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UCLA May 14-16 2004 Conference on Armenians in Iran Marks Another Milestone

by Vartan Matiossian

( Not pictured : Gohar Avagyan, Anny Bakalian, RoseMary Cohen )
( Claudia Der-Mardirosian, Onnik Hayrapetian )
  • Group photo of participants: left to right-- Rubina Peroomian, Peter Cowe, Elizabeth Redgate, Hovann Simonian, Richard Hovannisian, Houri Beberbian, Gayane Hagopian, Gabriella Uluhogian, Armen Hakhnazarian, Vazken Ghougassian, Armen Ter-Stepanyan, Thomas Sinclair, Anahid Keshishian, Richard Elbrecht, Samvel Stepanian, Bert Vaux, Artsvi Bakhchinyan.
  • The fourteenth in the series of international conferences devoted to historical Armenian cities and provinces, sponsored by the Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian history at the University of California in Los Angeles, was held on May 14-16, 2004. This successful conference, organized by the holder of the chair, Professor Richard Hovannisian, had a turnaround of more than 1,000 people and was devoted to the Armenian communities of Iran.

  • The previous conference in this series, held last November, focused entirely on the community of New Julfa in Iran on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of its founding. Now was the time to turn scholarly attention to the other Armenian-Iranian communities. The conference was co-sponsored by the Armenian Society of Los Angeles and the UCLA International Institute, G. E. van Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies, and Center for European and Eurasian Studies.

Friday Evening Session in Armenian

  • As in the previous conference, the opening session, on the evening of May 14, was held in the sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church in Glendale, home to a sizeable number of Armenian-Iranians in Southern California. The presentations for the opening session were in Armenian. Professor Hovannisian gave an overview of Armenian-Iranian relations since ancient times. Onnik Hayrapetian (Mashtots College and Glendale Community College) reviewed the history, demographics, and life of the once-vibrant community of Salmast in northwestern Iran and presented a brief video of the area.

  • Gohar Avagyan, from the National Archives of Armenia, offered an interesting account of the life and works of an influential clergyman. Archbishop. Nerses Melik-Tangian, prelate of Atrpatakan (Iranian Azerbaijan) from 1912-1948, and an active protagonist in the fateful period of World War I, the Republic of Armenia and Soviet Armenia. Armen Hakhnazarian (Research on Armenian Architecture, Germany and Armenia) gave the first of his two illustrated presentations about Armenian historical monuments in Iran, focusing on the renovated monasteries of Dzordzor,and St. Thaddeus, which attracts thousands of people in annual pilgrimages.

History, Inscriptions, Literature, and Linguistics on Saturday

  • Saturday, May 15, was a full day of English sessions at Young Hall on the UCLA campus. After an introductory overview by Richard Hovannisian, Anne Elizabeth Redgate (University of Newcastle, England) analyzed the history of Parskahayk (Persarmenia), one of the fifteen provinces of historical Armenia at the time of the Armenian medieval kingdom of Vaspurakan (9th-10th centuries). Peter Cowe (UCLA) dealt with the Armenian community in Tabriz under Mongol domination, the so-called “Il-Khanid” period (13th-14th centuries), and Hovann Simonian (University of Southern California) studied a little-known subject, the fall of the principality of Artaz to the Turkmens in 1426 and Armenian mixed reactions to this event, since the princely house had converted to Catholicism.

  • Moving toward modern times, Thomas Sinclair (University of Cyprus, Nicosia) discussed the Ottoman military actions in Iranian Azerbaijan during 16th-18th centuries and their economic motivations, basically the desire to control the silk trade through this transit zone and the impact of the hostilities on Armenian trade.

    Gabriella Uluhogian (University of Bologna, Italy) spoke in Armenian about inscriptions in northern Iran discovered by an Italian expedition in 1975-76 (including herself) and their importance for studying the social and political life of the local Armenian communities from 17th to 19th centuries. Vazken Ghoughassian (Prelacy of the Armenian Church, New York) ended the morning session speaking about another little known area of the Armenian-Iranian community, the rural settlements in the central part of the country during the 17th-19th centuries.

Gabriella Uluhogian, Bologna, Italy
  • The first afternoon session was devoted to political developments in northern Iran during the late 19th and early 20th century. Rubina Peroomian (UCLA) offered a comprehensive picture of the Armenian liberation movement in the region of Atrpatakan during that period. Houri Berberian (California State University, Long Beach) delivered a thought-provoking paper about Armenian identity shifts during the Iranian constitutional revolution of 1907-1911 and the struggle to gain full citizenship, as advocated by the main political forces of the community. Finally, in an emotional and visually illuminated paper based on her own family memories, RoseMary Cohen (Los Angeles) presented an account of the Armenian and Iranian experiences through the massacres of Khoi (1914-1918), which were inflicted by the Ottoman invading forces on the population of the region and which have become an almost hidden chapter of the Armenian Genocide.

  • Literary and linguistic matters were discussed during the second afternoon session. Gayane Hagopian (UCLA) presented Armenian-Iranian life through the prism of 19th century famous novelist Raffi's short stories about the subject. Anahid Keshishian (UCLA) depicted Iran-born and America-lived novelist Hakob Karapents' (1925-1994) views on his Iranian childhood and adolescence. Finally, Bert Vaux (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) gave an entertaining presentation of Persian-Armenian as the third literary branch of the modern language, along with Western and Eastern Armenian.

Modern and Contemporary Issues on Sunday

  • Sunday afternoon, May 16, included one session in Armenian and one in English. Armen Ter- Stepanyan (Mashtots Matenadaran, Erevan) spoke on Armenian colophons and related sources from the 16th to 18th centuries as a hitherto little explored resource for the study of Armenian-Iranian history.
  • Armen Hakhnazarian gave another well-illustrated discussion, this time about the Armenian churches of Karadagh, along the Araxes River, particularly the Church of St. Stepanos. Artsvi Bakhchinyan (Armenian Association of Film Critics and Cinema Journalists, Erevan) discussed the pioneering role of the Armenians in the birth and development of Iranian theater and cinema, again with illustrations.

Richard Hovannisian
and Armen Hakhnazarian
  • The closing session for the conference had a socio-economic profile. Samuel Stepanyan, a former researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies (Erevan), now relocated to Glendale, gave an account of the Armenian role in Iranian economic life at the turn of the 20th century, especially in the development of Russo-Iranian economic ties. Aida Avanessian (Tehran), who at last minute was unable to be present at the conference, submitted a highly informative and enlightening survey of the Armenian community of Tehran, which Professor Hovannisian read for her. Despite a noticeable numeric shrinking in the last five years, the community is still managing a vibrant and well-organized life. As a well-deserved finale, Anny Bakalian (City University of New York) and Claudia Der-Mardirosian (UCLA) delivered a path-finding study of Armenian-Iranian socio-economic integration into the fabric of Southern Californian life, which called for a much-needed and deeply conducted study.

  • As many times before, an exhibit related to the conference had been prepared by Richard and Anne Elbrecht, this time with the assistance of Setareh Mahdavi. The participants also enjoyed the hospitality of the Armenian Society of Los Angeles on Friday night, and of Mr. and Mrs. Hacop and Hilda Baghdasarian of the Armenian Educational Foundation on Saturday night.

From left to right : Levon Palian (Washington D.C.) >Papken Sassouni (West Hollywood) >
Richard Hovannisian (UCLA) > Dr. Hratch Abrahamian (Washington, D.C.)
Présentation : Nil V. Agopoff
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