By Florence Avakian
They came from across the globe to honor and celebrate with Nazar Nazarian on his 90th birthday. Mr. Nazarian, an iconic benefactor famed for his dedication, philanthropy, and service to Armenians worldwide, marked this momentous milestone with some 250 of his friends at the Rockleigh Country Club in New Jersey, on Sunday, August 2.
The special day of fellowship and celebration began with a sumptuous reception and cocktail hour, whose guests had traveled from Armenia, Beirut, Hong Kong, Canada, California, Texas, and Boston.
Guests of honor included the Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) Archbishop Khajag Barsamian; Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Garen Nazarian and wife Nana; Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Zohrab Mnatsakanian and wife Irina Igitkhanyan.
Most of all, Mr. Nazarian spent the day surround by the members of his family: his wife Artemis, daughter Seta, son Levon, daughter-in-law Claudia, and five grandchildren, William, Matthew, Nicholas, Daniela, and Gregory.
The festivities in the flower-bedecked main ballroom began with Archbishop Barsamian offering a special blessing in which he expressed gratitude to God for the life of the honoree “who has dedicated himself to his family, his work, and his people. Nazar and Artemis are shining examples of our Armenian Christian faith and heritage in action. Through their support of the Armenian Church, the AGBU and our dear homeland Armenia, they witness their faith and selfless service.”
Conveying the warm message of the Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II, the Primate related that Vehapar “has known Nazar and Artemis for many years and seen firsthand their love of, and commitment to Armenia.”
Reading aloud from His Holiness’ personal communiqué, the Primate noted Vehepar’s appreciation for Mr. Nazarian’s “boundless love and devotion toward Holy Etchmiadzin. You are among the pillars of our church whose works will be remembered for all time,” His Holiness wrote. He also expressed joy knowing that the Nazarian legacy continues through generations of children and grandchildren.
Archbishop Barsamian concluded by expressing his pleasure at being present and celebrating “with all of you this joyous milestone. May God continue to watch over you, dear Nazar, and keep you under the shadow of His holy cross. I hope we will all be together to celebrate your 100th birthday anniversary,” he stated to applause.
Role Model for the Generations
Daughter Seta Nazarian, who planned and organized the celebratory evening with her sister-in-law Caudia Nazarian, expressed gratitude to Garen and Nana Nazarian for bringing unique gifts from Armenia, which were used as special favors given to all attendees: small pomegranate-shaped glass bottles filled with Armenian liqueur.
Seta also thanked her cousin, AGBU Central Board Programs Director Anita Anserian, who had prepared the illustrated card given to all detailing the biography and philanthropic activities of Mr. Nazarian.
In her warm message, Seta underscored how her father “has been and continues to be a role model for all of us, most importantly for his grandchildren, the next generation. He has helped many, directly and indirectly. Though he likes to be in control, and is almost obsessively goal-oriented, it is Mom who really knows everything,” she said in tribute to her mother. “It is she who as his own personal accountant, follows up with having the checks written.
“So, as he has given, he has also received,” she continued. “He is blessed with all of you-family, old friends from childhood, neighbors, philanthropic workers, business associates,” and those “connected to him through the ROMEO Group.”
Explaining the latter reference to laughter from the crowd, she said: “There is nothing romantic about it; ROMEO stands for ‘Retired Old-Men’s Eating Organization’-not an easy group to enter.”
“Whatever your connection, you have all had a part in keeping Dad healthy, physically, spiritually, emotionally and financially. This party is our way of saying Thank You to all of you for all you have done for him.”
The honoree’s son Dr. Levon Nazarian. in his singular style laced with humor, noted that people who have achieved something rare in life are known only by their first names. And that certainly applies to Nazar. He then listed his father’s matchless qualities: being successful with family, business, and philanthropy; having charisma; and “engendering controversy, because he doesn’t have a filter. He’s honest, and he’s unique.”
In his typically humble manner, Mr. Nazarian thanked all who had helped make the evening so memorable, with special kudos to Seta and Claudia.
A Special Award
In a congratulatory message, Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Garen Nazarian revealed the kinship shared by his family with that of Mr. Nazarian. “Our roots go back to the time of Shah Abbas, 200 years ago. Our branch went to Isfahan, and Nazar’s part went to Aintab. We celebrate Nazar and Artemis as true symbols of our nation: dedicated, selfless, and generous.”
So saying, he presented Mr. Nazarian with Armenia’s highest award from its President, Serge Sargsyan. As daughter Seta pinned the medal on her father, the crowd gave him a lengthy standing ovation, and sang a hearty “Happy Birthday.”
Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanian expressed his personal congratulations, relating that “Mr. Nazarian is a shining example who sets a challenge for us all to do good.” Following the formal part of the evening, guests enthusiastically joined in dancing to Armenian and American music accompanied by a professional band and singers.
Nazar Nazarian, the youngest of four children, was born to Levon and Satenig Nazarian in Aleppo, Syria. Going to Lebanon with his family, he graduated from the American University of Beirut with a degree in pharmacy. Joining the family textile business, he came to the United States in 1951. Starting his own business, Royale Linens, Inc., in Kearny, N.J., his products were supplied to many leading retail and specialty stores throughout the U.S. He was President and CEO of his textile firm until his retirement in 2006.
He has been the donor of AGBU buildings, schools, halls in Beirut, Buenos Aires, California, New York’s Camp Nubar, churches, as well as churches, schools, medical centers, the new AGBU building in Yerevan, as well as construction and restoration projects in Etchmiadzin.
For his selfless generosity and devoted service, Nazar Nazarian has been honored with distinguished awards from Catholicos Vasken I, Catholicos Karekin I, and Catholicos Karekin II, Catholicos Aram I, Armenian Presidents Kocharian and Sargsyan, Yerevan State University, Yerevan State Medical University, the Armenian International Medical Congress, and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor committee.