Banquet and award ceremony marked by delightful surprises
LOS ANGELES—On the evening of Saturday, March 16, Professor Richard Hovannisian was honored with the Narekatsi Medal of Achievement, conferred on him by the Friends of UCLA Armenian Language and Culture Studies. The award presentation took place during the Friends’ 11th annual banquet, held at the Armenian Society of Los Angeles Hall, in Glendale, California.
More than 300 guests, representing a cross section of the Armenian community, attended the jubilant event, which celebrated the life and accomplishments of Richard Hovannisian as a teacher, historian, author, and human-rights activist.
The banquet featured a rich and multifaceted program. Remarks delivered by a distinguished roster of speakers, comprising scholars and community leaders, were interspersed with the screening of two short documentaries as well as musical performances. In addition, the honoree and guests were treated to a number of wonderful surprises, all of which made the celebration all the more memorable.
Dignitaries and prominent community members in attendance included Archbishop Hovnan Derderian; the Very Rev. Fr. Muron Aznikian, representing Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian; several representatives of the Armenian Educational Foundation, among them the current president, Hermineh Pakhanians; and Ara Khachatourian, editor of the English edition of Asbarez.
The event kicked off with a cocktail reception and book exhibit in the hall’s foyer, where numerous works penned by Richard Hovannisian were on display.
As dinner started, welcome remarks were delivered by Banquet co-chairs Ani Aivazian and Hilda Fidanian. Their addresses were followed by the opening remarks of Alice Petrossian, the evening’s Mistress of Ceremonies, and Dr. Hasmig Baran, president of the Friends of UCLA Armenian Language and Culture Studies. The speakers reflected on the Friends’ longstanding tradition of honoring extraordinary Armenian individuals with the Narekatsi Medal, and underscored the pan-Armenian significance of Professor Hovannisian’s manifold accomplishments.
Many of those accomplishments were touched upon in a video documentary, titled My Professor Hovannisian Moment, which was shown while guests enjoyed dinner. The humorous, highly engaging documentary, produced by Ara Soghomonian, featured a fast-paced succession of testimonials by former students of the honoree.
Next to take the podium was the evening’s keynote speaker, Professor S. Peter Cowe, head of UCLA’s Narekatsi Chair in Armenian Studies. In a riveting speech that contextualized the evolution of Armenian history as a field of study in American academia, initially against the backdrops of superpower politics and intracommunity partisanship, Cowe described Hovannisian’s crucial role in not only the establishment of Armenian Studies as an academic discipline in the US, but its growth as a dynamic, globally relevant hub for scholarly discourse and political action alike.
“From the outset, Richard Hovannisian understood that the challenge before him was not for the fainthearted, but for those fortified with the proper formation, intellectual conviction, stamina, and discernment to perceive where the real struggle lies and not to be sidetracked by minutiae,” Cowe said.
“Moreover, Hovannisian knew the challenge could not be settled by one individual, however gifted, but by the creation of new institutions. Much of his activity reflects this point of view: his research publications, his desire to mentor a new generation of scholars, his concern for collegiality and the creation of a professional society, his awareness of how essential it was for such an incipient field to enter the mainstream by producing textbooks, and, finally, his realization that for Armenian Studies to establish itself and thrive required university positions to be endowed to ensure they, too, would become institutions and endure in perpetuity — as we have just witnessed in the generational transition of the AEF chair at UCLA from Hovannisian to Aslanian. This also highlights Hovannisian’s leadership qualities, as well as the farsightedness of the donors who recognized the impact their action would have and the dividends it would continue to reap long after the chair’s foundation.”
Cowe’s address was followed by the screening of a second video documentary, A Tribute to Professor Richard Hovannisian, produced by the honoree’s daughter, Ani Hovannisian-Kevorkian. Featuring rare footage of Hovannisian’s diverse scholarly and political activities through several decades, the video encapsulated his life story while illustrating his far-reaching activism in the fight against Genocide denial.
The second half of the banquet’s program had no shortage of colorful moments, often registering a powerful emotional resonance. It featured a congratulatory message from Professor David Myers of UCLA; violin performances by Mari Haig; a poignant speech by Armen Hovannisian, the honoree’s son, who recounted personal reminiscences as he presented “Hovannisian the Man;” and a fascinating onstage interview between Richard Hovannisian and Ara Khachatourian, editor of the English edition of Asbarez.
One of the evening’s most delightful surprises came in the form of a lively family tribute, as Hovannisian’s two young granddaughters took the stage, nearly stealing the show. The girls spoke lovingly of their illustrious grandfather, sprinkling their talk with humorous comments and touching recollections.
As the banquet’s culminating segment drew close, Professor Emeritus Speros Vryonis, Jr. of UCLA introduced the honoree. In his remarks, Vryonis touched on certain political aspects and power struggles inherent in American academia, and praised Richard Hovannisian for his central role in the evolution and burgeoning of the Armenian Studies program at UCLA despite enormous challenges.
At this, and to the standing ovation of the audience, Richard Hovannisian was invited to the stage, where Dr. Hasmig Baran, flanked by members of the Friends’ Board members, formally presented the Narekatsi Medal to the honoree.
In addition to conferring the medal on Hovannisian, the Friends’ Board members had no less than three surprises for the honoree. First, he was presented with a dossier of congratulatory letters from academic colleagues in Armenia. Second, he was given a dossier of letters from former students; on hand for this presentation were the honoree’s formers students, Professors Vahram Shemmassian (CSUN), Levon Marashlian (GCC), Dr. Garabet Moumdjian, and Dr. George Kooshian. And third, he was presented with a large photograph of himself signed by current UCLA students. The latter presentation was made by Armenian Studies graduate student Ara Soghomonian. Also on stage were Soghomonian’s contemporaries in the Armenian Studies Program Shushan Karapetian, Danny Fittante, Xi Yang, and Ceyda Tinmaz; Sona Tajiryan from the History Program; Lilit Keshishian from Comparative Literature; and Anoush Suni from Anthropology.
The presentations were followed by an impassioned acceptance speech. After thanking the Armenian community, and the Friends in particular, for honoring him with the Narekatsi Medal, Hovannisian praised them for their steadfast support of the Armenian Studies Program at UCLA. He concluded his remarks by reiterating his abiding hope that a new cadre of students and scholars will continue to build on the successes of the program, through teaching, research, and political activism.
The program drew to a close with a toast to the honoree. Once again taking the stage, Professor Cowe delivered a charming finishing touch, to the joy and amazement of the guests: he invited them to retrieve and open the bottle of cognac tucked discreetly within the centerpiece of each table, and drink to Hovannisian’s health. Everyone obliged.
Cowe also announced two major milestones pertaining to the Armenian Studies program at UCLA: as a result of a joint application to the Dream Fund by the UCLA Department of Music and the Naraketsi Chair, he stated, Vatsche Barsoumian has been engaged as a visiting professor in Armenian Music and will be teaching courses over the next two years; and recently, Cowe continued, a Research Program in Armenian Archaeology and Ethnography was established as a permanent component of the Cotsen Institute in Archaeology at UCLA, and Prof. Grigor Areshian has been appointed as the first director.