Dr. Varaztad Hovhanes Kazanjian, honorary major in the British Royal Army Medical Corps was born on March 18 in 1879 in the city of Erzincan in Turkey. His original name was Yerikian, which was converted to Kazanjian (Coppersmith) under Ottoman Turkish rule. Varaztad’s family moved to Sivas when he was only two and a half years old (Varaztad was an Armenian fourth-century king). His educated started in American-sponsored Protestant School with its French Jesuit teachers, where he learned French.
Varaztad’s father died when he was only twelve, and as the condition of Armenians was getting very difficult in Turkey due to maltreatment by the Ottomans, he was smuggled to Marseille at the age of fifteen by his half-brother Hagop. In 1895 he went from Marseille to New York, landing on Ellis Island and from there to Worcester in Central Massachusetts, home to the largest Armenian colony in America. In order to survive, Varazdat started working at a spring-making factory and later in the “Wire Mill” factory under very harsh conditions.
Varaztad was very ambitious and goal oriented: he always took books to work and whenever time allowed, he used to read and educate himself. His fervent passion to learn was so strong, he started going to night schools and took private lessons in English. Varaztad eventually received certificates in Chemistry, Physics, Geometry and Advanced French between 1900-1902. After a few years he moved to Boston and was admitted to Harvard Dental School (he always believed he was good with his hands).
In 1906 he was appointed as an assistant in Mechanical Dentistry at Harvard Dental School and later an assistant in Prosthetic Dentistry and a demonstrator of Prosthetic Dentistry in 1909. In 1912 he was appointed as the head of Harvard Prosthetic Dentistry Department and in 1915 he became a chief dental officer at Harvard.
In 1915 he was asked to go to England to give his service to the “Royal Army Medical Corps” in France, where British were. As soon as he arrived in France, he started the Dental Unit: it was in the unit that he combined dental prosthetic appliances with plastic and reconstructive surgery for the facial and jaw injuries.
Dr. Kazanjian’s reputation was growing very fast; he became the best known individual surgeon in the Allied Army. Field Marshal Sir John French, Commander Chief of the British Army in France acknowledged his distinguished services in France, which was signed by Winston Churchill. In 1916 he was promoted to Major Capitan and in 1916 received letter from Lord Chamberlain commanding his attendance at Buckingham Palace, the occasion was his investiture by King George ꓦ as a companion of the most distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
Dr. Kazanjian’s achievement did not make him forget his Armenian roots. In 1920 he was asked to go to Washington DC on a political mission to plea the cause of Armenia before the US government for the recognition of the Armenian Republic as a de facto government.
Dr. Kazanjian continued his studies in the medical school at Harward. According to Martin Deranian, “Kazanjian was simply another medical student until the day two distinguished British surgeons gave a demonstration at Harvard Medical School. Spotting him in the audience, they rushed to his seat and practically dragged him to the platform. After they told the stunned assembly that Kazanjian had taught them the very technique they were demonstrating, he became an instant hero”.
In 1921 he was awarded a degree of a Doctor of Medicine and in 1922 a Professor of Oral Surgery at Harvard University. He became the president of the American Association of plastic surgeons in 1940. Dr. Kazanjian’s reputation brought the world two famous patients to him. He treated a well know aviator Frank Hawks and Dr. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst (later Freud called him ‘the magician’).
In 1979 he received an award of Neal Owen for plastic and reconstructive surgery. Dr. Kazanjian continued to work until 1965 (age of 85) and passed away on 19th October 1974 at the age of 95.
Find out more about Dr Kazanjian and Miracle Man of the Western Front by Hagop Martin Deranian here.