Jonathan Conlin to speak on ‘Calouste Gulbenkian and the Pasdurma Problem’

Jonathan Conlin - Mr Five Per Cent - The many lives of Calouste Gulbenkian - The World's Richest Man

Born into the Armenian merchant elite of Istanbul in 1869, the renowned oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian made his fortune as a ‘business architect,’ persuading rival oil companies to collaborate for their mutual enrichment, particularly in the Middle East. The violent collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Armenian Genocide and the attempt to establish a secure “Armenian National Home” at Versailles barely affected Gulbenkian, who appeared uninterested in being a “good Armenian.” His fellow Armenians nonetheless looked to him as a benefactor and a leader of their diaspora. He was thus appointed to the presidency of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Paris-based philanthropy which sought to promote the welfare of Armenian refugees.


Dr. Jonathan Conlin of Southampton University (United Kingdom), will give a presentation on “Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955) and the Pasdurma Problem” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in the University Business Center, Alice Peters Auditorium, Room 191 on the Fresno State campus. The presentation is part of the Armenian Studies Program Spring 2019 Lecture Series. Parking is $4 in Lots P3, P2 or P5.


Although Gulbenkian spent the whole of his life living in hotels, he built the nearest thing he ever had to a “home” in Paris in the 1920s. This talk will consider the biographer’s challenges in addressing what Gulbenkian’s daughter dubbed “the pasdurma problem”: the question of how to situate oneself as a family which showed little interest either in being “good Armenians” or in assimilation. It argues that Gulbenkian’s cosmopolitanism reflected the amira class from which he hailed as much as it did that supranational world of multi-national oil companies whose emergence Gulbenkian did so much to foster.

Jonathan Conlin - Mr Five Per Cent - The many lives of Calouste Gulbenkian - The World's Richest Man
Jonathan Conlin – Mr Five Per Cent – The many lives of Calouste Gulbenkian – The World’s Richest Man

Born in New York, Dr. Jonathan Conlin studied history and modern languages at Oxford before undertaking graduate degrees at the Courtauld Institute and Cambridge, where he was subsequently appointed a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College. Since 2006 he has taught history at the University of Southampton. His books include a history of the National Gallery (London), a comparative history of Paris and London and a biography of Adam Smith. In 2019 he published Mr. Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, World’s Richest Man, the product of five years’ research in ten countries.

Copies of Mr. Five Per Cent will be on sale at the lecture.

The lecture is free and open to the public. Parking is available in Fresno State Lots P6 and P5, near the University Business Center, Fresno State. A free parking code can be obtained by contacting the Armenian Studies Program.


For more information about the lecture please contact the Armenian Studies Program at 278-2669, visit their website or visit their Facebook page.

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