Armenian History Comes to Life at UC Irvine

Community Leaders Raise Funds to Continue Armenian Studies Classes



Mrs. Sylvie Tertzakian giving donors the two-year history of Armenian studies classes at UC Irvine. Photo by Dr. Garo Tertzakian


NORTH TUSTIN, Calif. – Armenian community leaders in Orange County have ensured that another academic year of Armenian studies courses with be offered at the University of California at Irvine, where no permanent Armenian Studies Chair yet exists.

On the evening of Sunday, December 6, Dr. Garo and Mrs. Sylvie Tertzakian invited a select group of donors to their home in the foothills of Tustin. The goal of the reception was to raise funds necessary to offer Armenian courses at UCI during the next academic year.

Those gathered included representatives of the Armenian National Committee, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Diocese and Prelacy of the Armenian Church, and local philanthropists.

After discussing the importance of offering the growing Armenian student population at UCI courses about their Armenian culture, the donors raised about $20,000. Dr. and Mrs. Tertzakian donated $3,000 of that total amount. There were many $1,000 donations, among them was the donation made by the ANC’s Orange County chapter.

For the past few years, Sylvie Tertzakian, formerly an Adjunct professor at Chapman University, and Prof. Touraj Daryaee, Associate Director of the Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at UCI, held discussions about offering courses in Armenian Studies within that Center. However, funds were needed to launch the courses.

In December 2007, the Tertzakians invited their friends to a fundraising in their home, and their collective effort raised more than $12,000 to hire two part time professors.
Two courses, one in ancient Armenian history, and the other in modern Armenian history were offered in the spring and fall quarters of 2008. More than 40 students enrolled in each course. UCI hired Prof. Alina Ayvazian of Berkeley to teach the ancient history and Prof. Levon Marashlian of Glendale College to teach the modern history.

Donor Antranik Zorayan told those gathered that it was important for UCI to continue offering Armenian courses, adding that an Armenian Studies program would provide young Armenian-Americans with an opportunity to be familiarized with the heritage of their people.

“My son took the first class in ancient Armenian history,” said donor Lydia Tutunjian. “He was very excited to learn about his roots, especially since he was born here and went through the public school system.

“Since last year, we’ve been offering Armenian History courses, Medieval and Modern Armenian History,” said Dr. Daryaee. “Our intention is to continue offering these courses, and eventually make it into an Armenian studies program.”

Mrs. Tertzakian explained that an endowed chair would bypass the need to hold annual fundraisers, allowing the community to have a full-time permanent institution on campus for Armenian Studies. A permanent program and an endowed Chair would allow UCI and the community to recruit the most distinguished professors in the field of Armenian Studies.

“We intend to push forward with our efforts and raise enough money until the day comes when we can say, with pride, that we have an Armenian Studies Chair at UCI,” said Dr Tertzakian, who was recently honored by the President of the Republic of Armenia, Mr. Serzh Sarkissian,with the “Mkhitar Heratsi” medal. Dr. Tertzakian was honored for his 22 years of service for the advancement of healthcare in Armenia.

“As a community we have already come to a level of maturity, where we must start developing and advancing our culture within the maistream US society,” said Seda Yaghoubian, an Irvine city planner. “Our community is already 30-years-old. Although we have our churches, schools, and many organizations, it will be programs such as the one at UC Irvine that will allow us to not only defend our heritage, but advance and spread it in this  society.”

Donor and Irvine jewelry designer Alishan Halebian added that an Armenian Studies program would help not only students at UC Irvine, but also Armenians and non-Armenians in Orange County to familiarize themselves with Armenian History.

Professors hired by UCI through these fundraising efforts often give lectures to the public-at-large, helping the local community understand its roots better.

“The local community and our neighbors will learn more about our history,” said Halebian. “We will also give our students, like my son, the opportunities to study Armenian History in an academic setting and earn academic credits. Many of us, as Armenians, are not as familiar with our history as we should be. So it’s very important to ensure that our history is studied and shared.”

The goal of the group is to eventually raise $2 million, so that UCI can endow an Armenian Chair, have a permanent professor, and a permanent Armenian department. Similar programs already exist at UC Los Angeles and UC Berkeley.

“Establishing an endowed chair would be a milestone achievement for the University’s Armenian community,” said Dr. Vicki Ruiz, the Dean of School of Humanities, who donated $1,000 from the Dean’s budget.

“There is a substantial Armenian population here, and there is certainly sufficient interest in the program,” said Dean Ruiz. The Dean added that the Armenian community should strive to see the establishment of Armenian language and literature courses along the history classes currently offered.
“Given the current budget situation in the state,” said Dean Ruiz, “we are going to have to depend on private philanthropic support in order to get an Armenian emphasis off the ground.”

“Everyone is aware that the entire UC system as a whole is in a budget crisis and by itself can not right now start an Armenian program,” explained Dr. Daryaee. “So what we hope to do is raise awareness in the Armenian community to know that there is such a program in planning, and hopefully the community itself will come forward and help promote and support the program, especially in these tough times in the UC system.”

“The most important reason for establishing an endowed chair is the permanency associated with it,” said donor Arek Tatevosian. “It would be a major achievement for the Armenian community of the Orange County.”


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    I am so proud to know the Tertzakian family and even prouder to witness all the good they do for humanity!
    Keilani Conroy
    Capistrano Beach, CA

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