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Introductory Comments on the State of Armenian Studies Project

Prepared by Prof. Gerard Libaridian
January 2012

The origin of the idea...

The “State of Armenian Studies Project” was conceived in the Center for Armenian Studies (CAS) of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2006. As the prospect for new funding for the program increased, we faced the challenge of determining where new financial resources should be placed. It was obvious that we lacked a comprehensive study that could answer the question.

In the absence of a document to which we could refer to determine priorities, the Executive Committee of the CAS  (Professors Kathryn Babayan, Kevork Bardakjian, Ronal Suny and Gerard Libaridian, director) produced a program that is now in place: support for graduate students in the field, the reestablishment of visiting scholars, the establishment of post-doctoral positions, the initiation of an annual international workshop built around a theme that would bring together graduate students from around the world, including Armenia, with senior scholars, and international conferences. (The University already had two endowed chairs and significant support for library acquisitions related to the field. CAS too had some funds for designated projects.) But it was clear that we lacked a larger framework within which to situate our decisions; it was also evident that other scholars and institutions too lacked such a framework that would look at the present and the future of Armenian studies.

During the past decades a number of conferences and colloquia have been held at various institutions in the United States and Europe that offered a view of the development of Armenian Studies. Prominent among these are the conferences held every five years by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (established in 1955 in Cambridge, Mass., and currently in Belmont, Mass.) Consecutive presentations by chair holders and leading scholars at these conferences provide a solid overview of progress made in the filed, especially in the United States.

The idea of a panoramic report on the field of study known as Armenian Studies, formulated by the Executive Committee, was accepted with enthusiasm by the Steering Committee of the Center for Armenian Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In addition to the members of the CAS Executive Committee, the Steering Committee of the program includes the chairs of the History and Near Eastern Studies Departments, where the endowed chairs are based, the directors of the Center for Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies (CREES) and the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies (CMENAS).

Limits of Project

1. Armenian Studies in Armenia

Starting with the project as imagined initially and during the 2008, first workshop, in the presence of two scholars from Armenia, included Armenia and its institutions in the scope of this research. Very soon, it became evident that we faced a number of problems, which led us to a decision to leave out of this report Armenian Studies as it exists in Armenia proper, at least in this stage of the project. The concept, content, practice and institutionalization of Armenian studies itself are very different in Armenia as opposed to that which we have outside of Armenia proper, and understandably so.

To begin with, the size of the field in Armenia made it impossible for us to tackle it with the current resources available to us. Secondly, we faced the problem of definitions, methodologies, even purposes for which Armenian studies are practiced, taught, and researched in fundamentally different ways from what we have witnessed in the Diaspora or various Diasporas.

Additionally, while many individual scholars are highly competent and aware of the larger questions in the various academic disciplines that are used in Armenian studies, few institutions in Armenia are ready to tackle this field as a matter of open and free academic, research, discourse, and speculation. Most recently we have witnessed a tendency toward the securitization of academic disciplines, especially of history, linguistics, and the social sciences and humanities in general. This is true especially of disciplines that existed during the Soviet period and still carry the burden of that ideology, while newer disciplines, such as political science and psychology have evolved in a more open field. By and large, nationalist ideology has replaced the internationalism subsumed in a very flawed Marxist-Leninist ideology as the guiding light of the social sciences and humanities, however flawed the Soviet model was.

Finally, the major institutions that are financed primarily by the state lack the independence from the state that would have secured the livelihood of teachers and researchers who might challenge the underlying principles that guide the policies of recent governments.

That we were facing a problem of this magnitude was made clear by the representative of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia during the first meeting of this workshop in 2008 in Ann Arbor. The official representative of that most venerable institution to the workshop was officially asked to communicate to the workshop the official position of the National Academy of Science of Armenia: Armenian Studies was a matter of national security for Armenia. Such a position, shared by and large by other major institutions of higher learning in Armenia and, by extension the former Soviet space, would necessitate a different set of criteria and approaches than what had been developed thus far.

