“Hidden Treasures Unearthed: Armenian Arts and Culture of Eastern Europe”
WESTWOOD, Calif.—The Narekatsi Chair in Armenian Studies, one of the oldest endowed chairs at UCLA, and one of the first established in Armenology in the United States, was founded by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) in 1969 and inaugurated with the appointment of Professor Avedis K. Sanjian. In 2000 he was succeeded by the current holder, Dr. S. Peter Cowe.
The Program in Armenian Language and Culture, which the Chair directs, has grown to include a three-year cycle of classes in modern Western and Eastern Armenian and Classical Armenian, together with Armenian Heritage Language pedagogy, a range of courses on Armenian poetry, drama, film, the cultural expression of nationalism, and a graduate seminar. A regular introductory course in Armenian Music begun in 2014 and now taught by Dr. Karenn Chutjian Presti is arranged through assocation with the Music Department, while offerings on Armenian material culture have been organized in conjunction with the Research Program in Armenian Archaeology and Ethnography (Chitjian Archive). Courses in other disciplines (e.g. art history, sociology, anthropology, women’s studies) are periodically offered by visiting faculty funded by the Friends of UCLA Armenian Language and Culture Studies. Recent cooperation with the Salmast Heritage Association has resulted in a course on that region’s history and culture in Spring 2018 taught by Dr. Marco Brambilla.
Undergraduates taking Armenian Studies courses, whose numbers have grown over the last twenty years, are eligible for a popular Minor in Armenian Studies, an Individual Major, and an Armenian concentration in the interdisciplinary Middle East Studies Major. Additionally, an Armenian language exemption examination is administered to students enrolled in several universities in Southern California. The Program is also active at the graduate level, preparing well-qualified candidates for the MA and PhD degrees, from which three students graduated this June. It has also been successful in placing graduates in university positions in the US and abroad. Xi Yang who graduated in 2015, for example, the first Chinese Armenologist, is now a researcher at the Institute for Social Sciences in Beijing. The Program supports the Annual Graduate Student Colloquium in Armenian Studies established in 2002, which unites young scholars from the US, Europe, and Armenia in sharing the results of their most recent research. An Undergraduate Colloquium created in 2015, at first restricted to papers from UCLA students, has since expanded to accept applications from across the US.
The Program also features an impressive faculty characterized by innovative approaches to language instruction. Dr. Anahid Keshishian Aramouni, holder of a Distinguished Teacher of the Year award, enlivens classes in East Armenian with techniques drawn from drama and has employed her directorial skills to create class productions like Sasuntsi Davit, staged both locally and in Yerevan to great acclaim. Meanwhile, her third year class in Armenian Society and Culture utilizes language as a means of promoting oral and written discussion of vital issues of importance to Armenian communities worldwide. Dr. Hagop Gulludjian, instructor in Western Armenian, seeks to encourage students’ innate creativity and expand their capabilities for expression in Armenian by an intensive method of acclimatizing them to the medium through immersion in literary works, exposing them to the idiom and expanding their operative vocabulary to empower them in self-articulation in different registers of the language. In so doing he seeks to regain whole areas of discourse for Armenian in diaspora life now gradually being ceded to English, for example, as the majority language in the host state. Dr. Shushan Karapetian, a graduate of the doctoral program in 2014, and recipient of the Society of Armenian Studies award for best dissertation in Armenian Studies and the Russ Campbell Young Scholar Award, is also innovative in her instructional focus, highlighting the characteristics of heritage speakers of a language, whose main exposure is in the home environment. Once this is clarified, she then focuses students’ attention on the acquisition of the skillset required to bring them to a native speaker level with full flexibility in all registers. Meanwhile, Prof. Cowe, a member of the Accademia Ambrosiana of Milan and recent awardee of an honorary doctorate, contextualizes modern Armenian within the language’s long, dynamic evolution from its Indo-European roots, foregrounding its role in cultural contacts and the fascinating interchange between its vernacular and written forms. Similarly, in treating literary history, he underscores both the continuities and discontinuities in transmission and the constant process of reinterpretation and contemporization it engages in.
The faculty is also involved in outreach to the Armenian private schools of Greater Los Angeles and the dual-immersion program initiated by the Glendale School District, providing consultation to assist improve the standards and environment of language instruction and facilitate introducing parents to the latest scholarship on multilingualism and its various benefits. In this connection, the UCLA Armenian Program hosted a Gulbenkian workshop for heads of Armenian schools in different parts of the world strategizing on how to ameliorate Armenian language pedagogy (2017).
