Vahan Kololian

Vahan Kololian is the managing partner and founder of the Canada-based private equity investment firm TerraNova Partners LP, as well as a co-founder of the Mosaic Institute, a “think and do” tank promoting peace and conflict resolution all over the world. He would like to express his gratitude to kind strangers and countries that have been welcoming Armenians ever since 1915.
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Vahan Kololian is the managing partner and founder of the Canada-based private equity investment firm TerraNova Partners LP, as well as a co-founder of the Mosaic Institute, a “think and do” tank promoting peace and conflict resolution all over the world. He would like to express his gratitude to kind strangers and countries that have been welcoming Armenians ever since 1915.
Kololian’s lengthy journey began in Cairo, Egypt, where he was born in 1953.  His family had fled to Egypt at the time of the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the Young Turk leaders of the Ottoman Empire.
A frantic flight
In 1915 Kololian’s maternal great-grandfather, Hovanes Tavitian, was working in Germany for the Berlin-Baghdad railway. When news of the massacres reached him, he rushed home to Talas in Central Anatolia to look after his family.
Tragically, he was captured upon arrival and imprisoned with 52 of his countrymen. All were hanged.
“Naturally, his wife (and my great-grandmother) Isgouhi Tavitian, was devastated,” Kololian says. “But there was no time to mourn. She assumed the leading role in the extended family and guided them to Constantinople (now Istanbul).”
Quickly moving on to Smyrna (Izmir in present day Turkey), Isgouhi took a job as head nurse at a Turkish military hospital. “Can you imagine having to care for people from the same regime that murdered your husband? It shows what people were forced to do just to survive,” says Armenouhi Kololian, Vahan’s mother. “It also shows their common humanity,” says Vahan.  “The Genocide was perpetrated by the government of the day, and to blame Turkish civil society would be wrong.”
The road to Cairo
For a few years the family stayed in Smyrna, which had remained relatively calm. Starting in May 1919 the city was under Greek control and sheltered thousands of Armenian refugees from different parts of the Ottoman Empire. But terror lurked around the corner. In September 1922 the Turkish army captured the city and burned its Christian quarters to the ground, in an attempt to kill its Greek and Armenian populations. Almost 100,000 inhabitants perished. 
Once again, Isgouhi’s courage prevailed. Having befriended a group of Turkish community leaders, she convinced them to grant the family safe passage to an American ship that took them first to the Greek island of Corfu and, finally, to the safe haven of Egypt. 
“For that, we must express special thanks to Henry Morgenthau,” Kololian believes. “He was the former American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and used his influence to help evacuate Armenians from Turkey.” Moreover, Morgenthau managed to provide survivors with humanitarian assistance and organized further resettlement of refugees in Greece.
Amidst the chaotic escape, the family was separated: Kololian’s great uncle Hagop ended up in Greece, while everyone else landed in Cairo. Hagop lived in Greece for over a year, not knowing whether the rest of his family was still alive. 
“After going through so much together it must have been terrible to be split apart again. But Isgouhi never gave up. She wrote to every Armenian church in the Mediterranean world, and eventually Hagop saw her note and found his way to a tearful reunion in Cairo.”
A walk to freedom
Kololian’s maternal ancestors on the other side were also forced to flee the Genocide. His grandfather Hagop Artinian left Aintab (modern-day Gaziaintep in south-eastern Turkey) aged 16 after the death of his father at the hands of the Ottomans. Together with his mother and two brothers he trekked through the desert to Syria before finally reaching Egypt. Kololian’s paternal grandparents followed virtually the same route. His grandfather and namesake Vahan Kololian, together with Parentzem, the young woman who became his wife, fled Talas to Constantinople and then on to Egypt. “Both sides of my family ended up in Cairo. My parents and my generation were born in Egypt.” 
On the move again
Cairo proved to be a temporary home. When an authoritarian government took power in Egypt in the 1950s, Armenians became increasingly concerned. With Kololian just eight years of age and his sister four, the family decided to emigrate.
“When my parents decided to leave Egypt, it was a brave decision,” he recalls. 
“My father, Kevork Kololian, had built a successful manufacturing business in Cairo, but he knew we would all have a better future in the West. In 1962 they obtained Canadian visas, and six months later we left.”
Members of the Armenian Community, including Vahan's mother and father, present the former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau with a carpet made by a Canadian-Armenian artisan. The carpet is embroidered with the words of the Canadian national anthem.
A brighter future
It was a daunting task for the family to leave all they knew behind, but the family soon settled into Canadian life. “My parents Kevork and Armenouhi made the whole journey feel like an adventure for my sister Nairy and me. Truly incredible on their part,” Kololian recalls. 
“Everyone was so welcoming that we felt instantly at home,” Vahan’s mother Armenouhi remembers. “The only real issues were the climate and the language. Vahan spoke no English, but our neighbours and his teachers were very supportive in helping him learn.”
Ever since the years of their arrival and integration, the Kololians’ story is one of hard work and almost unmitigated success. 
Vahan’s parents established a manufacturing business, which prospered and provided the family with new opportunities. “My father Kevork was a real entrepreneur. Arriving in Canada with little money and a young family, he took the plunge and established a components manufacturer. My mother taught French for extra income and by night did the accounting for the business,” Vahan marvels. He received a law degree from the University of Ottawa and achieved success in the fields of finance and investment. 
Kololian is determined to ensure that his nation’s dark history has a positive legacy. 
“I express my gratitude to Canada and to my parents for choosing Canada. A lot of my passion goes into the Mosaic Institute, my adopted country Canada and serving Armenian causes. I have taken on some community projects that take me to Armenia two or three times a year.” These include “The Depopulation Crisis of Armenia,” a research project, and the recently founded “Gyumri Project Hope” (GPH). Kololian founded both of these initiatives.
“The Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman regime is ever-present,” he insists. “And the need among Armenians to share our story and protect our culture will always be very strong. That’s why I was eager to help the Turkish writer Ragip Zarakolu translate Morgenthau’s memoirs into Turkish. As Turkey opens up, the new generation is seeking knowledge of Turkey’s past.  Such publications serve an important purpose.”
“But we must also not let the past define us. Armenians are more than that, and wearing the Genocide as a cloak of victimization doesn’t get us anywhere. I want our Armenia to prosper. I am on a campaign to lobby the Turkish government to open the border between Turkey and Armenia, which is the last piece of the Iron Curtain still standing. And if I can make some Turkish friends in the process, that’s great.”
The story is verified by the 100 LIVES Research Team.
One of Canada’s leading businessmen
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