Nazar Nazarian: A Man of Charity and Community Leader On the Occasion of His 90th Birthday


By Hagop Vartivarian



ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. – Over a period of more than twenty years, the name Nazar Nazarian has turned everywhere into a synonym for unwavering dedication, solicitous compassion, paternal nurturement, and openhearted, interested and princely donation. It is firmly connected with the realms of Armenian education, church, medicine, philanthropy and publishing. While remaining one of the leading figures in the foremost Armenian philanthropic organization, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), Nazarian’s benevolence has touched nearly all Armenian institutions, whether in the diaspora or in the Armenian homeland.

On August 2, members of the Nazarian family, friends, compatriots and associates will assembly to mark his 90th birthday in his home state of New Jersey. They will express their gratitude and congratulate him, wishing him many more healthy and happy years.

Nazar Nazarian has earned various high-level awards, including the Surp Krikor Lusavorich from our church, the Movses Khorenatsi from the Republic of Armenia, and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in the US. Perhaps more importantly, he has won the boundless gratitude of Armenian students in schools and universities, AGBU members, intellectuals, clergy, writers, and idealists. Over a period of over 60 years of wide-ranging interest in Armenian affairs, he has become family with the pains and plans of each of our establishments, churches, organizations, schools and newspapers. Together with his kind wife Artemis, a great Armenian woman, he attempted to generously help them all, and, more importantly, has understood that our Armenian institutions are carrying out a unique and indispensable mission, the preservation of the Armenian people and the strengthening of ties between the Republic of Armenia and the diaspora.

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On a more personal note, having worked in his establishment for a decade, I came to know him well, sharing both happy and sad moments with him. I felt like a member of his family, and often spoke with him alone as a confidante.

Unreserved Respect toward the Church of Armenia and the Mother See

Nazarian’s respect toward the Armenian clergy is immense. He began to evince this respect with Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, the former Primate of America who was elected as Patriarch of Jerusalem (originally from Aintab, like Nazarian). Nersoyan as a family friend encouraged Nazarian to participate in Armenian church life. Nazarian’s offices were always open to any visiting Armenian clergyman from abroad, and his pockets too were open to any reasonable request.

I myself brought before him as visitors Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Archbishop Shnorhk Kalousdian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of America Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, Archbishop Mesrob Krikorian of Vienna, and Primate of the Eastern Diocese and later Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Torkom Manoogian. Nazarian wanted me present during those meetings in order to carry out certain urgent matters and to record some ideas. He hosted his guests at the best restaurants and never let them leave empty-handed. After their departure, their requests were often subjects of discussion, and though at times he was skeptical about some of them, he always carried out his promises. After each visit, forgetting his daily commercial business, he would close the door of his office and express his sorrow about “our poor people.”

For him, and for his family, the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin remained the center of our faith, the preeminent Holy See, and he had immense reverence toward Catholicos Vasken I. One day, he swore that if our catholicos ever came to visit his office, he would give double whatever he was going to ask for. And this really happened, years later, and thus a modern and large structure arose as the new chancellery building for Echmiadzin, and Nazarian participated in the expensive work of constructing Yerevan’s Surp Krikor Lusavorich Cathedral.

Abiding Respect toward Armenian Political Figures

Nazarian had vast respect toward our Armenian political figures. This too he inherited from his father and brothers.

First of all, he always had unreserved esteem for Prof. Parounag Tovmassian, the chairman for many years of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADLP)’s Central Committee. During Nazarian’s university years, he attended Tovmassian’s lectures for a period of time. Tovmassian for many years worked as a party leader with Nazarian’s father, Levon Effendi, and his brothers Garbis and Nubar, in the AGBU and the Armenian Youth Association, as well as with his sister Marie’s husband Puzant Markarian.

Nazarian often recalled the sad fratricidal incidents of the Lebanese civil war of 1958, which Nubar was barely able to escape with his life through Tovmassian’s advice. He also recalled his father’s expulsion from St. Nshan Cathedral, the headquarters of the local diocese, for upholding the primacy of Holy Echmiadzin.

Nazarian also had a high opinion of Maître Hrachya Setrakian. He wanted to be present without fail at the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA)’s representative assembly in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel after he found out that Setrakian would be the speaker that day, and Nazarian encouraged Louise Simone to also attend. Then he became permanently connected to Setrakian as an in-law when his niece Vera married Berge Setrakian, who later became president of the AGBU.

Nazarian always retained a high opinion of AGBU and ADLP officials. He often wanted me to connect him by telephone to Edmond Azadian, assistant for Armenian affairs of Alex Manoogian in Detroit, in order to find out the news from the diaspora.

