A Pioneering Effort with a Promising Future
On its 40th anniversary, the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) organized an unprecedented workshop from Oct. 3-5 at the presidential hall of sessions of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, with 42 scholars from Armenia and abroad who delivered papers in English or Armenian.
“Many of the presentations and discussions were indeed fascinating and thought-provoking,” noted Nareg Seferian, while Jennifer Manoukian remarked, “The most positive aspect of the conference was without a doubt getting the chance to mingle with scholars working on similar topics. Hearing about projects in the works and sharing resources to facilitate these projects would have been difficult to do without the face-to-face interaction that the conference provided.” Many participants expressed the hope that this workshop would become a regular feature.
One of its aims was to promote the participation of fresh names in the field; most presenters belonged to the young and middle generation, a feature that was very much appreciated. “The conference was a success no matter how you look at it because of the very high quality of the papers, including or especially those given by young scholars from Armenia. The symbiotic relationship that in some cases developed over the three days between scholars from the diaspora and those living in Armenia was pleasant to watch,” observed Dickran Kouymjian, one of the founding members of the SAS.
Travel and lodging expenses for participants hailing from the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom were covered through the sponsorship of the Armenian Communities Department of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, as well as the support of the Ajemian Foundation and the George Ignatius Foundation.
The workshop opened in the morning of Oct. 3 with the presence of several official guests. After introductory words by SAS President Kevork Bardakjian (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), congratulatory speeches were delivered by National Academy of Sciences President Radik Martirosyan; Diaspora Minister Dr. Hranush Hakobyan; Prof. Aram Simonyan, rector of Yerevan State University; and Yuri Suvaryan, head of the Department of Armenology and Social Studies of the Academy of Sciences.
The first panel, about medieval times, was chaired by Kevork Bardakjian. Andrea Scala (University of Milan) focused on the often-neglected role of the Syriac sources in the Armenian Bible, with an analysis of linguistic and philological evidence offering useful clues for a better understanding of textual layers. Khachik Harutyunyan (Matenadaran) spoke on the role of phonetic change in the formation of personal names found in the colophons of Armenian manuscripts dating from the 5th-15th centuries. Tamar Boyadjian (Michigan State University) discussed the little consideration given to Armenian sources in the study of the Crusades, due to the “European” perspective of many authors. Arshak Balayan (Yerevan State University) discussed Grigor Tatevatsi’s polemics with Islam and his list of 16 errors, noting his Bible-based view of the issue without any reference to an Islamic theologian or the Koran. Hrach Martirosyan (Leiden University) presented a philological study of some enigmatic words and passages found in a poem by the 17th-century author Khachgruz.
The first afternoon panel on the early modern period was chaired by Ara Sanjian (University of Michigan, Dearborn). Peter Cowe (University of California, Los Angeles), reviewed four approaches of the Armenian nationalist project during the period (aristocratic initiative, Simeon Erevantsi’s theocracy, Mekhitarist linguistic and cultural project, and the Madras group) and assessed their viability and effectiveness. Gayane Ayvazyan (Matenadaran) presented an overview of the works of Eremia Keomurjian, a prolific author of the 17th century, who also wrote in Turkish to reach Turkish-speaking Armenians. Susanna Khachatryan (Yerevan State University) discussed the formative period of the “amira” class in Constantinople. In the second session, chaired by Kevork Bardakjian, Alyson Wharton (Artuklu University of Mardin, Turkey) presented a reconstruction of the Armenian presence in Mardin, hitherto scarcely recognized in Turkish narratives of the city, with a special emphasis on the work of chief architect Serkis Elyas Lole. Beatrice Tolidjian (Washington, D.C.) followed with an exploration of several Armenian churches and monuments from Bulgaria in the 17th century, and their relation to earlier architectonical works in Armenia proper. David Leupold (Humboldt University, Berlin) discussed the case of Armeno-Turkish as part of language plurality, particularly in Cilicia and Aleppo, which opened a channel to the West for 19th-century Ottoman elites in Constantinople, Armenian and non-Armenian. Dickran Kouymjian (California State University, Fresno, Emeritus, residing in Paris) spoke about the innovative role of Grigor Marzvanetsi, an Armenian printer of the early 18th century whose book-illustrations were taken from Armenian iconography rather than from Dutch or Flemish models. Nareg Seferian (American University of Armenia) made a comparative study of the American Constitution and the texts produced by the Madras group, as the first modern examples in the Armenian reality.
