Professor Richard Hovannisian Across Three Continents

UCLA–During the Fall Quarter at UCLA, Professor Richard Hovannisian has participated in professional and community events across three continents, with presentations in Paris; Drama and Thessaloniki; Madras and Calcutta; Toronto; and Racine, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

France and Greece

Dr. Hovannisian, Holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Armenian History at UCLA, began the term on September 5 with a talk on historic Armenia to the Organization of Istanbul Armenia’s in St. Peter Armenian Church in Van Nuys, before departing for the Sorbonne University in Paris as a participant in the 11th General Conference of the International Association of Armenian Studies, September 9-12. The conference drew nearly 200 specialists in Armenian studies from throughout Europe and North America, as well as from Armenia, Russia, and the Middle East. There Hovannisian assessed the advances in Armenian studies during the past three decades and the areas that still awaited further serious investigation, including the decision-making processes relating to the Armenian Genocide and the repatriation campaign to Soviet Armenia after World War II, as well as a collective, comprehensive history of the Armenian Diaspora.

While in Paris, Hovannisian spoke to the Armenian community on September 13 under the auspices of the Hamazkayin and the Nor Serount associations on his impressions of a journey through the historic Western Armenian provinces, now making up the eastern regions of Turkey. Hamazkayin president Mrs. Hera Tossounian welcomed the standing-room audience, and Hamazkayin central committee member Mrs. Sella Tenjoukian traveled to Paris to introduce the speaker. While in Paris, Hovannisian also gave two half-hour radio interviews on Armenian issues, past and present, as well as an interview for the Russian-Armenian journal, Aniv.

At the end of the month, Hovannisian returned to Europe to participate in the Second International Conference on Pontic Studies, held in Drama, Greece, September 27-29. During the three-day program organized by the Saint George Peristereota Research Center in Thessaloniki, in association with Aristotle University and the Pedagogic Faculty of Democritus University, scholars from Russia, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Western Europe, and the United States focused on the history and culture of the Black Sea-Pontus region until the compulsory population exchange in 1923 which virtually eliminated the Greek and other Christian elemen’s. During the conference, Richard Hovannisian gave an overview of the Armenian presence in the Pontus from ancient to modern times; the make-up of the Armenian communities from Trebizond to Samson; their schools, churches, and cultural organizations; and their tribulations from the decade of the 1890s until their disappearance during the calamitous years from 1915 to 1923.

On September 30, Hovannisian accepted the invitation of the Soghomon Tehlirian Youth Association and the Pontic Greek Associations of Thessaloniki to give his power point presentation on historic Armenia, held in the seafront Efxeinos Lesxi Pontic auditorium. With Armenian, Greek, and English being spoken interchangeably, Mrs. Araxie Apelian of Athens was on hand to give simultaneous, professional translations.

The Midwest and the Armenian Bar Association

On October 11-18, Hovannisian traveled to the Midwest to speak on the changing landscape of historic Western Armenia. His talks were under the auspices of St. Hagop Church in Racine, Wisconsin, arranged by Dr. Levon Saryan, and of the Armenian General Benevolent Union in Chicago, under the presidency of Professor Leona Mirza, with arrangement by Ms. Mary Hoogasian, esquire. While in Chicago, Hovannisian enjoyed the hospitality of his cousins Mark and Judy Gavoor and of Professor Ann Lousin.

The Armenian Bar Association invited Professor Hovannisian to Las Vegas on October 17 for its mid-year meeting to make a presentation on genocide education, with particular emphasis on the Armenian Genocide. Teaming up with Mrs. Alice Petrossian,

Chief Academic Officer of the Pasadena Unified School District, Hovannisian outlined approaches to universalizing the Armenian experience and making it relevant to the lives of students and teachers today. He drew attention to the advances through the Facing History and Ourselves Foundation and other organizations devoted to human rights issues.

On October 18, Hovannisian was back in Los Angeles to speak to local playwrights in the annual Writers’ Workshop of the Center Theatre Group. His theme was on portrayals of the Armenian Genocide. The topic was particularly relevant to one of the writers who is making the subject the theme of book based on her family history. An enjoyable and informative exchange took place between the speaker and the up-and-coming playwrights.

Toronto

Professor Hovannisian was in Toronto on November 1-2 to speak during Holocaust Education Week under the auspices of the United Jewish Association’s Holocaust Centre, in association with the Zoryan Institute under the leadership of Greg Sarkissian and George Shirinian. On November 1, Hovannisian was at the Sephardic Kehila Centre to consider the little-explored topic, “Righteous Turks and Armenian Righteous among the Nations: Rescuers in the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust.” Based on the more than 700 UCLA oral history interviews with survivors of the Armenian Genocide, it has become apparent that most accounts include acts of intervention by Turks or other Muslims. While intervention was not always altruistic, it was critical in the survival of the victims. Hovannisian assessed the various kinds and motivations for intervention and deplored the fact that state denial of the Armenian Genocide has prevented contact between rescuers and rescued and greater knowledge of the helpfulness of countless “good Turks.”

