A Tribute to Dr. Movses Housepian on the 130th Anniversary of His Birth
By Hagop Vartivarian
Last year marked the 130th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Movses Housepian, one of the most influential figures of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL) in America. Unfortunately, having gone through a period of reformation in the past few years, we ADL members neglected to carry out certain obligations incumbent upon us, one of which was organizing demonstrations of respect and remembrance for prominent party figures of the recent past, who built up our party in the United States. One of those builders was Movses Housepian, and it is on the occasion of the anniversary of his birth that we pen these few lines.
Housepian was born in Kessab, Syria in 1876. He received his higher education at the Central Turkey College in Aintab. Fleeing from the 1895 massacres in Zeitun, he sought refuge in England, where he studied pharmacy. He came to America in 1900 as a medical student at Long Island (New York) Medical College and graduated in 1905. He served as a physician on a British ship for four years, until 1909, when he began working in New York as a physician. He continued in that capacity until his death in 1952.
In 1916, he joined the Armenian volunteer movement and went to the Caucasus, putting his professional skills at the service of the wretched refugees having gathered in the vicinity of Yerevan and Echmiadzin, who gave him the lovely title of “Angel of Mercy.” In the greater New York area, he was respected by all as an Armenian doctor, a doctor for the Armenians and a popular doctor. He continued the work of a number of American-Armenian doctors, like Haroutiun Tiryakian, A. Ayvazian and Sempad Gabrielian, who are mentioned as being doctors of the people in the annals of this community.
As members of the older generation living in New York can attest, Housepian found happiness and spiritual satisfaction in the benefit and service he provided to his Armenian patients. Although he deserved to have a fine home, an automobile and a summer home, he deprived himself of those luxuries. He wished to become the doctor of the humble immigrants. He did not wish to become addicted to material things and money. He received a patient the day before he died.
In his political life, Housepian belonged to the generation of Mihran Svazli, Arzoumanian, Jim Chankalian and Arshag Der Margossian, who became important proponents of the ADL ideology in the United States and role models of the unselfish national service and patriotic spirit espoused by it. In those days, he was an avowed supporter of Soviet Armenia, considering it the best guarantor of the Armenian people’s security, and he remained so until the end. Finding any thought that was at odds with that sacred principle to be wrong and deleterious to the national interest, he stuck by his party’s tenets.
Dr. Housepian participated in the party’s conventions. He was one of the most loved and respected members of the New York chapter, according to the elderly members of this great metropolis. The late Vahan Malkhasian said that, despite his advanced age, he would attend its membership meetings and, if it happened that he were absent, he would inquire by telephone what the issues were on the meeting agenda and what decisions were taken in connection with them.
Along with his political involvement, Housepian was a supporter of the great work performed by AGBU in keeping the Armenian nation alive and gathering together its scattered members. As a member of AGBU, he was one of the active participants in the organization’s fundraising drive in 1946 during the repatriation campaign, which raised over a million dollars.
The New York chapter of ADL was preparing to celebrate Housepian’s jubilee but unfortunately he didn’t live to see that day. Subsequently, however, its members aptly named the chapter’s headquarters after him, and until now, we New Yorkers, in the name of Dr. Movses Housepian, continue his work for the benefit of the Armenian nation and the ADL.
In 1920, Housepian married Makrouhie Ashjian, who later became a longtime member of the AGBU Central Board of Directors. They had two children, Edgar and Marjorie. By a remarkable coincidence, 75 years after his father and prompted by the same patriotism, Dr. Edgar Housepian visited the victims of the Armenian earthquake of 1988, as head of a committee of doctors sponsored by the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). This humane Armenian devoted himself to the same mission, with the same dedication displayed by his father decades earlier. The funeral and burial of Dr. Movses Housepian took place on December 14, 1952 in St. Gregory the Illuminator Church of New York, presided over by Archbishop Dirair Hovanessian and with the participation of Vartabed Yeghishe Simonian, pastor of the Holy Cross Church of Armenia (uptown), and Archpriest Vertanes Papazian, a pastor from Los Angeles. The church was crowded with mourners. Ideological comrades of the deceased – Jack Shahinian, Bedros Hazarabedian, Dicran Simsarian, Sarkis Demirjian, Onnig Bedrosian, Souren Manuelian, Stepan Gadarian, Diran Toukhmanian and Dikran Diradourian – carried his coffin in a show of gratitude for his 45 years of service to the Armenian nation and the ADL.
Papazian spoke about Housepian in church, while the eulogy at the gravesite was delivered by the doctor’s close friend, Hratch Yervant.
It is worth citing a few posthumous testimonies, either written or spoken, from well-known figures from that period.
- “He went with his physician’s lancet to where there was fighting, and he awaited the effacement of the mark on his forehead and the breaking of the chains binding the arms of his people from the outcome of the fighting. The weapon there was changed into a surgical instrument and medicine, in place of the weapon which the revolutionary climbing the mountain would carry against the enemy, but the goal was the same, the inextinguishable desire was the same.”
- Baikar Editorial
- December 5, 1953
- “Dr. Housepian was courageous and firm in his convictions, and that constituted the salient trait of his character; I had observed with admiration his undaunted stance regarding the homeland, when others considered it prudent to silence their patriotic voice owing to the change in conditions.”
- Mihrtad Tiryakian
- January 23, 1955
- “He believed that, sooner or later, justice would triumph and the Armenian people would gain their just rights. And perhaps it was with that faith that, until his death, he remained a member of the Central Committee of the Armenian National Council of America, which is engaged in matters pertaining to the Armenian Cause and the regaining of lands.”
- Mannig Khojasarian
- January 25, 1955
- “He likened Armenian national activity to a large carriage, and he considered it necessary to put our wheel, our power and energy in their entirety in service, in order for the wheels to turn. He used to say, ‘If it should happen that you should back down, if you surrender to the thought of defeat, recall the memory of those praiseworthy heroes, who walked intrepidly along the road of struggle for our national liberation.’”
- Souren Manuelian
- December 12, 1954
- “If my and Chankalian’s endeavors became thankless efforts under the constraint of external counteracting forces, the same wasn’t the case for Dr. Movses Housepian. He returned to America, holding his head high, having performed great salutary work for his beloved people.”
- Bedros Depoyian
- January 24, 1953
- “The crowning achievement of Dr. Housepian’s life was saving forty thousand Armenian refugees from certain death. He treated them, cleansed their bodies of dirt, and saved them, working incessantly day and night, with indefatigable effort, with unfailing devotion and a squeaky clean meticulousness, which became the principal human characteristic of his medical art and remained so until the end.”
- Yervant Messiaian
Let these few thoughts devoted to this great Armenian and unselfish party leader, on the occasion of the delayed acknowledgment of the 130th anniversary of his birth, be a testimony, on the one hand, to his services in Armenian national affairs and, on the other hand, a reminder to us present-day Ramgavars as to why our political party came into being and what the mission of those who accept its tenets must be. Let us bear in mind the tenets of our party, that “the Armenian Democratic Liberal Organization was born naturally of the Armenian people and faithfully expresses their mighty desire for national survival, dedicated to the complete reestablishment of the historical Armenian homeland.”
(Translated by Aris Sevag)