Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Happy Birthday, Peter. You would be 101 years old today!

Searching the web for a recipe for Watermelon Rind Soup, a recipe which, by the way, she never found, the recipe for the soup that Peter used to tell us his mother made for them in Marash, Marash Girl looked up gabaklu on the web, and lo and behold, she found the following article (unsigned & uncredited) that she herself had written 7 years ago announcing the award that her father Peter had received from the Union of Marash Armenians in 2006!

Watertown Chapter

On   Saturday Jan 14, 2006, The Union of Marash Armenians, Watertown Chapter, celebrated Armenian Christmas and presented the Man of the Year Award to Peter Bilezikian, "Marash Man of the Year".
Peter accepts the congratulations of the Watertown Chapter, Union of Marash Armenians. Photo by Marash Girl
     Today we honor Peter Bilezikian, who at 93 and a half years old, lives a full and active life, sharing his stories and philosophy with those around him, a philosophy based on a lifetime of courage, hard work, dreams, and faith.

     Peter (Bedros) Bilezikian, strong, vibrant  and independent at 93, was born an American citizen in Marash, Western Armenia, Ottoman Empire, on August 7, 1912, the youngest child of Movses Bilezikian and Yepros Kurtguzian Bilezikian.

     In 1914, Peter's  father Movses returned to the United States with plans to have his family join him, but World War One broke out making communication between Movses and his family literally impossible;  Yepros was left alone to support and care for their four children and her younger sister Mary.

     The war years were difficult.  Rather than attend school, Peter would run to the mountains where he and his Armenian friends carried on their own slingshot war against the Turkish boys -- he still has a scar where a stone from the Turkish boys hit his forehead.

     Peter can never forget walking over dead people in the streets of Marash where he used to play, seeing children with stomachs bloated from hunger, witnessing the carts clearing the streets of dead bodies.  He often relates his close call with death when a bullet singed his cowlick. He remembers fleeing with his family from one house to another to another on a moment's notice in an effort to avoid being sent to Der Zor (the death camps) . . . Young Peter, however, saw all this as simply a part of life . . . and continued fearless through the streets of Marash.

     Unable to return to his family in Turkey because of the war, and not knowing whether or not they were still living, Movses, in the U.S. in 1921,  finally learned that his wife and children were indeed alive and well. With the help of Brewer Eddy, Executive Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions, Movses sent money to his family in Marash for their safe passage to the United States. In 1922, Yepros, all alone with only her children,  left Marash on foot to walk to Aleppo, with the two younger children (Peter and Rosie) in saddlebags on the sides of a burro.

     The family arrived in New York City where Peter's father Movses, and Uncle Manoog Bilezikjian (who lived in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY) met  them at the boat. Movses and his family departed on a train for Boston the very next day.  Peter's family first lived in Newtonville but soon moved to the more affordable `four castles' on Lincoln Street in Brighton (a third floor cold water flat with shared bathroom).

     From the age of ten, Peter worked every day after school and well into the night, contributing all of his earnings to the family. In 1928, the family moved to Arsenal Street in Watertown. When Peter graduated from Watertown High School (the first in his family to graduate from secondary school), he was given the opportunity to study for four years at M.I.T., all expenses paid, but had to decline in order to go to work and help support his family during the Great Depression. (He had always wanted to become a teacher, and though he never attained this goal, he made sure that his three children did, despite the fact that many old timers would advise him not to waste money educating daughters!)

     In 1933, Peter and his brother Paul established Newtonville Electrical Company, Inc. (sales, service and electrical contracting throughout all of New England).  The two brothers were Master Electricians, and Peter's specialty was heating, refrigeration, and air conditioning. Their business flourished in Newtonville, Massachusetts, for 50 years. [Peter rarely takes credit for being the instrumental and driving force in the many successful ventures and accomplishments of his life.]

     Peter and his family purchased and moved to his current home in Newtonville, Massachusetts, in 1935. In 1940, Peter married Lucille Mae (Jennie) Vartanian, the love of his life. They had three children, Bethel Charkoudian, Martha McCool, and James Bilezikian. Peter has 11 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren [now 4].

     Peter's favorite pastimes are reading and discussing philosophy, history, religion, and the comics! He's a master at crossword puzzles and tavlu (backgammon); he used to build furniture, and now loves to restore antique furniture; in fact, while in high school, he was 

recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts  for building an exact replica of an ornate 18th Century coach for which he won first prize in a statewide competition.

     His lifelong passion for gardening resulted in award-winning tomatoes which he grew from seed . . . the biggest tomatoes ever to be eaten this side of Marash!

     Peter has been a long-time staunch supporter of the Union of Marash Armenians in the Boston area. Although Peter never held any office within the Union, he personally helped many Marashti needy families, he sponsored Marashtsi students abroad for years  to help them get their education and he did all this without fanfare. Anytime a compatriot needed his services but could not pay him, he did the work cheerfully without pay.

     He is proud to be a Marashtzi, as are his children and grandchildren!

     Congratulations, Peter, on being selected the Marashtzi of the year.


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