Within the last few years the Program has also signed various cooperative agreements with institutions of higher learning in Armenia. Collaboration with the American University of Armenia (AUA) established in 2015 has led to the Program’s mounting a joint annual summer school led by Dr. Keshishian, courses taught there by our recent graduate Dr. Danny Fittante and current graduate student Anatolii Tokmantsev, and a Graduate Student Workshop on the Contemporary Construction of Armenian Identity. This extraordinary conference organized by Prof. Cowe, in Spring Break 2016 brought together graduate and postdoctoral students from UCLA, AUA, and other universities and institutes in Yerevan. In the organizer’s words, the event was envisioned as “a far-reaching forum, where graduate researchers will present in-progress research to shed light on the diverse aspects of the complex, multilayered evolution of Armenian identity.”
In addition, the Program has held a series of conferences and lectures at UCLA as well as other venues such as Glendale Public Library, bringing the results of recent scholarship directly to a wider audience both individually as well as in conjunction with organizations like NAASR, ARPA, the Ararat-Eskidjian Museum, the Armenian American Society of Los Angeles, and the Istanbul Armenian Society.
The first in a series of events celebrating the Chair’s fiftieth anniversary is the conference “Hidden Treasures Unearthed: Armenian Arts and Culture of Eastern Europe” (November 16-18) organized in collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum. This three-day conference comprising twenty papers investigates the Armenian merchant and artisan communities of international commercial centers (e.g. Lvov, Suceava, Plovdiv, Theodosia, etc.) in different regions of Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, the Ukraine and the Crimea While most papers treat those communities’ heyday in the Early Modern Period (16th-first half of the 19th centuries), an introductory presentation by Prof. Claude Mutafian will deal with theme of origins, while Hagop Matevosyan, a graduate researcher at Leipzig University, Germany, will offer an overview of the communities’ history in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras.
Emphasis will be placed on the communities’ role in larger networks of exchange across the northern hemisphere, trading in commodities, ideas, political and diplomatic plans, and sociocultural values. It also devotes a significant focus to the close interaction between the Armenian communities in eastern Europe and the host societies that accepted them into their midst, investigating the various forms and practices this symbiosis engendered. The conference will also highlight the continual impact of change (political and military conflict, religious confessionalism, nationalism, mercantilism, etc.) on those communities over the above timeframe and the diverse strategies they developed to leverage conditions to the best advantage for their ongoing survival and growth. As above defined, those Armenian quarters are then presented as the matrix out of which emerged the artworks of the artists, architects, and artisans under discussion, as they advanced beyond the confines of the known to explore new forms, media, and iconography, embracing them as vehicles for Armenian creative expression.
The conference panels on Friday and Saturday (November 16-17) are scheduled on the UCLA campus throughout the day at Royce Hall 314, beginning at 10 a.m. and running until about 6 p.m. Thereafter, two cultural events have been arranged in the evenings. On Friday (6:30-8 p.m.) an opening reception will be held for a photo exhibition in the rotunda of Powell Undergraduate Library. The exhibition is curated by Hrair Hawk Khatcherian, a renowned Armenian photographer from Canada, who will introduce the audience to his work. Then Mr. Varujan Vosganian, a Romanian-Armenian statesman and writer, author of the acclaimed novel “The Whisperers”, who has twice been proposed for the Nobel Prize in Literature, will offer some personal reflections on the cutural activities of the Romanian Armenian community then and now. That will be followed by fellowship over wine and cheese.
The exhibition of thirty images illustrating the artistic achievement of the Armenian communities in the Crimea, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria over several centuries in sacred and secular architecture, painting, silverwork, and other media complements the analytical discourse of the conference panels in introducing viewers directly to the objects and thereby evoking the space of the merchant and artisan centers that served as the source of those exquisite expressions of Armenian creativity.
Meanwhile, a concert is scheduled in Powell Rotunda on Saturday, November 18 at 8pm.
The concert adds a further dimension to the conference and photographic exhibition by evoking the sort of music patronized by the Armenian communities in international trade hubs of eastern Europe. The first half is devoted to Baroque works of Polish, Romanian, and other composers of the region, while the second half complements this with Armenian compositions of the same period (16th-18th cc.). The first part involves a consort directed by Morgan O’Shaughnessey, while the second will be performed by an Armenian ensemble associated with the UCLA Ethnomusicology Department led by the experimental improvatory vocalist Areni Agbabian.
The conference concludes with a keynote address by Dr. Helen Evans, Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
on Sunday, November 18 at 3 p.m. in the Museum Lecture Hall of the J. Paul Getty Museum. Dr. Evans organized the impressive exhibition “Armenia!” at the Metropolitan Museum (September 22, 2018-January 13, 2019) and will contextualize Armenian art of Eastern Europe within the broader development of Armenian art in this period in her lecture “Medieval Armenia’s Artistic Beauty.” For further details see http://www.getty.edu/visit/cal/events/ev_2361.html