Celebrating 35th Anniversary of the Society for Armenian Studies

WESTWOOD–The 35th anniversary of the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) will be marked with a three-day conference at UCLA, March 26-28, 2009 ending with a celebratory banquet in the evening of Saturday, March 28 at the UCLA Faculty Center. The theme of the conference is: “Armenian Studies At A Threshold.”

More than 40 papers will be presented at this big conference by scholars both from the United States and from abroad. Professor Richard G. Hovannisian, holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian History, who is also the current Chairman of the Board of the Society for Armenian Studies, says that more than one hundred scholars have applied for participation in this conference and that choosing only forty from among them will be very hard. A special committee has been appointed for this task. Prof. Hovannisian is chairing the entire event.

The Society for Armenian Studies was founded in 1974 in Boston by a group of Armenian scholars who were attending the annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association from their various institutions. Over dinner one cold November evening, Professors Richard G. Hovannisian (UCLA), Avedis K. Sanjian%u220 (UCLA), Nina G. Garsoi?an (Columbia University), Robert W. Thomson (Harvard, then Oxford), and Dickran Kouymjian (AUB, later CSU Fresno) agreed that for the future growth of Armenian studies, it was important for Armenian scholars to have closer contact with each other and share information and research finds in a common forum. The closest venue for such a purpose proved to be the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of which a number of the Armenian scholars were already members. Soon, SAS became an affiliate member organization of MESA. Ever since, SAS has arranged for numerous Armenian panels as part of the annual MESA programs at which both faculty and graduate students in Armenian studies have participated.

As it is well known, there were no Armenian studies programs in the United States as late as the 1950s. In the late 50s and early 60s, several major universities began establishing programs in Middle Eastern Studies ‘s among them UCLA. It was no surprise, therefore, that MESA ‘s “a private, non-profit, non-political learned society that brings together scholars, educators and those in the study of the region from all over the world — was created in 1966 and began with 50 members. Its membership currently has reached 3,000 and now serves as an umbrella organization for more than sixty institutional members and thirty-nine affiliated organizations. The association is a constituent society of the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Council of Area Studies Associations, and a member of the National Humanities Alliance. As part of its goal to advance learning, facilitate communication and promote cooperation, MESA sponsors an annual meeting that is a leading international forum for scholarship, intellectual exchange and pedagogical innovation. It is responsible for the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the premiere journal on the region, the MESA Bulletin and a quarterly newsletter. An awards program recognizes scholarly achievement, service to the profession and exemplary student mentoring. MESA is governed by a nine-member Board of Directors elected by the membership. “

It was also in the 1960s that the Armenian-American community felt the need for Armenian studies to be part of the Middle Eastern studies programs in universities. Universities were not averse to the establishment of Armenian studies, provided the community supplied the funds for the support of the chairs. The initial fund-raising movement was spearheaded by the Boston-based National Association for Armenian Studies and Research headed by Mr. Manoog S. Young. It was in that decade, then, that two chairs in Armenian studies were established ‘s the first at Harvard and the second at UCLA. Until then there were programs in Armenian studies in various institutions but now, with the creation of chairs, M.A.s and Ph.D.s were on offer in Armenian history, language and literature. At Harvard, the chair was offered to Prof. Robert W. Thomson (history), at UCLA to Prof. Avedis K. Sanjian (language and literature). Additionally, until the establishment of the Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian history in 1986 to be held by Prof. Richard G. Hovannisian, the professor was asked to be in charge of the graduate program in Armenian history in the History Department of UCLA. Today, there are fifteen chairs in Armenian studies and many Armenian studies programs in universities and colleges in the United States.

In another piece, more will be written on these programs and about the very important role the Society for Armenian Studies has played in creating opportunities for the Armenian faculty and graduate students of various institutions to become visible through participation in important conferences, through the publication of their articles in the SAS journal, and in general making their work internationally known through book reviews, etc. The Society has earned the respect of scholars in general and all those that are interested in Armenian studies and are familiar with its publications. In the meantime, please do reserve the March 26-28 dates for the SAS conference at UCLA. It will be a nostalgic event for the older scholars, a forum of opportunity for the young scholars, and an intellectual and emotional feast for all those present.

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