Stephen Kurkjian

Stephen Kurkjian is one of the most acclaimed investigative reporters in the country. A forty-year veteran of the Boston Globe, he is the paper’s former Washington bureau chief and a founding member of its investigative Spotlight Team. Kurkjian has won more than twenty-five national and regional awards, including the Pulitzer Prize on three occasions. He is a graduate of Suffolk Law School and lives in Boston.

During his career, Kurkjian specialized in writing about political and government corruption, as well as, in his later years, art theft. He has also written and spoken extensively about the Armenian Genocide, and his most recent article on the Genocide of 1915 is shown below.

In 1992, Steve traveled to eastern Turkey with his father, Anooshavan Kurkjian, to visit his father’s birthplace. Several months after returning from the trek, Steve wrote of the visit in a cover piece for the Boston Sunday Globe Magazine. Read Article.

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Stephen Kurkjian was born and raised in Boston, and a product of the Boston public schools, including The Boston Latin School. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in English Literature and Suffolk University Law School. His father Anooshavan Kurkjian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, was a commercial artist, and mother, Rosella Gureghian Kurkjian, was a newspaper librarian. After a two-year stint at the State House News Service, he joined the Boston Globe where he broke in covering local news, especially the Vietnam War protest movement. In the summer of 1969, he covered Senator Kennedy's fatal accident on Martha's Vineyard Chappaquiddick Island and the Woodstock rock festival which solidified his decision to remain a reporter for his career rather than the law. He spent the next 40 years as a reporter and editor at The Globe, working for the most part as an investigative reporter. He was a founding member of The Globe's investigative Spotlight Team and later became its editor. As a team member he shared in three Pulitzer Prizes, and was its chief in 1981 when it was awarded the prize for local investigative reporting for a series on the region's public transportation authority, the Mass. Bay Transportation Authority. In 1986, he was appointed chief of The Globe's Washington Bureau where he oversaw the reporting of the paper's ten reporters and himself covered the Justice Department, Supreme Court and the first Bush White House. Returning to The Globe in 1991, he became its first projects editor, overseeing investigative reporting in the newsroom. Among the topics he covered was a fire at a Rhode Island rock club in which 100 people were killed; inadequate mental health services for Massachusetts prisoners; conflicts of interest in the granting of financial services contract for municipal finance business in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; questionable activities by the Massachusetts Speaker of the House which led to his indictment and conviction for influencing a state software contract and the most definitive article on the 1990 theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Following his retirement from The Globe in 2007, Kurkjian researched and wrote Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World's Greatest Art Heist, and has written extensively about the Armenian Genocide of 1915, a horrific massacre by the Ottoman Turkish empire which killed more than a million Armenians, including his grandfather, and drove countless others from their ancestral home in eastern Turkey. Kurkjian lives in Boston, and is the father of two children - Erica Kurkjian Parrell, a public school teacher, and Adam, a sports reporter for The Boston Herald - as well as grandfather to three, Theodore, Jillian and Emily Parrell.

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Observer | News
By Stephen Kurkjian, 12/15/09

The Good Thief

1978 art heist solved

Retired Mass. lawyer says he held stolen paintings

By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff | February 1, 2006

The Author

For 28 years it has stood as the largest unsolved burglary from a private residence in state history: the theft of seven paintings, including a Cezanne, from a collector's home in the Berkshires

Yesterday, the mystery was abruptly solved, as a retired Massachusetts lawyer told the Globehe has secretly held the stolen paintings, worth millions of dollars, since 1978. Hours after his name was publicly linked to the case in a London courtroom, Robert M. Mardirosian, 71, said in an interview that the paintings were left with him by the lead suspect in the theft, a Pittsfield man whom Mardirosian was representing in another case. The alleged thief, David Colvin, then 31, went to his office in Watertown seeking advice and lugging a bag full of paintings, the lawyer said.

"He was going to bring them to Florida to fence them, but I told him that if he ever got caughtwith them with the other case hanging over his head, he'd be in real trouble," Mardirosian said. "So he left them upstairs in my attic in a big plastic bag."

The paintings had been stolen from the Stockbridge home of Michael Bakwin over Memorial Day weekend in 1978. It was an easy heist: Bakwin and his wife were away for the holiday and had long been casual about security for their inherited art collection. A much harder question,for Colvin and then for Mardirosian, was what to do with the precious works after the crime. It was a question, in fact, that went 28 years in search of an answer.

Mardirosian told the Globe that more than a year passed after Colvin's visit before he discovered the paintings in his attic. Colvin had spent the night in a room upstairs from his office and left the bag behind, the lawyer said.

By the time Mardirosian made that discovery, Colvin was dead, shot in February 1979 by two Boston men who had come to his Pittsfield home to collect on a debt. That left Mardirosian alone in possession of the stolen paintings.

His first instinct, Mardirosian said, was to return the paintings for reward money that he thought would be put up by the paintings' insurer. But he abandoned that plan after learning that not even the most valuable of the paintings, the Cezanne, had been insured. In 1988, he said, hemoved them from Massachusetts to Monaco and then to a bank in Switzerland for safe-keeping while he figured out a plan for returning them to Bakwin for a finder's fee or reward of 10 percent of their value.

