Charles Garabed Der Kasbarian, raconteur, newspaper columnist and devotee of all things Armenian, 95, died peacefully in his home in Teaneck, NJ, in the company of his daughter Lucine Kasbarian.
Born in Jersey City, NJ on May 5, 1927 to Armenian Genocide survivors from Dikranagerd, Western Armenia, “Uncle Garabed,” as he was known to many, spent a great portion of his life to preserving and perpetuating this regional culture’s essence through its distinct dialect, cuisine, music and humor.
While his given name was Charles Garabed Der Kasbarian, he was known to far more people as “Uncle Garabed,” “Charlie,” “Garo,” his pen name, “C.K. Garabed,” and even “Charlemagne,” “Bubo,” and “Dude.”
Kasbarian was raised in Union City, NJ—also known as “Little Dikranagerd”—where many Armenian refugees settled following the Armenian Genocide. He was the second son born to Hagop Der Kasbarian of Alipounar, Dikranagerd—a silk weaver, and Lusia Kazanjian of Dikranagerd City in the province of Dikranagerd, Western Armenia. Kasbarian’s grandfather, Kasbar Der Kasbarian, was the parish priest of Sourp Asvadzadzin Church of Alipounar in the province of Dikranagerd. Kasbarian’s uncle, Hovhannes Der Kasbarian, was the Secretary of the Progressive Armenian School of Dikranagerd. These and his other ancestors were slaughtered either during the Hamidian Turkish Massacres of 1894 to 1896 or the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
Kasbarian’s legendary resourcefulness was a feature inherited from his refugee parents and an effect of growing up during the Great Depression. He and his contemporaries would create their own diversions and toys—including soap box derby cars. This resourcefulness also meant that he was an early practitioner of the “zero waste” philosophy. His home was a veritable bazaar that contained scraps and bits of everything that would come in handy for projects and repairs of all stripes.
Kasbarian’s eldest half-brother, Antranig Kasbarian, was known as the marble champion of Union City. (After winning all the marbles in town, this big-hearted elder brother summoned all the neighborhood kids and dumped the marbles out the window so that the boys could resume their rivalries.) Kasbarian’s brother John Hovhannes was a US Marine in WWII and in the USAF during the Korean War. Both John and the youngest brother Haroutiun taught aircraft operation and maintenance for the US military.
Kasbarian graduated from Emerson High School in Union City, NJ. He served in the U.S. Navy during WWII and later went to college on the G.I. Bill. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from New York University and his Master’s degree in Management from Adelphi University.
By profession, Kasbarian was a financial management officer for the U.S. Department of Defense but in his private life he would describe himself as “a jack of all arts and master of none.” Referred to as a walking encyclopedia, Kasbarian possessed a wry, dry and often absurd sense of humor which found an outlet among family, friends, strangers and via a weekly newspaper column called “Uncle Garabed’s Notebook”—which featured a potpourri of facts, trivia, proverbs and deconstructions of Armenian surnames. He produced this column for the pages of The Armenian Weekly for 33 years and right up until the end.
Kasbarian was active in the Armenian Church and Armenian community organizations of New York and New Jersey all his life. He was a member of the Armenian National Chorus, conducted by Maestro Mihran Toumajan, one of the famous “five” pupils of Gomidas. He was also a member of New York City’s St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral Choir under the baton of Toumajan’s pupil, Armen Babamian. There, he met and married the late NYC-born lyric soprano, administrator and educator Alice Aghavni Hamparian. They settled in NJ, participating in parish life at Sts. Vartanantz Church and, with their children, sang in the choir, also by then led by Babamian.
Kasbarian was a founding member of Sts. Vartanantz Church (1957), serving on the first auditing committee of the Church building project. He served many terms on the Church Board of Trustees and was a mainstay in the Church Men’s Club, whose primary purpose was to fund-raise for the Church. The Men’s Club also sponsored the Church’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams that participated in the Armenian Churches Sports Association (ACSA) League. Kasbarian represented Sts. Vartanantz for many years at the ACSA and also attended National Representative Assemblies (NRA) as a delegate from Sts. Vartanantz. He supported the local Armenian National Committee (ANC) chapter and was souvenir yearbook chairman for the NJ AYF Olympics. For some years, Kasbarian and his wife served as board members of the Nareg Armenian Saturday School and both sang in the Hamazkayin Chorus under the baton of Maestro Raffi Sevadjian.
A devotee of classical and Armenian folk music, Kasbarian liked to compose and belonged to many choirs and chorales. He, along with family members and friends, performed with the Western Armenian folk song and dance troupe—The Nayiri Dance Ensemble of New York—not to be confused with the eponymous Hamazkayin group later formed in the same community.
With a knack for comedic timing and deadpan deliveries, Kasbarian was relied upon to tell jokes, recite humorous stories in the dialect of his ancestral Dikranagerd, and regale listeners with an array of Nasreddin Khodja tales.