He admired Dr. Arshavir Gundjian, the scientist and ADL party leader who was part of the AGBU central leadership. He expressed praise of his work in the education field, at the AGBU school founded in Montreal, the weekly Abaka, and his unique role in TCA and the Diocese, and would exclaim in Armenian, “See, the Ramgavars [ADLP] have a man like Gundjian—who do you have?”

Perhaps because his mother, Satenig, was a native of Arapgir, he approved of Dr. Nubar Berberian, the longtime editor of the daily Armenian-language ADLP newspaper Baikar. They saw each other for the last time last year at the opening of the new TCA center in Englewood Cliffs, and together cut the ribbon in the presence of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Diocesan Primate, and Garen Nazarian, then Armenia’s ambassador to the United Nations. Berberian and Nazar Nazarian are practically the same age.

Love of Armenian Writers

Our house is always open to Armenian writers and intellectuals. Some have been our guests for weeks. Nazarian, my boss, would find out about their arrival, and would want to meet them in the afternoon. I would accept, because sometimes they would remain stuck in the house. Among the guests who visited Nazarian’s office are, from the homeland, Sero Khanzadian, Vardges Petrosian, Zori Balayan, Shahen Khachaturian, Lusine Zakarian, Bella Darbinian, Hovhannes Badalian, and Prof. Kevork Kherlopian; painters Hakob Hakobyan and Sargis Muratian; from the diaspora, visited Dr. Toros Toranian, Krikor Norigian, Paul Guiragosian, Simon Simonian, and Vahe Vahian. This does not even include the names of writers and intellectuals from various parts of the US. Nazarian felt happy in engaging them all in intimate conversation.

Nazarian enjoys reading the weekly Armenian Mirror-Spectator, published in Watertown. He has been a major supporter of this paper, which covers developments in Armenian culture as well as political and social issues.

In recent years, he became quite close to Garen Nazarian, the UN representative of the Republic of Armenia. The NY chapter of TCA had organized an event to welcome the newly-appointed ambassador and his wife Nana. The Nazarians were present. Afterwards, they continued their friendship with the ambassador by frequently visiting one another. The Nazarians completely renovated the New York embassy, tesbanin khaterin hamar.

The same thing happened with the present ambassador, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, when Tekeyan celebrated my 45th anniversary of service to our people and the Nazarians were introduced to him at the event.

With His Own Circle

He has never liked to sit alone at a table. Once a week, even at this patriarchal age, he invites well known Armenians of the greater NY area to join him and discuss Armenian affairs. His closest friends during the last five years have been Dr. and Mrs. Raffi and Shoghag Hovanessian, whose parents he knew back in Beirut. They are a constant presence in his daily life, but often Armenian benefactors Harry Toufayian, Sarkis Bedevian and Dr. Haroutune Mekhjian, and prominent Armenians Dr. Toros Tchaghlassian, Shahe Jebejian, Jack Adanalian, Hagop Kouyoumjian and Khoren Nalbandian also participate. His nephew Alex Markarian convenes this group of around 20 Armenians.

It must be noted that Nazar and Artemis Nazarian have a particular affection for Armenian physicians. When my friend Berge Setrakian introduced me to Nazar, around 40 years ago, he asked me whether I had any relatives who were doctors. I said, yes, my uncle, brother and cousin…so there are plenty of Dr. Vartivarians in our family. He quickly questioned why I too did not become a doctor. A year later, when my brother Zareh came to settle in New Jersey, I introduced the two of them, and this raised his estimation of me up a notch.

His son Levon too became a doctor. He not only has been successful in his field, but also is a cofounder of an ultrasound training center in Yerevan, Armenia. Nazarian’s daughter Seta works to serve Armenian art, and to make the rights of Armenians known in university circles.

Finally, it must be mentioned that Nazar Nazarian has always tried to hire Armenian employees in his offices and warehouses. This is an old family custom he inherited from his father and brothers. After the death of his maternal cousin George Der Hovhannesian, he gave his position to me. Then, consecutively, he hired Sonig Vayejian, Onnig Jingeozian, Hrair Ghazarian, Movses Kazanjian, Hagop Kroushian, Raffi Kradjian, Hovig Ayazian, Alex Markarian, Norair Megerdichian, who succeeded in a secure environment. They always remained grateful.

It remains for us on his 90th birthday to congratulate our great benefactor, beloved to all, and wish Nazar health and long life. Our hope is that one day that we will see his name on a Nazarian Youth and Community Center in the New York area.

(Translated from Armenian)








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