Born Badaskhan Ermoyan in what was then Armenia, Zakoian developed her artistic talent in her adopted home of Chicago, where she also acquired the nickname Betty. Many of her colorful and expressive paintings document her tragic life story. Her parents were killed in 1915 during the Turkish genocide of Armenians. Zakoian, only seven years old, and her two brothers were left to fend for themselves in the war-torn country. Eventually the German Red Cross came to the aid of the refugees, but Zakoian became separated from her siblings. Alone, with no money and nowhere to go, she followed railroad tracks to walk all the way from Armenia to Greece, where she spent the next ten years in an orphanage.
After finally making it to the U.S., Zakoian began painting while in her fifties. In doing so she revisited experiences from her childhood during the Armenian Holocaust, when more than 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Her work combines her artistic vision with the exploration of her identity as a refugee of war, abandoned child, person of faith, wife, and mother.