Kasbarian often claimed that, like any true Dikranagerdtsi, he could subsist on bread, cheese and watermelon. His favorite dishes to cook for family and friends were dolma, lule kebab, kavurma, choreg, chormis, chulama, jenjig, guvej, duzmeh and yaghli—all to be found in his Dikranagerd Mystique Armenian Cookbook online.
Kasbarian was a proud American and a good citizen. Alongside his Armenian activities, he enjoyed and appreciated civic involvements. He participated in local township life, frequently wrote to the local papers about community-wide issues, and participated in many activities organized by local organizations such as the Teaneck Public Library, the Teaneck Community Chorus, the American Red Cross and Little League Baseball. He conducted Christmas carolers at Teaneck’s Holy Name Hospital and at the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, NJ. He was a member of the Berlioz Society which was created to instill greater public appreciation for this Romantic French composer and which notably disbanded after the Society achieved its objectives.
Until his final weeks, Kasbarian would entertain those in his immediate surroundings and pull anecdotes from his prodigious memory—often to amuse listeners with tidbits collected over the years such as that the Turkish word for cannibal was “yamyam.” His memory also served him well as a sought-after keeper of Armenian-American community history. Anyone who corresponded with C.K. knew his philosophy from his electronic signature appearing in every email, a quote from Sir Francis Bacon: “Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse—but to weigh and consider.”
Kasbarian and his wife raised their children in an Armenian-speaking home, never losing sight of the national aim to preserve their endangered culture and recover their Armenian homeland. Their son, John Antranig, is the Director of Development for the Tufenkian Foundation, and their daughter, Lucine, is a writer, cartoonist and publicist. Both of their endeavors focus on Armenian affairs.
Kasbarian was an avid reader, researcher and collector of books. Of the many organizations to which he belonged, he was particularly fond of his membership on the board of the Armenian Literary Society of New York—a group that underwrote deserving literary projects and organized events that showcased Armenian-American writers beginning in the early 1960s. Kasbarian also enjoyed painting, word play and any number of hobbies—all listed in exhaustive detail on his Armeniapedia page.
In his twilight years and with the help of his daughter, Kasbarian produced several Armenian literary projects begun more than half a century ago, among them, “The Dikranagerdtsi Vernacular Handbook”; the “Dictionary of Armenian Surnames”; and “An Unusual Look at Biblical Subjects,” most which can be accessed in his Armeniapedia archive. A few months before his passing, he completed the final draft of “Oyin Mi Tavli,” a one-act play written exclusively in the dialect of Dikranagerd.
In his 94th year, Kasbarian’s prose poem about the existential meaning of life called “Quest for Identity” won first prize in the annual Creative Arts Contest sponsored by the US Military Veterans of NJ. Left for his descendants to complete is the final reconstruction of his father Hagop’s ancestral health elixir, Iskiri Hayat,thought to be the equivalent of the fountain of youth.
Kasbarian will be remembered as a witty, warm-hearted, intelligent, strong-willed and even exasperating personality with a thirst for knowledge who was committed to truth, justice, humor, the arts and eating well. He was dependable, a deep thinker, had a streak of the mad scientist and was very creative with words. He was part of the great generation of American-born Armenians—patriotic Americans who at the same time resurrected communities in a scattered diaspora following the Armenian Genocide.
He is predeceased by his wife Alice Aghavni, and brothers Antranig, John Hovhannes, and Haroutiun Sarkis, as well as his cousins Zohrab, Vahan, Hratch and Kevork Dadoyan, and his brothers and sisters-in-law Nishan & Nevarte and Ardashes & Mary Hamparian.
Kasbarian is survived by his daughter Lucine Kasbarian (David Boyajian); and his son, John Antranig Kasbarian (Maro Matosian). He is also survived by his cousins Sossie Dadoyan-Arlia, Houri Dadoyan-Darakjian, Papken Dadoyan, Dzovig Dadoyan-Ekmekji, Salpi Dadoyan-Nakanishi and Mary Dadoyan, as well as his nieces Anahid and Lorig Hamparian, and Susan Kasbarian-Record; his nephews Andy Kasbarian, Greg, John, Charlie and Richard Kasbarian; Aram N, Vartan, Aram S, and Raffi Hamparian, and many beloved cousins and great nieces and nephews from the Kasbarian, Dadoyan, Hamparian, Kazanjian, and Alipounarian families.
Funeral arrangements will be private. Sometime in the future, in Kasbarian’s memory, a “Salon Garabed” will be organized for his friends to gather and perform song, dance, storytelling and visual art, as he would have wished. In honor of his family’s Dikranagerd ancestry, a monument was erected in the Tigranakert Fortress complex in Artsakh containing the remains of his brothers Haroutiun and Hovhannes—the intention being to, in due course, add his and his wife’s remains. However, the plot’s current status is unknown owing to the 2020 invasion by Azerbaijan and its efforts to destroy all monuments verifying the region’s Armenian provenance. According to his wishes, C.K.’s remains will be interred on both Armenian and American soil to reflect his love for his ancestral and adopted homelands.
Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to: Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church of NJ; St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral of NY; The Tufenkian Foundation or the Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund.
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