Nazalie “Nellie” Nazarian – the last genocide survivor in Merrimack Valley passed away peacefully on June 12, surrounded by her loving family, the Armenian Weekly reports.
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.
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 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.