LOS ANGELES—On the evening of June 1, a banquet honoring the 30th anniversary of Prof. S. Peter Cowe’s scholarly career and the 45th anniversary of the Narekatsi Chair in Armenian Studies at UCLA was held in Los Angeles. The jubilant event, which took place at The London, West Hollywood, was organized jointly by the 30th Anniversary Committee and the Friends of UCLA Armenian Language and Culture Studies, in support of the expansion of the Armenian Studies program and particularly Western-Armenian instruction at UCLA.
The over 200 guests included community leaders, scholars, and Armenology students. Present were a number of academics from Armenia, Europe, and the Americas who were participating in a UCLA conference organized by Dr. Grigor Areshian on “Current Practices in Aremenian Studies: the Creation and Visibility of New Knowledge.” Most of the evening’s speakers were UCLA alumni of Armenian Studies.
Two elements were particularly noteworthy about the evening: one was the warm atmosphere between students and teacher; and the second, the impressive growth of Armenian Studies as a highly sought-after field among the present generation — marked by the large number of local scholars in the field, as befits the largest Armenian diasporan community, and reinforced by visiting colleagues from different parts of the world.
Following a cocktail reception and book exhibit at The London’s Marble Terrace, the banquet started inside the Kensington Ballroom. Welcome remarks were delivered by Shahane Martirosyan and Gayane Khechoomian, and grace was said by the Very Rev. Fr. Dajad Yardemian of the Western Diocese.
In his opening address, Ben Charchian said, “At UCLA, walking around the campus, learning that the language you speak is thousands of years old and your alphabet is over 1,600 years old, you hold your head up high. Prof. Cowe was instrumental in instilling in me, and hundreds of other students, that sense of pride.”
An early highlight of the banquet was the ritual presentation of haggis, a traditional Scottish dish, as a surprise tribute to Prof. Cowe’s Scottish descent. The colorful presentation, complete with bagpipe music, comprised a procession around the hall led by the piper and a thunderous haggis oration delivered by Dr. Neil McLeod, followed by a performance of the Scottish sword dance. Subsequently haggis was served to the guests.
Next, an encyclical from Catholicos Aram I, congratulating Prof. Cowe on his achievements as an outstanding Armenologist, was read by Right Rev. Fr. Boghos Tinkjian. Among other things, His Holiness wrote, “We have known Dr. Cowe closely over the last 30 years, both personally and through his serious investigations and critical studies, which have contributed to the advance of Armenian Studies. Therefore, this initiative to celebrate Dr. Cowe’s 30 years of academic activity is to be warmly welcomed.”
Presenting the 45th anniversary of the Narekatsi Chair was Shushan Karapetian, the most recent PhD recipient in the Armenian Studies program at UCLA, who in turn was introduced by Ani Shirinian.
As she reminisced about her experiences as a student of Prof. Cowe, Karapetian said, “A few years into my graduate program, as I had just completed Intermediate Classical Armenian, I walked into Prof. Cowe’s office and told him, ‘I wish there were more; I wish we could pursue studies in Classical Armenian as well.’ And he said, ‘The advanced level has never been offered.’ So I shrugged, disappointed. But he said, ‘I don’t see why it shouldn’t be.’ So, with no further ado, he inaugurated an advanced series of Classical Armenian at my simple little request, after which my fellow students and I had the most amazing year of our lives studying the subject. We also created a team name, Team Grabar, whose leader was Prof. Cowe — labeled ‘The Michael Jordan of Grabar’ by fellow student Ara Soghomonian. We were all aspiring players who knew we would never be as good as our teacher but we were going to die trying!”
Karapetian’s address was followed by the screening of a short documentary, Inside the Academic Studio, directed and produced by Armenian Studies doctoral student Ara Soghomonian. The film featured humorous, highly engaging conversations between Prof. Cowe and a number of his students, shedding fresh light on his life and career as a beloved Armenologist.
Subsequently Dr. Talar Chahinian introduced the event’s keynote speaker, Theo van Lint, who is a Calouste Gulbenkian Professor of Armenian Studies at Oxford and a Fellow of Pembroke College. As he presented the honoree’s career and accomplishments, van Lint said, “When Peter sets out a scholarly position, his work is always carefully contextualized, with all caveats and nuances required to tackle all facets of a problem. This innate fairness, coupled with a sharp mind and an absolute passion for the subject at hand, can lead to a feast of conversation.”
“Many of us familiar with Peter’s scholarly work, and particularly his style, are used to long sentences in which the various aspects of a position are carefully considered while the reader longs for a period!” Prof. van Lint continued jokingly. “Fifteen subordinate clauses are no exception to Peter. And it’s all one sentence, one big thought, which he will bring to a brilliant end and it will be like a fugue. That is what he does: he thinks in terms of music. That’s quite rare in Armenian Studies. It’s quite rare among scholars. It’s quite rare among human beings.”
After a musical interlude featuring a performance on traditional Armenian instruments, Ardashes Kassakhian, Glendale City Clerk and a former student of Prof. Cowe, took the podium. As he drew parallels between the great Armenian translators of the Middle Ages and present-day Armenologists, Kassakhian said, “Today, as the Armenian nation is dispersed around the world, it is thanks to scholars and translators like Prof. Cowe that Armenian history and the masterpieces of the Armenian intellectual legacy are being brought forth for the enjoyment of the world and diaspora Armenians such as myself.” Kassakhian then invited the evening’s honoree to the stage.
“When I started out as an Armenologist, I couldn’t imagine my journey would be so enriching and rewarding,” Prof. Cowe began. “It has proved beyond my expectations. Yet I had an inkling then that Armenology was an idea whose time would come, and the subsequent proliferation of the field, as testified by so many in our midst tonight, has confirmed my impression.”
“I also appreciate the tribute to my Scottish background tonight,” Cowe continued. “In this respect, it gives me great pleasure to know that one of my longstanding goals has been met, that Armenian is now being taught in Scotland, in our oldest university, at St. Andrews.”
Cowe closed his remarks by stating: “My wish is that all of you, and Armenians as a whole, would step back from the immediate pressures of your surroundings to recenter, to reintegrate with your core, and reenergize your cultural capacity to creatively engage with the current environment. Yours is not a culture that is on its last legs, that needs to be artificially ‘preserved’ in an oxygen tent; rather, it is one that is actual and vital, seeking new modes of expression to be authentic to its reality. You have not only a legacy, but a potential, one you must claim and make your own.”
The banquet concluded with a benediction, followed by a Scottish-Armenian musical composition arranged by Artashes Kartalian and combining the bagpipe and zurna.
Accompanying the event was a beautiful booklet featuring the honoree’s biography, publications, awards, and list of PhD students supervised, as well as congratulatory letters and notes from colleagues around the world, including the following commendation from his senior colleague at UCLA Prof. Richard G. Hovannisian: “S. Peter Cowe has given strong impetus to Armenian Studies in the United States and abroad. His erudition and broad horizons allow for a useful comparative approach that helps to integrate Armenian Studies into World History and Culture. I welcome the opportunity to congratulate him on his 30th anniversary in the field and to wish him many productive years of research, publication, teaching, and community participation as the Holder of the Narekatsi Chair at UCLA.”