Asbarez: AUA Benefactor Sonia Akian Passes Away

Sonia Akian

GLENDALE—The American University of Armenia announced the passing of Sonia Akian, a benefactor and AUA Pillar who supported the University for decades. A passionate and generous woman, Akian was held in high regard and will forever be remembered by all who knew her and especially by the countless students whose lives she impacted as an educator. 

Sonia (née Der Avedisian) Akian was born in Philadelphia in 1945 to Kerope and Amalia Der Avedisian. Her father was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, during which his parents, sister, and brother were murdered. Thereafter, he served as captain of the cavalry of Armenian freedom fighters under General Sebouh and was also a French legionnaire. Later in life, he settled in Philadelphia, where he was active in the Armenian community and served various organizations. Kerope and Amalia raised three daughters — Armena, Malena, and Sonia — instilling in them a strong sense of heritage and a high regard for education. Influenced by her family environment, Sonia pursued higher education graduating from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English and, throughout her adult life, she was a strong advocate of universal access to education. 

Sonia Akian as a flower girl at a wedding, 1948 Zaven and Sonia Akian on their wedding day, May 1970

In 1970, Sonia married Zaven P. Akian, and together, their family grew to include their three children: Lori, Lena, and Haig. Perhaps the most significant of the numerous successful endeavors throughout their lives, and one that has left an indelible impression upon thousands of people in both Armenia and the United States, is the philanthropic work they were both involved in and which the Akian family continues to uphold. 

As an AUA Pillar, Sonia, alongside Zaven, was a supporter of the University for many years. Together, their contributions to AUA comprise several namings, including the new AUA Science & Engineering Building to be named the Akian Family Building, and the earlier Zaven P. & Sonia Akian College of Science & Engineering, the Akian BioScience Laboratory, and the Akian Art Gallery. Above all, the student scholarships awarded through the “Zaven P. & Sonia Akian Scholarship” endowment at AUA have enabled over 600 students to date the opportunity to access quality higher education in Armenia. Hundreds more will benefit from this Akian endowment for decades to come.

Sonia and Zaven P. Akian with recipients of the Zaven P. & Sonia Akian Scholarship at AUA, 2016

All scholarship recipients, together with AUA faculty, students, alumni, and the University administration, are forever grateful for her support and the impact she has made on so many lives. The AUA expressed its heartfelt gratitude to Sonia Akian, whose name will live forever at the University.

Funeral services were held on Saturday, November 25, 2023.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values. AUA’s Office of Development stewards the University’s philanthropic efforts exclusively for educational purposes.

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS