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The Story of Two Immigrant Families ~ Along the Turnpike

During the Armenian genocide, Vahian Kojoyian, in his attempt to escape certain death, was offered refuge in Gabriel Shakour’s home. Mr. Shakour hid Vahian until it was safe to immigrate to America.

Turkish Muslim extremists in their murderous pursuit of ethnic and religious cleansing against Christians were not restricted to Armenians. The Christian Syrians and Greeks who had practiced the Christian doctrine since the time of Christ were also a target.

 "It is believed that in Turkey between 1913 and 1922, under the successive regimes of the Young Turks and of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), more than 3.5 million Armenian, Syrian and Greek Christians of Pontos or Black Sea region were massacred in a state-organized and state-sponsored campaign of destruction and genocide, aiming at wiping out from the emerging Turkish Republic the native Christian populations. This Christian Holocaust is viewed as the precursor to the Jewish Holocaust in WWII. To this day, the Turkish government ostensibly denies having committed this genocide."  Courtesy, Professor Israel Charney, President of the IAGS

Kojoyian

Vahian (John) and Miriam (Dumurgian) Kojoyian moved to Watertown from Armenia and began farming in Westborough in 1927. They purchased the farm of Dan and Anna Gulbankian on the Turnpike where they raised poultry for eggs and were market gardeners. During the war years, the Kojoyians were honored by the U.S. Government for providing food for the war effort. The Kojoyian family continued farming into the early 1960s. The farm consisted of 39 acres, a house and barn, henhouse, brooders, a horse, cow and 600 fowl. The Kojoyians sold eggs and live chickens from their roadside stand until the 1960s.

 The Kojoyians continued the farm until the early 1960s when their son Sarkis and his wife Rose Garabedian Kojoyian moved downtown and established Belmont Properties, a property development company. In 1965 they purchased a 15-acre parcel on the south side of the Turnpike along the Assabet River containing a restaurant and the Matejko house. As the Belmont Property, Sarkis and Rose purchased an additional 54 acres of land and buildings along the Turnpike, then subdivided the combined real estate into commercial lots. In the next 20 years the subdivided properties became R.G. Shakour, two auto dealerships, Levitz Furniture, Somerville Lumber, Sears Roebuck, and later the Belmont Center.

 Shakour

 Gabriel Shakour, a Christian Freedom Fighter fled from Homs, Syria, and immigrated to America in 1905. Shakour was escaping the Muslim Turks who had a bounty of 1,000 gold crowns for the capture of the Syrian Christian. He escaped from Syria with his family to America through Ellis Island and settled in Worcester, MA. His son Raphael Shakour was born in Homs, Syria, November 1897 and became a successful businessman in dry goods and grocery in Worcester. Then in 1924 he diversified into the beauty supply business. In 1965 Raphael and his son Jon traveled to Westborough in search of a new location for their Worcester-based beauty supply business. As they traveled along the Turnpike they noticed a for sale sign on a dilapidated house near the Assabet River.

 The Meeting

 Jon Shakour related that first meeting to me: During the Armenian genocide Vahian Kojoyian, in his attempt to escape certain death, was offered refuge in Gabriel Shakour’s home. Mr. Shakour took Vahian in to hide in the root cellar for three months and there Vahian and Mr. Shakour’s young son, Raphael, formed a friendship while bringing him food on a daily basis. Gabriel subsequently got Vahian out and into Beirut, Lebanon, where Kojoyian made his way to America.

 In 1965, Vahian Kojoyian and Raphael Shakour would re-establish a lost friendship when a chance meeting occurred at the Kojoyian home on the Turnpike with the Syrian Christian Freedom fighter‘s son. On a trip from Worcester to Westborough in a search of land to relocate the Shakour business, a for sale sign was noticed at the Matego house on the east bound side of the Turnpike near the Assabet River.

 When the two families met at the Kojoyian farm on the Turnpike, the elderly gentlemen immediately re-established a bond and began to speak in Arabic, while Jon and Sarkis began their own friendship. For two hours the older men reminisced of the old country and worked out a deal to buy the property. Although Shakour asked Kojoyian what he wanted for the land, Kojoyian stated, “It makes no difference. Because of your family, I am still alive today. Pay what you can afford and no more.” Shakour said he could afford $15,000, and Kojoyian said that was fine.    As told to me by Jon Shakour

 In 1966 the Shakours took ownership of the land and built the 34,500 square-foot building that became R.G. Shakour’s, on the Turnpike.

 Once again the two family patriarchs became close friends and would meet on a weekly basis at the new building for Turkish coffee and conversation until Kojoyian became ill, moved from the Turnpike and died in 1968. Raphael Shakour lived until 1982.

 Sarkis Kojoyian died in 2009 while his wife Rose remains a resident of Westborough. He was a member of the Westborough Planning Board, fire department, Sites and Facilities Committee and was very active in town affairs as well as the Armenian community. His brother Avedis Kojoyian became a Westborough school teacher and football coach.

Jon Shakour remains the president of R.G. Shakour

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Ron Goodenow December 02, 2012 at 10:37 PM
A wonderful story Glenn. Its interesting that now Turkey is one of the most religiously tolerant countries in their part of the world...where there has actually been more tolerance than we sometimes think -- even in Syria and Iran. We now have a Turkish restaurant in Northborough that features belly dancing. One of its vocal supporters (our selectmen are worried about flesh corrupting our youth) is Armenian. In America we prize cultural healing and you have shown how it can be done.
Glenn R. Parker December 07, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Ron, thanks for the comment We had so many ethnic groups settling in our area and all were tolerant of the other...They weren't here for the entitlements that so many have come to take advantage of today. They came to work and find a better life. From the Irish who built the Blackstone Canal then the Boston & Worcester Railroad...The Italians that immigrated to work on the vast trolley networks and the Christian Armenians, Asyrians and Greeks who were fleeing religious prosecution, America at that time was truly a melting pot and those that came found a place to live and raise their families and live a life better than what they had experienced.

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