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- Religious Leaders
- The Arts
- Humanitarian & Civic Leaders
We would like to thank Allan and Rosemary Jendian for sharing their research on many of the people discussed below.
The Seropian Brothers
Jacob, Garabed, and Simon
The Seropian Brothers were the first Armenians to move to Fresno, arriving in 1881. They were born in Marsovan and, upon arriving in the United States in 1870, first settled in Worcester, Massachusetts. Jacob had tuberculosis and his doctors suggested that he move to a drier climate, prompting the family’s move West. All of the brothers, perhaps together or possibly separately, eventually made their way to Fresno. Jacob, unfortunately, succumbed to tuberculosis shortly after their arrival. He initially was buried elsewhere and later was moved to Ararat Cemetery.
Much of the early movement of Armenians to Fresno can be traced to the Seropian Brothers. Their correspondence with friends and family in Marsovan led others to join them in Fresno. Life was difficult for these early arrivals; they did not know the language and they faced intense discrimination. Many early Armenian settlers, like the Seropians, started working in agriculture upon their arrival in Fresno, leaving behind other trades and professions that they had practiced at home.
The Seropians started their lives in Fresno with very little, but they went on to be the first Armenians to buy land and to start a business in Fresno.
The Seropian Brothers are buried in Plot 1, Lot 57
Jonathan Sinanian was the the first Armenian born in California. He was born in on January 6, 1884, to Mesrop and Elmas (Azhderian) Sinanian. His grandmother was Hripsime Seropian Azhderian, a sister of the Seropian Brothers. Jonathan Sinanian is buried in Plot 1, Lot 58, Grave 12.
The Markarian Family
Melkon Markarian and his family settled in Fresno in 1882, shortly after the arrival of the Seropians. Melkon came with his wife, three sons, and two daughters. The Markarians were the first Armenians to build a house in Fresno. Though they started out with little money, the Markarians eventually became a prominent family in agriculture, particularly in the packaging and shipping of figs. One of their fig orchards is now the site of Manchester Center, at the corner of Blackstone and Shields Avenues.
The Markarian Family, including Melkon and his sons Aram, Henry, and Frank, is buried in Plot 1, Lot 23.
Mary Papasian was the second Armenian to die in Fresno. Though she died after Jacob Seropian, it is possible that she was buried in Ararat before Jacob was re-interred here. Her grave is located in Plot 1, Lot 54.
Dr. A.J. Melchonian
Dr. A.J. Melchonian was both a pastor and a medical doctor. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College (Philadelphia) in 1882 and was the first Armenian doctor in Fresno. He also was an advocate for the people of Armenia and, in 1896, went on a lecture tour of major towns in California and collected $900 to send to those in need in Armenia. In 1899, he became one of the vice-presidents of the Fresno County Medical Society. A.J. Melchonian is buried in Plot 1, Lot 14, Grave 1.
For more information about Fresno’s Armenian pioneers, please see "The Fresno Armenians: History of a Diaspora Community," Berge Bulbulian, The Press at California State University, Fresno, 2000.
Dirair Dzayrakouyn Vartabed Markarian
V. Rev. Father Markarian was born in 1876 in Constantinople. He was a graduate of Armash Seminary and arrived in the United States in 1914. He served on the East Coast before arriving in Fowler to serve at St. Gregory in 1921. He served there until 1932. The Fowler Parish Hall is named in his memory. V. Rev. Father Markarian is buried in Plot 1, East of Lot 60.
Rev. Avedis A. Vartanian
In 1897, Rev. Avedis Vartanian was elected one of the first elders of the First Armenian Presbyterian Church of Fresno. He also helped establish the Fresno Armenian Library. He eventually stepped away from civic affairs and purchased a farm in Yettem. Avedis Vartanian is buried in Plot 1, Lot 3, Grave 4
Shoushdag Vartabed Melchonian
V. Rev. Father Aharon Melkonian was the first Armenian priest in Fresno, arriving in 1894. In 1895, he began holding Apostolic services in space rented from the German Church at F & California Streets. Construction began on Holy Trinity Church at F & Monterey Streets in 1900. Rev. Melchonian assisted Primate Bishop Hovsep Sarajian in Consecration of Holy Trinity Church on October 14, 1900. V. Rev. Father Melchonian is buried in Plot 1, Lot 97, Grave 11.
