Groundbreaking Symposium at Columbia to Focus on ‘Monuments and Memory’

NEW YORK—Major scholars from around the world will participate in a timely and thought-provoking conference at Columbia University titled, “Monuments and Memory: Material Culture and the Aftermath of Histories of Mass Violence,” on Fri., Feb. 20.

The all-day symposium is organized and hosted by Peter Balakian, the Donald M. Constance H. Rebar Professor in Humanities at Colgate University, and Rachel Goshgarian, assistant professor of history at Lafayette College, and sponsored by the Armenian Center of Columbia University, Columbia’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, and the Armenian General Benevolent Union.

The conference will explore the general themes of restoration, restitution, and social justice, and will be groundbreaking in its comparative analysis of Jewish monuments in Eastern Europe, Muslim monuments in the Balkans, and Armenian-Christian monuments in Turkey. Four sessions revolving around these topics will take place throughout the day, each chaired by a member of the Columbia community who will conduct and moderate the question-and-answer sessions.

The first session, “Monuments and Memory: the Significance of Material Culture in the Aftermath of Genocide,” held from 10-11:15 a.m., and chaired by Christine Philliou, associate professor of history at Columbia University, will address the historical contexts for the destroyed or appropriated material cultures of minority peoples in the aftermath of histories of mass violence. The current conditions of these monuments will be analyzed, as well as their roles in the collective memory of both occupying and exiled cultures. Presenters will include Peter Balakian; Andrew Herscher, associate professor of architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and Marianne Hirsch, William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

The second session, “The Medieval Armenian City of Ani: A Case Study in the Politicization of Art History, History, Historical Monuments, and Preservation in a Post-Genocidal Context,” from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., will be chaired by Nanor Kebranian, assistant professor in Columbia University’s Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. It will include papers on subjects related to Ani’s multicultural past, cultural destruction, restoration projects, depiction in modern Turkey, and place in the construction of Armenian identity. Presenters include Rachel Goshgarian; Christina Maranci, the Arthur H. Dadian and Ara Oztemel Associate Professor of Armenian Art and Architecture at Tufts University; Heghnar Watenpaugh, associate professor of art history at the University of California, Davis; and Yavuz Ozkaya, restoration architect at PROMET Architecture and Restoration Co.

The third session is titled, “Monuments, Memory, Restitution, and Social Justice: What issues do monuments raise in these historical contexts? How can social justice and restitution be achieved decades after the event of genocide or mass-killing?” Held from 2:15-4:30 p.m., it will be chaired by Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Presenters include Osman Kavala, the founder of Anadolu Kultur; Leo Spitzer, Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor of History at Dartmouth University; and Elazar Barkan, professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University.

The concluding session will be a roundtable discussion followed by a reception for participants and attendees.

“Rachel [Goshgarian] and Peter [Balakian] are bringing together a wide range of speakers to address the issue of Ani, from historians to cultural heritage advocates, to practicing architects actively engaged in restoration projects at Ani,” said Maranci. “I hope that it will galvanize more dialogue about the fate of the churches and other ancient monuments in and around Ani, because of their historical and architectural importance and because of their structural vulnerability.”

“There is tremendous opportunity here to address the painful history of Armenians…and forge a different way forward regarding Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey,” said Watenpaugh, who recently published “Preserving the Medieval City of Ani: Cultural Heritage Between Contest and Reconciliation” in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. “This is the right time to have a critical and public discussion about this site, and the broader issues it raises.”

Mark Momjian, Esq., the chair of the Armenian Center and an alumnus of Columbia College and Columbia Law School, emphasized his alma mater’s role not only in aiding the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, but in advocating support of the Armenian Republic.

“Ambassador Henry Morgenthau was an alumnus of Columbia Law School, and he is in the pantheon of heroes to the Armenian people. Talcott Williams was the first director of Columbia’s School of Journalism, and he was heavily involved with Near East Relief. George Edward Woodbury, a comparative literature professor at Columbia, assailed the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. And there are countless others,” said Momjian, a Philadelphia lawyer and community activist. “This symposium marks the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, but it also honors the many Columbians who denounced this terrible crime against humanity and who worked tirelessly to help the Armenian people.”

The event will take place in Room 1501 of Columbia University’s Morningside Campus International Affairs Building, located at 420 West 118th St., from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., with breaks for lunch and coffee. A reception will follow. This event is free and open to the public.


Taleen Babayan

Taleen Babayan earned her masters in journalism from Columbia University in 2008 and her bachelors degree in history and international relations from Tufts University in 2006. Her work has been published widely in both Armenian and non-Armenian media. She can be contacted at [email protected]


  1. Will there be a YouTube upload of the presentation for later viewing by those of us who do not live near Columbia University and will not, therefore, be able to attend? If not, will the presentation be available for later viewing in any format? I live in Waukegan IL (where Rachel Goshgarian’s great-grandparents settled), north of Chicago, and am very interested in learning more about the topics.

  2. A Youtube upload? I doubt there will be one, at least for the Ani section of the symposium. It seems that it is a gathering of the “chosen ones”: those that had been chosen to attend the secretive “Ani Workshops” in Turkey. Rachel Goshgarian’s account of her attendance had a “this event is off the record. The use of recording devices is strictly prohibited” restriction. But if anyone manages to film this one to put it on the record, I will gladly host the material on

  3. Hi Zari: Thanks for your interest. So nice to hear from you after all these years! We might have a streaming component. We’ll let you know! As for videoing the event, we have chosen against that for various reasons. Hi Steven, I’m not sure where you read this “account,” and am puzzled. Hope you are well. Rachel

    • Rachel, I am referring to your presentation given at the CMES Sohbet-i Osmani Lecture Series. Admittedly, all presentations in this lecture series seem to have that same “off the record” restriction, but a restriction like that does nothing to help dispel the impression of secrecy and unaccountability regarding the actions of those selected to have power over Ani.

  4. I really wish a video could be taken or an audio hopefully AW will write on each subject in I live in US but where I live there are no Armenian restaurants only one semi middle eastern extremly small liquor stores where I can get cheese cracked wheat grape leaves and yogurt. I have never seen another Armenian in my city. Every once in awhile my mom and cousin come down from Fresno with goodies so I share my AW with them. I want to be a part of my brothers and sisters in blood but I feel so left out.

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