I was born in Havana, Cuba the place where my Armenian parents met after emigrating from areas of Turkey that were once the Armenian homeland. Their emigration was a direct consequence of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-23(1). Cuba gave refuge to many Armenian families who survived the massacre of Christians by the hands of Ottoman Turks. At home, we spoke Armenian and started speaking Spanish when in elementary public school.
In Cuba, the eighth grade had two tracks, academic or commercial. I should have chosen the academic program, which is the path to go to the university rather than business school. Instead, I chose the commercial track to follow my brother and friends. I really did not like commercial courses and, in particular, did not do well in accountancy, which I failed. I certainly was not the teacher’s favorite student. In our school system, if you fail one course you fail the whole grade level. Therefore, instead of repeating the school year, I quit school and my parents had no objections. Instead, I enrolled in a correspondence course in auto-mechanics and was an apprentice for a mechanic—a drunkard at that. This was the peak time of the mambo and the cha-cha-cha. Music was blaring from every radio and jukeboxes in Havana.
Eventually, I ended up working as a draftsman for a large machine shop—we made conveyor belts and large metal containers. While taking the correspondence course, one of the lessons was about atoms and I instantly fell in love with physics. I proceeded to buy physics and mathematics books, and started to study on my own while listening to the latest Cuban music on the radio and solving math and physics problems. I learned algebra on my own, begun studying calculus, and was fascinated with the theory of relativity. Years later when my daughter Sona, who was in high school (in Mexico City), asked me how to solve some algebra problems, I referred to the book that I had used in Cuba and told her to find the three mistakes that I had found in the textbook.
In 1954, I immigrated to Providence, Rhode Island with my younger sister Astrig and we both joined our older brother Antranig, which in Armenian means first son, and sister Nevart. It was always my mother’s wish to send all of us to the USA. Her actions had nothing to do with Cuban politics. Eventually, our parents emigrated and left behind the curse that befell Cuba in the specter of Fidel Castro. In Providence, I enrolled in Central High School, where I met Mary Altounian. We graduated together from Central High School in 1956 and married after I graduated from the University of Rhode Island (URI) with a B.S. degree in physics in 1960. After URI, I went to graduate school at Indiana University, Bloomington and graduated with a PhD in theoretical physics in 1964.
After graduate school, I spent several years in the theoretical division at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, California. In 1970, I took a position as professor of physics at the Centro de Investigacion y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politecnico Nacional (Cinvestav) in Mexico City. There were three types of Americans in Mexico City: those having high positions with American companies, missionaries, and the very few working on their own. Over the years, we associated and made good friends amongst missionaries of all denominations. At times, Mary and I thought we too were experiencing the missionary life. While in California, we spoke Armenian at home.
However, things got complicated when in Mexico and so we decided to speak English at home and have the girls learn Spanish in the bi-lingual schools they were attending. Mexicans are very family-oriented and so we felt like orphans having no family members around. In fact, Mary started to go to English-speaking Bible studies with missionaries just to be able to talk to people since I was the only one fluent in Spanish. We were also concerned with the upbringing of our children in a foreign country. Therefore, we taught and reminded them that their heritage is based on Armenia being the first nation to adopt Christianity in 301 AD. At that time, we both were in a Bible study led by Harry and Bernice Burke, which lasted over eight years. The Burkes started the Spearhead Ministry in Mexico City in 1968. Harry was the one who introduced me to the writings of C.S. Lewis, who expresses profound thoughts in simple language.
A very important event in my life was reading Ephesians 6:4 for the first time, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This was it. I dropped anchor there and said if I as a father had to raise my children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, then I had better learn all about the Lord and His teachings. That was how Mary and I knew what it meant to be a Christian and accepted Jesus the Christ as our Lord and Savior. I have always been a theist but as a Christian, I learned and gained much understanding. Later on, I read in C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, “If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. However, fortunately, it works the other way round. Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself.” How true!
Mexico gave us three blessings: the Lord, our son Aram, and work. We will forever be grateful.
Humans use their creative power, a consequence of being created in the image of God, to observe, reason, and understand the whole of reality created and upheld by the word of His power. The ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” is best answered by knowing God via biblical truths of revelation. Such knowledge can never be the result of scientific studies of humans, which never address the nonphysical nor the supernatural aspects of humans. In fact, it is knowledge of Jesus the Christ that reveals who humans truly are. The ontological question that there is something rather than nothing is best understood in terms of a Creator. However, the underlying sin nature of humans that science can never address is only solved by the redemptive power of Christ.
My constant interest has been to continue doing research in physics and work on how to integrate the Christian faith and the laws of Nature that govern the physical aspect of Nature. This will result in an integration and understanding of the whole of reality, viz., physical/nonphysical/supernatural aspects of Nature.
God has blessed us with three wonderful children, Mariam, Sona, and Aram, who in turn have blessed us with seven beautiful grandchildren.
(1) My Mother’s Experience as a child can be found here.