Armenian Studies celebrates its 40th year at Fresno State

~ By Marine Vardanyan, reprinted from Hye Sharzhoom

Pictured above, from left: Barlow Der Mugrdechian, current director of Armenian Studies; Dr. Sergio La Porta, current Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies; and Dr. Dickran Kouymjian, director of the program 1976-2008 and Emeritus Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies

Armenian studies has a long history on the Fresno State campus. Armenian classes were first offered in the early 1960s through an extension course taught by Dr. Richard Hovannisian, and Armenian history courses were later taught by Dr. Louise Nalbandian of the Fresno State History Department.

“What started as a small offering of courses has grown to be the golden standard by which the success of every other program is measured,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.

The Armenian Studies Program has been affiliated with various departments and colleges over the years, but today is part of the College of Arts and Humanities, the largest college on campus.

Today, the university has a well-grounded and extensive Armenian Studies Program that is looked upon as a significant source of knowledge for all things Armenian, both on campus and in the greater community.

This year, the Armenian Studies Program is celebrating its 40th anniversary, culminating with a banquet on Sunday, March 19.

The Armenian Studies Program was  established in 1977 when Dr. Dickran Kouymjian was recruited as director. “The foundations of the program were set by Dr. Kouymjian,” said current Director Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian.

Reflecting on his own impact on the program, Dr. Kouymjian said “I have been proud of my role in making Fresno’s Armenian Studies Program the most active in the U.S., perhaps even the entire diaspora in terms of students graduating with an emphasis, that is a minor, in the discipline.”

Throughout the years, the Armenian Studies Program has set high goals and reached them, achieving great success in all of its projects and undertakings.

Some of the program’s most notable achievements are:

  • The program has 131 alumni who have completed minors in Armenian Studies. More than 12,000 students have taken one or more courses offered by the program. “Through strong community support, we now offer highly popular courses in General Education, and our student body — regardless of their ethnic background — learns about the heritage, culture, and history of Armenians,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval.
  • Many significant Armenian community figures have visited the campus and given presentations. Among those are His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians; His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia; John Kirakossian, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Armenian SSR; Peter Balakian, Pulitzer Prize-Winning author; Bako Sahakyan, President of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh; John Evans, former Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia; Garo Paylan, Member of the Turkish Parliament; and many other scholars and political leaders.
  • Hye Sharzhoom, established in 1979, is the oldest regularly published Armenian student newspaper anywhere in the world. Staffed by students, with Prof. Der Mugrdechian as adviser, Hye Sharzhoom has a worldwide readership of more than 5,000 people.
  • The program has organized numerous exhibits, such as the International Exhibition of Armenian Architecture, an exhibit on the 500th anniversary of Armenian Printing, a Centennial exhibit on the Armenian Genocide, and more.
  • khatchig_mouradianEvery year an internationally recognized scholar in Armenian Studies is invited to teach for one semester at Fresno State, through the Henry S. Khanzadian Kazan Visiting Professorship. This year the program hosts its 13th Kazan Visiting Professor – Dr. Khatchig Mouradian.
  • Two of the ASP faculty are members of the Executive Council for the Society of Armenian Studies. Prof. Der Mugrdechian serves as the president of SAS, while Dr. La Porta serves as the editor of the Journal of the Society of Armenian Studies.
  • The Armenian Studies Program hosts conferences, lectures and symposia. Over the past 40 years, the program has hosted an average 10 events per semester, which are open to students and the public. “We have established a link between the community and the university, thereby enriching the community through our outreach and lecture series,” said Prof. Der Mugrdechian. Thousands of community members and students have attended and benefitted from the events.
  • The Armenian Studies Program manages more than 20 scholarship funds, established by Armenian donors, which are available to Fresno State students. An estimated $70,000 is awarded annually in scholarships and grants to more than 50 students studying in the program.
  • The Armenian Series at The Press at Fresno State has successfully published six titles including the latest work, “Fifty Years of Armenian Literature in France,” and earlier works such as “Armenian Poetry of Our Time, David of Sassoun: Critical Studies on the Armenian Epic,” and “Vahan Tekeyan: Selected Poems.”
  • With passionate and accomplished scholars spearheading the department and immense support from the Fresno community, the program includes many unique components and features.

“Our program is one of the most prestigious and active programs in the world,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval. “This success is based on two fundamental factors: We have renowned professors who have dedicated their lives to the success and vibrancy of the program, and we have an amazing community that values the memory of history and the vision this provides to the individual.” 

Since its inception, the Armenian Studies Program has continued to expand its roles and responsibilities to share knowledge about Armenian history, culture, and language through various modes. The program makes a significant contribution to academia, to the Armenian community, and to the lives of every student who pursues Armenian studies.

“Today, together with my colleagues Dr. La Porta, and Prof. Ohanessian, I feel that we are continuing to make great strides,” said Prof. Der Mugrdechian.

As for the first director, Dr. Kouymjian takes pride in observing the successes of ASP from Paris: “It is encouraging to just sit back and observe how the program gets better and better,” said Dr. Kouymjian.

The Armenian Studies Program will celebrate its 40th anniversary at the annual banquet on Sunday, March 19.


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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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