BELMONT, Mass.—The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) held its 69th Annual Assembly of Members on Saturday, November 4, 2023, at its Vartan Gregorian Building in Belmont, Massachusetts. The event was a hybrid meeting with both in-person attendees and online participation of NAASR members around the U.S. and abroad.
Board Chairperson Judith Saryan noted the presence of a quorum and called the meeting to order, remarking on the pain of the past year for Armenians in the Republic of Armenia and in Artsakh, in particular. She observed, “Preserving our cultural and historical heritage is even more crucial, and we should be proud of having an organization such as NAASR dedicated to this cause, which has become stronger and stronger.”
Saryan’s report as chairperson gave an overview of an exceptionally active year for the organization, including sponsoring or co-sponsoring more than 65 scholarly programs, supporting scholars through research grants, hosting events for young people, providing space for a number of Armenian sister organizations to hold their events, continuing the ongoing and valuable work of NAASR’s Mardigian Library and Bookstore and more. She thanked the full- and part-time staff as well as volunteers for their efforts and expressed special gratitude to several individuals who have honored NAASR with generous bequests.
Recognition of long-serving Board members
Of special significance was Saryan’s recognition of three outstanding and long-serving NAASR Board members who are retiring this year for their leadership, vision and dedicated service: Yervant Chekijian of Watertown, Mass., a NAASR member since 1963, Board member since 1998, and Board chairman from 2016 to 2022, leading the ambitious and highly successful campaign for our new headquarters and making a profound impact on NAASR’s growth; Raffi Yeghiayan of Bedford, Mass., a NAASR member since 1960, Board member since 1968, and Board chairman from 2010 to 2016, devoting his many talents to leading the organization; and Roxanne Etmekjian of West Newton, Mass., a NAASR member since 1986 and a Board member since 2006, including many years as treasurer.
Saryan concluded by stating that she has “felt privileged to serve as NAASR’s chair this past year and honored to work with all of you,” but had made the decision to step down as chair while remaining “as committed as ever to NAASR” and continuing to serve on the Board of Directors.
Following Saryan’s report, NAASR Director of Academic Affairs Marc A. Mamigonian introduced the featured speaker, Dr. Henry Theriault, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Worcester State University and past president (2017-2021) of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, whose talk was entitled “The Artsakh Crisis: Scholarly Ethics, Activism, and Genocide.”
Insightful and timely talk by Dr. Henry Theriault
Theriault provided a succinct overview of the historical background of the current Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh crisis, going back to the post-World War I period and the Sovietization of the South Caucasus, noting that creation of the Artsakh enclave, as well as the Nakhichevan exclave and other such territories within the new Soviet republics, created a “perpetual tension” between ethnicities and a reliance on Moscow to resolve problems that inevitably arose.
He discussed the long-term outcomes of the first war over Artsakh that resulted in a stalemate in 1994 that left Armenians in control of the region as well as additional surrounding territories. He noted that the Artsakh Republic developed a legitimate democracy, albeit within a self-declared state that was unrecognized by other nations. Meanwhile a strong ultra-nationalist identity centered on anti-Armenian sentiment and avenging the defeat formed in Azerbaijan, and its government became increasingly oppressive and intolerant of any dissent.
Turning to the question of the relationship between the current conflict and the Armenian Genocide carried out by Ottoman Turkey, Theriault observed, “While there are certainly components specific to Azerbaijan and the immediate context, the anti-Armenian ideology and eliminationist project would not have formed or been pursued absent the history of genocide against Armenians.” Furthermore, “Azerbaijan has imported a ready-made fully genocidal ideology from Turkey.”
Azerbaijan’s stance, Theriault made clear, is harmful not only to Armenians. “Genocidal anti-Armenianism is destructive for Azeris as well,” he said, since “Heydar, then Ilham, Aliyev used this ideology as a tool of manipulation to dupe their subjects into willing subjugation in an authoritarian then totalitarian system of political control.” Connecting the current heads of state of Turkey and Azerbaijan, he stated, “Both Aliyev and Erdogan have stated repeatedly and in no uncertain terms that their goal is the elimination of the Armenian presence in the Caucasus; that is, they show the special intent to destroy Caucasus Armenians, because they are Armenian.” Therefore, there is a clear case for genocide as defined by the United Nations Genocide Convention.
Theriault then turned to the role of scholars in the contemporary crisis, faced with dilemmas regarding their perceived—albeit mythical—status as “disinterested” authorities who risk overstepping their roles by weighing in on political issues within Armenia. Rather, he argued, “The right kind of interest can drive deeply committed and effective scholarly work; it needs a moral component that militates against tainting of results.” “Is a scholar’s concern about Armenian issues based on an honest appraisal of the facts and generalized concern for all human rights or a narrower ethnocentrism that affects the scholar’s perceptions?” he posed. The former is entirely appropriate; the latter is not.
