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Western Armenian in the 21st Century Panel a Success

Panel Discusses Western Armenian in the 21st Century

By Florence Avakian

Western Armenian Panelists

A forum titled “Western Armenian in the 21st Century: A Dialogue About Challenges and New Approaches,” was held in New York on October 16. Panelists included (l-r) doctoral candidate Jesse Siragan Arlen, Dr. Vartan Matiossian, Dr. Christopher Sheklian, and Gilda Kupelian

NEW YORK, NY—A Nor’easter with pounding rain and howling winds did not prevent more than 60 brave souls in attending a fascinating forum on “Western Armenian in the 21st Century: A Dialogue About Challenges and New Approaches.” The panel discussion was held in the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Church in New York on October 16. The departing point of the discussion was the recent publication by the SAS of the collective volume Western Armenian in the 21st Century: Challenges and New Approaches, edited by Bedross Der Matossian and Barlow Der Mugrdechian.

It was presented by the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC), the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, and the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS), with Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, in attendance.

Mary Gulumian, director of ANEC, welcomed everyone and introduced the topic and panelists. Dr. Christopher Sheklian, director of the Zohrab Information Center, served as moderator of the discussion. He began by bringing greetings from Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, who he said “is deeply committed to a problem we all have to tackle,” and hopes that different organizations will continue to work together to address the vitality of Western Armenian.

The panelists included Dr. Vartan Matiossian, Executive Director of the Armenian Prelacy and a distinguished Armenian Studies scholar; Jesse Siragan Arlen. a Ph.D candidate in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA; and Gilda Kupelian, director of the Armenian Studies Department at the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America.

Dr. Sheklian set things in motion by asking how Western Armenian can be incorporated, and used in daily life, in every venue, and for all kinds of things.

* Not Impossible to Learn Armenian

Dr. Matiossian, born in Uruguay, has written, taught and been published in English, Armenian and Spanish for 40 years. He stated that anyone can learn Armenian, and use it daily.

“Our defeatism should be taken away. It’s important to be proactive,” the scholar said. “One should not wait to be taught by someone. It’s necessary to want to learn the language and make it relevant to daily life.” He also stressed the importance of producing material for this purpose.

Gilda Kupelian emphasized the importance of supporting Armenian schools, their structure and curriculum. “We have to use strategy. The work has to be planned, and not done by accident.” She emphasized that Armenian schools need financial allocations for resources and teacher training. One possibility for a new resource Kupelian suggested was the creation of “Armenian centers” where the language could be used in an enjoyable, natural environment.

Jesse Arlen stressed three necessary components: firstly, “CHOICE – Armenian being presented as a beautiful thing, not for money, but for meaning and value. Secondly, [Armenian] as a VIRTUAL ENTITY, since today’s technology offers a large number of items on line. And thirdly, [Armenian] as a PROACTIVE part of our daily lives.”

* Importance of Technology

Sheklian pointed out that because of today’s growing technology, daily newspapers are no longer the dominant force they used to be. Therefore, he asked the panelists to offer specific tools and material that can be used today to foster learning Western Armenian.

Matiossian explained that “our institutions need to develop any kind of publications for those over the age of eight. Things should be contemporary,” he said, adding as example the recent seven-volume Western Armenian translation of the “Chronicles of Narnia.” He recalled that when the Eastern Armenian translation of “Harry Potter” came out in Armenia, the kids there went crazy with excitement.”

Jesse Arlen continued with this theme saying that “Harry Potter” type of books that resonate with youth are important. He added that whatever material that is developed should also try to employ current technology that is especially popular with younger people. He gave the concrete example of an Instagram account “Lsetsink,” (“We heard”), which presents funny snippets “overheard” by the managers of the account—but in Western Armenian.

* Value Needs to Be Intrinsic

The moderator asked about the difference between valuing or loving the language as an imposition versus using the language, adding that, “Its value needs to be intrinsic. It needs to be used in daily life.”

Kupelian reaffirmed the need to cultivate the intrinsic value of Armenian, saying that the best students in the school she directs are “those odars married to Armenians. They want to learn Armenian.” Cultivating this intrinsic value, she added, requires the support of community leadership. Kupelian insisted parental and community encouragement to use Western Armenian is crucial for implanting this desire to learn the language.

A lively question and answer session with the audience followed. In response to a question about the role of the Republic in Armenia in fostering Eastern or Western Armenian, Matiossian said that “we in the diaspora sold ourselves in the name of Armenia, and therefore our lack of sufficient funds is also tied to that concept,” suggesting that the diaspora must foster the learning of Western Armenian and support a thriving life in diaspora as well as in the Republic of Armenia. In order for this to happen, Matiossian insisted, we need the support of our leadership and we must “put our money where our mouth is.”

