In Memory of George A. Bournoutian, PhD


George A. Bournoutian, PhD (1943-2021)

Since word spread of Prof. George Bournoutian’s passing on August 22, there have been many tributes in his memory, and the Armenian Weekly joins in mourning the loss of this prolific and esteemed scholar.

Bournoutian was born and raised in Isfahan, Iran and immigrated to the United States in 1964. Multilingual, he was fluent in Armenian, Persian, Russian and Polish, and had a reading command of French. He attended UCLA and received his MA in 1971 and PhD in history in 1976 with his dissertation on Eastern Armenia on the eve of the Russian conquest.

Bournoutian taught Iranian history at UCLA and Armenian history at Columbia University, Tufts University, New York University, Rutgers University, the University of Connecticut, Ramapo College and Glendale Community College. Recently, he retired after many years of teaching Russian and Soviet history at Iona College.

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Bournoutian was the author and translator of more than 30 books, with a particular focus on Armenian, Iranian, and Caucasian history. Among his many publications are The Khanate of Erevan Under Qajar Rule, The History of Vardapet Arakel of Tabriz, Two Chronicles on the History of Karabagh, The Travel Accounts of Simeon of Poland, Jambr, The 1823 Russian Survey of the Karabagh Province: A Primary Source on the Demography and Economy of Karabagh in the Early 19th Century, A Brief History of the Aghuank Region, The 1829-1832 Russian Surveys of the Khanate of Nakhichevan, Armenia and Imperial Decline: The Yerevan Province, 1900-1914 and A Concise History of the Armenian People, which had its seventh printing in 2018. Many of his publications have been translated into Armenian, Farsi, Turkish, Polish, Japanese, Spanish, and Arabic.

A member of the Middle Eastern Studies Association, Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, Iranian Studies Association, Society for Armenian Studies, and Association Internationale des Etudes Armeniennes, Bournoutian also was one of 40 editors of the Encyclopaedia Iranica.

The Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) honored Prof. Bournoutian in May 2021 with its “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his outstanding service and contributions to the field of Armenian Studies. During the special online event, Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History Prof. Sebouh Aslanian, Dr. Asya Darbinyan and Prof. Stephen Badalyan Riegg offered remarks and accolades about Bournoutian’s work.

Spotlighting his many accomplishments, Aslanian discussed Bournoutian’s work in the field of early modern Armenian history, while Darbinyan highlighted how he contributed to the understanding of Transcaucasia from political and socio-economic perspectives. Badalyan Riegg continued with Bournoutian’s contributions to the history of Russian imperialism in the first decades of the 19th century.

“More than any other scholar in our field, Bournoutian has not only identified the key Armenian-language primary sources of this period but more importantly made them accessible to a larger body of scholars through his reliable and readable English-language translations,” said Aslanian in his comments during the event. “The upshot of a lifetime of dedicated translation work is a set of foundational texts that has informed and inspired numerous scholars in fields auxiliary to Armenian studies who have long known of these sources but were unable to profit from them due to the obstacles of language.”

“Prof. Bournoutian’s tremendous body of research allows us to look at the past of the South Caucasus in its intricate details,” stated Darbinyan during her remarks. “The research opens a door to understanding Transcaucasia in its past relationships with the local imperial powers, as well as in the larger context of ‘The Great Game’ and draws some conclusions about the present geopolitical interests of the Western and regional powers.”

Badalyan Riegg focused specifically on Bournoutian’s latest work From the Kur to Aras: A Military History of Russia’s Move into the South Caucasus and the First Russo-Iranian War (2020. The book is a military history of the Russo-Iranian War between 1801-1813. “To my knowledge, no other scholar, writing in English or Russian, has examined this conflict in such detail,” commented Badalyan Riegg. “Bournoutian meticulously documents every armed unit, movement, skirmish, and tense debate between the two combatants and among the various allies.”

Bournoutian expressed sincere gratitude to SAS for the honor of its Lifetime Achievement Award. “Being acknowledged by your peers is the best satisfaction one can hope for,” he said. “I am also happy to know that our new generation of scholars are better equipped and have already produced significant works.” In a now-poignant conclusion to his remarks, Bournoutian said, “I can sleep well knowing that the torch is in capable hands.”

The National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) offered the following thoughts:

NAASR joins with scholars and friends all over the world in mourning the passing of an esteemed colleague, Prof. George Bournoutian… out of respect for his enormous contributions we offer this brief appreciation and extend our deepest sympathies to his family.

In addition to his writings, George was a prolific lecturer, giving innumerable talks including many for NAASR over the years in Belmont and all over the U.S. and Canada. He was also a world traveler and led NAASR’s first Armenian Heritage Tour in decades in 2006 to the Republic of Armenia and Historic Armenia.

In 2008, he enriched NAASR’s library immeasurably when he transferred his huge scholarly library, the Ani and George Bournoutian Collection, which has become a cornerstone of the Mardigian Library. NAASR, in turn, was proud to support his work through grants for several of his publications.

Former NAASR Chairman Nancy Kolligian recalled that George “was an outstanding scholar who electrified the room when he entered it. I will remember going to Armenia and Historic Armenia with him on our 2006 NAASR trip—we had such a great time.” Current Chairman Yervant Chekijian remembered Bournoutian as “totally committed to the honest exploration of Armenia’s history.”

NAASR Academic Director Marc Mamigonian remarked that “George was warm, opinionated, unfiltered, brilliant, hilarious, and utterly indefatigable. He was always in the middle of a book project and excited about the next one. While it is difficult to accept that there will be no next book, no one can say that George Bournoutian didn’t get the most out of life, and he leaves an incredible legacy.”

Anyone who ever met George Bournoutian or heard one of his lectures could feel his energy and boundless vitality. Those qualities will endure in his huge scholarly output, which will continue to enrich us, and in our memories of him as a friend and a scholar. He will indeed be missed.

President of SAS Bedross Der Matossian stated the following at the special event honoring Bournoutian in May: “Bournoutian’s scholarship has always been relevant. However, today it is much more needed as Armenia and Artsakh are facing monumental challenges due to the 2020 War,” he said. “One of these challenges deals with falsification of Artsakh’s history by Azeri scholars. Bournoutian has been on the forefront of combating this revisionist history which has now entered western academia.” Upon Bournoutian’s passing, Der Matossian expressed sadness and sincere condolences to his “family and beloved ones.”

“As a historian who works in the fields that George tilled for many decades, I can say that his passing marks a sad milestone for the rest of us. I am grateful that his work has brought back to life and made widely accessible sources that have been for too long been sidelined even or especially by Armenian scholars in the diaspora. George will be missed by his friends and colleagues, and I offer my sincere condolences to his family and loved ones. May his memory be blessed, and may it inspire us to work more creatively and tirelessly,” said Prof. Aslanian, who also serves as Director of the Armenian Studies Center within the UCLA Promise Armenian Institute.

Prelate Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian and the executive and religious councils of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church expressed sorrow and extended their condolences to Prof. Bournoutian’s family members and loved ones. May God illuminate his soul. Asdvatz hokeen lousavoreh.

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