: Nvair Beylerian serving as co-master of ceremonies at the 2018 Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration (Photo credit Hrachia Janikian)

An Armenian Life Leads to a Call to Serve

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By Taleen Babayan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

UPPER SADDLE RIVER, N.J. — The seeds of political activism were planted in Nvair Beylerian at a young age. Waking up one Saturday morning as a 7-year-old, she spotted her Armenian dance costume, resplendent and long-flowing with its traditional embroidery, hanging on her closet door, no doubt placed there by her mother who taught folkloric dances from the highlands of ancient Armenia. That dress was in fact more than a costume — it echoed the cultural footsteps of a people who had been torn apart across the world, reincarnating a New Armenia in these pockets of the Diaspora. Rolling down New York City’s 5th Avenue on a Map of Armenia float later that afternoon, young Nvair waved at the large crowds as fellow Diasporans yelled into the microphone, “Recognize the Armenian Genocide!”

U.S. Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) with Nvair Beylerian

That symbolic afternoon, all those decades ago, is her first clear memory of witnessing the power of activism right before her eyes. Those calls for justice continued to ring in her ear as she devoted a life not only to important Armenian causes but to a greater purpose of education and equality — and it was a moment that stayed with her when she recently announced her run for Borough Council of Upper Saddle River, NJ, in an election set to take place in the fall.

A Bergen County native, Beylerian accepted a bid to run for local politics following the devastating Parkland, Fla., shooting last April, when a student opened gunfire on his fellow classmates, killing 17 in cold blood. She was in awe as she watched the victimized students rise from tragedy and create a platform for change.

“I was so inspired by the young people who pulled themselves together, organized and engaged an entire generation, and then some, in their message,” said Beylerian. “They were speaking truth to power.”

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She attributes being politically aware to her Armenian upbringing, as an intern stuffing envelopes for local congressmen to pursue genocide recognition, experiences that remained with her as she launched a career in television production and education. Despite life taking her in different directions as she raised her now college-aged daughters, Lucine and Tamar, with her attorney husband, Zareh, she remained on the political pulse on a local and national level. Motivated by the surrounding political climate, she decided to get involved more deeply.

“I wanted to be part of the solution and not just sit back and criticize,” said Beylerian, who notes that all politics is local and the importance of  “thinking globally and acting locally.”

Her recent foray into politics occurred two years ago when she participated in the overturn of District 5 for Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ). Impressed with her work and her record, the Democratic County Committee approached her to run when a position opened up for the Upper Saddle River Borough Council. Seeing an opportunity to create the change she was seeking, Beylerian accepted and is now running on the platform of transparency, safety of the borough’s water and calls for the community to be involved in decision-making, alongside her running mate Richard Medina. Above all, she wants to make choices that will positively impact citizens over the next few years, making the individuals in her borough and their needs a priority.

“Politicians need to be more selfless and more representative of their constituents interests, not for their own gain,” said Beylerian. “They should spread knowledge and educate people.”

Nvair with her family (from left, Tamar, Zareh, Lucine and Nvair)

Spreading knowledge is what she has done her whole life, both personally and professionally. Like her mother, she too teaches Armenian dance, Armenian Church hymns and Armenian songs; she has written, recorded and released three popular albums of children’s music from her imprint HYEfamily (HYEfamily.com). In addition, she has been a dedicated volunteer in many local and national organizations, including the University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation and the Near East Foundation.

“We are just vessels for Armenian culture,” said Beylerian. “We are here to preserve and pass onto the next generation, spreading that knowledge and sharing that history.”

That passion to serve and educate crosses into her work as a professor at Bergen Community College teaching Western Civilization and witnessing the growth of each student. She makes it a point to combat political apathy by engaging her students, making sure they understand civics because “every American child deserves to know how their government works.”

Her work at Bergen Community College goes hand in hand with her run for public office since the college is partially publicly funded and as part of the larger community college system, “gives educational access to those who might not have it otherwise.”

The achievements of her students, as she teaches them not only about textbook material but also of their surrounding society and environment, is a source of fulfillment for her as she sees their progress throughout each semester.

“Seeing the light bulb go on, that’s what drives me,” said Beylerian, who is co-director of the Center for Peace, Justice & Reconciliation at Bergen Community College, where she develops programming to promote genocide studies, Armenian history and culture alongside other underrepresented groups.

Assuming the role of a public servant comes naturally for Beylerian, who traces her years in Armenian school, church and youth organizations as helping pave the way for a life in public office, learning important skills “directly from the Armenian community.”

“We are taught to public speak by reciting on stage while our Armenian values of respect, courtesy are instilled in our home,” she said. “Working within Armenian organizations, we learn to deal with different personalities and to be politically astute.”

Nvair recording her recent album “We Sing Armenian Church Songs” with local Armenian-American youth.

As a longtime supporter herself of political and cultural organizations, Beylerian is well aware that Armenians have the ability to endorse humanitarian efforts and fruitful campaigns for politicians, but should begin to look inward.

“We should set a new standard to be a decision maker for ourselves and start backing our own,” she said. “But to make that a reality takes funding.”

She’s blazing a trail that encourages the presence of more women in politics, particularly Armenian women, and hopes others will join this course she’s navigating. Generous as always with her insights, she says her goal is to “gain institutional knowledge that will support other Armenians in the future.”

A firm believer in the political process, Beylerian, who hasn’t ruled out running for higher office one day, urges citizens to vote for candidates they believe in, regardless of their political leanings.

“Just go vote,” she said. “It’s a precious gift.”

This was a gift that was cherished by her own family, as the granddaughter of Armenian Genocide survivors. Her grandfather arrived in the United States as an orphan, and while he embraced his Armenian culture in his adopted home, he was equally grateful to live in the country that provided him with a safe haven — so much so that he would put extra money in his federal taxes as a show of gratitude, because he was “so proud to be an American.”

As a mother, wife, professor, community activist and musician, Beylerian has her hands full but sees life as a series of cycles where priorities shift over time, which resulted in this opportune moment of running for public office.

“I couldn’t have done this when my husband was serving in Iraq and when I had two school-age children at home and an elderly mother,” said Beylerian. “But now I can.”

Through it all, her connection to her Armenian heritage remains paramount, as does her desire to promote and unite the Armenian people, a notion that was instilled in her all those years ago on that Map of Armenia float rolling down 5th Avenue.

“I hope through this journey other “ians” or individuals with Armenian heritage will run for their local councils and rise up the ranks,” said Beylerian. “It takes only one snowflake to start a snowball rolling.”

To learn more about Nvair Beylerian’s

campaign or to donate, visit www.USRForward.com/Beylerian or follow her at www.Facebook.com/USRForward.

 

 

 

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