The Historian and Winemaker
Kamal Y. Azari
, Ph.D., GSAS ’88, a native of Iran, was halfway through his dissertation when the Iranian Revolution caught fire. In the chaos that followed, the University of 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 his master’s of engineering degree at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. “And therewere times when we came in conflict with the current regime. I devoted my time to learning about the alliance of social forces in the Iranian Revolution.
“That was very helpful in understanding the social forces that caused that revolution and how these social forces could possibly someday lead to a democratic system.”
After earning his doctoral degree in political science, he started his own engineering and development firm, which he ran for more than two decades, while continuing to study and monitor the unfolding events in Iran.
In 1989, while working as a visiting scholar and researcher of Iranian studies at University of California, Berkeley, Azari and his wife, Pari, opened Azari Vineyards, a winery in Petaluma, Calif., in Sonoma County. “I enjoy making really good pinot noir,” he said.
When he’s not running the vineyard, Azari works on his book about democracy and government. In it, Azari and his co-author, a colleague at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., 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.”
“The book is part of creating a narrative for the rebuilding of Iran. A narrative should explain your past, define your current situation and lead to a future that makes sense to you.”
A proud Fordham alumnus, Azari is committed to the Fordham community.
In 2009, he hosted a reception at his winery for the University’s Northern California Alumni Chapter. Nancy Busch, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, attended the event, which included a complimentary wine tasting.
This spring, he will deliver the 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 that you don’t feel with the general public. You can talk about things you both share. And we have to enhance that and put value to it.”