“Absolutely crucial is that the Armenian language be used every single day,” he stressed strongly in conclusion.

Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem, a Book Talk with Sato Moughalian on 11/13

The Zohrab Information Center is thrilled to announce the next lecture in the Fall 2019 series on monasticism. On WednesdayNovember 13 at 7 PM in the Guild Hall of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, Sato Moughalian will present her recent book, Feast of Ashes: The Life and Art of David Ohannessian. Her Enrichment Evening talk, titled, David Ohannessian and the Armenian Ceramics of Jersualem, will both introduce the audience to her book, and will also place the Armenian ceramic work of David Ohannessian in the context of the St. James Armenian Monastery of Jerusalem. Our Fall lecture series on monasticism explores the education system, cultural context, and the place of Armenian monasteries in the history of Armenian learning and society at large. Ms. Moughalian’s talk introduces the place of art in Armenian monasteries into our series discussion. During this lecture series, the Zohrab Information Center hopes to highlight and animate the practices and knowledges that make Armenian monasteries such important centers of worship and learning.

Moughalian 11.13.19 ZIC Presentation.001

Along the cobbled streets and golden walls of Jerusalem, brilliantly glazed tiles catch the light and beckon the eye. These colorful wares—known as Armenian ceramics—are iconic features of the Holy City. Silently, these works of ceramic art—an art that graces homes and museums around the world—also represent a riveting story of resilience and survival.

In 1919, David Ohannessian founded the art of Armenian ceramics in Jerusalem, where his work and that of his followers is now celebrated as a local treasure. Born in an isolated Anatolian mountain village, Ohannessian mastered a centuries-old art form in Kütahya, witnessed the rise of violent nationalism in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, endured arrest and deportation in the Armenian Genocide, founded a new tradition in Jerusalem under the British Mandate, and spent his final years, uprooted once again, in Cairo and Beirut.

Ms. Moughalian will detail the lineage and transfer of her grandfather David Ohannessian’s ceramic tradition from Kütahya to Jerusalem, a story obscured in the art historical narrative. She will speak about the process of coming to terms with her family’s past, the ways in which that served as an impetus to excavate and reconstruct her grandfather’s history through archival research, and the importance of preserving the stories of peoples displaced through migration. She will also highlight the critical role Jerusalem’s Armenian Convent of St. James played in sheltering survivors of the Armenian Genocide in the years after the First World War and then again as Armenians fled their homes in Palestine during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

Sato Moughalian is the author of Feast of Ashes: The Life and Art of David Ohannessian (Redwood Press/Stanford University Press, 2019). She is also an award-winning flutist in

Sato Moughalian, authorNew York City and Artistic Director of Perspectives Ensemble, founded in 1993 at Columbia University to explore and contextualize works of composers and visual artists. She serves as principal flutist of the American Modern Ensemble and Gotham Chamber Opera; guest flutist with groups including Imani Winds, American Ballet Theatre, American Symphony Orchestras, and the Orquestra Sinfonico do Estado São Paulo, Brazil. She can be heard on more than thirty chamber music recordings for Sony Classics, BIS, Naxos, as well as on YouTube, Spotify, and other major music platforms. Since 2007, Ms. Moughalian has traveled to Turkey, England, Israel, Palestine, and France to uncover her grandfather’s traces, has published articles, and gives talks on the genesis of Jerusalem’s Armenian ceramic art.

Copies of the book Feast of Ashes: The Life and Art of David Ohannessian will be available for purchase and to be signed by the author! As always, a reception will follow. All are welcome!



Jesse Siragan Arlen to Present on Anania of Narek on October 17 and Western Armenian on October 16

Please join the Zohrab Information Center on Thursday, October 17 at 7 PM in the Guild Hall at the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America to hear an exciting lecture from Jesse Siragan Arlen: “Feed Your Soul With Tears:” Anania of Narek and the Forgotten Practice of Praying with Tears. This is the second Enrichment Evening in the Fall Series on Monasticism. During the course of the Fall Lecture Series, the Zohrab Information Center will explore the education system, cultural context, and the place of Armenian monasteries in the history of Armenian learning and society at large. Monasteries like Narekavank, spiritually and intellectually reinvigorated by Anania of Narek, the great-uncle of the celebrated Gregory of Narek, were places where the daily worship of Jesus Christ through prayer and liturgy supported a vibrant communal and intellectual life. These places of worship were also the central literary and cultural institutions of their time. During this lecture series, the Zohrab Information Center hopes to highlight and animate the practices and knowledges that make Armenian monasteries such important centers of worship and learning.

