NAASR Looks Back at History, Forward to New Era


Eric Bogosian

Eric Bogosian

By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

 

 

BURLINGTON, Mass. — The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) celebrated its 60th anniversary on November 12 with a family affair — whether those families were academics who had worked with NAASR, longtime members of the organization or members of the Ignatius family, who have been associated with the organization for many years.

About 300 people, including academics, current college students and longtime supporters filled the hall at the Burlington Marriott.

The theme of the evening was reflecting on the accomplishments of the organization as well as looking ahead to its new direction.

Adi Ignatius, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review, served as the master of ceremonies. His sister, Sarah Ignatius, is the NAASR executive director. In her comments, Sarah Ignatius said she was introduced to the organization in 2006 when she participated in a trip organized by NAASR to historic Armenia.

“We were in Kharpert one afternoon and I was feeling a breeze blowing on a warm day and I thought, this is it. This is what my grandfather saw at this same exact spot,” she said. That moment made her realize the “power of history and the power of NAASR as well.” As she said, the organization has “reverence for history yet is propelling us forward.”

Adi Ignatius spoke about his time as the Moscow bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. He said during his three years in the Russian capital, he had never felt the urge to visit Yerevan, but that his wife, who was not Armenian, had visited Yerevan twice and loved it.

He was on the same NAASR tour as his sister and his father to the ancient Armenian homeland. “It was a moving experience, and most moving was Kharpert,” he said.

He praised the organization for “perpetuating and supporting Armenian studies in the US.”

There was a short awards presentation ceremony on behalf of the Armenian Genocide Museum of Yerevan. On their behalf, Gary Grigorian presented a medal to Marc Mamigonian, NAASR’s director of academic affairs. Following the medal, Armenia’s ambassador to the US, Grigor Hovhannissian, expressed his “heartfelt congratulations from Armenia and Foreign Minister [Edward] Nalbandian.”

Mamigonian introduced two honorees of the evening, titans in the field of Armenian studies, Dr. Nina Garsoian and Dr. Richard Hovannisian. Garsoian, Avedissian Professor Emerita of Armenian History and Civilization at Columbia University, was unable to attend and had sent a video message.

Mamigonian said that NAASR worked to “create the space where all aspects of study in the field can take place, to have a place where Armenian scholars could come together.” He and the others also spoke about the organization’s major expansion plans in the near future.

Hovannisian managed to arrive at the reception even though his day started in Istanbul, where he was overseeing the translation of several of his volumes on Van, Bitlis and Moush into Turkish. He started off his comments by paying tribute to Dr. Martin Deranian, who had died a few months earlier. He also paid tribute to his fellow awardee, Garsoian, calling her “for me a role model. I should not be paired with her,” he said humbly. He also said that she had not been “fully recognized and it is very fitting that NAASR has recognized her.”

He continued, “None of us had any training in Armenian studies.” Therefore, he said, without ever having taken a course in Armenian history, he had to teach one at UCLA.

“I want to congratulate NAASR. It is moving forward very rapidly with renewed commitment.”

He then wished success to the many young university students in attendance.

The keynote speaker was Eric Bogosian, the award-winning film, stage and television actor and writer who turned his tremendous intellect to finding out about the Armenian Genocide, resulting in the publication of his book, Operation Nemesis, last year.

Bogosian spoke about his family’s story in Massachusetts and the previous generation’s desire to “find” Armenians where perhaps there were none, such as Cary Grant, and concluding that basically everyone is Armenian, since humans descent from Noah and Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Ararat. Simple logic.

On a more serious note, he asked, what makes an Armenian — is it language or community?

“We took pains to preserve the identity of vast regions that were cleared of Armenians,” he said. “It is not just genes and geopolitics, but honor, self-respect and dignity. Pride in religion,” he said.

“We survived a massacre and a genocide. [But] being a victim is not a point of pride. It’s like letting Turks have the last word.”

He suggested it was time Armenians reveled in the positive things they had done, such as being responsible for the glorious architecture of the Ottomans, as well as poetry, religious architecture, cuisine, etc.

“Today we are a diasporan people. It is a false notion to believe that Armenians are biding their time to return” to the ancient lands, he said.

It is a new life outside Armenia and historic Armenia where many Armenians now thrive, he said. “Diasporan Armenians make powerful contributions.”

“We are descendants of one of the longest lineages,” he said, many high achievers. “We need to be defined by achievement, by how we made the world a better place.”

He spoke about his book (and thanked the Mirror-Spectator’s Aram Arkun for his help). He became fascinated by the story of Soghomon Tehlirian’s assassination of Talaat Pasha in Berlin and realized that he was “pretty ignorant” of the story as well as Armenian history in general. Over the course of 10 years, with help from NAASR, he fine-tuned the book.

He suggested that in addition to studying the Armenian Genocide, other fields be explored more fully, such as early Christian Armenian history, the 19th century Ottoman Armenians, and Armenians in Iran and Russia, the role of troubadours in the Caucasus.

“Simply to pass down stories or to focus on tragedy is not enough. We need to work so we understand all of it,” he said.

A short film was shown, prepared by Artur Petrosyan, Karine Abalyan and Christopher Zakian, on NAASR and its plans for the future.

Finally, Yervant Chekijian, chairman of NAASR’s Board of Directors spoke about his long history with the organization. He joined NAASR in 1959 as a young teen and he invited the many young students present to follow suit.

Chekijian also spoke about the many events that the organization is now handling, as well as the scholars such as Prof. Taner Akçam who have been helped by the organization.

The evening ended with a call for donations from Sarah Ignatius in return for the donors’ names being inscribed in the Illuminators of the Future of Armenian Studies Manuscript, created in the old Armenian style, by artists Laura Zarougian and Knar Hovakimyan.