Jerair Nishanian

Obituary: Jerair Nishanian, Philanthropist, Son of Genocide Survivors


WASHINGTON — Jerair Nishanian, a noted philanthropist, husband, father, stepfather, grandfather, brother, and uncle, died on March 13. He was 85.

He is survived by his wife Anahid Nishanian, his son and daughter-in-law Tagvor and Shelby Nishanian, daughter and son-in-law Alineh and Brad Templin, stepdaughter and son-in-law Natalie and Allen Martirossian, grandchildren Tiffany and Nicholas Martirossian and Julia, William, and Samuel Nishanian, sister Hasmick Nishanian, sister-in-law Ezzat Nishanian, many nieces, nephews, their children and grandchildren.

Jerair Nishanian, the youngest of 5 children, was born on November 29, 1936, in Tehran, Iran. His father (the late Abraham Nishanian) was born in Bursa, Turkey and his mother (the late Maryam Nishanian), in Apin Akoulis, Armenia. They were the only members of their families who had survived the Armenian Genocide. His father was an entrepreneur, and had developed an export business of packaging and shipping Persian carpets to the US and he was devoted to his Armenian identity and to his Armenian heritage and traditions. Abraham Nishanian passed away when Jerair was only two years old, so he and his 4 siblings were raised alone by his mother. She miraculously had survived the Armenian Genocide, as a very young child, with a bullet in her knee, and was found alive among the dead. She was raised at the American orphanage in the city of Hamedan in Iran. She was a very pious, wise and resourceful lady, who instilled her strong Armenian cultural identity and beliefs into all of her children. Jerair Nishanian has always been deeply influenced by his parents’ past, and developed strong feelings for his heritage and ancestral motherland, Armenia.

In June, 1956, he graduated from Alborz High School in Tehran, Iran, with an emphasis in mathematics. He worked for two years; in the mornings teaching math to the six graders at the Abovian Elementary School, and in the afternoons as an office assistant for an Armenian merchant, after which he saved the equivalent of $500.

Since he could not continue his education in Iran, he decided to continue his education in the United States. Therefore, with the information obtained from the American Library, located in Tehran, he applied for admission to several universities and received acceptance letters from American University, in Washington D.C. for a special program for English language for foreign students, George Washington University in Washington DC, and University of Nebraska in Lincoln, for engineering studies.

Upon receiving his acceptance letters, his older brother, the late Carro Nishanian, purchased an airplane ticket for him, and on November 8, 1958, Jerair Nishanian left Tehran and on November 9, 1958, arrived in Washington.

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He attended American University for a six-week course in English for foreign students, and upon completion of the course, he decided to move to Lincoln and register in the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Nebraska. After one semester, he decided to move back to Washington D.C. where he could work and continue his education. He transferred his earned credits to the school of engineering at Howard University (HU), in Washington, DC.

Nishanian started working part-time as a busboy at the Black Angus Restaurant.

On January 27, 1965, he received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering (BSCE), and by then he had advanced to a head-waiter position at his part-time job at the restaurant located in the International Inn Hotel, in Washington DC.

Upon receiving his BSCE and after a brief experience in highway construction and aerospace industry, he obtained an engineering position and resumed employment with the US Government, Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration as a Highway Design, Bridge Design, and then as a structural research engineer.

Nishanian continued his education and in June 1969 he received his master’s degree in civil engineering. While working for the Federal Government he continued postgraduate studies at George Washington University in Washington DC, specializing in the Fatigue and Fracture Toughness Characteristics of Metals, and eventually he became project manager for Research Activities of the Federal Highway Administration concerned with the Fracture Toughness and Fatigue Characteristics of Structural Steels used in highway bridges.

While in graduate school working full-time for the federal government, being interested in real estate development, he went into partnership with his close friend, the late Dr. Ara Pezeshkian, and established JAM Enterprises, a Virginia General Partnership, and invested in three contiguous single family detached old homes in Kensington Maryland, which he deemed to have the potential for commercial development.  Upon obtaining the required zoning for commercial uses, he sold the property for a considerable profit, and with a third person as a partner, formed a new partnership (Jerax Enterprises). In 1970 he, with Jerax Enterprises, invested in a shopping center in Manassas Park, Va., now known as the Manassas Park Shopping Center, which was not fully developed and included additional land providing for future expansion.

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He developed several more property enterprises in the ensuing years. Then, in November 1988, after 22 years of service with the federal government, he resigned and concentrated full-time on his personal business endeavors.

Nishanian had semi-retired and had passed on the day to day management and operations of said partnerships and corporations to his son Tagvor G. Nishanian PhD, and daughter Alineh Z. Templin.

Jerair Nishanian was deeply influenced by his parents’ past, and developed strong feelings for his heritage and ancestral motherland, Armenia.  On November 30, 1993, he established the Jerair Nishanian Foundation, Inc., a section 501(c)(3) nonprofit that was formed to further the education for children and young adults in Armenia.

The Jerair Nishanian Foundation’s scholarship program in Gavar State University (GSU) was sparked in 2002, after meeting Member of Parliament Hranoush Hakobyan in Washington.  Subsequently, Nishanian and his wife Anahid Nishanian visited Gavar State University in Gegharkunik Province, Armenia, and were impressed to see how much the founder and the rector, the late Dr. Hrant Hakobyan (Dr. Hranoush Hakobyan’s father) and his staff had achieved with so very little.

Since its formation in 1993, JNF has been granting scholarships to students in Gavar State University, but since 2011, JNF expanded its scholarship program to include students majoring in engineering and architecture in Yerevan State University of Architecture and Construction, in Yerevan. To secure the continuity of the JNF’s scholarship program, Nishanian in May 2013, donated $1,000,000 to the JNF and established an endowment fund.

As of 2007 JNF scholarship program in Armenia is being managed by Diocesan affiliated Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) in New York, NY, and its branch office in Yerevan, Armenia. The JNF currently provides scholarships to over 70 college students in Armenia, and is anticipated to increase the number of the students to 80 within the next two years.

In addition, he contributed to many other projects, including to the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in Washington, and the translation and publication of two books by Dr. Taner Akçam.

He received several medals, certificates of appreciations, and commendations from universities in Armenia and different organizations.

The funeral service took place on March 25 at Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home and Memorial Park, Fairfax, Virginia.

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