Mourad Papazian

Mourad Papazian

“I’ve never had any complexes about being Armenian. I’ve never had a strategy for finding a balance between my commitment as an activist, my professional and private lives. Dedication is in my blood, and as long that there’s something to fight for, I’ll be an activist.”
Ambitious entrepreneur Mourad “Franck” Papazian once worked for one of the world’s largest advertising and communications agencies. He went on to create a rapidly expanding and successful media training group that works across Europe and now has its sights set on Asia.
In his native France, however, French-Armenians know him as one of their most important representatives. As co-president of the Coordination Council of Armenian Organizations of France (CCAF), an organization that unites political, cultural, religious and social branches of the largest Armenian community in the European Union, Papazian has devoted himself to eradicating the century-long denial of the Armenian Genocide. For the past 15 years, this third generation French-Armenian has ceaselessly led the battle to stand up for and defend the Armenian cause before his country’s decision makers.
He developed this passion as an adolescent, when he witnessed the armed struggle of young Armenians in the 1970s and 1980s. “When you’re a child, you don’t want to be on the side of the weak,” he says. “And there, seeing Armenians lift their heads and lead a struggle, that generated both pride and discussion, contradictory ideas, questioning. There were ideological discussions – it was a period when the Armenian cause was starting to be reborn, thanks to the news that put it at the forefront of the media. The Armenian issue began to exist during just this period of time.”
Inherited devotion
Alfortville, just southeast of Paris, is known as a “Little Armenia” of sorts thanks to a brand new school, the discreet charm of an Armenian church and various community centers. But perhaps what makes this commune, founded in 1885, so significant for Armenians, is AYP FM, the Armenian radio station that broadcasts in the Parisian region. Its dedicated director, Mourad’s father Henri Papazian, is equally treasured. 
“It’s terribly frustrating that neither I nor my sisters and brothers recorded our father,” says Henri.
Born in 1899 in the village of Artchesh, north of Lake Van, Henri’s father Khorèn Shahnazarian was the son of a "caana" (a married priest), hence the name Papazian ("son of a priest"). 
Khorèn was just an adolescent when he saw his own father decapitated with his own eyes. He and his younger brother Avedis were the family’s only survivors. 
Pursued by those intending to kill them too, starving, they wandered from one orphanage to the next, managing to remain alive by working on farms. After the war, they arrived in Izmit, a coastal city west of Anatolia. From there, they sailed to Greece, arriving in Kavala, a city in Western Thrace situated on the Aegean coast, where a small Armenian community was developing. 
Khorèn opened a restaurant, where he made friends with a few Armenian political figures in exile. It was also in Kavala that he met his wife, Arpiné Babikian.

                                  A menu from Khorèn Papazian’s restaurant in Kavala.

Born in 1907 in Manisa, a suburb of Smyrna (modern day Izmir in Western Turkey), Arpiné and her mother, along with her brothers Krikor and Kevork and sister Sirarpi, survived the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922. Mourad’s grandparents were married in Greece, then left by boat. “They were intending to go to Argentina, but chance had it that they landed in Marseilles,” says Henri. 
The youngest of four brothers and sisters, Henri was born in Décines, near Lyon, where his father worked in a silk factory. The family lived in the industrial part of town and became involved in community life. After the war, they settled in Bagneux, in the suburbs of Paris, in 1947. Henri became involved in the Armenian cause at a very early age, climbing the ranks of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) or Dashnaktsutiun, while also becoming manager of a large computer group. 
He married Odette Arevian, an Armenian whose family originated from Nalihan, in the suburbs of Ankara. They had two children, Maral and Mourad.

                               From left to right: Mourad, Odette, Maral and Henri.

The son of an activist
“I grew up with Dashnaktsutiun,” Mourad says enthusiastically. “But above all, it was my father’s example that pushed me into a militant commitment. At the time I was very curious, I had a passion for current events and I read all the newspapers I could get my hands on, I listened to the radio before going to sleep, I listened in on all the adult conversations…I took everything in.”

                                                            Mourad as a student.

Among the various Dashnak leaders who inspired him, he often mentions Hraïr Maroukian, former secretary general of the ARF party, whom he knew as a young man. “He was a true personality, with the stature of a head of state, a political figure in the noble sense of the word, and for me he was a spiritual father – I really sought out his presence,” he says. “When I was both an adolescent and a young adult, he and I had a true relationship, both personal and political.”

