By Jennifer Wheelock
LOS ANGELES — The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) plans to launch The Promise Armenian Institute, an entity that will establish a world-class research center and platform for public outreach about Armenia while integrating and expanding the university’s existing Armenian studies offerings and connections to that country.
“This institute will be UCLA’s new hub for all initiatives and research related to Armenia and the diaspora,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “It will energize the teaching of Armenian history and culture in addition to reaching out to Armenians and Armenian institutions through research and public programs.”
The first initiative of its size and scope, the interdisciplinary institute will have a home in the UCLA International Institute and will focus activities around two pillars. The first pillar is the Center for Armenian Studies, which will attract top faculty and visiting lecturers, support graduate and postdoctoral research on Armenian studies and provide funding for language classes. Building on an in-depth study of Armenian society, culture and history — including scholarship about the 1915 Armenian genocide and the worldwide diaspora — the center will provide the academic foundation for the institute’s second pillar, Programs for Public Impact.
Programs for Public Impact will coordinate new and ongoing projects in archaeology, the arts, business and law, engineering, health policy and medicine, information technology and social policy, leveraging UCLA’s expertise to strengthen communities in Los Angeles, in Armenia, and throughout the diaspora. Among existing UCLA efforts that already contribute to this mission are the Armenian Genome Project, which includes the study of genetics and familial diseases; faculty collaboration with the Armenian Health Ministry to improve the country’s public health; and cultural heritage partnerships with the National Library of Armenia on digital projects. Ongoing and future cultural programs include art exhibitions, film screenings, music performances and other events featuring Armenian artists.
The institute, which has been in the planning phase for several years, is being created with a $20 million gift from the estate of philanthropist and entrepreneur Kirk Kerkorian. Before his death in 2015, Kerkorian financed and served as executive producer of the film “The Promise,” a personal passion project raising awareness of the 1915 Armenian genocide. When the movie opened in 2017, proceeds and gifts inspired by the campaign around the film supported a number of charitable causes, including The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law.