The annual MESA (Middle East Studies Association) Conference in which
the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) participates as an affiliate
member, took place in Washington, D.C., November 19-22, 1999.
Exactly two years ago, in January of 1998, I had written a long piece for the Armenian American press regarding the Society and MESA titled ?The Society for Armenian Studies and its Role in Promoting Armenian Scholarship in the United States.? In this article I gave a brief description of the Middle East Studies Association which has just over 2000 members and about 40 affiliate (organizations, institutions) members. There followed a section on the beginnings of Armenian studies at university level in the United States and the birth of SAS in 1974 which spearheaded the scholarly participation of Armenian faculty, graduate students and independent scholars within the larger setting of Middle Eastern studies offering panels in Armenian language, literature, history from ancient times to the present, the arts. SAS has sponsored many of these panels at MESA (underwritten the travel expenses of participants) as well as offered opportunities for the publication of papers in its Journal and other publications.
Also, it has not been unknown for specialists in Armenological subjects to participate with scholars in other areas on panels with common themes. These kinds of panels are very desirable and should be more actively projected. Further, scholars in other fields of Near Eastern studies have always been a strong presence at MESA conferences bringing their expertise to conference panels, participating both in SAS-sponsored panels and elsewhere. I am thinking of such figures as Richard (Hrair) Dekmejian (USC), Eliz Sanasarian (USC), Joseph Kechichian (formerly at Rand) and some others. As I mentioned in my other article, presently, a new generation of young scholars is on the scene busy participating in Iranian, Arabic, Turkish subjects, women?s studies, Middle Eastern politics, economics, and so forth.
At MESA, some 120-130 panels are offered at any one conference in the course of 3-4 days. Dozens of films? mostly shorts and documentaries, are presented during this period as are thousands of new books exhibited in over 100 exhibit booths subscribed to by various book publishers on the Middle East from all over the world.
At the 33rd annual meeting/conference of MESA in November 123 panels were listed in the program with approximately 670 participants among whom I counted 25 Armenian names. Some 51 of the panels bore general titles connected with Islam, Middle Eastern politics, economics, and various aspects of culture; 35 were on the Arab Middle East, 15 were on the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey including the Kurdish question, 12 on Iran, 8 on Israel and/or Arabs in Israel (e.g. the Druze in Israel, Mizrahi literature), 3 were on Armenia and 1 on Azerbaijan.
In addition, there were 101 book exhibitors including one Armenian (Gomidas) and one or two others that have published and do publish books with Armenian subjects such as Mazda. The MESA Filmfest offered a fine collection of 28 films, two of which were SAS submissions.
1999 was the 25th year of SAS presence at a MESA conference. Anywhere from one to four Armenian or Armenia-included panels may have been presented at any one conference over the years. This year, in Washington, D.C., there were three Armenian panels, two of which were SAS-sponsored.
Because of the constraints of space I shall not be able to discuss individual titles within panels but satisfy myself by citing the titles of each panel and naming the participants of each.
The first panel was titled The Construction of Ethnic Identity in Modern Armenian Literature with the participants Victoria Rowe (University of Toronto), S. Peter Cowe (UCLA), Rubina Peroomian (UCLA). The fourth participant, Barlow Der Mugrdechian (CalState, Fresno) could not be present because of illness in the family. The same with Dickran Kouymjian (also CalState Fresno) who was to be the Chair of the panel.
The discussant of this very interesting and worthwhile panel that offered intriguing new ways of looking at some 20th century Armenian literature, was Kevork B. Bardakjian (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor). This panel was SAS-sponsored.
The second panel, Armenia in the Eighteenth Century: The Last ?Dark Age,? was chaired by S. Peter Cowe (UCLA) and the participants were Robert H. Hewsen (Rowan University), Thomas A. Sinclair (University of Cyprus), George A. Bournoutian (Iona College), and Sevana Bagdasarian Panosian (UCLA), who also was unable to attend. This panel cast new light on a century that is deemed a ?dark age? in Armenian history by informing us that new research has shown and future research will show that the 18th century was not as dark an age as it would seem.
The third panel, Diaspora and Memory, was also SAS-sponsored and it proved to be a combination of superb film analysis, literary criticism, and philosophical reflections. The participants were Anahid Kassabian who was also Chair (Fordham University), David Kazanjian (City University of New York), Marc Nichanian (Columbia University), M. Lena Takvorian (Columbia University) and Vartan Matiossian (University of Salvador, Argentina) who was unable to attend.
All three panels were quite well-attended by members of SAS, other MESA members and some from the community. Each panel enjoyed a lively question answer period at the end which is always very pleasing to the participants and edifying to the audience.
