BY DAVID KARAMARDIAN
Special to Asbarez
Since the age of 17, Dr. Paul Haidostian considered a career in education as a natural choice to pursue. After attaining a bachelor and two masters degrees, he eventually received his Ph. D from Princeton Theological Seminary in theology, setting up an academic background that eventually led to becoming in 2002 the president of Haigazan University, the only Armenian university in the diaspora.
Haigazian recently launched the celebrations of its sixtieth year of existence this October. Haidostian expressed his pride in the university’s track record, not only during his tenure but also in the years prior: “If we review the 60-year history of the university, one notices that much of the political leadership, the educational leadership, the media and the social workers of the Armenian community in Lebanon and much wider have been raised at Haigazan University.”
He added that the university’s biggest success has been its ability to elevate the socioeconomical status of many Armenian families in Lebanon and Syria. “For students whose parents have humble beginnings,” he said, “their children graduated from Haigazan and have good positions in society.”
The future of Haigazan, according to Haidostian, entails redrafting the mission and vision for the university using simpler and more modern language and reemphasizing the university’s role as the only Armenian university in the diaspora.
Haidostian’s fall season has been consumed by trips around the globe representing Haigazan and planning the university’s future. Four trips over a span of three weeks from the end of September to October saw Haidostian fly from Egypt to Armenia to Los Angeles and then back to Armenia. He also returned to Los Angeles in mid-November for Board meetings and a banquet.
Amidst the fundraisers and board member meetings that his trips have centered on, Haidostian has also been guest speaking about the status of minorities in the Middle East. While in Egypt, he spoke at a conference in Cairo about the presence of Christians in the region, along with Armenian migrations and deportations around the time of the genocide. While in Los Angeles, he spoke to students at the University of Southern California in a talk entitled “A Middle East With No Minorities?”
“A major threat or concern is how widely many radical groups have been accepted in various communities in the Middle East,” Haidostian said. “When you go into very radical groups that are militant and violent, you would hope that they would be rejected by the majority in various societies, but the new violent groups have been spreading so quickly that we are all puzzled. We would have thought 95 percent of the populations would reject all that has happened, but we have started doubting that by how quickly violence spreads and how people take sides and are taken as hostages by their prejudices.”
Ultimately, Haidostian added, his main concern does not pertain to any minority or majority in the Middle East but with every human being in the region. “If every human being in these Middle Eastern countries are safe, then all minorities and majorities are safe.”
The turmoil in the Middle East has made Haigazan more sensitive to and self-aware of its surroundings, according to Haidostian, and the university has taken on the difficult mission of influencing its students to make a positive change. Haidostian believes that Haigazan, in demand for its American-style, liberal arts education, has developed into a haven for Armenians and non-Armenians alike: “Non-Armenians have appreciated the fact that the Armenian community in general is a neutral place for people of all backgrounds. They appreciate the fact that Haigazan creates and gives them a very free and open space with minimal political or religious or sectarian tensions.”
Regarding the Armenian community, Haidostian expressed concern over the current sense of uncertainty regarding the future of the homeland and the diaspora. “I feel that we’re in a phase of reshuffling values and identities and even politics,” he said. “The perspective and direction of the Armenian community is less clear than it has been in the past.”
From our relationship with Turkey to the visions or strategies of Armenian organizations over the next 50 years, Haidostian believes that Armenians need to conduct a deeper soul searching on the leadership level. “What we are mostly doing is a strategy to keep surviving in some parts of the diaspora. How can we keep our doors open? How can we keep the youths interested? But we need to do much more than that.”
All Armenians, Haidostian contends, should ask themselves, “What is it that I really want to do in this world as an Armenian entity?”
David Karamardian is a senior at Loyola High School in Los Angeles and the 2014 Asbarez intern.