Considering the sheer size, volume and a character of what is considered Armenian studies, a year into the project a decision was taken by the director of the project, with the consent of the ASP Executive Committee, to leave institutions and issues in Armenia outside the scope of this study.

By applying this criterion—the securitization of academia—to Armenia does not mean that Diasporan institutions of Armenian studies are free of all prejudices, assumptions, or political agendas and concerns. Indeed, as will be noted below, most are subject to constraints. However, these are of two kinds: (a) the constraints of functioning in larger, non-Armenian institutions and/or societies, and (b) these are voluntary constraints.

2. Major non-Armenian libraries and museums

From the beginning it was determined that, except for the Library of Congress in the US, and the British Library, we would leave out major non-Armenian, national libraries in European and other capitals.

3. Universities and institutes that have no Armenian studies programs

Another category of institutions that was left out of this project is the very wide range of universities and institutes throughout the world, but especially in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East that have no Armenian studies programs or chairs but still do have one or more courses in Armenian language, history, and culture or have graduate students who are working on subjects that would otherwise fall within the definition of Armenian studies used in this study.

The reasons are obvious: (a) although important and significant, such courses or research are accidental, in the sense that they are not institutionalized. Courses taught one year may be eliminated the next; and there may be one student at an institution for a couple or more years and then none for ten years; and (b) including them would require more resources than we had at our disposal to trace these.

Results of the SAS Project’s first phase

Once approved by the ASP Executive and Steering Committees, we approached this project in steps:

1. We developed the purpose and outline of the project, its scope and limitations, and the questions the final report should answer.

2. We invited a first workshop of scholars from around the world who were either responsible for programs or had wide knowledge of the field. The call was sent out to a very long list of potential participants. Those who showed strong interest and were ready to assist were invited. Thus the first workshop was held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 2008. The participants in the workshop examined the document that was submitted, discussed it in detail, and amended it.

3. The director of the project engaged two graduate students at the University to undertake the very involved phase in the project: the development of questionnaires to Armenian studies chairs, programs, institutions, institutes, scholars, libraries and museums, which were then sent to as many of these programs and institutions as was possible to list.

We also enlisted a number of scholars who were asked to compile lists of books published in a set of languages on Armenian studies in the last 25 or so years, as of 2010.

It required more than one letter, phone call or request in general to gather the information that was needed. The responses were slow to come in and demanded much prodding. We could determine three reasons for these delays and, in the case of some reluctance to provide the information: (a) The time required to answer these questions was prohibitive for some, (b) the answers to the questions asked were not readily available, and (c) some were reluctant to share information, for a variety of reasons.

The team compiled the responses as they came in for over two years.

4. A second workshop convened at U-M in 2011 to study the results that had been compiled and attempt to answer the questions posed in the original document, that is, to look at the quantitative data compiled on the basis of the questionnaires and bibliographic data that had been compiled.

Support for Project

Throughout the life of this project ASAP/UM has had the full support of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research, especially its Program Director Marc Mamigonian. The Society for Armenian Studies and Association Internationale des Etudes Arméniennes have also co-sponsored this project and encouraged participation of their members in our surveys.

Financial support: Ara Paul

Ara Paul, Hans W. Vahlteich Professor of Pharmacology, Dean of College of Pharmacy, Professor Emeritus, and Dean Emeritus at the University, and his wife Shirley, his most gracious and supportive wife, agreed to support the project through the Ardashes Paul Memorial Fund they had established earlier at the Center for Armenian Studies at the University of Michigan. The funds made possible the gathering of key scholars for two consecutive workshops first to plan and then to examine the preliminary issues as well as for graduate student support for the development of questionnaires, the management and data harvesting from these responses, as well as the outline of the proceedings of the two workshops as part of the skeleton of this study.

We thank Ara and Shirley Paul for their support and appreciate deeply the patience they and everyone else has shown during these many years which have been necessary to produce this study.