When Rafik Papalian arrived in Haverhill as an Iranian immigrant 35 years ago, he barely had a dollar in his pocket.
Just being in the land of opportunity was enough. Armed with a student visa, he was sponsored by the Rev. Haigazoun Melkonian, then pastor of St. Gregory Armenian Church.
“Go to school, get an education, and use your talent to secure a good job,” the priest told him. “We have a wonderful, supportive community in Haverhill. We’re all behind you.”
So off Papalian went, securing a GED from Haverhill High School. Next he attended Northern Essex Community College, where he earned an engineering degree.
He lived where he could, working in pizza shops, bagging groceries in supermarkets, and cooking in restaurants. The extra money he earned went back to Iran to support his family. A brother had been killed in the war when the Shah of Iran was overthrown.
Papalian went off to California a few years later, securing a job as a gold salesman. There he met his future wife and eventually settled down.
Later, he returned east and decided to venture forth with a self-owned business. Two weeks after opening a jewelry store locally, he was robbed. Thieves cleaned out $50,000 worth of merchandise — every locket and ring he owned.
Not to be defeated, he started again with another jewelry store across the border along Route 125 in Plaistow. Papalian slowly recovered, enough to open a second and a third jewelry business in Southern New Hampshire.
A man of strong Christian character, he served his community and church dutifully, spending 15 years as an ordained deacon and putting his faith in God.
Now, the 53-year-old Papalian is on a different path. He’s down to one jewelry store being managed by employee Khachik Mouradian, who has been with him for 14 years.