Mardirosian maintained an active criminal law practice, defending numerous individuals charged with narcotics, weapons, and white-collar offenses in Boston-area courts and elsewhere between the early 1960s and 1995 when he retired at age 60. He now lives in a gated community in Falmouth, where he works as a full-time painter and sculptor, under the professional name Romard, often traveling to France to work and sell his artwork.

Mardirosian acknowledged in the Globe interview that he was able to keep secret his possession of the paintings over the years by working through lawyers in London, Monaco,Saved: AR15 Boston Globe, Press Release – 1 Feb 2006 and Switzerland, as well as a shell company he incorporated in Panama, which does not name him as owner. He tried to sell the paintings on two occasions through the shell company, Erie International Trading Co. , but failed in 1999 and again last year. On both occasions the Art Loss Register, a London-based company that tracks stolen artwork, was alerted to the sales and took steps to stop them.

A lawsuit filed last year by Bakwin and the Art Loss Register to stop the sale of four of the seven paintings led to yesterday's court hearing in London, during which Mardirosian was identified as sole owner of Erie International. The judge also ruled that Mardirosian be held responsible for paying an estimated $3 million in court, legal, and investigative fees accumulated by Bakwin in trying to get his paintings back.

"We're very pleased with today's results," said Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register, who has been trying to regain the paintings for Bakwin since 1999. "There's more legal work to be done, but I have no doubt now that these paintings will soon be returned to their rightful owner."

Radcliffe was sharply critical of Mardirosian for not promptly returning the works and said he hoped that the FBI would investigate his role. "Mardirosian should have surrendered these stolen pictures as soon as he knew of their location," he said. "We will be providing all the help that we can to the FBI."

Mardirosian said he realizes that the FBI, which originally investigated the theft, will probably want to question him about how he came to possess and hold on to the stolen paintings. He also acknowledged that he not only served as Colvin's lawyer, but also worked in the same period on an unrelated criminal case against the man whom the FBI believes was to be the fence of the paintings. That could trigger questions about whether he actually obtained the paintings in the fashion he has described.

"I know some things don't look good here, but I believe I have a legitimate case to make," said Mardirosian. "I could have sold these a dozen times, but never did. My whole intent was to find a way to get them back to the owner in return for a 10 percent commission."Gail Marcinkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Boston, declined this week to say if the agency would take another look at the case in view of recent developments. Bakwin was not available for comment.

The FBI had identified Colvin as a suspect in the case shortly after the theft, when an undercover federal agent reported that Colvin had approached him several months earlier and asked him if he would be interested in buying a Cezanne painting or stolen guns.

After Colvin's death, Bakwin had tried on his own to pursue the case, hiring private investigator Charles G. Moore of Plymouth to develop leads. Moore discovered that Mardirosian had represented both Colvin and the alleged would-be fence in the theft, but with Colvin dead and the alleged fence refusing to answer questions, the investigation stalled.

For his part, Mardirosian said he was considering filing suit against Bakwin in US courts for reneging on a deal that Erie Trading made with Bakwin in 1999. Under that agreement, the Cezanne was returned to Bakwin, and title to the other six paintings was signed over to Erie."I figured it was a fair exchange," Mardirosian said yesterday. "They would get back the Cezanne, which they were valuing at about $10 million then, and I would get back the other six,which were valued at about $1 million."

A month after the exchange, Bakwin, feeling he could not sufficiently secure the masterwork,auctioned off the Cezanne at Sotheby's for $29. 3 million.

Radcliffe has contended ever since that the document signing over title of the other six paintings to Erie International was not legally valid, that Bakwin had been coerced into signing it to regain his stolen Cezanne, and he has vowed to contest any effort by Erie to sell the other six.

Last year, when Erie moved to auction four of the six -- two portraits by Chaim Soutine, an early 20th century expressionist, and two others by French painters Maurice de Vlaminck and Maurice Utrillo -- at Sotheby's, Bakwin filed suit in London to stop the auction.

Erie's lawyers in London have contended that the dispute should be handled through formal arbitration in Swiss courts, as was set out in the 1999 agreement. However, in November, a lower British court upheld Bakwin's argument that the case should be heard in British courts. Last week, British High Court Judge Stanley Burnton said that if Erie wanted to appeal that ruling, it had to put up approximately $50,000 as potential court and legal fees and ruled that a two-page confidential statement that revealed that Mardirosian was the sole owner of Erie International should be unsealed.

The document, with Mardirosian's signature at the bottom, was unsealed at the hearing in Burnton's courtroom yesterday.

"I took [the lawyers'] advice and told them to give up," said Mardirosian. Mardirosian said his next step will probably be to give back the paintings, but he wanted to consult with lawyers in Massachusetts to see if there are any alternatives, including suing Bakwin for breach of contract. Whatever course he follows, Mardirosian said he would not be arguing his own case because he now devotes all his time to painting and sculpture, work he says he loves passionately.

