Photo above, from left: Associate Dean Honora Chapman, Dean Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Dr. Mary Papazian, President Joseph I. Castro, Mary Castro, Dr. Sergio La Porta,  Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, Dr. Dennis Papazian and Professor Hagop Ohanessian at the 2017 Armenian Studies Program banquet.

~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, communications specialist for the College of Arts and Humanities

In 1977, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president, George Lucas’ “Star Wars” opened in theaters, and Elvis Presley died. That same year, the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State was founded.

Forty years later, more than 12,000 students have taken courses in the program, and 131 students have graduated with minors in Armenian Studies, said Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, who is the coordinator of the program and has been at Fresno State since 1985.

The Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State celebrated its 40th anniversary on March 19, with a banquet at Fort Washington Country Club. Dr. Mary Papazian, president of San Jose State University, was the keynote speaker.

“She was a classmate of mine at UCLA, but she is the only female Armenian president of a U.S. university that I am aware of,” Der Mugrdechian said. “She is also connected to Armenian Studies because her husband is Dr. Dennis Papazian, founder of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, and a long-time professor of history.”

This year’s banquet had the biggest turnout so far, Der Mugrdechian said, with 250 in attendance.

Papazian, who started by saying “my Fresno roots are deep,” talked about how Armenian studies programs provide a bridge between the past and future of the Armenian people:

“Focused on educating young people of all backgrounds about our language history and culture, thereby adding to the rich mosaic of American experiences and knowledge,” Papazian said at the banquet. “In the environment in the 1970s, as the Armenian community was awakening and growing, founders of ASP like the program here at Fresno State and its numerous sister institutions, understood that language and culture matter, that Armenian youth who have grown up far away from their historic lands, beginning to lose the grandparents that might have taught them the history, needed another way to reconnect or the links between the Armenian past and our future would never be repaired.”

At the banquet, student recipients of Armenian Studies scholarships and grants for 2016-2017 were recognized, and students graduating with a minor in Armenian Studies were also recognized.

” I don’t think people realize how well known our program is worldwide,” Der Mugrdechian said. “That has been made possible because of the activity of the faculty in research and ties with colleagues throughout the world. We collaborate with institutions and individuals throughout the world. We are the headquarters for the Society for Armenian Studies, which is the international organization representing those in the field of Armenian Studies.”

The Hye Sharzhoom newspaper, published quarterly, is in its 38th year of publication and reaches 5,000 people worldwide.

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From left, Professor Barlow Der Mugredechian, Dr. Sergio La Porta and Dr. Dickran Kouymjian, professor emeritus of Armenian Studies.

“Our presence on the web and in the social media has expanded our reach and more people know about our program,” Der Mugrdechian said. “I enjoy working with so many of our talented students and am proud of those who have graduated and achieved success in their chosen fields. The addition of Dr. Sergio La Porta to the program in 2009 has brought energy and talent to our program and we have a good team of faculty.”

La Porta is the Haig and Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies.

The Armenian Studies Program offers a robust lecture series each year, bringing distinguised speakers to the campus, often collaborating with the CineCulture film series or the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concert series to bring cinematic or musical offerings to the community.

The Press at California State University Fresno has published six books through the Armenian Series, plus two earlier works.

“We are proud to host the most prestigious and productive Armenian Studies program in the country,” said Dean Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, of the College of Arts and Humanities. “Its international recognition calls attention to topics important to Armenians around the world, and its research speaks truth to the needs of justice, remembrance and memory essential to the greater human family.”

Issues facing Armenians, both locally and globally, have evolved over the years.

“With the independence of Armenia in 1991 and the continuing issues in the Middle East, especially in Syria, the core issues of Armenian identity and the existence of the Armenian have evolved,” Der Mugrdechian said. “The Diaspora – Armenians living outside of Armenia – face challenges in maintaining community life and Armenian identity and also striving to have the Republic of Armenia prosper. We have to work harder to keep the young people engaged and active in the community.”

“The program is thankful for the community support that it has engendered through out the years and the success of one of the primary goals of our program – bringing the community and the University closer,” Der Mugrdechian said. “We are appreciative of the support of campus administration from President Dr. Castro and Provost Zelezny, to the Dean and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, Dr. Jiménez-Sandoval and Dr. Chapman.”

Additional information about the Armenian Studies Program is available by contacting the office at 559.278.2669.