On Thursday, May 16, 2019, the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) co-sponsored a special evening honoring Dr. Levon Avdoyan, longtime Area Specialist for Armenia and Georgia at the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress. Dr. Avdoyan was recognized by the SAS for his outstanding service and contribution to the field of Armenian studies during his more than 40-year tenure at the Library of Congress. The special event was co-hosted by the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia in Washington, D.C.
The reception took place at the Armenian Embassy in Washington D.C. with the presence of former US Ambassadors to Armenia Michael Lemmon and John Evans, diplomats from the Embassy of Georgia, representatives of Armenian-American organizations and members of the Armenian community.
The opening remarks were made by H.E. Mr. Varuzhan Nersesyan, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Armenia to the United States. In his remarks Ambassador Nersesyan acknowledged Dr. Avdoyan’s contribution to the field of Armenian studies and his many scholarly accomplishments. The Ambassador highlighted Dr. Avdoyan’s efforts in putting together a number of crucial projects throughout his career, including the 2012 exhibition on the 500th anniversary of the first Armenian printed book, the annual Vardanants Day Lectures on various topics of Armenian studies, support during the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the extensive social media program to popularize the Armenian collection of the Library.
Following Ambassador Nersesyan’s remarks, SAS President Prof. Bedross Der Matossian (Associate Professor of History, University of Nebraska, Lincoln) introduced the activities of the SAS. He highlighted the strategic importance of establishing an Armenian Studies Program at one of the Washington, D.C. area-universities. After discussing Dr. Avdoyan’s academic journey from the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee to Columbia University, Prof. Der Matossian highlighted the important work that Dr. Avdoyan has undertaken in the field of Armenian Studies both as a scholar and as an invaluable source for scholars. Prof. Der Matossian presented Dr. Avdoyan with the inaugural Society for Armenian Studies “Lifetime Achievement Award” in recognition and appreciation for Avdoyan’s outstanding service and contribution to the field of Armenian studies.
Following Prof. Der Matossian’s remarks Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb (former Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress) described the tremendous effort that Dr. Avdoyan had made in increasing the Armenian collection in the Library. She said that during Avdoyan’s tenure, the Armenian collection grew from some 7,000 items to about 47,000 and that the Georgian collection increased more than five-fold. In 1994 Dr. Avdoyan created the annual Vardanants Day Armenian Lecture series, which celebrated its 21st year in 2018 with an international symposium “New Topics in Armenian History and Culture.” Dr. Deeb also highlighted Dr. Avdoyan’s other major achievements at the Library of Congress, such as curating two Armenian exhibits at the Library, one in 2000, “Armenia at the Library of Congress,” in conjunction with the conference on “The American Response to the Armenian Genocide,” and the other, “To Know Wisdom and Instruction: The Armenian Literary Tradition at the Library of Congress” in 2012 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first printed Armenian book. The latter brought in almost a quarter of a million visitors during its five-month run.
Dr. Deeb argued that Dr. Avdoyan made Armenia a focal point at the Library by “bringing in people from all walks of life to attend programs, briefings, music concerts, tours, displays, films and more, hosting them, entertaining them, teaching them, all in his inimitable style, with humor and a sense of fun. From school children and scholars to people who just wanted to learn more about Armenia, Dr. Avdoyan has displayed for them the Library’s Armenian treasures, he has thrilled his audience with information and anecdotes about the history and provenance of the items acquired by the Library, he has been the pharos, the guiding lighthouse to all things Armenian.”
Dr. Robert Krikorian, a longtime friend of Avodyan, spoke next. In his remarks Dr. Krikorian discussed the impact that Avdoyan had on his academic and personal life. Dr. Krikorian stated that many people do not fully realize the wide-ranging impact that Dr. Avdoyan has had on our understanding of Armenia and its interactions and interconnections with the wider world. He stressed that Dr. Avdoyan has strived to portray Armenia as a bridge between worlds, cultures, and civilizations, and he has succeeded brilliantly. “For decades, Avdoyan’s writings and lectures have never failed to connect Armenia to the wider world, to broader issues. His mastery of the complexities of Armenian history has allowed him to contextualize and enrich our scholarly understanding of the Roman Empire, Byzantium, Persia, and the Arab and Turkic worlds,” said Dr. Krikorian.
During his formal remarks, Dr. Avdoyan expressed his gratitude to the Society for Armenian Studies, to the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia and to Ambassador Nersesyan for co-hosting the event. He also thanked Drs. Mary-Jane Deeb and Robert Krikorian for their two decades of friendship and professional support. Dr. Avdoyan became a charter member of SAS in 1974 and since then has remained an active member. He retired on January 3, 2019, after a 41-year career at the Library of Congress. At the moment, he is collaborating with Dr. Nina G. Garsoïan on a dictionary of the Armenian Middle Ages, but eventually hopes to return to his true passion—pre-Christian Armenia.