The candlelight vigil at Princeton with Fr. Daniel Karadjian (photo Princeton ODUS)

Princeton Armenian Student Vigil for Artsakh Engages Many, Including President Eisgruber


WATERTOWN — Students, faculty and staff at Princeton University participated in a candlelight vigil for Artsakh on October 12, organized by the Princeton Armenian Society (PAS) to honor those who lost their lives in the cause of Artsakh’s freedom. The vigil was sponsored by both Princeton College Democrats and Princeton College Republicans, as well as the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, with funding from the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, and the university’s president was in attendance.

The audience assembles in front of the Princeton chapel (photo Mona Marrin)

While according to the campus newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, about 50 people were present, PAS Co-President Katya Hovnanian, Princeton Class of 2025, estimated that at its peak, this number increased to 150. The participants included several Princeton Armenian alumni, such as Laurens Ayvazian, Ed Tiryakian and Levon Avanesyan, who came specially to New Jersey for this event.

From left, Princeton Armenian Society co-presidents Katya Hovnanian and Hayk Yengibaryan, with alumni Laurens Ayvazian and Ed Tiryakian

Students Hayk Yengibaryan (PAS co-president), Lena Hoplamazian and Mikaela Avakian delivered speeches, Hovnanian said, while representatives from the offices of New Jersey Congressmen Frank Pallone and Chris Smith read statements. Fr. Daniel Karadjian recited a prayer and Karinne Andonian sang Groong and Der Voghormya.

Karinne Andonian and Fr. Daniel Karadjian (photo Mona Marrin)

Armenian Student Clubs at Princeton

There probably have been individual Armenian students at Princeton since the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Some were brought through the efforts of American Protestant missionaries. While little is known of their early history, an organized group called the Armenian Students at Princeton was founded in 1977 (yours truly was one of the founding members). The group died out some years later, as members graduated, due to the small overall number of incoming Armenian students at the university.

Candles and roses on the chapel’s steps (photo Mona Marrin)

A new group was founded in 2015 under the current name. Hovnanian said that she and Yengibaryan “are simply continuing the work of our predecessors. Ararat Gocmen [Princeton Class of] ’17, the former leader and rejuvenator of the Princeton Armenian Society, actively engaged students with field trips to venues like the Hovnanian School in Bergen County.”

Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber with Princeton Armenian alumni and students (photo Princeton ODUS)

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For a few years, the group fell into inactivity, as sometimes is the case with small college organizations. However, on the one hand, the recent series of tragic events in Armenia and Artsakh seem to have energized the students. During the 2020 Artsakh war, for example, Arthur Sirkejyan wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Princetonian.

Secondly, Yengibaryan said that his own Class of 2026, with six Armenian students, may have contained the largest number of Armenians admitted in a Princeton class so far. This, and the end of Covid restrictions, also helped increase the level of activities.

Yengibaryan added, “Today, we are proud to have 16 members (12 undergraduate students and 4 graduate students). We have an executive board with appointed positions and we are trying to tackle issues at the university.”

President Eisgruber

Yengibaryan stated that on October 5, he and Hovanian met with Princeton’s president, Christopher Eisgruber, during his office hours. At that meeting, Hovnanian said, “we had urged him to issue a statement on the ethnic cleansing in Nagorno Karabakh and to address the Armenian Genocide denial deeply rooted in Princeton’s Near Eastern Department.”

Princeton’s President Christopher Eisgruber, center right, speaking with student Yacub Kahkajian at the vigil (photo Princeton ODUS)

According to Yengibaryan, “While he was reluctant to release a statement (though he did release one on Ukraine and Israel), he did eventually commit to being at our vigil. We were thankful for his support, and he was there the entire time, lighting a candle and standing front and center. He even made a LinkedIn post about it shortly afterwards.”

Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber placing a rose and candle on the chapel steps (photo Princeton ODUS)

In the post, Eisgruber wrote, “By commemorating and honoring more than 100,000 Armenians who died, suffered, or were displaced by the siege of Nagorno-Karabakh last month, the Society drew attention to a humanitarian crisis that has been overlooked by too many.”

Hovnanian reflected on the significance of Eisgruber’s actions: “For many Armenians at the University and in the surrounding community, President Eisgruber’s presence symbolized a hopeful beginning to reconcile Princeton’s troubling history of conspiratorial denialism. Our students remain vocal, despite often feeling unacknowledged by the university, and I believe this vigil perfectly encapsulated that sentiment.”

Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber with Princeton Armenian alumni and students (photo Princeton ODUS)

As for the future of the Princeton Armenian Society, Yengibaryan declared: “Today, we are continuing the work and trying to build off the momentum of the event. Armenian studies should be in Ivy League institutions. Our country and culture has such a rich history and people would be interested to learn about it. We were the first country to adopt Christianity and had a powerful empire that students can be interested in. By the end of my time here in May 2026, I want to leave knowing that we have set up the next generation of Armenians at Princeton for success.”

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