Anania of Narek Jesse ZIC Presentation 10.17.19 .001

Mr. Arlen’s talk will the ascetic discipline of praying with tears, which was a central feature of late antique and medieval monasticism. It begins with an examination of the biblical background to this practice and then turns to a discussion of Anania—founder and abbot of the monastery of Narek and relative and spiritual father to Gregory of Narek—and his teaching on the spiritual benefits of praying with tears, which he promoted among the monks at his monastery. Finally, the talk will discuss how this practice illumines one of the central functions that Gregory imagined for his Book of Lamentation: to induce people to shed tears before God in prayer.

portrait jesseJesse Siragan Arlen is a PhD Candidate in the Near Eastern Languages & Cultures department at UCLA. His research and publications pertain to late antique and medieval religious literature and intellectual history, with special attention to ascetic practices, mysticism, and education in Eastern Christianity and Islam. His dissertation revolves around Anania of Narek. His creative prose and poetry in Western Armenian has appeared in literary journals such as Inknagir and Pakine. He is also a recipient of the Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fund Fellowship.

In addition to his presentation at the Zohrab Information Center, Mr. Arlen will participate in a panel on Western Armenian in the 21st Century, a panel discussion on October 16 at 7:00 PM taking place at the Eastern Prelacy (138 E. 39th Street). The discussion is sparked by the publication by the Society for Armenian Studies of the recent volume Western Armenian in the 21st Century, in which Mr. Arlen has published a chapter. Mr. Arlen will be joined by Dr. Vartan Matiossian, Executive Director of the Eastern Prelacy, who wrote the conclusion for the book, and Ms. Gilda Kupelian, Director of the Armenian Studies Department at the Eastern Diocese. Moderated by the Director of the Zohrab Information Center, the discussion will focus on the status and place of Western Armenian in today’s world, with a special emphasis on the teaching of Western Armenian.Oct 16 Event Flyer

Dr. Michael Pifer on the Poetry of Kostandin Erznkats’i on September 26

The Zohrab Information Center is thrilled to announce the first lecture in the Fall 2019 Series on Monasticism: Reading an Ambiguous World: On the Poetry of Kostandin Erznkats’i, with Dr. Michael Pifer (University of Michigan). The talk will take place at the Guild Hall of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America at 7 PM on Thursday, September 26. Dr. Pifer will inaugurate this series on the subject of Armenian monasteries, their education system, their place in Armenian learning and culture, and the broader world in which they exist. Kostandin Erznkats’i received a monastic education until he was at least fifteen years old, before he saw a vision in which he received the divine gift of poetry. The 13th century world in which he composed poetry was the same as the one that supported and nourished some of the greatest monasteries in Armenian history. His monastic education demonstrates how important the monasteries were to the broader cultural landscape of the time. Join us for the first lecture of Fall 2019! A reception will follow.

Kostandin Pifer ZIC Presentation

What can Armenian poetry reveal about the ways that Muslims and Christians navigated the diversity of medieval Anatolia?
In this talk, Dr. Michael Pifer (University of Michigan) will shed new light on Kostandin Erznkatsi’s late 13th/early 14th-century poem on the rose and the nightingale, which has become one of the best-known works of medieval Armenian literature. As Kostandin famously explained, his audience had difficulty understanding this poem, which draws heavily on the conventions of Islamicate poetry–including the term for the nightingale, bulbul, which is a loanword from Persian. Kostandin therefore composed a second poem to explain the first: the rose was a symbol for Christ, he instructed, while the nightingale represented Gabriel’s horn.
However, as this talk will show, Kostandin was hardly alone in this labor of adapting and changing the meaning of adjacent literary cultures. Muslim poets in medieval Anatolia likewise sought to teach audiences to discard outer narrative forms and seek the inner spiritual meanings within a text, including through the symbolic rose and nightingale. This talk therefore explores how both Muslim and Christian poets keenly desired to teach audiences how to decipher, and make meaning out of, culturally and religiously in-between forms of literary production.


Dr. Michael Pifer is lecturer in Armenian Studies at the University of Michigan. His work brings to light the connective tissues that run through Armenian, Persian, and Turkish literary cultures, particularly in medieval Anatolia, but also beyond. Most recently. Dr. Pifer is the co-editor of An Armenian Mediterranean: Words and Worlds in Motion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), with Kathryn Babayan. His research has also been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and a Manoogian Simone Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Michigan.

