METHUEN, Mass.—Nazalie “Nellie” Nazarian took her leave with a blaze of glory.
The last genocide survivor in Merrimack Valley passed away peacefully on June 12, surrounded by her loving family.
Just weeks prior to her demise, she attended a genocide commemoration at North Andover High School, tendered by the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Merrimack Valley.
Then, on May 10, she withstood the rain to preside over the unveiling of a genocide memorial at Lowell City Hall in which she served as the last remaining honorary member, previously joined by Thomas Magarian and Ojen Fantazian.
In both cases, she was embraced by the crowd to which she played, casting a smile its every way, and remaining the personified survivor of her generation. Nellie was 102 but hardly acted her age.
“No doubt, she was a very special woman who kept her guard right to the very end,” said Rev. Fr. Khachatur Kessablyan, pastor, Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church, in his eulogy. “Her gratitude was manifested in many ways, abounded with the love of God and her family.”
At the Lowell monument dedication, Nellie took her regal place by The Mother’s Hands memorial, posing for photos with Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian as well as other committee members and the city’s political elite. A Hollywood starlight would not have received such notice.
Those hands on the stone could very well have been her own, symbolizing the miracles of motherhood and dexterity. With four children, 16 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren, she developed a brood. And except for a periodical lapse, she remembered all their names.
At a unity dance in Haverhill last September, into the hall she came in her wheelchair, leading three generations of her family. She came here for the music. But more importantly, to cultivate her children. In her younger day, she would have been first to dance.
“Music has been her passion ever since she was a child,” said a granddaughter, Debbie Nazarian-Kady. “At night, she would sing herself to sleep with the songs she had learned back in the old country. She remained thankful for the mobility of her hands and fingers, crocheting and sewing every day when the mood dictated, blessing her family with afghans and other precious heirlooms.”
Nellie escaped the massacre in her native village of Chimisgazag by taking refuge in the mountains with her family before immigrating to America in the early 1920s. She was the daughter of Elizabeth (Ajemian) and Michael Parnagian.
At a time when decent jobs were at a premium, she became an entrepreneur, following a stint in Haverhill shoe shops
Throughout her working life, she operated a jewelry story (Nazarian Jewelers) in downtown Lawrence with her husband Stephen, also a survivor.
Together, they built a profitable venture through diligent work and sacrifice. Stephen died in 1965, leaving Nellie widowed for nearly 50 years.
The business has since grown, multiplied and franchised itself throughout the region, serving as a mecca for working family members. Over the years, her handiwork became a staple for the business, whether it was restringing cultured pearl necklaces or concocting other jewelry pieces.
“My heritage has always been important to me,” she had said. “We faced all those dangers. I consider myself very fortunate to have survived and raised an excellent family.”
She enjoyed taking rides to the beach and dining on fried seafood platters, quite possibly against diet restrictions, but nevertheless a centenarian’s occasional privilege. Cooking was another passion.
The fact she lived rather independently with the help of two granddaughters and not inside an institution was a credit to her resolute manner and that of her family.
“She immigrated to America and married another genocide survivor during the Depression years,” said Nazarian-Kady. “That says a lot about her character.”
Nellie was predeceased by her son, Ara Nazarian, and is survived by his wife Dorothy of Waterville Valley, N.H.
She is survived by three children, Robert S. Nazarian and his wife Dianna, Salisbury; Marlene Aznoian, Andover, and Raymond Nazarian, Haverhill, along with her extended family. She was also predeceased by her brother, Berge Parnagian, and son-in-law, Harold Aznoian.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Merrimack Valley, c/o Armen Jeknavorian, 15 Summit Ave., Chelmsford, MA 01824.