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Kamal Azari: The Historian and Winemaker

Kamal Azari, a native of Iran, was halfway through his dissertation at Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences when the Iranian revolution caught fire. In the chaos that followed, Pahlavi University in Shiraz, which had offered Azari a teaching position, closed its doors, and he was left trying to make sense of the situation.

Under the guidance of his mentor, John Entelis, Ph.D., professor of political science and director of the Middle East studies program at Fordham, Azari tore up his original thesis and turned to the Iranian Revolution.

“After the revolution, I was active in promoting democracy in Iran,” said Azari, who immigrated to the United states in 1970 and later earned a master’s degree in engineering at Polytechnic University (now part of NYU). “There were times when we came in conflict with the current regime. I devoted my time to learning about the alliance of social forces that caused the revolution and how these forces could possibly lead to a democratic system.”

After earning his doctorate in political science at Fordham in 1988, Azari worked as a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. He started his own engineering and development firm, which he ran for more than two decades while continuing to study the unfolding events in Iran. And in 1989, he and his wife, Pari, opened Azari Vineyards, a winery in Sonoma County. He produces pinot noir and a secondary crop of cool-climate shiraz, a nod to his Persian heritage.

When he’s not running the vineyard, Azari is working on a book about democracy and government. In it, he and his co-author, a colleague at Stevens Institute of Technology, argue for a return to community government.

“We’re proposing this model of government that may be futuristic,” he said, “but it would be based on the problems that the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen 220 years ago. The country has changed a lot.”

The book fits in nicely with Azari’s lifelong pursuit of figuring out how the world works—whether it’s from an engineering, horticultural, or historical perspective.

“I really enjoy understanding history and social changes,” he said, “and how those changes contribute to the creativity of individuals.”

It also allows him to think deeply about the complicated politics of his native country, analyzing what he calls “the narrow narrative that exists in Iran.”

A proud Fordham alumnus, Azari hosted a 2009 reception at his winery for members of the University’s Northern California Alumni Chapter. And this spring, he returned to Fordham to participate in the 2012 Spring Gannon Lecture with his mentor and friend Entelis, sharing with the Fordham community his thoughts about Iran, the Arab Spring, and the Middle East.

“I’ve been sharing with Fordham like a community, like a family,” he said. “You feel a certain affinity, a certain connection with Fordham graduates.”


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