Florida Armenians Profile: Tallahassee City Commissioner Mark Mustian
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor
Mark Mustian isn’t you’re average City Commissioner, or Armenian-American. He was born in Panama City, Florida and grew up in Tallahassee, where there is no major Armenian presence. A first generation Floridian, Mustian’s Armenian roots in America date back to the early 1800’s, which he recently uncovered.
Mr. Mustian graduated from the University of Florida with his B.S. and J.D. in 1980 and 1983, respectively. A practicing attorney since 1983, Mustian today focuses on public finance, local governmental law, and land use and real estate law with the law firm Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson.
In addition, Mustian is also an author of two books and since 2003, one of five Tallahassee City Commissioners.
In 2010, Mustian published his second book “The Gendarme,” and recently concluded a book tour around the U.S, where I had a chance to meet him. He agreed to do an interview for Florida Armenians and last week, I sat down with Mr. Mustian and spoke to him over Skype.
What was life like growing up in Tallahassee?
Well it was different than most Armenian-Americans. There aren’t a lot of “Native Floridians” in Florida. It’s a lot different than what people think of Florida – this is not Miami. It’s more like southern Georgia. So I grew up in a small southern town.
My whole life people would ask if I was Armenian (smiling), and I would tell them ‘yeah.’ I always knew I was part Armenian, on my father’s side, but I never really knew what an Armenian was beyond the Armenian Genocide.
You are the author of two books. Your latest, “The Gendarme” is a story about a Turkish soldier who falls in love with a young Armenian girl during the Armenian Genocide. What inspired you to write this story?
I was hosting a party at my home sometime in 2002 and someone asked me, again, if I was Armenian. The gentleman also asked if I had ever read “Black Dog of Fate” by Peter Balakian, and I hadn’t. This led me to not only read the book, but also uncover my Armenian roots and learn about Armenian history. I only knew generally about the Armenian Genocide and when I got into reading the stories, the trek, the survivors, it really impacted me. I read everything I could find on the subject. Eventually I decided to try and write a novel about the genocide, but since the point of view of the survivors has been covered so well by the survivors themselves or their descendants, I decided to take the point of view of one of the gendarmes.
In addition to being an attorney and an author, you are also a 3-term Commissioner for the City of Tallahassee. What brought you to a life of public service?
My father was a Hospital Administrator in Tallahassee, so I grew up in a family with a history of public service. In 2002 a long standing City Commissioner passed away in office and I was in the running to be appointed to fill his seat. After much preparation, I didn’t get it. The following year, another Commissioner resigned and having already prepared, I ran in the open seat race and won.
That was around the same time you started to write about Armenians?
Yes, I started writing “The Gendarme” about the same time.
What is your favorite accomplishment, something you are proud to have achieved?
Before running for City Commissioner, I led a citizens group, the Economic and Environmental Consensus Committee (EECC). We put together a package of development projects for the city through an optional referendum on extending the sales tax. The Capital Cascades Greenway Project was approved and the projects are today being finalized.
In 2012 we will be opening Cascades Park, which, among other things, will have a cascading waterfall feature. Some people don’t know that the Florida state capitol was supposedly located in Tallahassee because of a similar geographical feature that over the years with the surrounding development became lost. With this project we cleaned up the area and restored some of the original beauty of Tallahassee. I am very happy to have worked with a dedicated group of individuals and give something back to our community.
Mark Mustian lives in Tallahassee with his wife Greta and three children, Bern, Eva and Jackie.