Deran Koligian was the first Armenian American to be elected to public office in the United States. He served for two decades as a Fresno County Supervisor. Prior to serving on the Board of Supervisors, he served for a number of years on local school boards. He also was a family farmer and lived his entire life on his family’s original 40-acre farm. Because of his dedicated service to the Armenian community, he received the Armenian National Committee Man of the Year Award in 1998.
Deran Koligian is buried in Plot 1, Lot 68B, Grave 8.
Simon Marootian was the first Armenian American to serve as a Fresno County Superior Court Judge (1975-1980). He was a well-known Democratic Party activist and, in 1974, was the Fresno County co-chair of Edmund Pat Brown’s gubernatorial campaign. He also served as chair of the parish council at St. Gregory Apostolic Church in Fowler. Simon Marootian is buried in Plot 3, Lot 405, Grave 2.
Joe Sahakian was a businessman, pilot, and inventor. His love of flying led him to join the Army and he served in the Army Air Corp in Panama in World War II. Later, President Harry Truman called on him to serve as his crew chief on the Presidential aircraft, the “Sacred Cow.” After his service in the Army, Joe Sahakian went to work for North American Aviation, where he invented a type of safety pliers that still are in use today. Along with his wife Coe, Joe was the longtime owner of J-C Automotive in Fresno. Joe Sahakian is buried in Plot 1, Lot 43, Grave 5.
Sam Kazar Harrison
Corporal Sam K. Harrison (born Sooren Harootenian) served overseas for 9 months in World War II. He was known as “the man who refused to die” because of the many injuries he suffered in combat. After his military service, Sam Harrison had a distinguished career in business and served his community through volunteer work. In 1950, he received the “Hero of the Year Award” for his volunteer work with Disabled American Veterans.
Sam Harrison is buried in Plot 2, Lot 39, Grave 2.
Captain Victor “Transport” Maghakian was one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War II. He first served in the Marine Corps from 1936-1939 and then took the position of Deputy Sheriff of Fresno County. He decided to reenlist in the Marines after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Maghakian fought in seven major World War II battles and was wounded three times. In 1981, the outpatient clinic of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Fresno was named in his honor.
Victor Maghakian is buried in Plot 11, Grave 407.
William Saroyan is recognized as one of the most prominent writers of the 20th Century. He wrote about Armenian Americans and life as an immigrant in the Central San Joaquin Valley. He was awarded, but declined, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1940 (for The Time of Your Life) and received the Academy Award for Best Story in 1943. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1979.
Half of William Saroyan’s ashes are buried in Plot 3, Lot 299 E ½, Grave 2 and half are interred in Yerevan, Armenia, at the Komitas Pantheon. His daughter, Lucy Saroyan, also is buried in Plot 3, Lot 299 E ½, Grave 2 of Ararat Armenian Cemetery.
Krikor Proff Kalfaian
Krikor Proff Kalfaian was born in Bursa, in the Ottoman Empire. He was a composer and musicologist, known for his religious and patriotic compositions. He authored over 150 musical compositions and at least a dozen have been published and recorded. He is known for writing both Armenian and American patriotic songs. He served as a music master in several Armenian churches on the East Coast and in Fresno.
Krikor Proff Kalfaian is buried in Plot 8, Grave 457.
Varazdat “Varaz” Samuelian
Varaz Samuelian was born in 1917 in Yerevan, Armenia. He arrived in the United States in 1946 and moved to Fresno in 1957. He was a writer, painter, and sculptor, best known for his sculpture of David of Sassoun in front of the Fresno County Courthouse. He also is known for his bronze bust of his friend, William Saroyan. In 1965, Saroyan dedicated his short novel, Who is Varaz?, to Samuelian. In 1985, Samuelian authored Willie and Me, a book about the friendship between the two men.