As for Armenians specializing in other fields and therefore participating in other panels, I counted about 10 such names, among them I cite political scientists Richard (Hrair) Dekmejian (USC) and Joseph Kechichian (independent scholar) who participated on the panel titled ?Saudi Arabia: History, Identity and Foreign Policy?; Ervand Abrahamian (City University of New York) who was co-discussant on the panel ?Currents in Azerbaijani Culture and Society?; Houri Berberian (CalState Long Beach) participated on a panel titled ?Revolutionary Thought and Policy in 20th Century Iran?; Eleanor H. Tejirian (Columbia University) was discussant on the panel ?The Impact of the Western Missionary Enterprise on Middle Eastern Society and Politics? ? to name a few.
Finally, present at MESA/Washington were approximately 10-12 others, mostly members of SAS who were not panel-participants this particular year but were there because of interest in SAS and MESA as well as Society-related business?to name a few: Dennis Papazian (University of Michigan, Dearborn and President of SAS); his assistant Gerald Ottenbreit; John Greppin (Cleveland State University); Levon Marashlian (Glendale Community College); Hilmar Kaiser (visiting scholar from Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum); Ara Sarafian (historian) and Vincent Lima (editor and publisher) ?both editors of the journal ?Armenian Forum? and publishers of ?Gomidas? books; Rouben Adalian (Director of the Armenian National Institute) was briefly there; Ina Baghdiantz-McCabe (Tufts University); myself, Gia Aivazian (UCLA) and one or two others. A number of friends visited with the Armenian group on various occasions, most notably Mrs. Ani Totah of the Armenian Assembly and well-known Washington hostess who had organized a reception for Congressman Frank Pallone (N.J.-D) on Saturday evening at her gracious home where some of us were present, also paid the group a visit on the Sunday at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel? the conference site.
A few words about some other activities during this successful weekend in Washington. In the evening of Nov. 19th, the Society?s annual membership meeting took place. Although the Executive Committee was not complete, the number of members attending, approx. 20, should be considered quite good. The Society has some 200 regular and supporting members. Less than half of these are actively involved in Armenological work and just under half of these live and work outside the U.S. So, the number of members attending these membership meetings usually represent participants at the conference or members who have undertaken the expense to travel distances to be present at the panels and the membership meeting.
Two other events took place on that Friday, the 19th. One was the annual meeting of the Middle East Librarians Association (of which I am also a member) that took place at the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress hosted the lunch. This group discussed various issues in collection development, reference and cataloging of Middle Eastern materials in university libraries ? Armenian included.
The other event was in the afternoon? also at the Library of Congress with Levon Avdoyan (Armenian and Georgian specialist, Library of Congress) as coordinator under the aegis of LC of a joint meeting of its Armenian seminar to coincide with the meetings of the SAS in Washington. The topic of discussion was the present situation in the Republic of Armenia. There were 38 participants ? academics, government analysts from various departments, members from AAA (Armenian Assembly of America) and ANCA (Armenian National Committee of America) and the Armenian Embassy. Several of the participants were SAS members, including Levon Avdoyan.
The final MESA-related SAS activity I should remark on was the MESA Filmfest. At this annual activity films and documentaries are shown that are either new or being submitted for the first time. The content must be related to Middle Eastern themes. SAS has participated in this filmfest over the years and the person responsible has been Prof. Dickran Kouymjian, Director of the Armenian Studies Program at CalState, Fresno, who is also an expert on cinema. For the past two years, the pleasant duty has fallen upon me to research and select for submission Armenian short pieces (less than 60 minutes) to the Filmfest Committee which is chaired by Prof. Ellen-Fairbanks Bodman (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill). Last year, two charming pieces were accepted for screening at MESA ?Pinched Cheeks and Slurs in a Language that Avoids Her/Director-Producer Tina Bastajian and Emil Kazaz: Self-Portrait, Requiem for a Forgotten World/Director Vigen Chaldranian.
This year also two titles were accepted, each almost one hour long. Enemy of the People/Produced and directed by Zareh Tjeknavorian and narrated by Eric Bogosian (1998). This film is about the impact of the Stalin Terror in Armenia, the microcosm of the tragic events that swept the entire USSR between the 1930s and Stalin?s death in 1953. Finally, after a lifetime of silence, the Terror is explored by ordinary people as they look back at the Stalin years. Shot throughout Russia and Armenia and based on 200 interviews, this film left a strong impact on those that saw it that Saturday morning, Nov. 20th. The film was on loan from AGBU/New York.
A Wall of Silence/Produced and directed by Dorothea Forma (1997), screened at noon on Sunday, Nov. 21st. This is a documentary paralleling the personal and professional lives of Turkish sociologist/historian Taner Akcam and Armenian sociologist/historian Vahakn Dadrian and their call for the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. This documentary was very well-attended, most of the audience comprising non-Armenians. The film was on loan from AIM/L.A.
All in all, I would say that the Society for Armenian Studies had a very successful and fruitful weekend at the 33rd annual Conference of the Middle East Studies Association of North America in Washington D.C. held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Nov. 19-22.
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