Arts, Culture & Education: The Legacy of Satenig Nalbandian Markarian

Dr. Shant Markarian’s life, including his passion for Armenian culture and the arts, has been greatly influenced by his mother. Years ago, on his first trip to Armenia, Dr. Markarian was able to visit the campus of the American University of Armenia (AUA). Inspired by what he saw, he decided to support the scholarship program at AUA, establishing the Satenig Nalbandian Markarian Scholarship in memory of his mother. “I chose AUA to sponsor the scholarship in honor of my mother because of the University’s strategic role as an institution of higher education and the compelling need to make education available to an increasing number of students, especially those in financial need,” he says.

Satenig Nalbandian Markarian was born in Kharpert in 1896. Having earned her high school diploma in 1911, she enrolled in writing courses at Yeprad College and went on to become a teacher. In 1913, Satenig set out on a journey to America, traveling four weeks by horse and wagon, 700 miles to Constantinople. Upon reaching Constantinople, she had to wait months for passage to become available, filling up her time with taking courses and attending lectures. Finally, a year later, in 1914, the opportunity came and she set out to the United States, settling in Rhode Island. 

Satenig posing for a portrait, circa late 1920’s

Satenig posing for a portrait, circa late 1920’s

In her new country, Satenig continued to teach at Armenian schools in Pawtucket and Providence. Soon after, she met her husband, Haroutun Markarian, after each had written to an Armenian newspaper with opposing views on a political issue. Haroutun had emigrated to the U.S. in 1910, from his village of Palu to Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1918, they married and went on to have three children: a daughter named Shoghere, and two sons named Shavarsh and Shant, both named after Armenian writers, Shavarsh Nartuni and Levon Shant. 

Shant with his mother and father circa 1940

Shant with his mother and father circa 1940

In growing their family, education was a very important component for both Satenig and Haroutun, planning accordingly to be able to provide access to higher education for all their children. Growing up, Shart remembers being exposed to Armenian culture very early on, learning the language by hearing his parents in conversation with each other and being read literary works from Armenian writers. “When I came home from class at high school, she would greet me with a smile, pick up what she had been reading and recite it to me in Armenian, pausing as she went along to translate difficult passages into English. She did that throughout her life,” he says.

He also learned from his father’s example. Ten years after arriving in America, Haroutun diligently applied himself to learning English and was admitted to the Rhode Island College of Pharmacy, where he graduated cum laude as the senior with the highest GPA. “He steadfastly followed my progress throughout my years as a student, always concluding our conversations with his encouraging words, ‘Keep it up,’ Shant recalls.  

This parental influence carried over to his siblings as well, especially Shoghere, who immersed herself into Armenian arts, at the encouragement of her mother, through whom she met the Armenian-American composer, Alan Hovhaness, whose last piano student she would be. In addition to introducing Shant to Mr. Hovhaness’ original compositions, Shant says, “my sister introduced me to Marcos Grigorian and Khoren der Harootian and subsequently, to their paintings and sculptures. And through her continuing good graces, Shoghere steeped me in the works of Arshile Gorky, Reuben Nakian, and Sergei Parajanov.”

Shant Markarian took this with him as he grew further in his academic and professional achievements. “Both my parents were role models. My mother’s life was based on her love of writing and teaching, which carried over into my own life – at Brown University as a reporter for the Brown Daily Herald; in dental school as Editor-in-Chief of The Penn Dental Journal; as a dentist in private practice; at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine as adjunct clinical professor; and at Indiana University South Bend as Director and Associate Professor of Dental Education. I continued my teaching career after retirement as Lecturer in Dental Hygiene at four dental hygiene programs at colleges in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maryland.”

Shant Markarian circa 1980

Shant Markarian circa 1980

In 2005, Shant and his wife, Diane, traveled to Armenia, where he represented the Armenian-American Dental Society in presenting a five-day course in Clinical Dental Hygiene at the Nork Dental Clinic in Yerevan. “From the perspective of my Armenian heritage, my trip to Armenia is a cherished memory, especially the sensation that overcame me when I stepped onto the earth of Mother Armenia for the first time in my life after getting off the plane in Yerevan.” In Armenia, one of the many places he and his wife visited was the American University of Armenia campus in Yerevan. 

The scholarship he subsequently established will support students enrolled in AUA’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “I am naming the scholarship in honor and in memory of my mother, Satenig Nalbandian Markarian, because of her lifelong belief in the value of higher education and her love of Armenian prose and poetry, which express the soul of our nation.”

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.