Remembering Unger Papken Sassouni
Editor’s Note: A veteran member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Papken Sassouni passed away on Monday, October 30. During his funeral service on November 10, at Forest Lawn Hollywood, Ani Mgrdichian delivered a remembrance highlighting his life and accomplishments, translated from the original Arnenian. We present Mgrdichian’s remarks below.
Papken Sassouni was born in Chaville, France in 1929. He was the youngest son of Garo Sassouni, Armenian intellectual, educator, author, and revolutionary leader, and Leola Sassouni, humanitarian and social activist. His elder brothers were Souren (Serge), born in 1920, in Armenia, and Viken, born in 1922, in Tabriz, Iran.
The family moved to Aleppo in 1934 and, eventually, settled in Beirut, Lebanon in 1936, where Papken attended Hamazkayin Jemaran, receiving his primary and secondary education under the guiding influence and counsel of several great educators and literary figures, including Levon Shant, Nigol Aghbalian, and his father. Many of his deepest and enduring friendships took root and were cultivated there, including that of his future wife, Marjolaine.
Papken graduated Jemaran, in 1946, and continued his higher education in Beirut through the early ’50’s at Lycée Français de Beirut and The Center for Mathematical Studies, where he graduated with honors.
During this time, he joined the ranks of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, in which he was an active and dedicated member throughout his life, fulfilling his passionate desire to serve his nation.
In 1953, after becoming engaged to Marjolaine Boudakian, Papken left Beirut and settled in Paris, France. As a French citizen, he served in the French Army, receiving his military training at Ecole Militaire de Saint-Maixent, and was later deployed and stationed in Koblenz, Germany, and Tunisia. He attained the rank of captain, and was honorably discharged in 1955.
Back in civilian life, he was accepted to Sorbonne University for graduate studies in mathematics at the Henri Poincaré Institute of Mathematics, pursuing his deep interest in the sciences. Papken was fascinated with mathematical language, and how the laws of nature could be expressed with elegance in the form of equations. He was awarded a Master of Science degree in 1955.
Papken and Marjolaine were married in 1955, at the Armenian Church of Paris. In 1957, an opportunity arose in the nascent field of computer science and together they set sail for America, settling in Philadelphia near Papken’s older brother, Viken. He began applying his knowledge of mathematics to the field of computing initially on the ENIAC computer — heralded as the “giant brain” — and its successor the UNIVAC, at the University of Pennsylvania and at the RAND Corporation under the physicist John William Mauchly, the machine’s designer. Papken wrote several key research papers on techniques of optimization, contributing to advances in the field of computing.
Their first child, Maral, was born in 1958, and a year later, the family moved to Pasadena, California. Papken was hired by the Burroughs Corporation, a prestigious company whose history paralleled many of the major developments in computing. His first and second sons, Garo and Kevo, were born in 1960 and 1961, respectively.
In the mid-60’s, he was employed by Control Data Corporation, a supercomputer firm. Not long after this, Papken and some of his colleagues, formed a new company, Computer Communications Inc. (CCI), which pioneered distributed computing technology. He traveled The States and Europe widely, demonstrating and marketing CCI’s products to governmental organizations, such as NASA and the Pentagon, where Papken had high level security clearance. On many occasions, he would bring home bizarre, futuristic gadgets and devices from their offices in Torrance, that would endlessly amaze his children and their friends.
All the while, Papken’s devotion to his family and community was unwavering. He was a founding member of ARF’s “Lernavair Gomideh,” in Pasadena, and an organizer of countless Armenian political, cultural, religious, and educational events in 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s west coast Armenian life. He was one of the founders of the Western US Regional Branch of the Hamazkayin Cultural Society, in Los Angeles in 1968, spending the early 70’s, meeting and interacting with many ranking local and state government figures to organize events commemorating the Armenian Genocide. Papken served in key leadership positions in the ARF and Armenian National Committee throughout his life, and participated in the ARF World Congress of 1976 in the midst of the Middle East crisis and the Lebanese Civil War.
During this critical time, waves of Armenians were uprooted and immigrated to Los Angeles, to embark upon new lives in the Armenian community, seeking a place to belong. Papken was instrumental in ensuring that community organizations were welcoming, allowing newcomers to experience a sense of kinship, family, and support in a strange new land.
His demeanor and disposition were calm, yet beneath burned an undying love for his nation, culture, language and people which compelled him to action. At crucial moments for the community, he had great strategic insights and was open to all ideas, never imposing or promoting a single approach. Instead, he encouraged and fostered new ideas. His intelligent and open-minded approach set an example for future generations in originality, clear thinking, and decisional efficiency.
In 1988, following the tragic earthquake in Armenia, The Earthquake Relief Fund for Armenia (ERFA) was formed, and Papken was appointed its chairman. In this capacity, he visited Armenia many times to organize housing and aid for victims and survivors of the earthquake. He also aided the ARS with its eye-care and optometric services project in Yerevan and Talin during the early 90s.
Some of Papken’s most enjoyable moments were spent at social gatherings in the homes of dear friends, around a large dinner table where conversation and banter reigned supreme. Anecdotes, passionate exchanges of political ideas, as well as good-natured teasing and jokes—not to mention tales of the many episodes of pranksterism from their days of youth —were recounted here. The sound of clinking glasses and echoes of unrestrained laughter permeated the night under a cloud cover of cigarette smoke, as rambunctious children played, occasionally looking toward the adults with great curiosity, reverence and respect. Little did the parents know that, all the while, their children were permanently recording the proceedings, gestures, mannerisms, and speech with great detail in their little minds.
In his later years, Papken spent a great deal of time poring over and categorizing volumes of handwritten correspondence, letters, photographs, and notes belonging to his father, Garo Sassouni, and his uncle Setrak Sassouni’s diaries from the Genocide years. He scanned and transcribed hundreds of pages, discovering new facts and deeper meanings about his father’s life and work, perhaps, hoping to uncover hitherto unknown historical facts and better understand the nature of his father’s incredible efforts.
In 2008, Papken’s grandson, Armen Garo, was born, and nothing made him happier than daily visits from, as he lovingly dubbed, “Ashkharhi Amenalav Dghan,” whom he always greeted with a big hug, a kiss on each cheek, and a twinkle in his eyes. Everyone’s hearts filled with love and happiness for Armen Garo, but none more than Papken’s.
His kindness, selflessness, and buoyant and indomitable spirit were truly unique. His love of family was bottomless and his dedication to his Armenian heritage was strong and lasting. He lived a full life in every way and continues to live eternally in the hearts and minds of all the myriad souls he touched.
Hoghuh Tetev Hankchee, Sireli Papken Ammo, Sireli Unger…
Link: Remembering Unger Papken Sassouni