Tribute: Nishan Parlakian, Educator and Dramatist (1925-2011)


Prof. Nishan Parlakian

By Aram Arkun
Mirror-Spectator Staff

NEW YORK — Educator and dramatist Dr. Nishan Parlakian was one of those larger-than-life figures who seem to abound among the Armenians. A physically large man, he had a gregarious personality to go with his size. When he liked someone, whether or not that person was younger than him, he would begin to call his friend “my son” (or “my daughter”). He had a great following among actors and lovers of drama both among Armenians and non-Armenians, and was generous with his time, helping both institutions and individuals he felt were deserving of it.

Parlakian was professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (part of the City University of New York), where he taught drama, speech and English literature from 1970 to 1998. He received his doctorate in drama from Columbia University in 1967, after earning two master’s degrees (in theater and drama) from the same school and a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in 1948. During a long and distinguished career as an educator, Parlakian also taught at Pace University, New York University and Bronx Community College of CUNY.

Parlakian has translated and published a number of classical and modern Armenian plays into English, usually adding his own introductions. Two such translations of plays by Alexandre Shirvanzade — “For the Sake of Honor” (Badvi Hamar, 1976) and “Evil Spirit” (Char Voki, 1980) — were published by St. Vartan Press (the publishing imprint of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America) and later produced by New York’s Classic Theatre. The same press also published Parlakian’s version of Aramshot Babayan’s “Be Nice, I’m Dead” (Kna Meri, Ari Sirem) in 1990. Griffon House published his translation of Asadour’s “The Bride” in 1987.

As a dramatist, Parlakian wrote more than 30 plays. Several of these were produced in New York; others — like “Last of the Mohigians,” published in The Armenian Review in 1959 — appeared in various periodicals. In 1988, New York’s Classic Theatre presented his ethnic drama, “Grandma, Pray for Me,”which went on to win the Columbus: Countdown 1992 International Arts Award and was published in 1990.

In the last decade, Parlakian published three anthologies which will remain handy reference works for many years to come. Modern Armenian Drama (2001) was co-edited with Dr. S. Peter Cowe. Contemporary Armenian American Drama: An Anthology of Ancestral Voices (2004) and Notable Women in Modern Armenian Drama (2009) were both prepared by Parlakian alone.

Parlakian’s articles on Armenian literature have been published in numerous anthologies and professional journals, and he frequently contributed reviews and other short pieces to Armenian newspapers and periodicals. His multifaceted role within the Armenian- American community has included long-term relationships with the Armenian Students Association and with the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). In partial recognition of this work, he received the Arthur H. Dadian Armenian Heritage Award from the Armenian Students Association in 1999, and in 2008, the St. Vartan Award from the Armenian Diocese.

Parlakian was artistic director of the Armenian Students Association Players from 1950 to 1954; in 1974, with the New York Armenian Students’ Association, he presented a program titled “Directing Armenians.” Parlakian spent 16 seasons (1972-1988) as artistic director of the Armenian Church of America’s Diocesan Players, during which time he staged plays by Shirvanzade, Sundukian, Baronian, Asadour and others.

From 1976 to 1980, he was editor of The Armenian Church quarterly magazine, and he was an influential voice on the editorial board of Ararat quarterly, where he contributed articles and edited special issues for almost 40 years. For his publications and his work in Armenia, Parlakian has received grants from the AGBU, the Armenian Literary Society and PSC/CUNY. He was also a Fulbright lecturer in Armenia in 1991-92.

Alongside his work in the Armenian sphere, Parlakian was very interested in the work of Luigi Pirandello and became an active organizer of the Pirandello Society of America.He has served as editor of the society’s newsletter andwas the president of the society from 1995 to 2003. He was literary historian of the Roundabout Theatre (New York City), editor and founder of the CUNY Stage (1995- 2000) and sat on the editorial board ofMulti-Ethnic Literatures of the United States and the board of the Classic Theatre.

Parlakian was very proud of the literary work of his father, Raphael, who as a youth had been praised by master poet Taniel Varujan but ended up as a jeweler in the United States in order to earn a livelihood. A devoted family man like his father, Nishan Parlakian leaves behind his wife of many years, Florence (née Mechtel); two children, Nishan Payel (and wife Margot) and Elizabeth Rose, as well as grandchildren, Liliana and Rose Parlakian.

Parlakian died on September 12. Services were held at the Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York on September 15 and he was buried the next day in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, in Westchester County.