In Memoriam: Barry Zorthian, 90, American patriot and mentor of Armenian diplomats

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Wednesday January 05, 2011

Barry Zorthian.

Washington - Barry Zorthian, a retired American diplomat and Marine colonel who played a key role in the early days of U.S.-Armenia relations passed away on December 30 in Washington, family members said.

"Barry was a dear friend, a mentor and a teacher from whom I learned a great deal," said Rouben Shougarian, Armenia's Ambassador to U.S. in 1993 to 1999.

"Since day one of my tenure in Washington he opened doors and helped me make important contacts on behalf of Armenia that I would have never dreamed about," Shougarian told The Armenian Reporter.

"He helped Armenia in low-key, tacit, yet most effective ways. In my time no other Ambassador from the former USSR, had such an asset in Washington."

From 1970 to 1995, Zorthian was a member of the central board of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and director emeritus after that.

Among his community undertakings, Zorthian was involved in organizing the last visit by Catholicos Vazgen I to the United States and he participated in the first Armenia-Diaspora Conference in Yerevan in 1999.

Writing for AGBU Magazine in 1995, Zorthian argued that Armenia needed a close relationship with U.S. to balance long-standing ties to Russia, but also acknowledged challenges involved in winning over U.S. interest that then, and now, is focused regionally on Russia, Turkey, Iran and Caspian energy.

Zorthian continued to be a frequent guest at Armenian Embassy's diplomatic and community receptions until shortly before his passing.

Persuasive spokesman

Best known and widely respected as spokesman for U.S. war effort in Vietnam, Zorthian, at least for a time, helped improve government's strained relations with media.

"Even when he told you nothing, he was always persuasive," former New York Times and CBS reporter Bernard Kalb told Associated Press.

Shougarian recalled an argument he had with a top State Department official over U.S. policy language on Karabakh in 1995.

"Having dismissed all of my counter arguments to change the language of the draft but one, the U.S. official exclaimed: "Rouben, this is totally unacceptable! You've gone too far, this is barryzorthianism!" But the change in text I was asking for was eventually made."

Prior to his Vietnam assignment Zorthian worked at the U.S. Embassy in India and before that spent 13 years at Voice of America that included coverage of the war in Korea. During WWII, Zorthian was Marine artillery officer in the Pacific.

Since retiring from U.S. government in 1968, Zorthian was for 12 years president of Time Life Broadcast and Cable and then its Washington-based vice president. Most recently, he worked with Alcalde & Faye, a Rosslyn, Va-based media consultancy.

Zorthian was born in 1920 in the Western Turkish town of Kutahya (birthplace of Komitas). According to the New York Times, Baruyr Zorthian was born while his mother was incarcerated for helping his father, a prominent writer, escape arrest during the Genocide.

The family eventually escaped from via Greece and Italy to the United States. Zorthian grew up in New Haven, Conn. and graduated from Yale University and New York University School of Law.

Zorthian's wife of 62 years, Margaret Aylaian Zorthian, died in July 2010. He is survived by two sons, Greg and Steve, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

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Carolann Najarian. Courtesy image

Calendar of Events

Veteran Armenian American activist Carolann Najarian will present her father's memoirs on surviving the genocide and settling in America, at a Boston area event on October 30; for details about this and other upcoming Armenian happenings in America consult the Calendar of Events.





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