María Diana Arzoumanian finished primary and secondary school with a gold medal. She studied piano and singing in college, again graduating with a gold medal. She has won several competitions, given numerous concerts and recorded two albums with Roberto Caamaño, composer and artistic Director of Teatro Colón. A professor for over 36 years, she teaches at the music faculty of the Universidad Católica Argentina, as well as at Conservatorio Nacional de Música, Conservatorio Superior de Música Manuel de Falla and Conservatorio Provincial Juan José Castro – one of South America’s most important conservatories. Among her many students was renowned singer Elena Roger.
When Pablo Arzoumanian was a boy, he used to solve math problems from his older sister’s books and sometimes even found mistakes in them. He completed many school years by taking exams for credits and was told “he was a genius.” Graduating with honors, he received the 51st Actuary diploma in the 38 years of “a restricted university degree” at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. He started work as an assistant professor and became professor of Financial Calculation, Statistics and Numerical Analysis – teaching for 43 years, with much satisfaction, at the same university. He built a distinguished professional career, specializing in banking finance.
An interrupted childhood
Their father, Bedrós, was born in Adapazar, (now northwest Turkey) and survived the great tragedy that befell the Armenians when he was just eight years old. Of the 28 members of his family who lived in that area, he was the only one to survive.
Repega Tutundjian, their mother, was from Armash, where her father Nerses had been the mayor. During the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish army kept him captive and forced him to work; he had to keep the army’s accounts. “He told us about the large amounts of money that the Ottoman officers stole from the army,” Pablo says, as he pours himself some mate – an Argentine traditional infusion. Taking advantage of the position he held, Nerses was able to help many Armenians to escape the massacres. His wife, Servart, prepared her own escape and, with her four children, fled to Greece. After the war, husband and wife met by chance. On a train, she heard a passenger talking about Nerses Tutundjian, saying that he was still alive.
Later, they arrived in Argentina. “The first bed and the first plate of hot food they had came from the Salvation Army,” Diana recounts. She expresses her gratitude, both to the country that welcomed them and to the organization that lent them a hand.
During the persecution of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Bedrós fled to the barren desert, without direction but with a firm conviction and certainty of survival. Along the way, with the sun and the wind hitting hard, a dog bit his right leg. The other Armenians he was escaping with helped him, cleaning his wound with camel urine and burning it with gunpowder to prevent infection. “He had a very large scar,” Pablo says, lowering his eyes and extending his hand to his right leg, as if that mark had remained on his own skin. Bedrós managed to arrive in an Arab town where a Muslim family wanted to adopt him and raise him as one of its own.
But Bedros’s family name was strong: nothing would take away his Armenian identity.
One night, he escaped and reached another Arab city where he served as a guide for a blind man. “When the man went to look for food, he asked dad to count how many things there were, to make sure he was not eating anything,” Pablo recounts. Bedrós escaped again. He arrived in Aleppo where, Near East Relief, a U.S. organization, had set up an orphanage. Despite all the things he had gone through, he was still a child. He stayed there for some time and when he left, “He wanted to go to America. He landed in Argentina and stayed here from then on,” Pablo smiles. On the voyage, he met two countrymen. One of them showed him a family picture and Bedrós fell in love with the young lady in the photo: Repega Tutundjian.
A new future
Once in Argentina, Bedrós literally worked from day to night, seven days a week, in the meatpacking plants of Armour and Swift in Berisso, La Plata. He was determined to save the money needed to bring to Argentina the only relatives he had left: his niece Siranush and his nephews Boghos and Khatchik Arzoumanian. Once he achieved his purpose, he still had to care for them, so he ensured that they had a house and work and even arranged acting lessons for the young Siranush. Today, the main room at the Armenian Center located on Armenia street in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is named after her: “Siranush Room.”