Sam Racoubian

Sam Racoubian

Sam Racoubian is well known both in Beirut’s Armenian community and beyond: he is the founder of Lebanon’s first multifunctional medical diagnostic center. Today, Racoubian owns a chain of five medical clinics. None of this would have been possible if Sam’s father, Edward, had not survived the horrors of 1915.

The Racoubian family lived in the village of Gürün, not far from Sivas (Sebastia). The Racoubians were prosperous and quite well educated; they owned a pharmacy and a restaurant. Everything was relatively peaceful until 1914, when persecution of Armenians began in Sebastia following the Young Turk Revolution. It was then that many people began pondering emigration. The Racoubians also considered leaving, but didn’t have time to get away: at the end of 1914 Edward’s father Armenak was drafted into the army. Although he was notionally an officer, he was forced to carry out menial work. Armenak’s chances of survival were no greater than those of his wife Ovsanna and their five children. The Turks came for them in May 1915. Ovsanna, her four sons and only daughter barely had time to pack a few essentials when they were herded into the town square. From there, the “caravan of death” set out on its long march deep into the Syrian Desert. “In the beginning there were almost 10,000 of us, but in the end only 300 remained alive,” Edward Racoubian wrote in his memoirs many years later.

                                           Edward’s father Armenak Racoubian

The gorge of death
The eight-year-old Edward was the youngest of five. His brothers — Ara, Aram and Aikaz — died along the way. Two of them starved, while the third committed suicide, plunging into a ravine. In the late 1950s Edward Racoubian published his recollections of that awful journey: “There were corpses everywhere along our way. Gnarled bodies, black from the sun, with bloated stomachs…” 
All of their possessions were confiscated and there was nothing to eat. The Armenians weren’t able to quench their thirst until they got to the Euphrates River. There they drank straight from the stream that also carried the corpses of dead Armenians. Edward’s mother gave his sister Rosa to a Kurdish stranger who promised to take care of her. “Some Armenians were able to place their children [into families]. Father remembered that the Kurds and the Arabs would come to the caravan and choose more or less strong and healthy children who could be used in the house as slaves. The girls were taken as wives and concubines,” Sam Racoubian recalls. In a time of despair, becoming someone’s slave was the least daunting of the limited options for survival. 
Edward was lucky — he was taken in by a Bedouin. The nomad promised to give the boy a flatbread and five dates every day if he did a good job of watching his cattle and helping around the house. His new master ordered Edward to forget his name and nationality — the young Armenian had to become a faithful Muslim. He was given a name of Abdullah, which means “God’s slave” in Arabic. 

                                                              Edward Racoubian

The Turks would often visit the Bedouin villages in search of Armenians. On these days Edward would hide in the mountains and sleep in caves. Once, while hiding from the Turkish raiders, the boy witnessed a monstrous atrocity: the soldiers pushed several hundred Armenians over a cliff and into a gorge. The cries of the dying could be heard until night fell.
Once Edward-Abdullah was sent to fetch something from the market. That was where Edward met a fellow Armenian, a merchant who offered to help and put him in touch with some people in Aleppo. They, in turn, helped Racoubian make contact with Action Chrétienne en Orient (The Christian Movement in the East), a French charity that helped Armenian refugees. Thanks to these missionaries, Edward found shelter, learned to read and write and found a job: having noticed his managerial skills, the French entrusted him with their organization’s housekeeping. Soon he discovered he also had a talent for writing. Racoubian published several books of poetry and his memoirs. The story of his life described in the book was later used by Hollywood scriptwriters on the film “1915.”

                                  Edward Racoubian’s memoirs published as a book

By 1929 Abdullah was Edward once again, and looking for his family. Through conversations with the local Kurds he picked up news of his sister. Rosa had long been known by her Muslim name and was married to a Kurd. Edward was able to pass a letter to her. In reply, his sister urged him to forget about her if he valued her life. Rosa explained that if her husband’s relatives found out that she had an Armenian brother and kept in touch with him, she would surely be killed.
The search for his father also brought no results. Edward learned that after conscription, Armenak Racoubian had worked in coal mining and road building. He had gone missing in 1921. This is what Armenak wrote in the last letter to his sister: “I looked for my children in Istanbul’s orphanages, but found no one. There was a boy there with a name of Racoubian, but I don’t know whose son he was. It’s a miracle that I’m still alive, but I cannot be at all happy about this. I lost all my loved ones.”

                                                          Edward Racoubian

Edward Racoubian was more than 50 years old when he decided to once again visit the Syrian Desert where he last saw his mother. He found the Bedouin whom he served all those years ago. Although his one-time master often treated him very harshly, Edward thanked him for everything that he did. On the same trip Racoubian also found the gorge where he witnessed the slaughter of Armenians. The ravine was full of skulls and bones. Racoubian alerted historians who were studying the Genocide, informing them of the site of the mass grave.

                                               Edward Racoubian with his family

After all his struggles, Edward’s personal life was a happy one. He met his future wife Ripsime, also a refugee, in 1940. They got married and moved to Beirut. The happy couple had three children, all of whom received an excellent education. After graduating from the American University in Beirut, Sam Racoubian became a chemist and specialized in lab tests. Soon he established his own lab and later opened a private diagnostic center. Several clinics appeared after that, and now he has a whole chain of medical facilities.

                                                 Sam Racoubian with his family

The medical part of the family business is in the hands of Edward Racoubian Jr — the grandson of the Sivas boy who miraculously escaped the massacre. The family firm is named in honor of St. Mark, the apostle who is considered the patron of Eastern Christians. In the Syrian Desert, Edward Racoubian Sr prayed to St. Mark.
Today Sam Racoubian is a successful businessman, well regarded by Lebanon’s Armenian Protestant community. His business helps people to stay healthy, while his community service helps the Armenian diaspora to preserve its identity, partly in honor of his own family. Almost 20 years ago he founded the illustrated magazine Ditak, probably the oldest of the illustrated periodicals of the Armenian diaspora. 

                                                      Ditak magazine

“My father told me that his mother’s admonition helped him to overcome the difficulties. Her words bind me as well,” says Sam.
The story is verified by the 100 LIVES Research Team.