From Jerusalem to MIT:

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Bedross Der Matossian Gives Back by Educating America’s Scientocracy on the Middle East

By Andy Turpin
Mirror-Spectator Staff

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Prof. Bedross Der Matossian, Middle East history lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is a man committed to his role as a scholar in his field and as an educator for the best and brightest of the US’s premier engineering and scientific educational institution.

He spoke recently about his life and work, beginning by stating,

“I’m organizing a conference on March 13th entitled ‘America’s Response to the Armenian Genocide: From Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama’ at MIT. I believe we’re very much going to have some very poignant research and dialogue presented and I think it will be very timely before April 24[the international day of recognition of the Armenian Genocide].”

Prof. Bedross Der Matossian

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Of his own life, Der Matossian said, “I was born and raised in Jerusalem in the Muslim quarter and that, of course, shaped my life.”

Der Matossian spoke about how he came to teaching at MIT by noting that initially he studied at Columbia University in New York, fulfilling his graduate schooling, saying, “Coming from Jerusalem to Columbia was a major transition in my life. For seven years I stayed at Columbia and received my master’s in philosophy before getting my PhD. in history.”

But Der Matossian turned to speak about his historical research, the true drive and passion of his profession explaining, “I’m fluent in Armenian, Arabic, Hebrew, Ladino, Ottoman Turkish, German and French and these languages are crucial to my research. I’m interested in the comparative study of politics in the late Ottoman Empire, namely how many minority groups like Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Kurds and Alevis all related to the 1908 CUP Revolution [The Committee of Union and Progress or İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti, also known as the Young Turks].”

“In general I do a lot with the study of ethnic politics at the turn of the twentieth century and dealing with Armenians in the Ottoman empire and their contributions to Ottoman society. Currently I’m working on revising my dissertation by polishing it for public,” he said.

Der Matossian knows that esoteric Middle Eastern and Armenian history aren’t everyone’s cerebral cup of tea but he explained that his upcoming conference on “America’s Response to the Armenian Genocide,” like the classes he teaches at MIT, are all apart of his core personal principles that he explained by saying, “As a historian I do believe I have an obligation where I can to play a mediator role by educating the public about Middle Eastern history.”

“I’m also working on researching the Adana Massacre of 1909 as part of the revolutionary process of the 1908 revolution,” he added.
As for how he came to teach in Boston, Der Matossian explained that beyond MIT’s sterling academic reputation and the social aspect of greater Boston’s Armenian community welcoming him to their circles with open arms, that Boston is also important to him as a research location.

He noted that, “Boston used to be one of the centers of ethnic communities in the US and was seminal as a publishing location for information about Armenian ethnic politics being dispersed to Europe and back to the Ottoman empire, so that too is why being in Boston is also crucial to my research.”

In recent years Der Matossian has spoken at Armenian-American venues like the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) on complicated issues that are dear to his heart and home community. One such talk focused on the economic policies and dynamics of Orthodox Church corruption in modern-day Israel that are dwindling Jerusalem’s Christian tenements in the Old City to nothing in the shadow of aggressive Israeli property speculators and developers.

But Der Matossian explained that these are not new issues in Jerusalem or the Middle East. As a historian, Der Matossian is doggedly thorough in tracing matters to their source and noted, “I do research on the Armenians of Jerusalem in the British Mandate period of Palestine as well. I’m very interested in understanding the economic damage of the Armenian Genocide in general and how different Great Powers before and after the Genocide used low-level legality to confiscate and transfer wealth as a form of racketeering.”
Turning to speak from his role as a mediator and educator in the public sphere to his role in MIT’s classrooms, Matossian said that presently he teaches two courses, “The World Since 1492” and “Islam, the Middle East and the West” along with a course on Israel and Palestine.

Asked whether he tailors any of his class’s projects or tone to the fact that his students are predominantly technically and scientifically minded rather than social science or liberal arts students, Der Matossian responded, “Yes, I take a very critical approach. The aim of the courses is to give the students the tools to be critical about history, but also to destroy preconceptions. And of course I try and bring an Armenian dimension to these studies when I can.”

He added that often he will incorporate scientific projects and themes into his history curriculum noting, “For example, I will give my students the project to examine the contributions of Islam in history to the sciences. The students here are very, very bright, which at times can make them even more challenging for me to teach, but also even more rewarding because they are so bright.”

In his off hours Der Matossian is more than a scholar explaining the complexities of the Middle East to physics wunderkind; he is also a musician. “I also play in a music group called ‘Nour,’ again related to the Middle East that incorporates the Armenian, Persian, Ladino, Turkish and Alevi musical traditions of the cultures in my research. Hopefully in spring we’ll be able to play in Boston” he said.
For more information on Nour and Bedross Der Matossian’s music with the group, visit http://www.myspace.com/nourmusic