LOS ANGELES—On the evening of March 11, a large number of bibliophiles and supporters from throughout Los Angeles gathered at UCLA to celebrate the donation of the Berekian family library to the university. The jubilant event was held at the Chitjian Collection and Archive and Research Program in Armenian Archaeology and Ethnography center, inside UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. Also present at the event were members of the Berekian family, including sisters Gail and Beverly.
“This has been a wonderful occasion, as it both marked the considerable enhancement of our library through the Berekian donation and showcased our community’s enthusiasm for cultural excellence,” said Prof. S. Peter Cowe, the Narekatsi Chair of Armenian Studies at UCLA and Director of the Chitjian Research Program.
Speakers at the event included Prof. Cowe; Kristine Martirosyan-Olshansky, Assistant Director of the Chitjian Research Program; David Hirsch, a representative of the UCLA Library; and Beverly Berekian.
Martirosyan-Olshansky spoke of the great significance of the Berekian family library donation. She said the library comprises a vast range of archival materials including letters and photographs belonging to Kacher Berekian, the family’s grandfather, a Genocide survivor from Hajin. She added that these materials will be digitized, translated into English, and made available on the Chitjian Research Program’s website.
In her remarks, Beverly Berekian spoke of her grandfather’s odyssey from Hajin to California. “We grew up knowing nothing of my dad’s side of the family, except that my grandfather, Kacher, came to the US during the Genocide through Philadelphia and eventually settled down in Los Angeles,” she said. “He was a tailor and had a shop on Fair Oaks, in Pasadena, and my dad often said he made clothes for movie stars.”
“Kacher died when my dad was just five years old,” Berekian continued. “My grandmother, Nevarte, remarried but never spoke of her plight during the Genocide. All we learned from her was that she came to the US as an orphan, was taken in by a family in New York, and somehow (no one knows how) met my grandfather and had my dad. Nevarte moved in with my family when her second husband died. She stayed with us until she passed away at the age of 91. My family is more grateful than words can express to the Cotsen Institute, Dr. Peter Cowe, and, especially, to Kristine Martirosyan-Olshansky for providing us with some insight into our family history by translating the writings of our grandparents. My dad did not have any sons — as far as we have been told, my grandfather’s brothers were murdered during the Genocide — and without this opportunity our family history and the Berekian Family name would be lost. We are honored to know that our family legacy will live on at UCLA”
Following Berekian’s address, Professor Cowe highlighted the most important items in the Berekian collection of printed matter, including Ottoman-Armenian and French publications, and Armenian books from various American presses, Boston imprints in particular, which Kacher and his wife would have purchased in the United States.
The evening’s last speaker, David Hirsch, provided a brief overview of the UCLA Library’s Armenian collection. “From very humble beginnings in the early 1960s, our collection has grown to over 25,000 volumes of Armenian and Armenian-studies materials,” he said. “It includes many rare books such as an early Armenian printed bible published in Amsterdam in 1666, and manuscripts such as the illuminated Gladzor Gospel, which was completed in the 14th century.”
“Endowments and donations, such as that of the Berekian family, are extremely important in helping us build and maintain a world-class Armenian collection,” Hirsch continued. “This is the second collection of books we have received from the family. We are very grateful to the Berekians and donors like them for their continuing support.”
Following Hirsch’s address, Prof. Cowe introduced critically acclaimed singer and instrumentalist Areni Agbabian, who delighted the audience with her performance of three Armenian folk songs. She accompanied herself with Tibetan prayer bowls, which created the effect of a drone characteristic of both Armenian ecclesiastical and folk music.
The event concluded with a reception in a warm atmosphere, held at the Cotsen Seminar Room.
The Chitjian Collection and Archive and Research Program in Armenian Archaeology and Ethnography was established by the generous endowment of Sara Chitjian in 2013, as part of the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. It is the first permanent program at a leading US university dedicated to Armenian archaeology and ethnography. The Chitjian Archive serves as a repository for Armenian manuscripts and documents, preserving the written and visual history of Armenian families around the world. Its mission is to preserve these invaluable records, digitize them, and make them accessible to researchers and the public alike. The Chitjian Archive encourages community members to consider donating materials to the Research Program.