NORTHRIDGE (CSUN Today)—Authentic Armenian books, medals, personal letters, photos, autobiography manuscripts and translated documents can be found in a special collection at the California State University, Northridge’s University Library.
An array of memorabilia and historical artifacts belonging to the late Armenian immigrant, advocate and educator Sara Chitjian is now accessible to the public.
Prior to her passing in 2021, Chitjian reached out to the university, offering a slew of artifacts collected by her family that documented her parents’ lives in Armenia and their family life in America as part of the Armenian diaspora.
Chitjian’s father, Hampartzoum “Harry” Chitjian, was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. He dedicated his life to raising awareness about the genocide, the legacy of its survivors and preserving Chitjian family history. In 2001, Chitjian and her father formed the Harry and Ovsanna Chitjian Family Foundation, which was responsible for preserving many of the materials given to the university.
“The Chitjian Collection must be viewed as a unique part and parcel of the mosaic that is the U.S. in general, and California in particular,” said Vahram Shemmassian, the director of CSUN’s Armenian Studies Program in the Department of Modern & Classical Languages & Literatures. “As such, it enhances our understanding of the differences and commonality of the multicultural, multiethnic society that we live in, thereby making us more tolerant, more appreciative, and more embracing of each other. We welcome all to share the richness of Armenian history and culture at the micro level, which, in fact, has also a macro scope.”
Ellen Jarosz, head of the library’s Special Collections & Archives, explained that the fragile objects, or items with a higher research value, were selected for preservation and made available to researchers. These items include correspondence between Chitjian family members, photographs, maps, books, articles and teaching materials used by Chitjian and her father.
“The Chitjian Collection gives our students, our university and the people who visit an opportunity to have a first-hand interaction with materials that most people don’t get the chance to see because they are so unique and rare,” said Jaroz. “People can draw unique and original conclusions, and really take advantage of these things to inform their own view, instead of having somebody tell them what they mean and what’s most important.”
In 2020, Chitjian began the endowment process that resulted in the gift to the library. She also funded the creation of a museum-style room in CSUN’s Sierra Hall dedicated to exhibiting memorabilia that document both her and her father’s legacy.
“The Chitjian Collection is an in-depth and intimate portrait of endurance, renewal, and legacy as told through a family archive created by their daughter, “Sara” Chitjian,” said Claire V. Gordon, the archivist responsible for sorting and cataloging the university’s newest collection. “The collection grants us an intimate peek into the early lives of the Chitjian family,”
With the cataloging process now completed, the collection is open and available for public viewing.
With the cataloging process now completed, the collection is open and available for public viewing. CSUN’s Special Collections & Archives, hours can be found on the library website. Special Collections & Archives is located on the second floor of the University Library, which is the heart of the campus located at 181111 Nordhoff St., Northridge.