Nazar Nazarian: The Man and His Community


Nazar Nazarian & Hagop Vartivarian

By Hagop Vartivarian

ENGLEWOOD, N.J. — On the eve of the jubilee celebration of benefactor Nazar Nazarian’s community activities, the Mirror-Spectator is printing an interview from 2009 between Nazarian and Hagop Vartivarian, chairman of the New York/New Jersey branch of the Tekeyan Cultural Association.

Nazarian is endorsed with certain unique virtues and principles which render him a unique community leader. He is one of the last of the Mohicans and a great benefactor.

He is a true believer in the mission of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), a belief inherited from his father, Levon G. Nazarian and a believer in the primacy of the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin, which has enjoyed his generous support.

Although a citizen of America, he continues his affiliation with Lebanon and fills his days living within the rich traditions of Aintab. He believes that no matter what flag he represents, it is the fatherland, his native land that is the home of his hopes and dreams, especially a unified Armenia, to which Historic Armenian lands need to return.

A believer in the importance of the diaspora and its vital role as a part of the Armenian nation, including the church, Armenian schools, social clubs, the press and culture.

I was privileged to work with him for 10 years. I got to know him for his deep convictions and humanitarianism. Our offices were adjacent to each other and on a daily basis, I shared with him his joys and disappointments, moments of pride or challenge.

Q: The name Nazarian became prominent during the 1960s, especially in Lebanon, when the Nazarian brothers established the Levon G. Nazarian School in their father’s name.

A: That is very true. When my father passed away, my two brothers and I decided to immortalize his name and established the three-story AGBU School, to which we added an extra floor later. Since 1963, we have underwritten all the expenses of the school. Normally our students don’t pay tuition and I have taken it upon myself to pay on their behalf. I have suggested it to the principal not to turn down any student who is hard working and can’t afford to pay the tuition, thus I take care of them. And see how we have been keeping it open and afloat for many decades. Recently, there were even more renovations.

Q: Do you think that after the three brothers, the newer generations of Nazarians will continue your committed mission?

A: I have established a $2-million endowment fund at the AGBU in memory of my mother, Satenig Nazarian, the proceeds of which will support the school.

Some benefactors, after the opening the school, depend on the AGBU to pay the expenses. We have taken it upon us to take care the expenses. From time to time some ideas arise to close down the school and combine all AGBU schools in Lebanon as one school. I have always been opposed to this idea: I am against it, because we have many Armenians living in Beirut. Sin el Fil, Antelias and Bourj Hammoud are live apart from each other. We want this school to stay. But if the AGBU Board of Directors decides to close it, it’s their choice. The neighboring areas of our school are filled with anti-Tashnag families, who don’t want their children under Tashnag influence or to send them to parochial schools, that is why they send them to the Nazarian.

But in the end, the school does not belong to the Nazarian family but to the AGBU. If they decide to close down the school, then that will be their decision.

Q: I know that the Nazarian family has been a benevolent family for a very long time. In your case however, how did you inherit the benevolence gene? You have contributed generously to different projects, not only to the AGBU, but also to the Armenian Church, Not only to the city that you live in, but also to Buenos Aires, Los Angeles and Yerevan.

A: The Nazarian family has a 500-600-year history. You have the story of our family. When you read it, you will see how we have given. I see that our people are in need of money and I am very happy that I was able to give. I am already moving up age and only my donations will be left from the Nazarians to be remembered.

Q: Out of all your donations, which one has made you happiest?

A: The 1962 Nazarian School of Beirut makes me the happiest, because when I meet an alumnus or alumna and he or she says that they graduated from Nazarian School, it gives me great joy. This way we have educated generations, and kept the Armenian spirit alive.

And the second one is the St. Dertad Church in Yerevan, Armenia, which is in my grandfather’s name. Moreover, Holy Echmiadzin’s new wing, that we recently built next to the Catholicos’ apartment, to serve as the Mother See’s chancery. I have also contributed to in the medical world, along with my son; the Ultra-Sound medical clinic foundation. My son, Levon, also has a role in that. He is interested in Armenians and is a member of the AGBU Central Board.

I am pleased that he continues to keep proudly the Nazarian name.

Q: I am certain that your gracious wife, Ardemis, has always shown support to you and to your mission. I would like you to tell us about Mrs. Ardemis Nazarian’s involvement in the community benevolent activities.

A: Whatever I ask of Ardemis, she won’t refuse and recently in order to immortalize her name, California’s AGBU Canoga Park school’s kindergarten of 120 children will be renamed for her and the dedication will be in a couple of months.

Q: In some ways you belong to a great generation and have worked alongside Alex Manoogian, Edward Mardigian and Souren Fesdjian. What kind of a change do you observe in the present AGBU life?

