A Brief History of the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State 1960-2012

Scholarship recipients

Coordinator, Armenian Studies Program
Director, Center for Armenian Studies

Armenian Studies courses have been taught at Fresno State for more than fifty years. Dr. Richard Hovannisian taught Armenian Studies courses through the extension program, 1960-1962. Dr. Louise Nalbandian of the History Department began teaching Armenian history at Fresno State in 1967, soon developing a broader program, including language and culture classes. Serpouhie Messerlian taught Armenian language courses beginning in 1970 and Dr. Arra Avakian taught a variety of Armenian culture and history courses from 1970-1973.

Upon Dr. Nalbandian’s untimely death in late 1974, the University pledged to open an international search to select a candidate to head a new Armenian Studies Program. After an unsuccessful initial search, a second search resulted in the hiring of Dr. Dickran Kouymjian (Columbia University), who at the time was teaching in Paris. He took up his duties in the spring semester of 1977, ending a two-year hiatus at Fresno State. Dr. Kouymjian was appointed as Director and charged to develop an Armenian Program of the highest standards.

Kouymjian with Catholicos Aram I

In the years since Dr. Kouymjian’s arrival the Armenian Studies Program developed an international reputation in terms of excellence in teaching, quality of scholarship, and active student and community outreach. In the variety and depth of courses offered, the Program quickly became the most dynamic undergraduate Armenian Studies Program in the United State (and perhaps anywhere), teaching hundreds of students each semester.

The Program has been recognized for its record of faculty scholarship and for its outreach program bringing the Armenian community of Fresno closer to the University. The Program growth has been matched by an increase in scholarship/grants available to students taking Armenian or Armenian Studies courses.

The Center for Armenian Studies
The Center for Armenian Studies was established in the Fall of 1988 in the Peters Business Building, and houses the Armenian Studies Program, the Sahatdjian Armenian Studies Library, the Avedian Armenian Studies Archives, the newspaper Hye Sharzhoom/Armenian Action, the Armenian Students Organization, and the Index of Armenian Art. The Bedrosian Conference Room and the Mirigian Gallery, on the same floor as the Program, are direct offshoots of the Program and its community supporters.

The Haig and Isabel Berberian Chair of Armenian Studies
A two-year campaign culminated with the establishment of the Haig and Isabel Berberian Chair of Armenian Studies in December, 1988, and Dr. Kouymjian was appointed as the first holder of the Chair in March of 1989. The Berberian Endowed Chair provides financial support for a distinguished Armenologist. The endowment honoring the philanthropist Haig Berberian and his wife was established by a major gift from their son-in-law and daughter, Dr. Arnold H. and Dianne Gazarian. Other friends have made significant contributions to this endowment.

Henry S. Khanzadian Kazan Professorship in Modern Armenian and Immigration Studies
The Kazan Professorship was originally established through a generous gift by Henry and Victoria Kazan of Juno Beach, Florida and Long Island, New York. The endowment supported a senior professor who taught equally in the History Department and the Armenian Studies Program. Special areas of concentration are modern Armenian history, history of the Armenian Genocide, and the history of immigration to North America. Since 2000 the position has been housed entirely in the College of Arts and Humanities and is called the Henry S. Khanzadian Visiting Professorship in Armenian Studies.

Henry S. Khanzadian Kazan Visiting Professor in Armenian Studies
This specially designed endowment allows the Armenian Studies Program to invite, for one semester each year, an internationally recognized scholar in contemporary Armenian affairs. The professor teaches a single course on a subject related to modern Armenian history, including the Genocide of 1915 and the formation of the Armenian Republic. In addition, the scholar is required to present three public lectures on a single topic, which are to be published in the Kazan Armenian Studies series.

Dickran Kouymjian with Catholicos Karekin I

Nine distinguished senior scholars in Armenian Studies have served in the position of Kazan Visiting Professor in Armenian Studies at Fresno State: Richard Hovannisian (UCLA) (2000), Robert Hewsen (Rowan College) (2001), Barbara Merguerian (NAASR) (2003), Ara Sanjian (Haigazian University) (2003), James Reid (UCLA) (2006), Levon Chookaszian (Yerevan State University) (2006), George Bournoutian (Iona College) (2009), Abraham Terian (St. Nersess Armenian Seminary) (2010), and Barlow Der Mugrdechian (2011).

