By Aram Arkun
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Normally Dr. Erna Manea Shirinian spends the first half of her workday as a full professor of history at Yerevan State University and then goes in the afternoon to Yerevan’s Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (“Matenadaran”), where she is head of the department concerned with researching and editing ancient Armenian texts. Fortunately for the Mirror, she was in Boston a few months ago, during the spring, and spoke a little about the state of scholarly affairs in Armenia as well as a conference she was organizing on Tayk.
Born in Akhalkalak, Georgia, Dr. Shirinian began her education in Armenia. Her father did not want her to leave the country, but as a good student, she was sent by her teacher to Russia to learn classical literature and translation. Most of the other students did not continue in academia. When she returned, she was told she could go to specialize in Byzantine Studies in Moscow.
She went back to Armenia and then spent three years in Moscow and five in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) studying but when she graduated in 1975 and came back to Armenia she was told there were no jobs available for her. Instead she began making Gobelin tapestries to support herself.
After defending her first thesis, while in the Matenadaran, and in the period after Chernobyl, she received a letter from a German named Günther Christian Hansen who had read an article she wrote on Socrates Scholasticus, a fifth-century Constantinople church historian. He wished to meet her. Despite some initial misunderstandings – for example, he thought she was a man – they ended up collaborating on an academic work.