A. It was a different atmosphere in the past. Besides those names there was Richard Gregory, Pergrouhi Sevadjian and Dikran Simsarian. It was a different generation. Now there is a new generation with a different way of thinking. They are hardworking, they have new and ideas and gradually they will fill the leadership roots of the community. Let me state that the new leadership is a very forward-looking new generation. Whether you like it or not, a couple of the AGBU’s principles and traditional missions will change. Times have changed, as well as the circumstances. Once, during the days of Mr. Alex Manoogian, we used to open schools. Nowadays we don’t open schools, as they don’t feel the need to open new schools. On the contrary sometimes we close schools… beginning with Melkonian and other places. We close them, because there aren’t enough students. The demands are different today.

Q: Closing down of the Melkonian Educational Institute (MEI), however had nothing to do with the number of students. This issue has occurred in the past as well, during the days of Alex Manoogian. Why?

A: To start with, let me just say that the Melkoniantsis did not help us. But let me state that I was distraught when it closed down. My soul was hurt…

Q: The finances weren’t an issue I think, because the benefactors, even when they were alive had set up an endowment funds to meet the expenses of the school.

A: Yes, but the proceeds from that fund was not enough. The school had great expenses. Don’t forget that it was a boarding school and the students had to eat, sleep… .

Q: Besides AGBU, you have been a benefactor to the church, and not just Holy Echmiadzin but St. Vartan Cathedral in New York and St. Thomas Church in Tenafly, NJ. How did you begin directing your munificence towards the establishments of the church?

A: One day Dick Gregory came and said that they will build a cathedral in Manhattan and that I should help. I promised. And I was present during the opening as a godfather. It was the same with the St. Thomas Church, every inch of which I helped to renovate, I also helped the Mother See, the cathedral in Yerevan as well as the building of the new chancery at Echmiadzin. It was very expensive. It was three to four time higher than the estimated price. But I’m proud of having a similar edifice in Echmiadzin. We have an enterprising patriarch and he does a great job. The furniture of the building was brought in from Italy and the main entrance gate was built in Beirut.

Q: When we look at the life of our community, we can see that you have remained the last Mohican of that noble generation, whose members brought life of the American-Armenian community, Armenian patriotism and good will. Have you thought about building a community youth center with the Nazarian name in New Jersey, the state that you live in? Especially since the Nazarian family is based here, your grandchildren along with the people that love and respect are you here. You have lived and worked here for more than 50 years.

A: I do consider doing a project in New Jersey. My daughter, Seta, is the vice president of the University of Bergen and I want to establish an Armenian Studies center there, because there are 14,000 students in that university. I have seriously started to think in that direction. It is very important. Not only are there Armenian students, but we should introduce our language, history and culture to non-Armenians. I think that will be my last contribution.

Q: Your father was extremely famous in public life. What memories do you have from him?

A: He always used to help the Armenians, without discrimination, until 1958. The Tashnags kicked him out of the St. Neshan church. He was heartbroken after that, extremely hurt. He wasn’t expecting it. Especially when they took over the catholicossate in Antelias, he was extremely sad.

Q: Are you happy?

A: Very. I always think that I have been of service to my nation and therefore I can sleep well at night. From Argentina, all the way to Camp Noubar, from Los Angeles where the court is named after me all the way to Beirut, Yerevan and Holy Echmiadzin.

Q: You worked with Alex Manoogian for 30 years and in a way he was an idol for you. What were some of his strengths?

A: I have never met anyone as intelligent as him. He was far-sighted, wise benefactor to his nation. He didn’t know how to say no, always helping. I believe that in our history, no one will be able to match him with his plans and contributions. For me, he is the consummate Armenian leader and benefactor.

Q: In the American business world, especially within the textile industry, you had fame and achievements. How did you achieve this success?

A: Thanks to my sustained work and being able to adapt with the changing times. I always foresaw… more than others. I had a Jewish colleague, Jack Weintraub. I learned a lot from him about American business ethics practice. He was a good man.

Q: You studied to become a pharmacist in Beirut, but due to family circumstances, you became devoted to business life.

A: The reason of studying pharmacy was that my father used to say; “When we were deported, all those who had profession were able to make a living.” I went and became a pharmacist, but I haven’t even worked one day as pharmacist.

Q: You preferred always to hire young Armenians within your company, to employ and to teach. I am one of those, for which I am grateful.

A: I talk Armenian in my workplace, surrounded by Armenian men. We talk about Armenia and the Armenian life. I’m very happy that you came to me you stayed for 10 years. I thank you. May God give you health, in order for you to continue your mission.

Q: Which Armenian newspapers do you receive?

A: Abaka, Nor Or, Mirror-Spectator. Meanwhile the Mirror has improved a lot. We need a newspaper here in New York. If you can strengthen the Mirror here, it will be good. We used to read Zartonk in Beirut.

Q: Let’s talk about your late brother, Noubar’s benevolence.

A: Noubar was an Armenian hard working person dedicated to Armenian causes and diligent. He had devoted all his time to the AGBU, AYA and the Knights of Vartan. He used to work day and night for the AGBU. I’m happy that he had good sons-in-law, especially Berge Setrakian, who is the president of the AGBU.