For over 50 years, Mr. Ovanes Balayan has dedicated his life to philanthropy and the preservation of the Armenian arts, culture and identity in the Armenian Diasporan community of Los Angeles. As founder and President of the Armenian American Orphans and Disabled Children Fund, Balayan raised millions of dollars to restore dilapidated orphanages and schools in poverty stricken regions of Armenia and Artsakh.
Dedicated to his charitable organization, he was was physically present for all the projects receiving funding from his charity, from inception to completion of each orphanage and school. Balayan, a firm believer in transparency, whose sole intention was to help those in need, particularly children, shared with the public the outcome of all the proceeds collected for his projects and received many accolades for his kind deeds by the Armenian government and various organizations within the United States and Armenia. In 2010, Balayan received a Proclamation from the California State Assembly for his countless contributions to society and his dedication to preserving the arts and the Armenian culture.
An ardent supporter of democracy, Balayan often criticized the former Armenian government led by then President Robert Kocharian and even refused a medal from his administration, as a sign of protest for the economic oppression of the Armenian people and lack of democracy and free speech in Armenia. In April of 2019, Balayan participated every day in peaceful demonstrations, in front of the Glendale City Hall in spite of his deteriorating health. He truly believed that Armenia will become more democratic someday and his dream was finally achieved with the declaration of the new government led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Born in 1930 in Yerevan to a priest and devoted Armenian mother, Balayan and his family relocated to the Tabriz region of Iran when he was a year old and later spent most of his childhood in the Qazvin province. During that era, the Shah, who had close ties to Ataturk, had ordered closures of all Armenian schools in Iran. Young Ovanes learned the Armenian language in secret from his father and older brother Mesrop, often hiding handwritten books and study material in his pockets in fear of persecution from the government. This prompted him to have a deeper appreciation and love for the Armenian language and arts and so he participated in and received recognition from both the Armenian and Iranian media for his acting roles in school plays including Hovaness Tumanian’s “Kach Nazar,” which he performed 13 times at the Raffi Armenian School in Qazvin.
In his adolescence, Balayan moved to Tehran and worked for Iranian media outlets, establishing a family and building a successful business in dentistry. In 1965, Balayan and his family settled in Los Angeles and he began enthusiastically organizing many concerts, galas and cultural events, in an effort to cultivate and maintain a rich Armenian heritage in a community which was in need of a strong Armenian cultural presence. He founded and served as the editor of Kach Nazar magazine, a periodical featuring political satire, humor and informative news articles about life in Armenia and Iran and also had a TV program with the same name. Balayan prided himself for being the first and possibly only Armenian media outlet to cover the Golden Globes award ceremonies and made many friends in the entertainment industry in Hollywood. In his autobiography, he talked about doing dentistry work for Elvis Presley.
Often referring to his volunteer work as a publisher and organizer of events as a thankless job, even receiving criticism from some, Balayan devoted his life’s work to helping the less fortunate in the homeland and ensuring that the Armenian identity and heritage are not lost in the Diaspora and for that, he believed it was all worth it.
Through his tireless efforts of introducing artists and performers from Armenia to the United States and with the help of his older brother Nerses, publishing his informative and entertaining Kach Nazar magazine and television show, his last and perhaps most gratifying contribution was ensuring orphans in Armenia receive proper care and education. Balayan sadly passed away on December 29, 2019 and left behind a legacy of selfless devotion to the Armenian cause with an unwavering dedication to the Armenian people and an unrelenting sacrifice to the growth, unity and progress of the Armenian nation.
An avid supporter of Massis Weekly and Massis Post, Balayan was instrumental in the organization and success of the annual Armenian Independence Day Festival held at Verdugo Park in Glendale and was always ready and willing to lend a helping hand to the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party, Nor Serount Cultural Association, ‘Homenmen’ Armenian Athletic Association, Armenian Educational Benevolent Union and the Armenian Council of America.
We are eternally grateful to Ovanes Balayan and extend our deepest condolences to the Balayan family and hope that the torch for his charitable works and endless contributions will be passed on to the next generation for decades to come.