ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Armenian Studies Program (ASP) at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor began the academic year by organizing and hosting a rare conference. A diverse group of scholars all of whom had been trained at some point in their careers by ASP came together not only to present their ongoing scholarly work but also to celebrate the remarkable legacy of Louise Manoogian Simone (1933-2019), former president of Armenian General Benevolent Union (1989-2002) and the visionary patron of ASP. The gathering took place on the evening of Friday, September 13, in the 10th floor of Weiser Hall, with its majestic view of Ann Arbor.
The conference opened with “Reflections on Four Decades of Armenian Studies at the University of Michigan.” In her opening remarks, the current director of the program Melanie Tanielian, associate professor of history, not only thanked the Manoogian family for their lasting contribution to ASP but also shared data compiled with the help of Naira Tumanyan, ASP Program Specialist that highlighted the program’s impressive accomplishments in the areas of scholarship and education. The audience learned that since 2007 ASP has hosted 27 post-doctoral, 5 pre-doctoral, and 10 visiting fellows. It has organized some 160 public events since 2008, including 101 lectures, 23 workshops, 19 conferences, symposia and colloquia, 7 performances and exhibits, and 12 film screenings. Since 2002, ASP has awarded a striking 99 fellowships and grants. The program is built on the foundation of two endowed chairs, The Alex Manoogian Chair in Modern Armenian History (1981) and the Marie Manoogian Chair in Armenian Language and Literature (1987). With six current faculty since 2008, the program has had 13 graduate students, and 6 are currently enrolled. Since 2011 ASP faculty have collectively taught a whopping 3411 undergraduate and graduate students!
Following this glimpse into the history of ASP, its former directors joined Tanielian on stage. Each of them gave an overview of the work accomplished and the directions and innovations undertaken during their leadership. Kathryn Babayan, director from 2012 to 2019, highlighted the new research directions taken by the program, engaging with gender and sexuality, Mediterranean studies, and most recently materiality studies.
Gerard Libaridian, director from 2007 to 2012, spoke of his memories of Louise Manoogian Simone. He commented on her informed, demanding, but non-interfering style of philanthropy, and the expansive vision with which she led.
Kevork Bardakjian, director from 1995 to 2007, drew attention to the important expansion of the archival holdings of ASP from 1,000 to 18,000 books, making it one of the major centers of Armenian Studies research worldwide.
Ronald Suny, the founder of the program and director from 1981 to1995, began by sharing his memories of working with key supporters of the program, the Manoogian family in particular. He insisted that the program would not have been possible without the push and work of “the big three.” He named Alex Manoogian, Louise Manoogian’s father, Alice Haidostian, and the Beirut-born and Detroit-based writer and intellectual Edmond Y. Azadian. Suny emphasized Azadian’s paramount role in informing and encouraging the Manoogians to create ASP. Suny playfully but accurately referred to Azadian, seated among the audience, as Alex Manoogian’s “Minister of Culture.” (Edmond Azadian is the senior columnist for the Armenian Mirror-Spectator.) At the closing of the first evening, the audience realized that with the five former and current directors of the program sharing their insights and a large number of its research cohort present, they had a window into the history of not only ASP, but also of the university and Michigan Armenian community.