YEREVAN—Salmast Heritage Association and Daniel Sahakian co-sponsored the first-ever “International Conference on the History and Culture of Salmast.” The day’s organizers were University of California, Los Angeles’ Narekatsi Chair in Armenian Studies, Yerevan State University’s Department of Iranian Studies, and the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. The two-day conference was held from September 6 to 7 at YSU’s Academic Council Hall.
Professor Peter Cowe of UCLA opened the event with an overview of SHA and its mission. Primate of the Atrpatakan Diocese Bishop Krikor Chiftjian offered blessings directed to the collaborating institutions, to the audience, and to all those who had contributed to the unprecedented Salmast Conference. Arayik Harutyunyan, Armenia’s Minister of Education and Sport, addressed attendees with a personal message of appreciation. Zareh Sinanyan, former Mayor of Glendale, California and Armenia’s Chief Commissioner of Diaspora Affairs, expressed the importance of projects that bring together Armenians from every corner of the world.
Professor Vardan Voskanian, Chair of YSU’s Iranian Studies Department, and Professor Ruben Safrastian, Director of NASA’s Oriental Institute, spoke about the value of collaboration among institutions of higher learning, specifically thanking SHA, Sahakian, and the organization’s supporters for their commitment to the study and dissemination of Salmast’s history and culture. It was noted that the international group of conference speakers represented Armenia, France, Holland, Italy, Iran, and the United States.
The morning session began with Dr. Miqael Badalyan, Director of Erebuni Museum, and his presentation on “The Salmast Region in the Urartian Period.” Badalyan’s presentation was followed by a talk on “Salmast in Persian Archives,” by YSU Professor of Iranian Studies, Dr. Vardan Voskanian, and Dr. Hasmik Kirakosyan, Senior Researcher at the Matenadaran. Later, Linguistics professors, Dr. Hrach Martirosyan, University of Leiden, Netherlands, and Dr. Andrea Scala of the State University of Milan, Italy, presented on “Dialectology.”
After a traditional Armenian lunch hosted by SHA, attendees reconvened at the conference hall where Dr. Karen Mkrtchyan, Office of Diaspora Affairs, presented a talk titled,“Raffi’s Views on Certain Issues Concerning Armenian History and Literature.” He was joined by Alis Hovhanisyan, author of “In Raffi’s Footsteps” and recipient of Armenia’s 2018 Writer of the Year Award, who spoke about Raffi and his “Reflections on Other Nationalities.”
The next panel included Dr. Mikael Nichanian, Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris, and his detailed presentation on “The Treatment of Armenians and Assyrians by Ottoman Armed Forces in the Salmast Area in 1915;” Primate of the Atrpatakan Diocese Bishop Krikor Chiftjian spoke about “Archival Materials Illuminating Salmast and its villages at the Turn of the Twentieth Century;” and Rev. Dr. Abel Manoukian, a Scientific Assistant at the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, presented on “Martiros Piranian and the Swiss Orphanage of Salmast.”
Keynote Speaker, Dr. Marco Brambilla, UCLA Narekatsi Program in Armenian Studies and SHA Head of Research, spoke on “The Unique Typologies of Armenian Churches of the Salmast Region,” supporting his PowerPoint data with photos and comparisons, which establish the distinctive architecture of Salmast Churches. Professor Maurizio Boriani of the Instituto Politecnico di Milano, who recently conducted several field expeditions in Salmast (fully funded by SHA), spoke about “Armenian and Assyrian Churches in the Territory of Salmast and Khoy: Prospects for their Protection, Conservation and Management.” And, last but not least, Samvel Karapetian, Director of Research on Armenian Architecture, paid tribute to its late Founder Dr. Armen Haghnazarian, discussed the organization’s activities and the genesis of “The History of Armenia Series,” leading to its 2018 publication of the 600-page “Salmast Volume” in Armenian and English.
Thanks to the availability of simultaneous translations, everyone was able to follow the presentations in the language of their choice. Conference participants Drs. Tehrani, Taghizadah and Ebrahimi Nejad from Iran’s Organization for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage and Azad University of Tabriz especially appreciated YSU’s state of the art technology for multilingual exchange of ideas.
The first-ever international conference had brought together scholars as well as individuals who were seeking information about historic Armenia, or the histories of their ancestors from Salmast. It was a uniquely well attended academic event. The day’s finale was a lovely dinner hosted by SHA at the traditional Yerevan Pandok, where we all enjoyed great food and performances.
The next day, the conference presenters and organizers shared a relaxing field trip to Dvin and Artashat, home to a large number of settlers from Salmast. The community had organized an impressive cultural program at a venue resembling the opera house of Yerevan with state-of-the-art technology. We were entertained by traditional songs and dances, an amazing group of boys with the dohol, a young singer with an amazing voice, and the history of Artashat with rich family lore, culminating in a post-performance reception in honor of our presenters and SHA. Naturally, the day ended with another delicious meal, several toasts and tributes to our international guests for their interest in working on SHA’s projects. The special day offered opportunities to discuss next steps, listen to suggestions, and to plan Salmast preservation projects with the representatives of Iran’s Organization for Cultural Preservation.
Salmast Heritage Association extends heartfelt gratitude to Daniel Sahakian, and to each and every supporter for believing in its mission and making the Salmast Conference at YSU possible. SHA equally recognizes the contributions of Professor Peter Cowe, UCLA’s Narekatsi Chair in Armenian Studies, Dr. Marco Brambilla’s unrelenting research, writing and organizing, YSU’s Professor Vardan Voskanian and his colleagues for managing a stellar international conference in the motherland, and of course, the scholars who have been researching Salmast, sharing their findings, and affirming its history and culture as an integral part of Historic Armenia.