GLENDALE—Many people who know Zareh Ekmekjian recognize him through his involvement and dedication among two of his greatest passions: Homenetmen and cycling.
Born on September 15, 1941 Zareh Ekmekjian was the youngest of two sons, his parents were Mardiros and Araxi Ekmekjian. He was born and raised in Damascus, Syria. Following in his brother Yervants footsteps, at the age of 5 he became a kayleeg in the Damascus’ Homenetmen Agoomp, also known today as “Nadi Souri Reeahdi” or “Syrian Sports Club.”
Growing up in the Homenetmen in Damascus as a young Cub Scout, he learned he had a passion for playing sports. He played soccer, basketball, he swam, weight-lifted, cycled and ran track and field. But for some reason his interest in cycling grew further. By the age of 14, he began to train, not knowing where his cycling career was about to take him.
He began training part time with fellow Homenetmenagans, the late Garbis Derhagopian and his childhood friend Assad Kassis. Then, and on his own, Zareh began a two-year training regime of 400 kilometers a week. He training routes included from Damascus to Aleppo, Beirut and Jerusalem.
In 1956, Zareh won his first cycling championship for Damascus. In 1957 and 1958 he won both cycling championships for Damascus and Syria. In 1959 he cycled and ranked first of all the Arab Countries in the “Tour of Egypt”. He also cycled in the “Tour of the Mediterranean” in Beirut Arz, representing Syria, an honor he was so humbled b
By this time Zareh was a Boy Scout and went through the motions of Pokh Arachnort, Arachnort, Varich Arachnort, by the age of 17 he was promoted to Akela, a very proud moment for him and his famil Within the same year, he was also appointed to their Scout Council and became the liaison between Homenetmen and the Boy Scouts of Syria.
A few years prior to his promotion to Akela, as a scout, Zareh participates in the 1st Arabian International Jamboree in Damascus in 1956. In 1960 Zareh was 1 of 8 scouts chosen to participate in Greece’s Scouting Jamboree to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. And in 1961 he was one of thirty selected in the entire country to participate in Austria’s World Scout Jamboree; he attended representing the Boy Scouts of Syria. His participation to the jamboree delayed his military obligations. His military entry was deferred by one year, at the request of the Boy Scouts of Syria.
Thereafter, Zareh served 2 years in the Syrian military. In 1962, he spent a year in Derzor , then was deployed back to spend his second year of military in Damascus, and was able to continue his obligations as Akela and continued his cycling training.
In addition to his involvement in Homenetmen, he was very active in Hamaskayn, as well as “Yerdasartats” or, as we know today, the Armenian Youth Federation.
In 1963, Zareh had completed his military services and his experience while traveling created an unsettling itch to see the rest of the world. So he and his childhood friend, Assad Kassis decided to go on a new adventure, they would plan a cycling tour of the world. As of May 1964, at the age of 22, together they cycled through Lebanon, Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, West and East Germany, Poland, The Soviet Union, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, and by 1966 they reached England. Throughout their journey they were followed by the BBC and many other media outlets. But their adventure did not end there. They continued by boarding a ship to head to the “new world” Montreal, Canada. By May 1966 Zareh arrived and found his home away from home by joining Homenetmen in Montreal, Canada, where four years later he became a Varchagan while continuing his involvement in Hamaskayin and AYF.
By 1970, Zareh married and moved to Seattle, Washington, where his first daughter Aline Ekmekjian was born. As his family grew, his desire to plant his roots somewhere he would eventually call home took precedence. Moving away to Oakland, California, to settle and begin their new lives near family and friends in 1971, was an aim he fulfilled for his young family. His love for cycling did not diminish, even though those days were behind him, he still trained and stayed active, but providing for his family was of more importance. That’s when he began to work and go to school to learn the craft of jewelry and watch repair. Zareh’s hard work led him to open his own jewelry business in Berkeley, California.
Zareh’s involvement in Homenetmen was a priority that led him to become the first Khmpabed of San Francisco Chapter in 1971. Throughout the years he became a executive board member in San Francisco and continued working in the chapter as Scout Council all while watching his daughter follow in his footsteps. Zareh was elected to the first Shrchanayn Varchytyoon of Homenetmen Western US Regional Executive member and was appointed the first Regional General Troup Leader. The region at the time consisted of 4 chapters, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno and Montebello. He brought them together to plan and carry out the first “Entanoor Panagoom” in 1977. It didn’t stop him there. Zareh assisted in planning and preparing for the first Navasartian Games in Los Angeles, California, a proud beginning for the region.
In 1994, Zareh as the scout Khoroort Adenabed helped organize San Francisco scouts to attend Homenetmens World Jamboree, and for the first time in “Free Armenia.” This was a lifelong dream, but what made it very special was, both his daughters were participants in the Jamboree with him. Indeed, a proud moment for a father who had given so much to Homenetmen and his communit
In 2000, and with Zareh’s help, Walnut Creek’s “Gars” Chapter was founded. Zareh, was elected as the chapter’s first Adenabed.
From generation to generation Zareh has been a prime example of Homenetmen’s Motto, “Partsratsir Partsratsur,” “Elevate Yourself and Others.” This type of dedication holds true today and can clearly be seen amongst his children, Aline, Anie Lydia, born in 1979 and Mardiros Sahag, born in 1990, and now his grandchildren.
At a young age Zareh was taught the only way to stay true to your culture and your values are to stay connected and involved in your community, and that he did. Homenetmen has been his community for the last 70 years. Homenetmen allowed him to live his dream, travel the world and meet other Homenetmenagans who have the same love and commitment. Today he is indebted to the organization that kept him Armenian. “Partstsratsir, Partsrtsoor!”