The M. Victoria Karagozian Kazan Endowment Fund for the Armenian Studies Program
Henry S. Khanzadian Kazan and M. Victoria Khanzadian Kazan made a gift of their East Quoque, New York, home to Fresno State in 1997. Thanks to that second generous donation by the late Kazans, the university has received a special endowment for (a) general support of Armenian Studies Program activities, and (b) financial resources for research, publications, and conferences related to Armenian studies.

Armenian Studies Program Faculty
The Armenian Studies Program has had many full-time and part-time teachers who assisted Dr. Nalbandian, Dr. Kouymjian, and Prof. Der Mugrdechian in teaching a variety of courses. Serpouhie Messerlian, Dr. Arra Avakian, Flora Tchaderjian, Hagop Karamanlian, Mark Malkasian, Hagop Terjimanian, Jimmie Baloian, Richard Hagopian, Ralph Setian, Michael Krekorian, Van Der Mugrdechian, Nazik Arisian, and Arakel Arisian are among those who have taught Armenian language, history, and Armenian studies courses.

In the Fall of 1985, Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian, a graduate of UCLA, was hired as a full-time lecturer in the Program, giving an added position to the Program. This second position in Armenian Studies has been funded by the University for twenty-five years. Der Mugrdechian teaches courses in Armenian language, art, literature, culture, and history. He received his B.A. from Fresno State and was one of Dr. Kouymjian’s very first students.

Dr. Isabel Kaprielian (University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada) was appointed in Fall of 1997 as Henry S. Khanzadian Kazan Professor of Modern Armenian and Immigration History, with cross appointment in the History Department. She taught courses in Armenian history, the Armenian Genocide, and Armenian immigration, before she retired in 2006.

Dr. Kouymjian, who began teaching at Fresno State in 1977, retired from the University in May 2008, after a career spanning thirty-one years as Director of the Program and holder of the Berberian Chair, the first endowed chair on the Fresno state campus and the first fulltime chair in the 23 campus system of California State University.

Prof. Der Mugrdechian was appointed Coordinator of the Armenian Studies Program and Director of the Center for Armenian Studies in August 2008.

Dr. Sergio La Porta (Harvard) joined the faculty in August of 2009, as the new Berberian Chair in Armenian Studies. He spent the last seven years teaching at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His area of expertise is in medieval Armenian history and theology.

Courses and instruction

Over the past thirty years more than 6,000 students have taken Armenian and Armenian Studies courses at Fresno State. The core of the Armenian Studies Program is the study of Armenian history, language, and an introductory course on Armenian Studies. Courses on Armenian literature, William Saroyan, Armenian architecture, Armenian manuscript painting, Armenian minor arts, Armenian Genocide and modern political activism, the Armenian diaspora, history of the Armenians in Fresno, Armenian film history have been taught regularly. The Program has always been active in the community promoting the study of Armenian topics and bringing an awareness of Armenian issues.

Hye Sharzhoom
The first issue of Hye Sharzhoom was published in April of 1979, as a special insert into The Daily Collegian newspaper on campus, to commemorate the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Since then Hye Sharzhoom has grown to have an international readership of more that 6,000.

Fresno State students during a Genocide commemoration event

Hye Sharzhoom is currently a supplement to The Collegian and is published quarterly with the goal to inform the public about activities of the Armenian students on campus, and to report on Armenian Studies Program events and activities. Students in the Armenian Students Organization and the Armenian Studies Program are involved in the process of writing, editing, and preparing articles published in the paper. It is the oldest regularly issued Armenian student newspaper published anywhere in the world.

Armenian Studies Program Archives

The Armenian Studies Program archives are rich in the variety of materials that have been donated over the years. Film archives, the Index of Armenian Art, the Saroyan archive, and a collection of books and photographs, and unpublished survivor accounts and autobiographies have enriched the research activities of the Armenian Studies Program. In addition, the Special Collections of the Madden Library contains a wealth of Armenian archival materials, much of it deposited by the Armenian Studies Program.