The first panel on Oct. 4, chaired by Barlow Der Mugrdechian (California State University, Fresno), centered on the Armenian Genocide. Rouben Adalian (Armenian National Institute, Washington, D.C.) discussed ways to amplify the use of photographs to document the genocide. Hazel Antaramian-Hofman (Fresno City College) made a visual analysis of Near East Relief posters for fundraising efforts, which included the first American illustrations of Armenian survivors. Jennifer Manoukian (Columbia University) discussed the educational dimension of the efforts toward a social and cultural revival by Ottoman Armenians from 1918-22. Ari Shekerian (Bogazici University, Istanbul) focused on the reports in the daily Jamanak newspaper of Constantinople from 1918-19 that depicted the mood of orphans and survivors.
In the second panel (Dickran Kouymjian, chair), Hayk Hambardzumyan (Yerevan State University) outlined an overview of the latest studies of the Armenian epic “David of Sassoun,” with reference to the use of comparative mythology, structuralism, and semiotics. Simon Payaslian (Boston University) discussed three models of intellectuals (heroic, elitist, and civil enabler) and their manifestations in the diaspora, from cultural preservation to cultural congruence, as exemplified in the Armenian-American community. Sona Mnatsakanyan (State Engineering University of Armenia) analyzed the recent polemics in Istanbul as to whether the local Armenian community formed part of the diaspora, in light of three factors: dispersion, ethno-cultural continuity, and relation with the homeland. Mehmet Uslu (Istanbul Sehir University) presented an overview of the recent trend of rediscovery of Armenian literature in Turkey through translations into Turkish of various masterpieces and scholarly works in Armenian.
Vartan Matiossian (Armenian National Education Committee, New York) chaired the first afternoon panel, devoted to diasporan literature. Talar Chahinian (California State University, Long Beach) spoke on the impact of the emergent nation-state on the Western-Armenian imaginary [imagination?], with the second congress of Soviet-Armenian writers (1946) as an example of cultural essentialism hindering the development of a diaspora based on diversity. Hagop Gulludjian (University of California, Los Angeles) analyzed the poetry of Nigoghos Sarafian as the writer who deconstructed the past and opened a new beginning towards a liminal position that characterizes the diasporan identity. Krikor Moskofian (London) focused on the utilitarian approach in Western Armenian literature and its manifestations during the first quarter of the 20th century. Lilit Keshishyan (University of California, Los Angeles) studied the representations of Armenia in works by four diasporan authors: Hakob Karapents, Vahe Oshagan, Vahe Berberian, and Khoren Aramuni.
Myrna Douzjian (Temple University) chaired the second panel on the literature of Armenia. Alvard Semirjian-Bekmezyan (Yerevan State University) spoke on the generic features of contemporary fairy tales and noted their disintegration in contemporary works of the genre. Vahram Danielyan (Yerevan State University) offered a new reading of Khachatur Abovian’s Wounds of Armenia and distinguished various features, such as the language turnaround from the canonical (Classical Armenian) to the non-canonical (dialectal language), and the debate on typology of the novel. Mery Khachatryan (National Agrarian University of Armenia) reviewed the theme of genocide in Soviet autobiographical novels of the 1920’s-1950’s in the works of Gurgen Mahari and Vahan Totoventz, and in minor works by several writers in the post-World War II period. Hasmik Khechikyan (“Cultural Society” NGO) analyzed the narrative of the independence period and noted that the modernism of the 1980’s was followed by the post-modernism of the 1990’s, which rejected all values, echoing the social shock that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Arqmenik Nikoghosian (Institute of Literature, National Academy of Sciences) spoke about the development of the historical novel in the post-Soviet period and particularly in the mid-1990’s, when several historical novels appeared as a reflection of the restoration of independent statehood.
