Remembering Zaruhy Sara Chitjian (1933 – 2021): A Celebration of Life

We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Zaruhy Sara Chitjian, a long-time benefactor of Armenian studies programs at UCLA and the founder of the Research Program in Armenian Archaeology at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. Sara passed away peacefully at her home on May 3, 2021, having lived to see President Joe Biden officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Zaruhy Sara Chitjian, was born in Mexico City in 1933 to Hampartzoum and Ovsanna Chitjian, both survivors of the Armenian Genocide, who had met and married in Mexico. In 1935 her family immigrated to the United States, settling in Los Angeles where Sara spent the remaining years of her life. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1956 from UCLA, and a year later went on to earn her teaching credentials. She dedicated her life to education and spent the next forty years teaching for the Los Angeles Unified School District. As a descendant of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, she had a vested interest in preserving Armenian history and culture, but she had a unique appreciation for cultural heritage in general. As a young teacher at Monlux Elementary, Sara installed the same appreciation for culture into her young students who built models of early California, had visits for a geisha to learn about the Japanese tea ceremony, and an Aikido sensei who gave demonstrations and taught about the philosophy of martial arts.

Sara in 1957While teaching at Dixie Elementary School, she proposed teaching Armenian history and culture for the Mini-Classes Program of the school, forever changing the landscape of the curriculum throughout Los Angles by becoming the first teacher to raise awareness of Armenian culture through a formal course. She found exciting and creative ways to teach Armenian history and culture, such as having her students try to write their names in Armenian script as she read them about the origin of the alphabet. She also invited prominent Armenian scholars, such as Dr. Richard Hovannisian, Dr. Gerard Liberadian, and Dr. Oshin Keshishian to give guest lectures on topics ranging from art to genocide.

Sara’s numerous awards in recognition for her contributions and service as a teacher are clear testament to her dedication and passion for educating children. She successfully petitioned for the City of Los Angeles to make April 24 the day of commemorating the victims of the Armenian Genocide, an excusable day of absence on the academic calendar of the school districts. In the 1970s, she created the Armenian Teacher Association and the Armenian Urban Center programs; the former trained teachers in providing aid to students who were fleeing the Syrian civil war, and the latter developed scholastic curriculum for teaching about Armenian history and culture. In 2017, the Armenian National Committee–Western Region named one of its awards the Zaruhy “Sara” Chitjian Armenian Genocide Education Award in honor of Sara’s commitment to Armenian causes and dedication to preservation of Armenian heritage through education and philanthropy. The award is presented to outstanding educators of Armenian descent who have gone above and beyond to teach Armenian culture and the history of the Armenian Genocide.

Sara believed strongly in the mission of public education, and in memory of her parents and all survivors of the Armenian Genocide, she established the Hampartzoum and Ovsanna Chitjian Foundation to support Armenian Studies programs in higher education. Her support was instrumental in the publication of the first seven volumes (2006–2012) of ARAMAZD: Armenian Journal of Near Eastern Studies, which is the only English-language periodical published in Armenia devoted exclusively to the investigation of ancient and medieval cultures of the Near East and the Caucasus. She established four endowments at leading universities, each with focus on a specific aspect of Armenian heritage. At the American University of Armenia her endowment supports an entrepreneurship program, and at the University of Southern California her endowment supports research and study of the Armenian Genocide. California State University–Northridge is the steward of the Chitjian Family archive, and at the University of California, Los Angeles her endowment supports archaeological research in Armenia.

Sara visits King DariousSara was an avid supporter and promoter of Armenian archaeology and cultural heritage. In 2006 she partially sponsored the renewed excavations at Dvin, the capital and a large commercial city of early medieval Armenia, as well as in the world-renown Areni-1 cave. In 2013, she donated a transformative gift to the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA to established the Research Program in Armenian Archaeology, ensuring that UCLA has a leading presence in the field.

Her memory and her life-long mission to spread knowledge and raise awareness of Armenian history and cultural heritage will be carried on in the work of the members of the Armenian Archaeology Laboratory whose research is made possible by Sara’s generosity. We are grateful for her unwavering support and will forever hold her dear in our memories.


“In my father’s stories unity is the number one thing or finding a way to be united...Here lies an Armenian boy who suffered all his life because of Armenian dis-unity...he wanted that on his tombstone. He was telling the Armenian community ‘unite’ and we still don’t get that message...this is why I am doing what I am doing...not to forget.” Sara carried her father’s message of unity through all her life and works, preserving the memory of the past. Promoting awareness was of outmost importance to her, and the various programs she established ensure that the rich history and heritage of the Armenian people is preserved and passed on for generations to come.

Thank you, Sara, for your dedication to the Armenian cause and for your unwavering support and passion.

                                                                                    Kristine Martirosyan-Olshansky, PhD
                                                            Postdoctoral Scholar/Cotsen Institute of Archaeology
            Director/Research Program in Armenian Archaeology and Ethnography, UCLA
                                            Co-Director, Masis Blur Archaeological Research Program


If you are inspired to learn more about Sara’s legacy, please visit the Chitjian Foundation page. To support our research and education in archaeology and conservation or for more information, please contact Michelle Jacobson at

Published on May 6, 2021.