                            Mourad celebrates 40 years of the Hayastan newspaper in 1986.
Starting life with a handicap
When Papazian was five years old, he had a serious accident. A violent fall left him in a coma, and for a week, the little boy hovered between life and death. For a while, his right side was paralyzed, and that disrupted his whole life. “At the rehabilitation center they told me: ‘You won’t be able to write with your right hand, you have to write with the left hand,’” he says. 
“I remember as if it were yesterday how persistent I was not to listen to them. I clung to my decision – I was right-handed and would remain so.” 
Early on, Mourad made this persistence into a personal combat, as if that would help him get over his handicap. “For a long time I didn’t get back my ability to move, I couldn’t go to school for two years. I could have had complexes because of it, but that wasn’t the case. I owe a lot to my parents, who behaved normally with me. That ordeal forced me to surpass myself – starting off with a handicap and several years behind, I had to catch up on lost time, to fight – that had a decisive impact on my later commitment.”
Papazian frequently mentions that to a great extent, he received his start in his professional life thanks to the years spent in the ranks of the association, Nor Seround, where he took up the Armenian cause. “I did things there that I wouldn’t have done elsewhere, like putting together a newspaper and raising funds,” he says, adding that taking on the ideals and principles of the ARF aided in his maturing process.
At the age of 25, Papazian began working at his first communication agency, an industry he is still involved in today. From 1988 to 1990, he went from one agency to another – in the field of marketing for Mercure hotels. Then, for several years, he worked for various agencies and advertisers before integrating the teams of Publicis, where he became director of clientele, in charge of automobile budgets, tourism, banking and fashion. In 1999, he joined the RTL group as director of partnerships and special operations. In 2002, he bought Iserp-Itaim, a school of communication and journalism, and took over its direction. He changed its name in 2008 to ECS-IEJ (European Communication School – Institut Européen de Journalisme).
ECS has branches in Paris, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Brussels, Barcelona and Madrid. He recently opened a school in Nice and even one further East in Shanghai. “We started out with 60 students and now we have 2,300!” Mourad exclaims. “The fact that I dedicated myself helped me to achieve something professionally. I don’t hide anything and I’m supported by a majority of my partners, who have become ‘Armenian-friendly.’ They often ask me about the Armenian cause. Thanks to this professional network our combat has earned us a lot of friends in the media and communications world.”                                                                    

Mourad Papazian and François Hollande Hollande at a rally in support of the latter’s candidacy for the 2012 presidential election.

Did you say lobby?
Papazian is one of the rare people in the Armenian community who has quite a strong relationship with French President Francois Hollande, so much so that he uses the familiar “tu” form when speaking with him, instead of the more formal “vous.”
How does he manage to reconcile political engagement with professional ethics? “I have no complexes about that, for the good and simple reason that lobbying is a sign of a healthy democracy. Without a democracy, there’s no lobbying. Some people criticize electoral politics. There are elections almost every year in France and it’s so much the better that citizens have ways of being heard by those who govern them. After all, it’s the people who elect them. A lobby that expresses ideas and fights for the defense of its interests can only exist in a democracy,” Papazian says vehemently.
In his opinion, president Hollande has gone farthest of all in his commitment to the Armenian cause. “François Hollande has been our main interlocutor and partner for 15 years. He is very much interested in Armenia, where we took him first in 2007. We have led combats together, we see eye to eye on certain issues and there is a real intimacy between us. We helped him to become a candidate and to win the PS primary, then the presidential election. Those are things one doesn’t forget. When he became president, he opened the doors of the main ministries to us, which made it possible for us to move ahead in various areas.”

                                                    Mourad in Karabakh in 2015.

Mourad nostalgically remembers the trip they took in 2007 with the future French president. “On the plane taking us to Armenia, François Hollande asked me: ‘Why Karabakh is so important for you?’ I explained to him the history of the movement, I said it was a question of life and death for us, that it was impossible to return to the status quo ante and that Armenians needed international support. The trip left its mark on him. He never hesitated to get involved along with us – even when it meant committing himself, he never refused when we called on him for aid.”
During the trip, Mourad and his comrades had a beer on Republic Square in Yerevan in the company of Hollande, then first secretary of the Socialist Party. They said to him, “François, for us, you have to be the next president of the Republic.” He answered: “I’m thinking about it, and if that comes to be I promise you I’ll come back here as president and we’ll have an Armenian beer together again.” 
That promise was kept on May 12, 2014.
“For the French leaders, we’re Armenians, because we’re so much into the defense of the Armenian cause. At the same time, they know we’re good French citizens,” Mourad smiles. “François Hollande said, ‘We’ve never built the same relationship with other communities.’”

François Hollande, president of the French Republic, and Mourad Papazian during commemorative ceremonies in Paris on April 24, 2014.

A dislike for injustice
Papazian thinks the results of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide have been extremely positive. “We’ve never been so visible – hundreds of publications, articles, documentaries and reports on radio and television, the switching off of the Eiffel Tower’s lights, the president of the Republic in Yerevan, the prime minister in Paris in front of the statue of Komitas…we owe all that to our unity, to the fact that we have maintained this positive pressure on French society,” he says.
Papazian is proud to observe the sympathy that Armenians enjoy when it comes to French opinion. “They realize that for 100 years, Turkey has not admitted to the Genocide – that’s a form of injustice, and the French don’t like injustice,” he says. 
And reconciliation? He himself is ready to take his battle to Turkey, aware that reconciliation will be impossible without justice and a reparations procedure. At the age of 53, this father of two has a heavy legacy to pass on to the next generation.
The story is verified by the 100 LIVES Research Team.