Varazdat Samuelian is buried in Masis Ararat Armenian Cemetery in Block 5, Section 501, Grave 12. His grave does not have a marker.
Suren M. Saroyan was a native of Fresno, CA, whose parents arrived in the United States in 1888. Saroyan attended and graduated from Stanford Law School (1929) and became a practicing litigation attorney in San Francisco for 23 years.
While residing in San Francisco, he joined forces with George Mardikian to aid Armenians displaced by World War II. The two men worked together to form ANCHA (Armenian National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians) and to help thousands of Armenians settle in the United States. He made 137 trips to New York to greet and help new arrivals. He was a passionate advocate for immigrants and helped countless people settle in the United States. On October 3, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson honored Saroyan’s commitment to immigrants by presenting to Saroyan his pen after signing the landmark Immigration Act at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Suren Saroyan is buried in Plot 1, Lot 33, Grave 10 at Ararat Armenian Cemetery.
Levon Hagopian was a founder and editor of Asbarez. The weekly newspaper was founded by Hagopian and six others with the goal of uniting the growing Armenian community in Fresno and preserving the community’s identity, while also maintaining their ties to the homeland. Asbarez, now located in Los Angles, has flourished over the years. It is published daily and is the most widely circulated Armenian newspaper in the United States. Levon Hagopian is buried in Plot 1, Lot 110, Grave 5.
Sophia Hagopian was a philanthropist and benefactor of the Armenian Relief Society. She was dedicated to public service and worked for years to provide relief for those in need. She also provided financial support to establish Armenian schools in both Greece and Lebanon. She married Levon Hagopian in 1906. Sophia Hagopian is buried next to her husband, in Plot 1, Lot 110, Grave 6.
Paul Paul was born in 1894 in Bitlis to Israel and Bertha Paul. The Paul family moved to Fresno in 1904. Like many other early Armenian families in Fresno, the Paul’s became farmers. Paul Paul had many talents – he was an amateur wrestler and a band leader for the Fresno Municipal Band from 1923 to 1948. He also was a co-founder of the California Armenian Home and served on the Board of Directors for the Fresno Fair District. The Paul Paul Theater at the Fresno Fairgrounds is named in his honor.
Paul Paul followed his family into the agricultural business, successfully expanding the family farm and its operations.
Paul Paul is buried in Plot 2, Lot 34, Grave 5.
Haigag Eguinian was the Father of the Armenian Press in the United States. He founded the first Armenian newspaper in America (Arekag) in 1888 and the first Armenian newspaper in California (Kaghkatzy) in 1902. Haigag Eguinian is buried in Plot 2, Lot 61 S ½, Grave 3.
George Mardikian was born on November 7, 1903, in Bayburt, part of the Ottoman Empire. He grew up in Scutari, an Armenian community in Constantinople. On April 24, 1915, his father, along with approximately 250 intellectual and community leaders in Constantinople, was arrested and was never heard from again. Much of Mardikian’s family subsequently was massacred in the Genocide. Mardikian, motivated by the desire to avenge the deaths of his family, joined the Armenian volunteer units (a part of the Russian Imperial army) to fight the Ottoman Empire.
Mardikian immigrated to the United States in 1922. He became a successful restaurateur and is well known for his San Francisco restaurant, Omar Khayyam’s. While serving as a food consultant to the Quartermaster General of the United States Army in Germany, he became aware that some 2,000 Armenians who had been displaced by World War II were being held in the slave labor camp, Funkerkasserne. Mardikian went to the camp, where the displaced Armenians honored him with an unforgettable program in the hope that Mardikian would be the link to a future in America. Promising to do his best to assist them, he – along with Suren Saroyan – established the American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians (ANCHA). Along with Suren Saroyan and General Haig Shekerjian, Mardikian launched a humanitarian effort that enabled thousands of displaced Armenians to settle in the United States.
In 1951, President Harry S. Truman awarded George Mardikian with the Medal of Freedom for his work in the Army.
