This Week in Armenian History

Death of Roberto Gulbenkian (August 1, 2009)

A scion of the Gulbenkian family, Roberto Gulbenkian was not only a remarkable name in the history of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, based in Portugal, but also a well-regarded scholar of Armenian Studies.  

Gulbenkian was born on April 7, 1923, in Algiers (capital of Algeria). He was the third son of Vahan Gulbenkian (brother of Calouste, the famous Mr. Five Per Cent) and Francoise Trillat-Gulbenkian. He graduated from the French lyceum in Algiers and then pursued higher studies in economics in Paris and London. He participated in World War II from 1943-1945. In 1944, he took part on the landing offensive with the allied forces in France where he was badly injured. He received several medals including the War Cross. After the war, in 1946, he started working for his uncle Calouste and his cousin Kevork Essayan in the fields of oil and finance.  

After the death of his uncle, Gulbenkian moved to Portugal in 1956 and entered the newly founded Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, becoming responsible for the Armenian Communities Department, the Department for the Middle East and for the management of the Foundation’s oil interests. He was a member of the Board of Trustees (1964-1977) and was elected president in 1977. He later became honorary president.  

Besides his administrative career, Roberto Gulbenkian found the time to become a noted historian specialized in the field of Armenian-Portuguese medieval and early modern relations. Many of his articles in Portuguese and French, published since the 1970s, were of particular interest, for he mined a field that was practically outside the reach of Armenian scholars due to the language barrier. Some of his articles appeared in a collection entitled Armenian-Portuguese Relations (Yerevan, 1986) and the entire compilation of his studies, Historical Studies, was published by the Academy of History of Portugal in three volumes (Lisbon, 1995). A commemorative volume including articles by twelve Armenian historians was published in Yerevan (1993) on the 70th anniversary of his birth.  

Gulbenkian was elected corresponding member (1975) and full member (1983) of the Academy of History of Portugal, becoming vice-president in 1996. He was also member of the Academy of Sciences of Portugal in 1992, foreign member of the Academy of History of Rome (1983) and of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia (1992). He also received an honorary doctorate from Yerevan State University (1994). He was awarded notable commendations, such as officer of the French Legion of Honor (1983), the Order of St. Gregory the Illuminator of the Holy See of St. Etchmiadzin (1960), the Order of the Holy Church of Resurrection of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem (1964), the Order of St. Nerses the Shnorhali of the Great House of Cilicia (1967), and the Order of Abbot Mekhitar, awarded by the Vienna branch of the Mekhitarist Congregation (1968). He received the medals of St. Mesrop Mashtots (1969) from the government of Armenia and Hakob Meghapart (1992) from the National Library of Armenia.  


Roberto Gulbenkian passed away in Lisbon on August 1, 2009.