Three panels were featured on Sun., Oct. 5. The first morning panel (chair, Kevork Bardakjian) was devoted to the genocide and cultural manifestations. Myrna Douzjian spoke on its representation in film, with particular reference to Serge Avedikian’s “Barking Island” (2010) and its allegorical and metaphorical depiction of the genocide. Barlow Der Mugrdechian followed with the reflection of the genocide in Armenian-American literature, in works by Leon Srabian Herald, Emmanuel Varandyan, William Saroyan, Leon Surmelian, David Kherdian, Peter Najarian, and others. Marine Hovakimyan (Yerevan State University) discussed expressionism in genocide-related works of four diasporan artists: Gerardo Orakian, Khoren Der Harootian, Arshile Gorky, and Siroon Yeretzian. Davit Kertmenjian (Institute of Art, National Academy of Sciences) spoke on the main features of genocide memorials in contemporary architecture, both in Armenia and the diaspora. In the second panel, chaired by Dickran Kouymjian, Sona Haroutyunyan (University of Venice, Italy) charted the process of development in genocide awareness and focused on Antonia Arslan’s novel Skylark Farm and its cinematographic version. Alina Pogosyan (Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, National Academy of Sciences) discussed the phenomenon of trans-culturality with regard to Armenian migrants and the divergence between official discourse and reality.
The afternoon panel, chaired by Harutyun Marutyan (Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, National Academy of Sciences), included papers about current issues. Garik Mkrtchyan (Institute of Linguistics, National Academy of Sciences) discussed the impact of the genocide as cause for the disappearance of the territorial foundations of Armenian dialects and the extinction of most Western Armenian dialects. Suren Zolyan (Institute of Philosophy and Law, National Academy of Sciences) presented a study of discursive strategies in genocide recognition with a deconstruction and analysis of President Barack Obama’s statements. Matthew Ghazarian (Columbia University) spoke about the need to contextualize the catastrophe of 1915 in terms of comparing the extermination of Armenians and their purported “rebellion” with the cases of other Ottoman peoples. Ara Sanjian analyzed the changing patterns of electoral alliances of Armenian parties in Lebanese politics and their current position in the political scene of the country. Hratch Tchilingirian (Oxford University) focused on the process of secularization in the Armenian Church, distinguishing 3 levels in the past 150 years: state-imposed secularization and laicization; societal secularization; and self-secularization. Hamazasp Danielyan (Yerevan State University) outlined Armenia-diaspora relations after the second independence, and characterized their present state as one of weakness, motivated by disillusion in the diaspora, whose current agenda is focused on its own problems.
Prof. Bardakjian closed the workshop and announced that the papers would be published in the near future. In the evening, a closing banquet was held for all presenters and invited guests, serving as another opportunity to deepen links and networking—something that is always a need in the burgeoning world of Armenian studies.
The Society of Armenian Studies is comprised of scholars and students (and some non-scholarly patrons) of Armenian studies. Its membership is international, although the majority of members are based in the United States and Canada.
The aims of the SAS are to promote the study of Armenian culture and society, including history, language, literature, and social, political, and economic questions; to facilitate the exchange of scholarly information pertaining to Armenian studies around the world; and to sponsor panels and conferences on Armenian studies.
The Secretariat of the Society is located at the Armenian Studies Program, 5245 N. Backer Ave. PB4, Fresno, CA 93740-8001. For more information, e-mail [email protected] or visit societyforarmenianstudies.com.