Medzorian, to be there, braving the cold to help cut the ribbon and inaugurate a new era for the organization he served so well and for so long.”

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