NAASR Launches Leadership Circle in Southern California


LOS ANGELES — The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) launched a campaign for its Leadership Circle of membership in the Southern California Armenian community on April 13, at the Pasadena home of David and Margaret Mgrublian.

The evening was organized by NAASR’s Southern California Board members Bruce Roat and Dr. Gregory Ketabgian, working closely with a dedicated committee.

Following a buffet dinner, the nearly 100 individuals present gathered to listen to remarks by Master of Ceremonies Paul Ignatius, a dialogue between Dr. Carla Garapedian and Prof. Peter Balakian, and comments by members of the NAASR leadership.

“Fifty-five years ago my father got the bug for NAASR to help them set up endowed chairs at Harvard and UCLA in Armenian studies,” said MC Paul Ignatius. Ignatius served as Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy during the Kennedy and Johnson presidential administrations. His father, Hovsep, an immigrant from Kharpert, was involved in many Armenian causes including efforts at the inception of NAASR to keep Armenian history alive for future generations. Ignatius, in his concise and witty opening remarks, emphasized that NAASR continues to be a uniquely important organization that needs to be supported by all who value scholarship and increased knowledge about Armenian subjects.

Ignatius introduced acclaimed documentary filmmaker Garapedian and writer and scholar Balakian, who engaged in a half-hour-long discussion on the topic of “Scholarship and the Pursuit of Justice.”

Garapedian and Balakian discussed the fraudulent academic apparatus supported by the Turkish government to further their project of denial of the Armenian Genocide. Balakian spoke of the need to counter this campaign both through scholarship and through the kind of informed activism that scholarship makes possible. He pointed to the example of the exposure and shaming of Princeton’s Heath Lowry by Robert Jay Lifton in the 1990s, when it was found that Lowry was working closely with the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC, as a key moment in demonstrating the relationship between academia and the Turkish state. The publicity surrounding this affair had brought the denial issue out in the open in the mid-1990s.

Although — or perhaps because — the Armenian Genocide today receives far greater coverage in scholarly work, on television, and in social media than in previous decades, denial persists. The discussion turned to Turkey’s attempt to pressure the Rwanda Genocide Museum to remove materials on the Armenian Genocide. A last-hour effort by genocide scholars and writers, including Balakian, who had gathered there to give a symposium helped to block that effort.

Similarly, in 2005 there was a Turkish-supported attempt in England to have the Parliament officially repudiate the authenticity and validity of the Bryce/Toynbee Blue Book (aka The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-1916). This effort ultimately failed and led to noted British human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson writing a report titled “Was There an Armenian Genocide?” which was highly critical of Turkish-led denial and British acquiescence.

Revisionist historiography by Turkish and Azeri scholars has picked up speed and needs a large number of trained scholars to answer their claims. Garapedian and Balakian stressed the need for financial support of institutions such as NAASR to enable increased grants to deserving researchers and scholars, and the importance of continued “cultural production” in various media and forums in order keep Armenian history and culture alive and moving forward.

As Balakian stated at the conclusion: “We need to move into a much higher level of professionalism, it needs to involve creative thinking and needs to be proactive. It should be emerging as we walk out tonight.”

After a lively question-and-answer session, representatives from the NAASR Board’s Executive Committee were introduced to provide an update to the audience concerning the present status and future goals of NAASR. Raffi Yeghiayan, NAASR Board Chairman, welcomed the guests and introduced Marc Mamigonian, NAASR Director of Academic Affairs, who briefly reviewed the history of NAASR since its inception in 1955 and its early efforts to establish the first chair in Armenian Studies at Harvard and subsequently the second at UCLA. Taking special note of NAASR’s renewed high level of activity in Southern California, thanks to the efforts of current board members Roat and Ketabgian, as well as former board member Dr. Rubina Peroomian, Mamigonian also pointed to the close working relationship with the Ararat-Eskijian Museum in Mission Hills, whose director, Maggie Mangassarian-Goschin, serves on NAASR’s Southern California committee.

Next, he detailed some of the tasks that NAASR performs at the present, including organizing and collaborating on lectures and other public programs; providing research/publication grants; maintaining an extensive library; functioning as a communication hub for scholars; assisting researchers; distributing books on Armenian subjects; publishing; and organizing heritage trips to Historic Armenia led by prominent scholars. As did Garapedian and Balakian, he emphasized that it is crucial that NAASR substantially increase its capacity to provide grants and support for scholars and vital projects.

He was followed by Yervant Chekijian, who explained the establishment of the Leadership Circle as an upper level of annual support, which will allow NAASR to expand upon the work it currently performs. Chekijian emphasized the importance of members of the community showing leadership by taking responsibility for the strengthening of institutions such as NAASR that support scholarship and preserve Armenian history and culture.

The evening came to an end with former Chairman Nancy Kolligian thanking the speakers, the MC and the host, as well as the organizing committee. After dessert as the guests were leaving, each received a signed copy of The Burning Tigris by Balakian.