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  October 4, 2004

Bequest To Support Revival Of Armenian Studies Program

The Armenian ambassador to the United States on Sept. 24 helped kick off the renewal of an Armenian studies program at UConn, funded through a gift of more than $500,000 from a long-time friend of several UConn faculty and staff.

Image: Arman Kirakossian

Arman Kirakossian, ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the United States, speaks at Alumni House during the launch of the Armenian studies program September 23
Photo by Dollie Harvey

The new program will be interdisciplinary, involving the School of Social Work, the Center for European Studies, and the Office of International Affairs.

Arman Kirakossian, Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the United States, delivered a 40-minute talk to about 50 faculty, staff, students, and members of Connecticut's Armenian community on Sept. 23. He discussed the 13-year-old nation's foreign policy, economy, culture, and long partnership with the United States. And he praised America for the assistance it has provided Armenia for a century, through wars, natural disasters, its declaration of independence from Russia in 1991, and the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire from 1894 to 1896.

"I am delighted that the University of Connecticut and the Yerevan State University are collaborating in academic fields, and I am particularly happy that it will lead to the development of an Armenian studies program at the University of Connecticut," Kirakossian said. "I know the collaboration between the University's School of Social Work and its counterpart in Yerevan State University has been active for 15 years, and I commend [social work professor] Nancy Humphreys for that. I am sure the new program and the partnership project between the two universities will be of great value to their students, faculty, and researchers."

The resurrection of a full-fledged Armenian studies program at UConn — a small program existed from mid-1980's until the early 1990's — was made possible by Alice Norian, a graduate of Eastern Connecticut University and long-time Enfield elementary school teacher, who happened upon UConn during an exhibit of Armenian rugs and other artifacts. She soon became friendly with Arppie Charkoudian, then director of Jorgensen Auditorium, and Frank Stone, a professor of education with an abiding interest in Armenia.

Over the years, the friendships developed, and Norian, who died in 1999 with no heirs, bequeathed $504,000 to UConn to jump-start the Norian Armenian Studies Program. The endowment created by Norian is expected to be matched with $252,000 from the state.

University President Philip E. Austin said the partnership will be a boon to both universities.

"While the association is highly promising on its own terms," Austin said, "it's also exciting because it's one more sign of UConn's growing engagement with the world outside Connecticut and, indeed, outside our national borders. We build on a long tradition, but it's one that has made dramatic strides in recent years — and we take another long step forward today."

The first Armenian studies effort in Storrs was spearheaded by Stone, who spent 16 years as a missionary in Tarsus, Turkey, before joining UConn's education faculty. He never lost his interest in the then Russian state. In 1984, he and a small group of volunteers started a fund-raising campaign that eventually raised about $70,000 to develop an Armenian studies program. An exhibit of Armenian rugs, paintings, and sculpture was held to celebrate the start of the program.

Eventually, UConn offered courses related to Armenia in Storrs, Stamford, and West Hartford, and Stone began producing a newsletter, Hai-Con. But by the mid-1990's, the endowment had run dry, and hopes of offering a minor in Armenian studies did not come to fruition.

Humphreys, a former dean of the School of Social Work, collaborated with Ludmila Haroutunian at Yerevan State University to develop a professional social work program at Yerevan State, shortly after an earthquake devastated Armenia in 1988.

That partnership, and a lecture series that began last week with Kirakossian's speech, will continue as part of the new program.

Additionally, faculty involved in planning the new program hope to develop courses on Armenian culture and history at UConn, expand exchanges between UConn and Yerevan State University, and create publications that will help educate Americans about Armenia.