Tribute: Remembering Jean Gazarian, Witness to UN History


NEW YORK (UN News Centre/New York Times) — Jean Gazarian died on January 18, 2016. He was an international civil servant who, working under every Secretary-General of the United Nations, spent more than six decades dedicated to world peace.

A mentor to so many, a true humanitarian, a gentle and kind man, he was highly respected for his integrity and generosity, and inspired love and affection to all those who met him.

From 1946, when the French national joined the UN Secretariat as a translator, to his tenure as director of the Division of General Assembly Affairs, Gazarian devoted his life to international public service.

Jean Gazarian joined the United Nations in 1946, when he was 24. He served first as a translator, then as an editor and, in 1959, was called to work in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General to deal with General Assembly affairs. In 1966, he became Director of the Division of the General Assembly Affairs, a position he held for 18 years. A witness to many world events, he met kings and queens, and presidents, but always remained humble. Ambassador Ahmad Kamal, Senior Fellow at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), told the UN News Centre: “He was absolutely unique as a person. His knowledge, his devotion to the UN and the manner in which he inspired love and affection among thousands of UN diplomats and staff members made him a prince among men.”

“He was absolutely unique as a person,” Ahmad Kamal, ambassador and senior fellow at UNITAR, told the UN News Centre. “His knowledge, his devotion to the UN and the manner in which he inspired love and affection among thousands of UN diplomats and staff members made him a prince among men.”

In 2013, during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of UNITAR, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to Gazarian, tipping his hat to the wealth of accumulated knowledge accrued by the veteran staff member.

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“You had a unique perch, working with the General Assembly for many years. You have truly seen it all… And, I am sure, enough behind-the-scenes intrigue to fill a movie or a memoir. But of course, as a consummate international civil servant, you will never betray your oath of confidentiality,” said Ban. “You served several Secretaries-General. Most of all, you earned the respect of colleagues around the world.”

Gazarian was never stingy with his vast pool of knowledge, always ready to share his insight and experience of historic moments.

Drawing from his vast experience over the decades, he was also able to offer a personal perspective on a number of issues as well as Secretaries-General, as he did in a 2007 article for the UN Chronicle.

“In the early days of the United Nations, an atmosphere of extreme enthusiasm prevailed. Delegates were convinced they had adopted a system of collective security that would ban all wars forever, a feeling shared by Trygve Lie of Norway, who served as the first Secretary-General,” recounted Gazarian.

By 1953, when Dag Hammarskjöld of Sweden took over the post, Gazarian indicated that “the international situation had begun to deteriorate and the earlier euphoria was replaced by an atmosphere of extreme tension between the East and the West.”

Diplomats were not Gazarian’s only pupils. He had also shared his lessons with UN support staff preparing for promotion examinations. In the 1990s he was a regular figure at workshops where he would present to aspiring professionals first-hand accounts of UN events, such as when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev pounded his shoe on his desk during a meeting in October 1960 to protest remarks by a Philippine diplomat about Soviet aggression.

As a former director at Drew University expressed: “When he talked, everyone listened.”

While working for the General Assembly, he traveled extensively as secretary and coordinator of conferences, held in Geneva, Oslo, Vienna, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Managua, Jakarta, Guatemala, etc.

He also assisted Secretary- General U Thant during his official visit in 1970 to eleven Francophone African countries, where he served as his interpreter. From 1983 to 1985, Jean was Principal Advisor to the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and to the President of the General Assembly. From 1985 to 1986, he was Director of the Office for the Commemoration of the Fortieth Anniversary of the United Nations. In 1986, he was Secretary of the High Level Intergovernmental Group of Experts regarding the administrative and financial functioning of the United Nations. In 1987,

He was one of the pioneers of Model UN, spoke to large assemblies of students from all over the world, and was an instrumental figure of the “UN Semester” co-organized by Drew University.

Gazarian was recognized by governments and universities for his outstanding contribution to the United Nations and world peace: Officier de l’Ordre de La Pleiade, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (1977). Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Legion d’honneur, France (1984). Grand Officier de l’Ordre de Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Panama (1984). Doctor of Letters, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia (1986). Doctor of Laws, Bentley College, Waltham, Massachusetts (1996). Doctor en Administration de la Paix, Cercle de Reflexion des Nations (2004). Doctor of Humane Letters, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey (2007).

Gazarian was “a walking encyclopaedia of the UN,” according to Maritina Paniagua, a retired UN librarian who worked closely with him, who hailed his amazing institutional knowledge about the Organization.

“He was a true teacher,” she added. “When he taught the UNITAR courses to delegates, it was not only the subject matter, but also what to do and what not to do as a delegate. For him, good, solid diplomacy was important. One of his best teaching tools to achieve this goal was through his stories of his experiences at the GA.

Gazarian is survived by his brother, Pierre Gazarian, columnist for The Suffolk Times, and his sister, Marie-Lise Gazarian, Director of the Graduate Program in Spanish, St. John’s University, and the Mirimanoff family, from Geneva, Switzerland.

A Prayer Service, at the Church of the Holy Family, United Nations Parish, was held on Friday, January 29, where friends, colleagues and family paid tribute to Jean Gazarian.


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