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History

Mission
To establish and maintain a library and to sponsor programs in the arts and humanities which disseminate knowledge and information for the advancement of culture in general, and the Armenian culture in particular.

In pursuing this mission, the Foundation shall place emphasis on the history of Armenian music in the diaspora and on the role of Armenian women in the nation’s history. Specific communities to be served are (1) academics and individuals worldwide interested in Armenian culture and (2) bibliophiles and rare book collectors of noteworthy nineteenth and twentieth century English and European works in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

History
The Armenian Cultural Foundation is a private library and museum dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of Armenian history, culture and letters. Incorporated in 1945 by Vahan Topalian (1886-1983), a well-known Armenian book collector and by a number of his friends and benefactors, its first home was at 18 Somerset Street -- a three story building in Boston. In 1962 the building was taken by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at which time, John Mirak (1907-2000), an immigrant from Turkish Armenia and successful businessman in Boston, assisted the Foundation to relocate to its present quarters, a Greek revival mansion in Arlington, Massachusetts. During 1965 the large addition overlooking Mystic Lake, which comprises the main library, was completed under the direction of architect Jerome Bailey Foster.

Vahan Topalian was born in Tigranakert, Turkish Armenia, in 1886. He came alone to the United States as a young boy, attended Mt. Hermon School and then began a lifelong vocation -- collecting books, memorabilia and objects of art. Supported by his profession as a tailor, Topalian had already amassed a library by 1920 and spent the rest of his days in that pursuit. He died in May 1983 at the age of 96.

One of Topalian’s interests was his nation. The Foundation houses the finest collection in the New World of early Armenian periodicals and newspapers. Also important are Armenian manuscripts from such modern giants as Vahan Tekeyan, the poet. Topalian was no narrow nationalist. Rather, he was self-educated; he thrived in the socialist-anarchist-free thinking currents of the early twentieth century; and he thought of the Foundation in international terms. He knew Emma Goldman and Alexander Beekman, the famous American anarchists, and his heroes included Freud and Darwin. The Foundation is dedicated to the memory of Eghia Demirjibashian, an Armenian poet, philosopher and mystic. Topalian (and his shelves) had room for the great writers and thinkers of the past from all nations. English, French and Russian literature are well represented, often in first editions. He was proudest of his manuscripts of Rousseau and Voltaire. And all this had to be housed in stately surroundings, with Oriental rugs and Tiffany lamps.

From its inception, the Foundation was governed by a Board of Trustees, although until the mid 1960s, Topalian was its solitary guide. Then, until 1990, John Mirak, who was born in Arabkir, Turkish Armenia, and who came to the United States after the Armenian Genocide of World War I, as an orphan and refugee, assisted Topalian and the Foundation as its President. Mirak conceived of and orchestrated the construction of the Great Hall (which was named in his memory in 2000), he underwrote much of the Foundation’s annual budget, he assisted Topalian in his personal needs, and he welcomed Topalian in age as a member of his family. In the 1980s, Mirak also brought Hagop Atamian, another Armenian of letters, to assist Topalian at the Foundation. In 1997, Mirak and the Foundation’s Board turned its reins over to a younger, more professional group, which now runs the Foundation.

The new board determined to continue the Foundation’s mission of fostering Armenian history and culture. In addition it decided to embark on two new initiatives: the study of Armenian music, especially in the Diaspora, and the history of Armenian women. In those connections, the Foundation has

  1. inventoried all of its holdings;
  2. published and distributed to the Armenian scholars and appropriate libraries in the New World and Old an inclusive bibliography of its Armenian language holdings;
  3. catalogued its holdings -- compatible with national cataloging standards -- for inclusion in the internet;
  4. sponsored or co-sponsored lectures, concerts and public non-profit scholarly and charitable gatherings, thereby making the Foundation accessible to the public;
  5. in affiliation with the Armenian International Women’s Association, promoted AIWA and houses its rapidly growing archives;
  6. established the Komitas Room housing the Rouben Gregorian and Arsen Sayan music collections.