After highlighting that neither a preoccupation with past cultural achievements nor an exclusive focus on the future without awareness of the past is a productive approach for Armenian Studies scholars, Theriault concluded, “What is necessary is a model of a community of scholars engaging in both kinds of work in complementary and dynamically interactive ways.” “In every aspect of its mission and actual activity, NAASR provides the space and lines of connection that allow, encourage and indeed are the very condition for this scholarly community. In the same way that specific territory—think of Artsakh, Ani, the Dakotas, or any other indigenous land where every hill and river, every constructed edifice and marker, every plant and animal, contributes to a unique medium through which social relations among those attached to this land are bound together—is the essential conduit and binder of interconnection and shared identity, so does NAASR provide that for the community of Armenian scholars.”
Reports from NAASR staff and committees
After Theriault’s presentation and discussion, the business session of the Assembly commenced, which included reports by Treasurer Bruce Roat, Executive Director Silva Sedrakian and Academic Director Mamigonian, as well as the presentation of the co-chairs of the Nominating Committee, Nancy R. Kolligian and Ara Araz, prior to the election of members of the Board of Directors.
Sedrakian reflected on positive developments, such as the addition of many new members around the United States as well as in other countries and encouraged all “who care about keeping our Armenian heritage, culture and history alive” to become members and to urge others to do likewise. She cited as highlights of the year two very successful outreach events: in Los Angeles, to mark the hiring of Dr. Taner Akçam as the inaugural director of the Armenian Genocide Research Program of the Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA, and in Cambridge, honoring Prof. Christina Maranci’s appointment to the Mashtots Chair in Armenian Studies at Harvard. She also presented a special gift to Saryan to recognize her time as NAASR chairperson.
Mamigonian emphasized the quality as well as the quantity of NAASR’s academic programming, which in 2023 included the co-sponsorship of several major international conferences and vital partnerships with a wide range of academic colleges and universities as well as community organizations, noting, “There is no possibility of doing all of these programs on our own, nor would it be desirable to try to…our strength lies in our ability to work with others towards our goals—namely, advancing Armenian studies and research.”
Results of elections
The following candidates were elected to the NAASR Board of Directors: incumbents Ara Araz of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey; Michael Bobelian of Cold Spring Harbor, New York; Dr. Gregory Ketabgian of La Canada, California; Stephen Kurkjian of Manomet, Massachusetts; Dr. Armineh Mirzabegian of Wellesley, Massachusetts; and Judith Saryan of Cambridge, Massachusetts; and new members Dr. Sharon Chekijian of New Haven, Connecticut; Ani Hovannisian of Los Angeles, California; Dr. Mary Papazian of Livermore, California; and Dr. Henry C. Theriault of Brookline, Massachusetts.
Tribute to longtime members and those of who have passed away
Chairperson Saryan recognized with gratitude 25, 50, 60 and 65-year members for their enduring commitment to NAASR. 25 years: Roger K. Hagopian, Paul R. Ignatius, Marc A. Mamigonian., Carissa D. Vanitzian and Gayle M. Yapchaian; 50 years: Eva A. Medzorian, Robin L. Tashjian and Dr. Edward H. Yeterian; 60 years: Yervant Chekijian and Michael Kilijian; 65 years: Mary-Louise Essaian and Edward Shooshanian.
Finally, Saryan paid respect to a number of extraordinary leaders in the community and dedicated supporters of NAASR who passed away during the past year: diplomat and author Edward Alexander, who passed away at the age of 103; NAASR Board member and principal benefactor for NAASR’s Vartan Gregorian Building, musician and philanthropist Edward Avedisian of Lexington, Massachusetts; Prof. Richard G. Hovannisian, one of the leading lights of Armenian Studies for more than half a century at UCLA; Dr. Mary Kilbourne Matossian, longtime NAASR member and pioneer scholar of Soviet Armenia and women’s studies; Peter Onanian, former NAASR Board member and prominent Boston-area community leader; and Dr. Dennis Papazian, NAASR charter member and former Board member and founder of the Armenian Research Center in Dearborn, Michigan.
New Executive Committee formed
Following the close of the Assembly and the tallying of election results, the newly reconfigured Board of Directors met and approved a new Executive Committee consisting of Ara Araz, chairperson; Margaret Mgrublian of Pasadena, California, vice-chairperson; Arlene Saryan Alexander of Washington, D.C., secretary; Bruce W. Roat of Los Angeles, California, treasurer; Nancy R. Kolligian of Watertown, Massachusetts, advisor; Mark Momjian of Wayne, Pennsylvania, advisor; and Dr. Henry Theriault, advisor. Araz becomes the first NAASR chairperson from outside of the Greater Boston area in the organization’s history. The geographical diversity of the Executive Committee reflects that the work of the organization is truly national, if not international, in its scope.