This Week in Armenian History

Death of H. H. Chakmakjian (May 22, 1973)

Cover of Comprehensive History of Armenia (1917), by Haroutioun H. Chakmakjian

Haroutioun Hovhannes (H.H.) Chakmakjian was a chemistry professor, an editor, the author of an extensive English-Armenian dictionary, and the father of a famous Armenian American composer. 

Chakmakjian was born in Adana on October 20, 1879, in a family of farmers. He studied at the Apcarian school in Adana, and then at the Antoura French Missionary College in Beirut.  

He began his career as a teacher in Caesarea (Kayseri) and Giresun. He taught in Beirut and then moved to Cyprus in 1901, emigrating to the United States in 1904. He eventually settled in Boston and studied at Harvard University (1905-1908). A member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Haroutioun Chakmakjian served as the editor in chief of the Hairenik newspaper in 1908-1912. In the meantime, he married Madeleine Scott, a graduate from Wellesley College, in 1910, and they had one son, the celebrated composer Alan Hovhannes (Hovhannes Chakmakjian, 1911-2000). Chakmakjian returned to Harvard in 1912 and obtained an AB degree in 1913 as a member of the class of 1909. His wife passed away in 1930.  

He later served as a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Tufts College, and was affiliated with the Tufts Medical School, from which he retired in 1949. He retired from Tufts University as Professor Emeritus in 1955.  

Besides his work as an editor, Chakmakjian was also the author of various books. His most important work was A Comprehensive Dictionary English-Armenian, of approximately 1,600 pages (Boston, 1922). A very influential and complete dictionary, it was reprinted in 1953 in Beirut. He also published several books in Armenian addressed to wide audiences: Constitutional Governments (vol. 1, 1910); Armeno-American Letter Writer (1914); Grammar and Reader of the Armenian Language (1916), Comprehensive History of Armenia (1917). He was the author or co-author of scientific articles on chemistry and biochemistry. He also translated Moliere’s play The Miser into Armenian (1914). 

In a letter written in 1964, Haroutioun Chakmakjian wrote: “People’s biography only has value with an important service (…). I am convinced that I will be fair to myself if I say that I was born unknown and I must go unknown. Many much more important people did not even have a burial place.” He died on May 22, 1973, at the Armenian Nursing and Rehabilitation Center of Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts.