Dr. Gregory Areshian

Tribute: Gregory Areshian – The Legacy of a True Scholar

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By Armen Der Kiureghian

YEREVAN — On August 2, 2020, Armenia lost one of its most distinguished scholars. Dr. Gregory Areshian, Professor of History and Archaeology at the American University of Armenia (AUA), succumbed to the COVID-19 virus in spite of all efforts by his doctors to save him. I had the privilege of knowing him and hiring him as a faculty member when I served as the President of AUA. I feel a deep sense of loss and sorrow upon his passing.

He was 71.

My first encounter with Dr. Areshian was in the summer of 1991, when Dr. Mihran Agbabian and I were in Yerevan working to start the AUA. The Government of Armenia had offered us rent-free use of a massive building, which previously served as the Congress Hall of the Communist Party. To formalize the transfer, we had to get the approval of the Deputy Prime Minister, who happened to be Dr. Gregory Areshian. I remember being extremely impressed by his impeccable English and by his enthusiasm for our project. He quickly signed all the necessary documents, but we stayed in his office longer and talked about the importance of bringing Western-style education to Armenia.

I met Dr. Areshian for the second time around 2004, when Professor David Stronach of the University of California, Berkeley, invited him for a seminar. At the time, Dr. Areshian was a visiting professor and researcher at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles. A renowned archeologist of ancient Iran and Iraq, Stronach had extremely high opinion of Areshian’s scholarship. Areshian visited Berkeley again around 2010 for another seminar, this time upon the invitation of Prof. Stephan Astourian and as the guest of the Armenian Studies Program. The presence of archaeology scholars from Berkeley at the seminar again was a testament of the high regard he enjoyed in that field.

Areshian received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Yerevan State University and his doctorate from the Saint Petersburg State University under Boris Piotrovsky, the renowned scholar of Urartian civilization and long-time director of the Hermitage Museum. Professor Areshian was proficient in nine languages, including Urartian cuneiform.

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A few years after our visit to his office in 1991, Dr. Areshian had a conflict with Vano Siradeghyan, who served as the minister of internal affairs in Levon Ter Petrosyan’s government and was later charged with criminal conduct. Dr. Areshian was forced to resign and leave the country. He settled in the United States and soon started teaching, first at the University of Chicago and later at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2015, he decided to return to Armenia. I was elated to hire him as a Professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, a major gain for AUA. He completely devoted his attention and time to teaching, research and service to the University. One very important and highly appreciated service he rendered the University was organizing and leading tours to archaeological sites for major donors to AUA.

He taught some of the most popular and largest classes at AUA on topics related to history and archaeology. Students loved his approach to teaching and how he engaged them in discussions. Every year he assigned several of his students as “guides” during the archaeological tours. The excitement of these students — many of whom majored in fields other than humanities or social sciences — and their dedication to Areshian were palpable. I remember several students telling me that it was through Areshian’s courses that they truly learned and appreciated Armenian history.

Areshian was concerned about the way history was taught in schools and universities in Armenia. He believed that Armenian history should be taught as a part of World history and in the broader context of the history of other nations. He criticized the current approach as “teaching Armenian history for Armenians alone.” His students, some of whom had come to AUA from other universities and had experienced history courses elsewhere, attested to his innovative approach to the teaching of Armenian history both in style and content.

I had the privilege of many conversations with Dr. Areshian about history, archaeology, and AUA programs, particularly the need for strengthening Armenian studies courses. My colleagues and I also had the good fortune of going on several tours of archaeological and historical sites with him. The first one was to Areni-1 cave in 2016, where the famous 6,000-year-old shoe and winery were discovered by a team led by Professor Areshian and Prof. Boris Gasparian of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. The second one was to Carahunge or Zorats Karer (Armenia’s Stone Hinge) near Sisian, where his students were mapping the tombstones and he intended to conduct excavations to better understand the origins of the multiple graves. The last one was to the northwest of Armenia, where we visited several sites, including Dashtadem Fortress in Aragatsotn, Saint Gevorg church in the village of Garnahovit, and the Marmashen monastery complex near Gyumri. His knowledge of these monuments and archaeological sites, and his enthusiasm in explaining their backgrounds to us were so profound that it is difficult to imagine that he will not be leading tours anymore.

He taught in 14 US universities and colleges including the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, Irvine, the University of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin, Platteville and Amherst College. He is the author of more than 150 scholarly works published in five languages in 12 countries.

Armenia has lost one of its most important scholars. His legacy will go on to live in the rich body of scholarly books and articles he leaves behind and in the accomplishments of numerous students and research associates he inspired. May his light shine forever.

(Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian is the Taisei Professor of Civil Engineering [Emeritus] Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of California, and former president of the American University of Armenia.)

 

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