By Nancy Kalajian
BELMONT, Mass. — Kind, the name on the breakfast bar, said it all, and set a welcoming tone for the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) bus trip to view the “Armenia!” exhibit and attend the Symposium: Honoring the First Scholars of Armenian Art in America, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Setting out on a luxury coach from Watertown, Massachusetts, during a miserably drenching early morning rainstorm on Saturday, November 3, Laura Yardumian, NAASR’s Program and Administrative Associate, and Sarah Ignatius, Executive Director, brightened up the crowd by kindly serving coffee, breakfast snacks, and fruit, with happy smiles thrown in for extra measure.
After the group settled in, Ani Babaian, NAASR’s expert library curator, independent artist, and art conservator, introduced a brief history of Armenian art and noted that the second most important pilgrimages were made to the fourth century Saint Garabed Monastery, northwest of Moush, which was founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator. Speaking of Armenian gold, she reflected on the global influences of New Julfa and Amsterdam.
When the bus arrived in New York after a four-hour journey, the roofs of some high rises were visible as the weather began to clear up and participants eagerly entered The Met Fifth Avenue to attend the day-long symposium in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. The symposium focused on various monuments, paintings, manuscripts, and unique items that portray the Armenian impact on international trade during the Middle Ages and its artistic global outreach. Mark Momjian, chairman of the Board of Directors at the Armenian Center at Columbia University, which organized the symposium, gave opening remarks. Dr. Helen C. Evans, the Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art at the Met and curator of “Armenia!,” recognized and honored three special professors for their pioneering efforts in starting Armenian Studies programs: Dr. Richard G. Hovannisian and Dr. Nina G. Garsoian were welcomed onto the stage, and Dr. Thomas F. Matthews, unable to be there, was represented by his student, who read a prepared statement. Dr. Sirarpie Der Nersessian and Dr. Vartan Gregorian were also acknowledged.
The symposium speakers, all top-notch with impressive resumes, spoke for about a half hour each and gave unique presentations connected to many items on display in The Met Armenia! exhibit. First, Dr. Benjamin Anderson spoke on “The Great Kosmos of All Armenia: On the Sarcophagus of Isaac (Sahak).” Dr. Lynn Jones spoke next on censers from Medieval Armenia. A midday lunch rounded out the morning session and provided an opportunity for socializing and camaraderie as scholars, symposium organizers, and NAASR attendees mingled.
The afternoon program included Dr. Antony Eastmond’s talk on “Stepanos Orbelian and Monumental Painting in Armenia under the Mongols” and Dr. Kristina L. Richardson’s “Portrait of an Armenian Merchant Family in the Diary of a 16th Century Aleppine Silk-Weaver.” Intense international research by Dr. Sebouh Aslanian was evident in his topic, “Their Commercial Arms Stretched over Europe: New Julfa and the Khwaja Guerak-Mirman Family of Venice and Isfahan.” The symposium concluded with Dr. Peter Balakian’s “The Ruins of Ani: From Sacred Landscape to Political Soil.” The symposium was live-streamed and is available in two parts on The Met’s Facebook page under “Videos” (https://www.facebook.com/metmuseum/videos/413355889200741/ and https://www.facebook.com/metmuseum/videos/320237418776795/) and shared on NAASR’s Facebook page in the timeline. The “Armenia!” exhibit book, already in its second printing, will be available through NAASR in the near future.