Armenian Studies Program Lecture Series

The Fresno State campus has always been an attraction for the numerous guests of the Armenian Studies Program, among them: His Holiness Vazken I, Catholicos of All Armenians; His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians; His Holiness Karekin II Sarkissian, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia; His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia; His Eminence Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem; His Eminence Archbishop Shnork Kaloustian, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople; John Guiragossian, Foreign Minister of Armenia; Ambassador Arman Kirakossian, Baroness Caroline Cox, Richard Hovannisian, Vartan Gregorian, and numerous other educators, religious leaders, and community leaders from throughout the world.

Through the cooperation of the Philip Lorenz Keyboard Concert Series, pianists such as Vardan Mamikonian, Armen Babakhanian, Sergei Babayan, Vahan Mardirossian, Nareh Arghamanyan, Shahan Arzruni, and cellist Alexander Chaushian have performed on the Fresno State campus.

Armenian Studies Program Website

The Armenian Studies Program website, armenianstudies.csufresno.edu, is internationally recognized. It is the most visited academic website on the Fresno State campus and provides a wealth of information and resources for the student and community member alike. Recent statistics indicate show that on an average there are 10,000 visitors a day, some 3 to 4 million a year, with 35% of the visitors originating from abroad.

Churches of Armenia: A Legacy to the World

Richard and Anne Elbrecht have been photographing and documenting Armenian churches in the historic homeland of the Armenian people. As an outcome of their visits with Dr. Kouymjian, and encouraged by his enthusiasm, they decided to donate their archive of 157 photographs, “Churches of Historic Armenia: A Legacy to the World,” to the Armenian Studies Program at California State University, Fresno, where the photographs have become a permanent part of the Armenian Studies Program Web site, making them available to the world.

Armenian Students Organization (ASO)

The ASO was officially recognized on campus in 1974 and since then has been active in promoting Armenian culture on campus. They have organized annual Armenian Genocide commemorations, invited speakers, and been involved with the publication of the Hye Sharzhoom newspaper. Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian has been the long-time advisor.

Armenian Studies Annual Film Festival
The Armenian Studies Program has been holding its Annual Film Festival for the past thirteen years. The Festival attracts film entries from throughout the world and has become a favorite of the Fresno community.

Armenian Studies Program Scholarships and Grants
The Harry and Mary Topoozian Armenian Studies Merit Scholarship Fund was established by a gift from Mr. Harry Topoozian. A scholarship will be awarded to an outstanding student who has excelled in scholarship, leadership, and community service.

The Armenian Studies Program Dickran Kouymjian Writing Award
In 1997 the Armenian Studies Program Advisory Board decided to establish an endowment fund for excellence in writing from the proceeds of the 20th Anniversary Banquet honoring Professor Kouymjian.

The Norma and Bob Der Mugrdechian Armenian Studies Endowed Scholarship has been established to provide scholarships for students who are studying, or have declared a major, in the area of Armenian Studies.

Scholarship Funds

Students working toward a minor or simply enrolling in Armenian courses are eligible for scholarships administered by the Program. These include the Charles K. and Pansy Pategian Zlokovich Scholarship; the Nerces and Ruth Azadian Memorial Scholarship; the Yervant, Rose, and Hovannes Levonian Educational Grant; the Pete Peters Endowment; the Koren and Alice Odian Kasparian Scholarship; Telfeyan Evangelical Fund, Inc. Scholarship; the Kirkor and Mary Bedoian Memorial Scholarship; Charlie Keyan Endowed Scholarship; the Genevieve Tatoian Scholarship; Haig Tashjian Memorial Scholarship; Albert and Isabelle Kabrielian Scholarship for Armenian Studies; John and Lucille Melkonian Scholarship; Mary Nalchajian Scholarship; Walter Sepetjian Scholarship; the Thomas A. Kooyumjian Family Foundation Scholarship; and the Bertha and John Garabedian Charitable Foundation Scholarship Fund.

The Future

The Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State looks forward to the coming years. The Program will continue to grow and continue in its role as the most active undergraduate Armenian Studies Program in the United States.


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