Irma Der Stepanian

Obituary: Businesswoman and Armenian Democratic Liberal Party Leader Irma Der Stepanian


CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. — Businesswoman and Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL) leader Helen Irma Der Stepanian passed away on May 26 in New Jersey. She worked for many years as head of Marketing and Business Development at BNP Paribas in New York City.

Der Stepanian was born in Damascus on June 10, 1936, the daughter of noted ADL leader Mihran Der Stepanian and his wife Alice. Mihran was a well-known writer and journalist originally from Dortyol, Cilicia.

The Der Stepanian family moved from Syria to Lebanon, where Irma received her higher education in the University of Saint Joseph, a French university. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, she earned master’s degrees in international economy, political science, international law, public law, international economy, and French literature and history.

In the 1970s the family moved to New Jersey. Der Stepanian continued her education in New York, taking courses in banking studies at the American Banruptcy Institute (ABI) and the New School, and even later took courses towards a doctorate in Middle Eastern politics.

Der Stepanian was a volunteer throughout her life, primarily for Armenian organizations. She noted in a resume that her training for volunteer work started at the age of five, visiting poor families and old people with her mother, father and other relatives. In Damascus while in school she was the member of a youth committee of the Armenian General Benevolent Union and the Armenian Church. In Beirut, she started the Health Program in the Tekeyan Armenian School there, helped the Armenian Red Cross to carry out their health program, helped Lebanese political prisoners and their families, and served as a member of the Cultural Committee of the local AGBU.

In the United States, Der Stepanian served as an active member of the ADL District Committee of the US and Canada. With the late Dr. Haroutiun Arzoumanian, she revised the By-Laws of the ADL and was the keynote speaker in 1990 in a fundraising event for the Baikar Weekly in Boston. She was also a member of the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the United States and Canada.

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Since 1986, she was an active member of board of the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO), which annually presented the Ellis Island Medal of Honor to worthy recipients, including many Armenian Americans. She initiated and monitored the adoption of two schools in Harlem by BNP Paribas and monitored the fundraising activity. She initiated and monitored the sponsorship of the Summer Program in France of the West Point Military Academy by her company. She also was the editor of the magazine of BNP New York.

She served on the board of many Armenian organizations, including as USA Committee member of the AGBU, and   member of the Cultural Committee of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), where she directed the week-long events of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. She also initiated the creation of the Cultural Center of the aforementioned diocese.

She was vice president of the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation.

Funeral services will be held on Saturday, June 4 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Thomas Armenian Church of Tenafly, N.J., with subsequent burial at George Washington Cemetery in Paramus. She leaves behind her sister, Sylva Der Stepanian; the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of her late brother, Almijan Manouk Der Stepanian; cousins Shoghig Chalian Tarpinian (married to Dr. Vaghinag Tarpinian), and Hovsep Chalian, and their offspring.

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