Writer Michael Bobelian, who provides the foreword to the volume, describes the post-genocide twentieth century Armenian-American experience as one that witnessed the transformation of the community from one of “widows and orphans” with “little economic or political clout” to a community able to come together in pursuit of more ambitious goals of genocide recognition, political advocacy, academic excellence, and success in business and the professions.
“Born in 1931,” Bobelian writes, “Dennis’s life spanned this epoch, a crucial time in Armenian-American history that has long been overlooked by Armenians who have otherwise dedicated immense resources to preserving their culture. In fact, other than the late Vartan Gregorian, none of Dennis’s peers have produced an account of this time period.”
According to Bobelian, “this memoir provides readers with a much-needed front-row seat of this transformative era. Dennis’s account of the changes endured by the Armenian-American community offers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the leading institutions and individuals of his generation: Alex Manoogian, William Saroyan, and the Catholicos all make appearances in these pages. What makes Dennis so atypical is the different hats he wore. As a scholar, community leader, and spokesperson, Dennis served the Armenian-American community in myriad ways: participating in academic organizations, speaking to the press, lobbying politicians, delivering speeches, doling out grants, and so much more.”
In From My Life and Thought: Reflections on an Armenian-American Journey, Dennis Papazian shares his reflections on a quintessentially twentieth-century American life shaped by the challenges of the immigrant experience, his family’s struggle to create a life in a new land, and his determined efforts to secure an education that would ensure a life of security and the promise of the American dream.
Born ninety years ago in the pre-World War II, pre-civil rights American South of Armenian immigrant parents from Istanbul, Turkey, Papazian pursued a Ph.D. in Russian history, becoming one of the first American students to study in the then Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. Not only did this experience open the world to him, it also placed him in the center of major geo-political events, teaching him nuance and perspective that would lead him to become a highly sought analyst as the Soviet Union broke apart decades later.
Upon his return to Michigan, Papazian went on to live a life of contribution and service as he engaged in a decades-long career in higher education as an educator, scholar, and administrator. During this period, he also became a key leader in the emergence of an Armenian-American community just finding its footing fifty years after the 1915 Armenian Genocide, where he made significant contributions to multiple Armenian community, religious, academic and political institutions.
“Alongside Dennis’s exploration of Armenian-American life,” Bobelian writes, “there is plenty of adventure within these pages. His time as a graduate student in Moscow at the height of the Cold War reads—at times—like a lighthearted John le Carré novel. Papazian barely survived a plane crash and had face-to-face interactions with Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower along the way.” And while Dennis’s life placed him in the center of the rebirth of the Armenian community in America, it also is a classic American immigrant tale, one in which, according to Bobelian, “he regularly navigated life as a hyphenated American, shuffling—as many Armenians do—between various cultures and multiple identities.”
In From My Life and Thought, Papazian shares his resilience, keen sense of perception, and vision, as well as the memorable characters he meets along the way, as he reflects on his consequential, eventful, and at times surprising life. Through it all, he writes with humor and wit, as he tells a story that will inspire readers of all generations and backgrounds and give hope to all who join him on his journey.
The Armenian Series at California State University, Fresno was established through the generous support of the M. Victoria Karagozian Kazan and Henry S. Khanzadian Kazan Endowment. Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian is the general editor of the series.