Featured, In Memoriam

In Memoriam – Iris Papazian

(July 4, 1936 - May 29, 2021)

Some losses are more irreplaceable than others, especially when someone has served for so long the greater good. Archbishop Anoushavan, Prelate, and the Executive Council were deeply saddened by the news that Iris Papazian, a mainstay of the Prelacy, had passed away in the early hours of Saturday, May 29, 2021. The outpouring of expressions of affection and grief on our social media and electronic correspondence showed how her quiet and unassuming personality, as well as outstanding contribution, had impacted so many lives.

The viewing and funeral took place at St. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church (Ridgefield, New Jersey), on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, followed by interment at George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus (New Jersey), presided by the Prelate, with the participation of Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian, Vicar and Pastor of Sts. Vartanantz Church; Archpriest Fr. Nerses Manoogian, Pastor of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church (Philadelphia); Rev. Fr. Mesrob Lakissian, Pastor of St. Illuminator’s Cathedral (New York City); Rev. Fr. Nareg Terterian, Pastor of St. Sarkis Church (Douglaston, New York); and Rev. Fr. Vahan Kouyoumdjian, Outreach Pastor. In his eulogy, Archbishop Anoushavan extolled the virtues and the vocation of service of the late Iris Papazian, which were well understood by those who surrounded her in her professional and personal life. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Eastern Prelacy for the benefit of the Pierre Papazian Literary Fund.

Born on July 4, 1936, in New York City to Krikor and Veronica (Sahagian) Pilbosian, survivors of the Armenian Genocide from Malatya in Western Armenia, Iris was the second of three daughters. In 1945 the family moved to Philadelphia, where she attended Temple University and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications. She was a dedicated member of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church, where she taught Sunday school for many years. After graduating, she moved to New York to continue her studies at Columbia University and met Pierre Papazian. Their marriage in 1959 was the first one to be celebrated in the new Sts. Vartanantz Church in Ridgefield, New Jersey. They settled in suburban New Jersey, and in 1965 they had a son, Michael.

Iris Papazian’s life was marked by a profound love of service and devotion to the Armenian nation and Church. She was associated with the Prelacy of the Armenian Church in New York from its very inception in the late 1950s, working with all of the prelates who have served the Prelacy beginning with Archbishop Hrant Khatchadourian and continuing with Archbishop Karekin Sarkissian (later Catholicos Karekin II of the Great House of Cilicia and Catholicos Karekin I of all Armenians), Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, and Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian. Her multiple talents as a writer and journalist turned her into the writing and editing force, both seen and unseen, behind so many public relations and publishing efforts. Her devotion to the Church and the Prelacy culminated in her working full-time as director of communications and publications, editing the periodical Outreach and producing the weekly e-newsletter, Crossroads. Her commitment extended so far that she continued to work long hours at the Prelacy into her 80s even though she had by then become officially “semi-retired.” Even in her weakened condition after she became ill in 2019, she contributed as much as she could to various projects. Her contributions to the Church and Armenian people were recognized by Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia, who bestowed the “Mesrob Mashdots” medal and the “Knight of Cilicia” award upon her, and the Eastern Prelacy, which presented the “Queen Zabel” award to her.

Two words characterized her personality. “Resilience”: even in the face of difficult circumstances she prevailed and fought hard, as she did during her illnesses. The second word that comes to mind is one that is more common today than when she began her career but which exemplifies her spirit is “entrepreneur.” She started a successful business first in the basement of the house and later as the business expanded to an office building. The business, H. Prim, Co., provided services in typesetting and graphic design. It was so successful that she was joined later by her husband, who worked with her for many years until his passing in 1995, and it also employed other family members and friends. A third word should be added here: “counseling.” Her calm and comforting demeanor made her the ideal source for seeking advice and guidance whenever the circumstances asked for it.

Iris Papazian’s many contributions to our community life were not limited to the Prelacy. For instance, she was a member of the Executive Board of the Hovnanian School and its Educational Committee for many years and was the administrator of the school for some time. She was also a long-time member of the editorial board of the AGBU “Ararat” Quarterly, and in the 1970s she and her husband Pierre published “The Literary Tabloid.” Later, she supported her husband in the publication of the periodical “Phoenix.”

But her career was only one facet of her life: she was devoted to all of her family and her friends. Iris adored all of her family and they in turn were very closely devoted and attached to her. She is survived by her son, Prof. Michael B. Papazian and her daughter-in-law Andrea, her sister-in-law Margaret Papazian, her nieces Alexis and Sara Kazarian, her older sister Elizabeth Pilbosian and her younger sister Rosely Nevart Stronski and husband Wally Stronski. A gifted cook, she loved to prepare food and entertained all her loved ones even while working outside the home full time.

An avid and prolific reader of poetry, fiction, and virtually every topic, Iris Papazian appreciated and understood the power of the written word, of which she was a masterful practitioner. Even as she succumbed to illness, she kept her mind fully active and engaged. Her hope was that she would complete a history of the Prelacy, for she was the Prelacy’s memory. She has taken with her countless details of all the persons and events connected to the Prelacy. Sadly, that work remains unfinished but all that she has accomplished—her work, and the impact on the many people she touched—will remain a lasting tribute to her life as a good and faithful servant of God, the Church, and the Armenian nation. It is our hope that in the near future this most valuable oeuvre will be completed as the legacy of an intellectual woman who linked the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries. 

May her soul rest in peace and perpetual light shine upon her. Asdvadz hokeen lousavoreh.

Antelias, June 2, 2021