Donation from Elma Hovanessian to honor her late husband and support the UCI Armenian Studies Program
IRVINE, Calif.—The University of California, Irvine has received nearly 600 Armenian-language and Armenian-related English books from community member Elma Hovanessian. Six decades in the making, the collection represents Hovanessian’s and her late husband’s love for literature, history and the Armenian language. Donated to the UCI Armenian Studies Program, the collection will be housed in the UCI Langson Library.
The collection spans a wide range of topics, from arts and architecture (including the Middle Ages, known as Armenia’s Golden Ages) to history, literature, theater, music, philosophy, politics and history of Armenia’s churches. The collection’s strength is in Armenian-related subjects but also boasts Armenian translations of classic global literature, including Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” as well as the works of the great Persian poets Ferdowsi, Hafez and Omar Khayyam.
“We are deeply grateful to Elma Hovanessian for donating her family’s personal collection to the UCI Armenian Studies Program and allowing us to make it available to UCI and the public,” said Houri Berberian, Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair in Armenian Studies and director of the UCI Armenian Studies Program. “The Hovanessians’ collection of books will undoubtedly be a trusted resource to our scholars of history, Armenia, Iran and more.”
Beyond the Armenian and Iranian books, the collection represents a history of the Hovanessians. Elma Hovanessian’s husband Seboo was a civil engineer, scholar and leader of the Tehran and Los Angeles Armenian communities. His translation of Basic Teachings of Great Philosophers by S.E. Frost Jr., published in 1991 by the University of La Verne, is included in the donated collection as well as his graduate thesis in sociology from California State University, Northridge titled, “An Assimilative Profile of American-Armenians in Los Angeles.”
“My husband Seboo and I have collected these books for over 41 years. They represent our love of knowledge,” said Hovanessian. “My hope is that students in the UCI Armenian Studies Program as well as scholars across UC and beyond will utilize these resources in their studies and expand their understanding of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora.”
Born in Tehran and of Armenian descent, Elma is a graduate of Tehran University and has lived in Iran, England and the United States. In 1976, Elma and Seboo settled in Los Angeles. Her memoir, One Life, Three Cultures: an Iranian-Armenian Odyssey, details her hyphenated identity and experiences adapting to life in different countries, with different cultures and languages. She is also the author of a novel, Under the Blue Dome (2003). With Seboo, she had two children—both are physicians—and four grandchildren, including one who attends UCI.
In the final paragraph of her memoir, Elma writes, “Despite all these Armenians and Persians within easy reach I sometimes yearn for the old country, especially Tehran where I was born and raised. Maybe it is just my youth that I miss, not the country. Maybe I just like to stroll down the memory lane, remembering the good things that happened so long ago and so far away. Or maybe I enjoy a swift transition to the past through a piece of familiar music or a sweet song, to a ‘past,’ that as William Faulkner has said, ‘is never dead, and is not even past.’”
Armenian Studies at UC Irvine includes undergraduate coursework in ancient, early modern and modern Armenian history, as well as a quarterly lecture series that bridges historical and cultural topics surrounding the Armenian diaspora and Armenia to the broader Orange County community.