"An occupation that one is really good at sometimes overrides the occupation that one's heart and soul says one should be doing," Mardirosian writes on his website of his decision to give up his law practice. "Fortunately, in some cases that real vocation does bubble up to the surface and rather explodes full-blown."

Globe correspondent Alana Semuels contributed to this report from London. Kurkjian can be reached at kurkjian@globe. com.

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

Other Articles as Contributing Author

Credit where credit's due

By Globe columnist Brian McGrory - 4/8/2003

He can sit in his office in this newsroom with the door shut, on the phone, noise all around him, and somehow hear the crackle of a bag of pretzels being opened by an unsuspecting reporter 20 desks away.

And suddenly, it's ''Hey, pal, howaya? What's going on? Hey, what's that? Yeah, sure, why not?''

His name is Steve Kurkjian. By title, he's a senior metro editor at the newspaper you're reading now, but that only gives a sliver of his story. In reality, he may be the most feared and respected reporter in town.

His nose for free food is surpassed only by his eye for news, and yesterday the legend was raised another notch. He was among the extraordinary reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, the most significant honor that a newspaper can get.

The Pulitzer, any Pulitzer, is the Holy Grail, the Academy Award for the ink-stained set, and most reporters carry the unfulfilled dream of winning one across their entire careers. Kurkjian, on the other hand, has had a key role in three, all for this paper, each in a different decade.

So you'll forgive my uncontrolled pride in the man, in the team, in the paper, in the business.

Globe reporters have spent nearly two years blasting through a culture of deference, a maze of legal obstacles, and a rigid screen of secrecy to expose child rape by Catholic priests and the attempts at the highest levels of the archdiocese to cover the problem up. On most days, newspapers strive to inform. On better days, we also manage to entertain. On rare days, we give voice to the voiceless and help those most in need, which is exactly what this paper did for countless victims of Catholic priests.

Marty Baron, the paper's editor, kicked it off by ordering the paper's lawyers to pursue sealed church documents, regardless of costs and consequences. The Spotlight Team, overseen by Ben Bradlee and Walter Robinson, the two most sophisticated newsmen I know, grabbed it and ran. When the first series ran, extra operators were summoned to the Globe to handle irate Catholics, but the calls of complaint never came.

Credit the tenacity of Michael Rezendes, the textured style of Sacha Pfeiffer, the methodical doggedness of Matt Carroll. They were quickly supported by the street smarts of Kevin Cullen, the elegance of Tom Farragher, and the intellectual firepower of Michael Paulson.

Which brings us back to Kurkjian. He didn't lead the team, but he embodies it. A local power broker once told me that the scariest words anyone in authority might ever hear are, ''I've got Steve Kurkjian on line one.'' By the time he's rung you up, take it as gospel that he's already culled through every possible incriminating record and talked to every damning source. The best you can do is pray, and that didn't do Cardinal Bernard F. Law a whole lot of good.

At 59, Kurkjian still outhustles the young pups, first in the door every morning, the last to leave at night, unless he's meeting his son or daughter, and then he's gone like a shot.

To look at him, you'd never imagine. His wizened face is constantly breaking into a smile that inevitably leads to his staccato laugh. There may not be a soul in the newsroom who doesn't count him as a friend. When someone complimented the uncharacteristically tasteful tie he wore on Pulitzer day, he said, ''Thanks. Feel free to use it some time.''

Yesterday, Kurkjian sat amid the piles of yellowed papers and boxes of documents and flashing computers where he's most at home, talking about being part of a team.

''I could never imagine doing anything else,'' he said.

And it's how to make the most out of life and to help others who had no other chance.

Kiss My Children’s Eyes: A Search for Answers to the Genocide Through One Remarkable Photograph

By Stephen Kurkjian on April 22, 2014 | The Armenian Weekly

The Author

The looks on their faces are haunting. A sense of fear and uncertainty, doom even, is evident. Fifty-one men, all Armenian, standing in front of what appears to be a prison, in the Turkish city of Gesaria (modern Kayseri). In the two windows behind them, other men are dimly seen. Only the Turkish gendarme at the end of the third row appears in any way at ease.

As I was to learn, the photograph is a remarkable one. Taken as the Armenian Genocide of 1915 was about to begin, it is likely the only one like it to have survived those massacres. It shows a large group of Armenian men who were martyred, and identifies them. Being named, their lives—as well as their deaths—can be traced.

My assignment to authenticate the photograph seemed a simple one when I took it on in 2005. Find out why the photograph had been taken and by whom. Who were these men and why did they look so fearful? Where was the photograph first published, and why had it remained so little known with its value unrecognized for so many years? And beyond the photograph’s history, what had become of these men and their families?

Nearly a decade later, some of the questions about the photograph remain unanswered, as facts that I unearthed often gave rise to more difficult questions. But from my pursuit of its origins, I came to value the photograph’s significance in the field of genocide research and learn the secrets it reveals about how thousands of Armenians were led to their deaths in that Turkish sancak (district), and how what took place in Gesaria was a microcosm of the genocide itself.

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