USC Institute of Armenian Studies Marks 10 Years

A view of the USC campus


LOS ANGELES (USC News)—Growing up in an Armenian community in Wisconsin, Richard Antaramian began wondering about his family’s history.

The answers he received didn’t adequately address his curiosity.

“It pushed me into more rigorous areas of inquiry, and ultimately I came out with a Ph.D. and a lifelong desire both to teach and research the rich history of the Armenian people,” said Antaramian, assistant professor of history and holder of the Turpanjian Early Career Chair in Contemporary Armenian Studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

He currently teaches two undergraduate courses on the Ottomans and World War I. In the spring he’ll teach a class on the Armenian diaspora.

Antaramian’s faculty position was established this year in conjunction with the 10-year anniversary of USC Dornsife’s Institute of Armenian Studies and a commitment from faculty, staff and administrators university-wide to create a preeminent program for Armenian studies at USC.

“Exploring Armenia in such depth offers a wonderful opportunity for our students,” said Steve Kay, dean of USC Dornsife, at an anniversary gala that raised nearly $2 million to support research, education and outreach. “At any given time, USC has almost 1,000 Armenian students on our campus. But, thinking bigger, we have thousands of students who are not Armenian who also can learn from our scholars’ incredible wealth of knowledge.”

The IAS was established in 2005 as part of a partnership between USC and the Armenian community to structure a multidisciplinary center of learning. The fall gala paid tribute to USC President C. L. Max Nikias, a staunch supporter since the institute’s inception.

“President Nikias advocated for us 10 years ago, and we are grateful that he continues to believe that, in scholarship, there are no insignificant fields,” said Charles Ghailian, chair of the IAS Leadership Council. “Going forward, the institute will be a more visible, active organization that initiates research, collaborates with other global centers of Armenian studies and engages with various areas of study on campus.”

Ambitious aims
Newly appointed IAS Director Salpi Ghazarian ’75 — who earned her bachelor’s from USC Dornsife in history and social science — has ambitious goals for the institute’s growth, including hosting cultural events and lectures, and bringing Armenian political figures to campus for discussions with faculty and students. Ghazarian will build on the foundation laid by Richard Dekmejian, who has directed the institute for the past decade.

She also hopes to foster an environment of expanded research and publication, delving into such issues as the Armenian diaspora and the Armenian Genocide.

“I am so pleased to be able to come back to USC to participate in expanding the field of Armenian studies so that it both contributes to and benefits from this incredibly broad scholarly community,” said Ghazarian, who previously founded and directed The Civilitas Foundation, a civic organization and advocacy group that empowers its employees to make decisions about and raise awareness of Armenian issues through the Internet, research and public programming.

Earlier this year, the Armenian Film Foundation officially gave J. Michael Hagopian’s collection of 400 digitized interviews of Armenian Genocide survivors and witnesses to the Visual History Archive at the USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education.

Richard Hovannisian, adjunct professor of history, was appointed to take the lead on advising the USC Shoah Foundation on integrating these testimonies into the archive of 53,000 interviews from the Holocaust and other genocides.

Ghazarian plans to work with the USC Shoah Foundation to develop lesson plans based on these testimonies.

“There is no aspect of our existence that was not impacted by the Armenian Genocide,” Ghazarian said.

As history unfolds
Antaramian’s research focuses on the role of the Armenian Church under Ottoman governance during the 19th century. At USC, he will expand his dissertation, “In Subversive Service of the Sublime State: Tanzimat, Consolidating Jurisdiction and Armenian Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 1844-1896” into a book.

“We are typically told that there was an antagonistic relationship between Armenians and the Ottoman governance — but that’s not the case,” Antaramian said. “My research shows that the Armenian Church itself became a site of politics in the Ottoman Empire.”

Antaramian appreciates having the opportunity to research and teach in Los Angeles, which has a diverse Armenian community from Turkey, Syria, Iran and many other countries of the diaspora.

“To me, diaspora signifies all the communities throughout the world who share common experience and institutional connections,” Antaramian said. “If a student wanted to do oral interviews with someone for a project or paper, he or she could do it right here.”

He also believes that the depth of the Armenian diaspora in Los Angeles will attract graduate students and visiting scholars to USC Dornsife.

Antaramian and Ghazarian will work together to encourage scholarship and raise awareness of Armenian issues — past and present.

“This is a new era of scholarship, a new broad interdisciplinary world of study — generally in the 21st century, certainly at USC, and now with Armenian studies at USC Dornsife,” Ghazarian said. “Going forward, we will make the institute’s presence permeate into many other disciplines, offering a unique opportunity both for students and professors to get a deeper understanding of what it means to be Armenian.”

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