Bedros Zobyan was an architect and newspaper editor who used both of his careers to nurture and nudge his fellow Armenians closer to their heritage and culture. He was born and raised in the Turkish city of Istanbul. In 1958, Zobyan was commissioned by the patriarch of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church to build a new church in the old authentic Armenian style on the site in Istanbul of the old church that had been expropriated to make way for a highway. He rescued and reincorporated the ceramic tiles from the original chapel, marble stones, and reused the carved stone cross belonging to the 500-year-old church. It was - and continues to be-the only one of Istanbul's 28 Armenian churches that displays the austere, powerful lines and massive stonework that marks Armenian church architecture.
"My father built the most important church in Istanbul," said his daughter, Hasmig Possian.
Zobyan was also working as a journalist at the Marmara, a daily started in 1940 by his wife, Seta Zobyan's father, a well-known foreign correspondent. The young couple took over the paper in 1950. One of two Armenian dailies in Istanbul, it had a circulation of 5,000 but a considerably larger reach in terms of influence. He lobbied in its pages to save the church he would go on to rebuild. For some political articles Zobyan even was landed in prison for two days, Seta Zobyan pulled every string she had, including bribery, to get her husband released, otherwise he would have been in jail months and months.
They lived a good life for a time, attending balls, receptions for visiting royalty, the ballet and concerts. But after the military coup of 1960, many Armenians left Turkey, including many of their families. In 1965 they sent their daughter to Toronto, to St. Clements School, where they believed she would be safe and get a better education. Two years later, they immigrated to live quietly in Don Mills, and in 1970 they sold the paper. Neither practiced journalism in Canada: Bedros Zobyan went to work for the large architectural firm of Page and Steele building the Commerce Court towers where he designed everything from buildings to bank machines, and Seta Zobyan found a job in market research. She also worked part-time as a court translator and interpreter. After retiring from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce , Zobyan once again took up his pen.
He wrote a book about the three-week trip he took in May 1964 with William Saroyan to find the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and playwright's Armenian ancestral home. The pair went from Istanbul via Ankara to Samsun on the Black Sea. They stopped at Lake of Van (considered to be as sacred a place as Mt. Ararat to Armenians). Venturing into remote villages where Armenians had lived before the genocide of 1915, they found Armenian children being raised in primitive conditions by Turkish an Kurdish families. In Bitlis, Saroyan located the foundations of his family's home, with some help from villagers. Although Saroyan also took notes during their trip, he never directly wrote about it, though he did write a play called The Istanbul Trilogy. Zobyan, however, wrote up a series about the trip for his newspaper called: "60,000 Kilometres in 16 Days with William Saroyan." It took Zobyan three years to write the book based on those articles.
"Every day I came home from school and my grandfather would be typing. Every day," saidAmara Possian, 15. "My grandma too, both of them always had red pens."
In the 1970s they visited Saroyan at his home in Fresno, Calif. He had two houses, one in which he lived and one in which he wrote.
After Saroyan died of cancer in 1981, his homes became the site of a museum dedicated to his works and his Armenian heritage. Towards Bitlis with William Saroyan was published by an Armenian publisher in 2003. The cover features a photo of Saroyan sitting on a rock in the rugged Anatolian countryside alongside a signpost stating: Bitlis 10. American Armenians had arranged a special book launch for October 2003 in California, but Zobyan was too ill to attend. It is considered much more than a travel book.
Zobyan made sure the Saroyan's museum received copies of his book. Bedros Zobyan died at 82 of pancreatic cancer in December 2004. A dignified and diffident man, Zobyan was well respected within the Armenian community in Toronto. "People looked up to him," said Berc Luleciyan a deacon at the Holy Trinity Armenian Church, who attended high school with Zobyan in Istanbul. He'd hoped to translate it into English for Armenians living in California and Europe. "I will translate it," Seta Zobyan said. "That was his wish and I will try and make it come true."
- A man of letters - and passion. Edited Armenian paper beforeA moving to Canada. Architect also wrote book about William Saroyan, By Catherine Dunphy. The Toronto Star, Canada, January 17, 2005