By Aram Arkun
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Armenian Studies is a small field, with a small number of academic specialists. The number of academic specialists on the Armenian Genocide is even smaller, and there are very few positions for them at universities in the United States. While this situation is unlikely to change drastically, occasionally efforts are made to initiate new academic programs and positions. Nova Southeastern University appears on the verge of making such an effort, if sufficient support and funding are found.
Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is a relatively young university, founded in 1964, but it already is fairly large, with more than 28,000 students. Dr. Susanne Marshall, senior associate dean of operations and student services at NSU, explained that the university has had graduate programs in conflict resolution for many years. There are more than 800 students enrolled in them now. The focus of these programs has been on the international and governmental level. A few years ago, NSU hired a young faculty member, Jason J. Campbell, as a professor in these programs. Campbell had already founded a non-profit activist organization, the Institute for Genocide Awareness and Applied Research, in 2009. His research happened to focus on genocide and he suggested that it needed to be a more defined curricular focus. NSU agreed. (Despite repeated efforts to contact him, Campbell was unavailable to be interviewed for this article.)
It was already necessary to provide historical and sociopolitical backgrounds for analysis in the multidisciplinary field of conflict analysis, so genocide studies fit in well here, but the university wishes to expand its offerings further. Marshall said, “We would like to have a more independent framework for genocide studies and genocide prevention, and establish a separate degree program, or at least a concentration in master’s and doctoral programs. We are not quite there yet.”
The interest in Armenia came about through research into modern genocide. Marshall points out that “as Dr. Campbell demonstrates in his research, the Armenian Genocide is a blueprint for the genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries. You see all the factors here mirrored in later genocides, so you can learn a lot about prediction and prevention by studying this genocide.” In this sense, Marshall said, in-depth studies of the factors leading up to the Armenian Genocide can be quite useful. The approach at NSU is an activist one, so graduate students want to learn what can be done for prevention.
At the moment, the Armenian Genocide is a component of the courses on genocide being offered. It does not have a faculty member whose research specifically has been on the Armenian Genocide and does not offer Armenian language classes, but it has hosted relevant guest speakers and lectures. For example, author Margaret Ajemian Ahnert, author of the memoir A Knock at the Door, spoke there in 2008.
Not only does NSU want to expand its genocide studies programs, but it also wants to expand their Armenian component. At the moment, Marshall said, “A lecture series on issues connected to the Armenian Genocide or the early modern genocides is something we are considering. We could bring in people without making a faculty line available. We would like to make more resources specific to the Armenian Genocide available to our students.” However, due to financial difficulties, she stated that “whether we could get a full faculty position without additional funding available is unclear.”
Marshall added, “We are actively seeking funding. It would be a dream to be able to hire someone whose specific academic background is in Armenian Studies.”
Armenian language courses would be possible too, if funding was sufficient to hire an independent faculty member for this.
Marshall is not worried about any potential interference from the Turkish government. She said, “It is hard to envision resistance from a foreign government reaching what we are doing here at Nova SU in the curricular area, though I know it can happen. In any case, we are poised to move ahead at this point.”
NSU has a grant proposal pending with one Armenian foundation, and is looking at other grant sources as well as private donor funding. The university has a definite time frame in mind. Marshall explained that “the firm curricular framework that I would like to establish should really be announced at the one hundredth anniversary of the Genocide. That would be the most appropriate time for a new outreach program or a firm faculty member.”
There is at least one prominent Armenian-American already involved with NSU who would be supportive of such programs. Marta T. Batmasian is a member of the Board of Governors of the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern. Furthermore, she and her husband in the past donated a large memorial to the Armenian Genocide, which stands at the entrance of the school.
Marshall concluded, “We are an attractive host for this sort of thing. We have a working program already. Our program in conflict resolution is available fully on line. The university is young and is able to move in the direction of where there is a need for learning. We have identified the Armenian Genocide and genocide in general as an area of critical importance to learn about.”