George Mardikian’s final resting place is at Ararat Armenian Cemetery, in Plot 2, Lot 11. His wife Nazenig, his brother Archie and sister-in-law Minnie, and nephew Gregory are buried with him in the Mardikian family lot.
Leon S. Peters
Leon S. Peters was the son of Armenian immigrants and grew up on his family’s farm in Fowler. In 1929, he became a salesman for Valley Foundry and Machine works, which he purchased in 1939. Mr. Peters gave generously to California State University, Fresno; San Joaquin College of Law; and Community Regional Medical Center. The Leon S. Peters Rehabilitation Center at Community Medical Centers of Fresno was named in his honor. Mr. Peters’ generosity and philanthropic spirit live on through the Leon S. Peters Foundation and the many scholarships and programs that carry his name.
Leon S. Peters is buried Plot 2, Lot 41, Grave 10.
Pete P. Peters
Pete P. Peters was the youngest child of Samuel and Lillian Peters. He joined his brother Leon at Valley Foundry and Machine Works as a machinist in 1939 and went on to serve as Vice-President and, later, CEO of the company. Mr. Peters was awarded an honorary degree from CSUF in 2009.
Mr. Peters was known for his philanthropy, in particular his generous support of California State University, Fresno, and Community Regional Medical Center. He founded the Pete P. Peters Foundation to further his philanthropy.
Pete P. Peters is buried in Plot 2, Lot 41, Grave 3.
Haig Berberian was born in Kharpert in 1906 and arrived in the United States in 1923. He started a nut processing and food dehydrating business and, later, an almond and walnut packing venture. His success in the industry led to him being called the “Walnut King.” The St. Paul Armenian Church Parish Hall was dedicated and named for him in 1977. In 1988, California State University, Fresno, endowed a chair in Armenian Studies in the name of Haig and Isabel Berberian. Haig Berberian is buried in Plot 3, Lot 179 E ½, Grave 4.
Gaizar Saghatelian founded the first Armenian bakery in Fresno in 1922. Valley Lahvosh Baking Company is well-known for its lahvosh and peda bread and is still family owned. Gaizar Saghatelian is buried in Plot 4, Lot 115, Grave 2.
Monument to the Unknown Martyr
The Monument to the Unknown Martyr stands in memory to all who were lost in the Armenian Genocide. In 1930, Rev. M.G. Papazian brought the remains of an Unknown Martyr from Der El-Zor Desert, where hundreds of thousands of Armenians perished during the Genocide. These remains are buried at Ararat Cemetery. Ararat Armenian Cemetery is the only location in the United States where remains of Genocide victim are buried.
The Monument to the Unknown Martyr is located near the flagpole.
The Soghomon Tehlirian Monument
Soghomon Tehlirian is revered by Armenians as a national hero. On May 15, 1921, Tehlirian assassinated Talaat Pasha in Berlin to avenge the deaths of the 1.5 million Armenians killed in the Armenian Genocide. Visitors come from throughout California and the United States to visit his monument at Masis Ararat Armenian Cemetery and pay their respects.
The Soghomon Tehlirian Monumnet is located at the center of Masis Ararat Armenian Cemetery
In 1978, Yenovk Ashdaragentz dedicated a monument to the 8,000 residents of the town of Chunkoush who were martyred in the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Mr. Ashdaragentz and his son, Oshen Martin Ashton, are buried at the monument.
The Chunkoush Monument is located in Plot 3, Lot 218, Grave 12.
Monument to Monte Melkonian
Monte Melkonian was born in Visalia, CA, and went on to fight with the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia in Lebanon and with the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army in Armenia. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army and is credited with building the army into a cohesive and formidable group. Monte Melkonian was killed in the Nagorno-Karabakh village of Merzuli during the Battle of Aghdam. He received many military awards, including the posthumous award of National Hero of Armenia.
Monte Melkonian is buried at Yerablur Military Cemetery in Yerevan, Armenia. A monument to him is located in Plot 3, Section 474, Grave 10. His parents, Charles and Zabel Melkonian, are buried at the monument.