Professor Hovannisian also noted that little is known about the numerous acts of intervention by Armenia’s to rescue Jews during the Holocaust one generation later. Armenia’s throughout the Ukraine and Southern Russia as well as in France hid and sheltered Jews during the German occupation of these areas in World War II. There are far more unrecorded stories than the few that have been brought to the attention of Yad Vashem and given the recognition of “Righteous among the Nations.” Hovannisian also spoke on this theme but with a broader focus in the Armenian Community Centre of Toronto to a very large and appreciative audience on November 2. The Toronto chapters of the Armenian General Benevolent Union and the Armenian National Committee of Greater joined that day as co-sponsors of the event.

Armenian Renewal in India

Richard Hovannisian was in India with his daughter Ani Hovannisian-Kevorkian from November 7 to 17 to participate in the re-consecration of several renovated and refurbished historic Armenian churches and to lecture in an academic seminar on this occasion. The pilgrimage began in Madras (Chennai), where on November 9, His Holiness Garegin II presided over the re-consecration of the historic early-eighteenth-century Church of Saint Mary (Surb Astvatsatsin) on Armenian Street, where he was assisted by Bishops Arshak Khachatryan and Anushavan Jamkochyan from Armenia and Armash Nalbandian from Damascus. There in the courtyard are the tombstones of the famous merchants and intellectuals of this community, which boasted publication of the world’s first Armenian journal in the late eighteenth century as well as the earliest works on Armenian liberation ideology and constitutional government of a future liberated Armenia.

The next week was spent on pilgrimages to the newly-renovated churches and impressive manicured grounds of the Armenian churches in Bengal. These included Holy Trinity Church and community center in Tangra, an impoverished, crowded northern suburb of Calcutta (Kolkata); the eighteenth-century Church of Saint John the Baptist of Chinsurah, two hours journey from Calcutta; and Saint Mary/Astvatsatsin Church of Saidabad, a difficult six-hour ride from Calcutta. Although no Armenian communities remain in these areas, the generous endowment left by Sir Catchick Paul Chater (whose relative Liz Chater assisted with arrangemen’s) and other past notables have allowed the wardens (trustees–most recently, Haik Sookias, Jr., Susan Reuben, Michael Dutt, Sunil Sobpr) of Calcutta’s Holy Nazareth Church to renovate and maintain these sanctuaries. The celebrations were greatly enhanced by the participation of His Holiness Garegin and the choir of Holy Etchmiadzin which had flown from Armenia for the occasion.

During the academic seminar at the community center on November 11, Hovannisian examined the role of the historic mercantile role of the Armenian community of India and especially the relationship between the community and homeland, noting that Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment concepts made their way to the homeland via the Armenian diasporan communities extending from Venice to Madras (Emin, Baghramian, Shahamirian, Shmavonian). He also drew attention to the educational and philanthropic endeavors of the Calcutta community, which focused on a long-term presence in India through the establishment of schools and social, athletic, and charitable organizations, including the home for Armenian aged around St. Gregory’s chapel in the city.

Other seminar speakers included Father Oshagan Gulgulian, who gave a power-point presentation on the renovation process of the Armenian churches which he oversaw, and Dr. Omar Khalidi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who discussed Armenian architectural styles. Other memorable programs took place at the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy (Mardasirakan Jemaran), founded in the 1820s and now having a studentbody of young men and women from Armenia and the Middle East. Many former students of the college and the Davidian Girls’ School, now living in Australia, the U.S., Great Britain, Austria, Cyprus, Iran, and elsewhere, were on hand for the reunion. While in Calcutta, Hovannisian was interviewed by a correspondent of the India Times, Paul Chaderjian of the Armenian Reporter, and Mania Ghazaryan of Etchmiadzin’s “Shoghokat” television studio.

The highlight of the week’s activities was the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Holy Church of Nazareth on Armenian Street in Calcutta on November 16 and at the same time the ordination of Deacon Harutyun Hambardzumyan as Father Avetis to serve the small local community and the Armenian College. A festive banquet at the Taj Bengal Hotel concluded the week-long pilgrimage.

Slavic and Middle East Associations

Three days after returning to his classes at UCLA, Professor Hovannisian completed his fall schedule of lectures and conferences in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. He attended the 40th National Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in Philadelphia, November 20-22, where he chaired a panel sponsored by the Society for Armenian Studies on “Soviet Armenia and the Armenian Question: Homeland-Diaspora Relations, Repatriation, and Irredentism,” with papers by Robert Krikorian of George Washington University, Sevan Yousefian of UCLA, and Dikran Kaligian of the Armenian Review. Hovannisian then traveled to Washington D.C., November 22-24, where as President of the Society of Armenian Studies, he chaired the annual business meeting of the Society and attended the several panels sponsored by the SAS or its members during the annual conference of the Middle East Studies Association.

Professor Hovannisian is currently working with the executive council of the Society for Armenian Studies on a major international conference to mark the Society’s 35th anniversary. The conference will be held on the UCLA campus on March 28-20, 2009 under the auspices of several of the chairs and programs in Armenian Studies in the United States.

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