Dr. Dennis Richard Papazian passed away on Thursday, March 16, after a brief illness. He was 91.
Born the youngest of four children in Augusta, Ga. to Armenian parents from Istanbul, Turkey, Dennis lived a life of devotion and service to his community, church, and nation. His family moved to Detroit in the mid 1940s to join a growing Armenian community. As his family struggled to create a life in a new land, Dennis was determined to pursue an education that would ensure a life of security and the promise of the American dream. Across the arc of his life, Dennis was recognized as a distinguished leader and pillar of the Armenian community, with significant achievements in academia, political advocacy, and church stewardship. (The Mirror-Spectator this fall published an extended interview with him and his wife, Dr. Mary Papazian.)
As a young man, Dennis was nurtured by numerous mentors such as Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan and Professor George Naknikian, whom he came to know through the Armenian church community and as a student leader at Wayne State University. During these years, his leadership abilities continued to grow, as he encountered prominent leaders, including two American presidents and a former First Lady. The youngest of four siblings, Dennis was the first in his family to earn a college degree, ultimately earning a Ph.D. in Russian history from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and becoming one of the first American students to study in the then Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. This experience placed him at the center of major geopolitical events that influenced the course of his life.
He also was active in the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA), serving on the Central Council and traveling frequently from Detroit to New York, something he would do years later as a member of the Diocesan Council for the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church. Dennis’s time in the Soviet Union led him to become an esteemed analyst as the Soviet Union broke apart decades later.
Upon his return to Michigan in 1962 following his recovery from a near fatal air crash in Uzbekistan, Papazian went on to live a life of contribution and service and became a key leader in the emergence of an Armenian-American community just finding its footing fifty years after the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
For more than 40 years, he enjoyed a distinguished academic career as a noted author, speaker, and professor of history specializing in Russia and the Soviet Union. His tenure at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, started in 1962, when he joined the faculty. Soon after, he began serving as head of the department of social and behavioral sciences. From there, he oversaw the division of literature, science and the arts, then briefly held the title of associate dean of academic affairs.