It’s always a thrill to learn about Armenian successes, and Dr. Paul Haidostian, the affable president of Haigazian University in Beirut, on May 7 provided interesting information to diasporans about his liberal arts school of higher learning during his talk at the Armenian Congregational Church, including insights into the Syrian situation.
Haidostian, a theologian and pastor, was introduced by Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian, Emeritus, of the Armenian Congregational Church. It was a rare opportunity to learn about Haigazian, its educational offerings and its many successes. We were surprised and proud to learn that in 1960 a group of Haigazian students, under the guidance of math and physics instructor Manoug Manougian, produced the first rocket shot in the Arab world. It was a single stage solid propellant rocket launched, and it reached an altitude of one kilometer. It later became known as the Lebanese Rocket Society launching a two-stage rocket. This was Armenian scientific ingenuity that few know about. A film about this has recently been made and released to the public.
The highly rated university, founded in 1955, is the highest Armenian educational institute in the diaspora. Haidostian says, “We call it an Armenian university open to the larger world. We are also popular with Muslims. There are some who live in the Middle East by chance and some by choice.”
Haigazian is supported by the Armenian Evangelical community. The university uses English as the main language of instruction. It offers bachelor of arts, business, and science, and master’s programs, too.
“We are the cradle of so many major religions. Conflicts, too, started in the Middle East and never ended. Lebanon continues to be a vibrant place for science, business, and culture. I don’t know what kind of fertility is there but once they are born here they stay. Maybe that’s why it remains an attractive place.”
He continued, “We were having a conference and a U.S. advisory board was warned not to fly to Beirut. I wrote all the potential comers, said hello, and I bombarded them with activities that we had planned for their pleasure. That was my way of saying, ‘We’re okay.’ Twelve people came from the U.S. Only one person bowed out.”
The Armenian community in Beirut has education covered, from nursery school to university, as well as two old age homes, a radio station, and three newspapers.
“What does community life mean? That is why Lebanon is vibrant. In the infrastructure of Armenian life we still find opportunity here,” the president said. The university has a staff of 55, and graduates that number 3,300. “Haigazian is the only university owned by Armenians outside of Armenia. Fifty-eight percent of students are non-Armenian. Why do they come to our school? They come for their educational benefit. We like our reputation to be like it is—caring. Almost half the enrollment is Armenian. For those who are not Armenian, the atmosphere is attractive.”
“There is something neutral in every Armenian in Beirut regardless of political or religious belief. On April 24, it was a sea of Armenians walking together for a memorial observance. For the 100th anniversary of the genocide it will be the same. Haigazian University is seen as a neutral place for all people regardless of race, nationality, or creed.”
Their ties with Armenia have been further strengthened. Financially $1.2 million is available to support university students.
Armenian President Serge Sarikisan visited and asked if he could address the student body. The offer was considered a privilege by all.
Haidostian comes from a family of educators. His father, Rev. Lufti Haidostian, was principal of Bethel Armenian Evangelical School, where Badveli Tootikian’s wife Rosette Tootikian was a student. His uncle, Rev. Dr. Hovannes Aharonian, was president of Near East School of Theology. The college was founded in 1955 in honor of Prof. Armenag Haigazian, who received his Ph.D. from Yale and went back to become president of St. Paul College in the Ottoman Empire. Although he had a chance to escape to the U.S., he chose to stay and continue his ministry. Like the other intellectuals of the time, he was rounded up and marched to the Syrian desert. He died in prison in Kharpert in 1921, thus ending his service to his compatriots.
The Armenian Evangelists had 8 colleges in the Ottoman Empire before the genocide, and 250 high schools. All were destroyed.
In 1955, the Mehagian family of Phoenix, Az., and others donated capital through the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) to get Haigazian University started. It has since produced businessmen, educators, and scientists; the prime minister of Lebanon is also a graduate.
Haigazian’s doors are open to all Armenians and to people of all beliefs. Yeretzgeen Tamara Kevorkian of St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church is also one of its graduates.
Concerning Syria, Haidostian said, “People in Syria don’t know what they want. Confusion exists as to what is happening. Most of us know the ‘Spring’ was not what we wanted. It’s a switch of power. Some will prosper, some will suffer more. The loss of life is heavy.”
“A number of Armenians have left the country. Some Armenians who went to Armenia returned to Syria because of economic difficulties. Conditions were not good. The transition by Armenians to Beirut is smoother, modified lifestyle, more comfortable.”
“Relief has not been easy,” he added. “One reason is Armenians have a high sense of dignity, they do not want to live in a tent. This is the Armenian pride. You are not sure which Armenians need what.”
The informative evening ended with coffee, refreshments, and socializing. If you get the opportunity to hear Dr. Paul Haidostian, take advantage. He is an erudite, knowledgeable gentleman who knows how to communicate.