The Akian Grafica Editora print shop is one of the largest publishing houses in Argentina. Founded by Jose Akian in Buenos Aires in the 1950s, it is renowned for its high-quality products and original designs. Eighty two-year-old Akian still comes into the office every day, himself an embodiment of the company’s policy of perfectionism.
An unusual modernist building stands on a street corner in the Las Canitas District of Buenos Aires. The sign above the front door reads "Akian Grafica Editora." Its founder Jose Akian is a friendly man who runs every process in the company according to his life principles: "From the very beginning, my goal was to be ideal, to be perfect. To be run-of-the-mill is to be meaningless, which is why we only produce the highest quality products, both for local use and for export," Jose says.
Before moving to the picturesque Las Canitas, Akian's prints hop was located in Barracas. The story of this shop is the long story of one family's survival.
From Marash to Buenos Aires
Jose's maternal grandmother came from the Herlakian family, one of the oldest and most respected in Marash. Members of the family were mostly merchants and landowners who supported local establishments, including the regional German hospital. Together with their compatriots they assisted in the construction of the Armenian Catholic Church Surb Prgich (Church of the Holy Savior) in 1857. The church was the Catholic patriarchy residence in the Marash diocese. Akop Herlakian, Jose's great-uncle, was a famous man. In 1914, he served at the Sultan's court and received state recognition for his work. Pope Leo XIII awarded him a medal for outstanding work benefitting the Catholic community.
In 1915, the leaders of Armenian cities in the Ottoman Empire were arrested and subsequently murdered, while their families were exiled from their homes and doomed to wander the desert in caravans. This was the beginning of a plan to systematically wipe out Armenians. Thanks to the Herlakian family’s connections and economic status, they were able to hide in the Syrian city of Aleppo and thus managed to escape the bloody massacres.
The French Army took the region under control after World War I and put an end to the bloodshed. Many of those who were forced to leave their homes were able to return and start life anew. But it was a short calm before the next storm. When Kemal Ataturk came to power, he revived the violent policies against Armenians. “Members of my family were going to follow the French troops, but weren't able to do so, and remained in Marash. They hid in the church, along with many other Armenians, and there was nothing to eat there. Many ended up dying,” Akian remembers. Akop Herlakian was arrested and savagely murdered. “The Turks beheaded him and paraded his body through the town,” he adds.
The Herlakian family was once again forced to leave its native land – this time for good. At first they settled in Lebanon and, after that, in Marseille. There, in 1932, the Herlakians boarded a ship that took them to Buenos Aires.
The joy of colored pencils
Argentina welcomed immigrants with open arms. Waves of new arrivals came from various parts of Europe, many of them – Armenian refugees. “Jose, my grandfather on my mother's side, bought a hostel on Constitucion Street and rented out rooms,” Jose recalls. “I remember the house had a few grills that we used to make kebab. Grandfather often told me about all the difficulties he had been forced to endure.”
In 1930 Jose's mother Ana Semilian married Francis Akian, who came from an Armenian family originally from Ankara. Francis Akian worked at one of the textile companies in Once. Unfortunately, Ana died after giving birth to her fourth daughter at the young age of 30.
Jose Akian grew up in his aunt's care. He worked selling office supplies imported by one of his fellow Armenians, a man from Istanbul. “I was thrilled to see colored pencils and paper, they didn't exist in Argentina at the time. But at some point, that man stopped paying me my commission. He was very greedy,” Jose remembers. He then found a job at a printing shop, but the enterprising young man wasn't going to limit himself to being a hired hand. He had ambitious dreams and grand plans for the future.
One day Jose saw an ad for the sale of a printing shop in Barracas. “I told my grandfather about it, and he said that we could mortgage the hostel with no problem,” Jose says. Just 23 years old at the time, Jose took initiative and turned it into a bright future.
“I have a saying: ‘Generosity blooms, greediness withers.’ My grandfather made a choice in my favor, in favor of generosity. And I've never forgotten the choice he made. Thanks to him, I have all that I have, and our family can have a normal life,” Jose says gratefully.
Time passed and the business blossomed: new technologies were adapted, the company grew, conquered the market and eventually set the industry’s standard for quality. To this day, one of the company's unique characteristics is technological advancement and innovative design. “The highest quality is the basis of everything we do. In many ways, that approach reflects my inner self. I enjoy order, cleanliness and perfection in everything,” Akian says.
Jose Akian with Alex Manukian
A legacy and passion for brandy
Akian continued his grandfather's work by building up Akian Grafica Editora. He also invested time and effort into building an Armenian Catholic church on Charcas street, thus perpetuating the family’s legacy that began back in Marash. He published the first Armenian-Spanish dictionary, compiled by Pasquale Tekeian, as well as the multi-volume work by Pasquale Oganian on the Armenian Genocide and many other books about the Armenian world.
At present, he is working on building greenhouses in Armenia, so that local families are able to continue growing crops in winter.
Despite his age, Jose still takes an active part in the Armenian community. “We are always busy, and I try to contribute as much as I can,” he says.
Jose drinks a shot of brandy daily and enjoys good food, freely admitting: “I know food very well.” He adheres to Armenian culinary traditions in distant Argentina, including his favorite sarma with cabbage and chi kefte. “I miss everything Armenian very much, I know this about myself. My wife Vicki is not Armenian, but she knows more about Armenia than we do,” he admits.
The story is verified by the 100 LIVES Research Team.