July 11: An Evening of Art and Fellowship

Join the Zohrab Information Center and St. Vartan Cathedral on Thursday, July 11 for a full and exciting summer evening of art and fellowship:

Screen Shot 2019-06-21 at 11.52.43 AM

The evening will begin at 6 PM in the Guild Hall, with a presentation by photographer Hrair Hawk Khatcherian on The Fortresses of Cilicia, his new project documenting the remnants of the political life of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia that flourished from 1080-1375. The work, including many beautiful photographs to be shown at the presentation, will be published as a book later this year. In addition to his new project, Hawk will discuss his most recent publication, Armenia: Heaven on Earth, aerial photographs of Armenia and Artsakh he has taken between 1995-2012, and his work in Armenian Cilicia since 1997.hawk in Cilicia LILK3556

Hrair Hawk Khatcherian is a prolific photographer and author of 15 books, with the forthcoming book on The Fortresses of Cilicia making 16 publications! Publications include Armenia: Heaven on Earth and Khatchkar, a stunning collection of photographs of the unique Armenian artistic expression of stone-cut crosses. His work was also used for the recent Armenia! exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the resulting catalog. Don’t miss the opportunity to hear about and see his newest work!

After the talk by Hrair Hawk Khatcherian, in lieu of our usual reception, the Zohrab Information Center invites you to join the St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral Mixer on the Plaza. The $10 admission includes wine and delicious mezze. Meet and greet with members of the Armenian community and young professionals in New York City. You’ll also have the chance to meet and speak with the newly-elevated Bishop Daniel Findikyan.

During the Mixer, there will be several pieces of art on display, for sale by silent auction. These includes paintings and work by Armenian artists in the New York area. There will also be photographic prints for auction by dynamic young Armenian photographers such as Diana Markosian. Proceeds will benefit the Zohrab Information Center. If you are unable to attend but interested in supporting the work of the Center by bidding on a piece of artwork, please contact to learn about the artwork that will be up for auction.

The entire evening will surely be one you don’t want to miss! Join the Zohrab Information Center and the St. Vartan Cathedral for our only summer event!

Dzovinar Derderian Discusses Van Pandukhts on May 22 at 7 PM

On Wednesday, May 22 at 7 PM in the Guild Hall, Dzovinar Derderian, from the Department of Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan, will present the final lecture in the Spring 2019 Series on Migration. Her talk, Voices of Vanetsi Pandukhts (travelers and migrants) in Constantinople, 1850s-1870s, explores migration within the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century. Please note that this is a different date than the one appearing on the original Spring 2019 Schedule. While our series on migration has addressed the migration of Armenians from the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, especially as a result of the Armenian Genocide, as well as movement of artifacts and manuscripts, Derderian’s talk offers a perspective on the consequential migration of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire, mostly from the Eastern provinces from Istanbul. The material from this Enrichment Evening draws on Derderian’s deep expertise as a historian of the Van region and the development of ideas about the Armenian nation. As always, a reception will follow. All are invited!

This talk will focus on pandukhts from Van in Constantinople. The word “pandukht” referred to people who were away from their patria. Pandukhts from Van in Constantinople included merchants, clergymen, students and most of all in the mid-nineteenth century, labor migrants. Pandukhts in the existing scholarship and popular discourse are often thought of as destitute and melancholic people. This talk will demonstrate how voices of the pandukhts became a site of power and their very physical presence in the Ottoman capital in large numbers represented a lever of negotiation. Van Armenians referred to pandukhts as representatives of their voice and mentioned the pandukhts in their petitions to put further pressure on the Constantinople Armenian Patriarchate.

Van Pandukhts Dzovinar ZIC Presentation


Dzovinar Derderian recently received her PhD Candidate from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in the Department of Middle East Studies. Her dissertation is entitled “Nation-Making and the Language of Colonialism: Voices from Ottoman Van in Armenian Print Media and Handwritten Petitions (1820s to 1870s).” She has co-edited a volume entitled The Ottoman East in the Nineteenth Century: Societies, Identities and Politics (I.B. Tauris, 2016). She currently serves on the editorial board of Études arméniennes contemporaines and serves in the Executive Council of the Society of Armenian Studies.

April 24th at the Zohrab Center: Screening of “They Shall Not Perish” and Roundtable Discussion with Dr. Keith David Watenpaugh

The Zohrab Information Center invites you to an important and exciting event this April 24th. Dr. Keith David Watenpaugh, Professor and Director of Human Rights Studies at the University of California, Davis will briefly present his research on humanitarianism as it relates to the Armenian Genocide. He will then introduce the filmThey Shall Not Perish: The Story of Near East Relief. After the film screening, Dr. Watenpaugh will be joined by the executive producer of the film, Shant Mardirossian, for a roundtable discussion of the film. Together, the film screening and discussion with Dr. Watenpaugh give us the opportunity to remember the tireless efforts by aid workers during the Armenian Genocide on April 24th, the day of commemoration of the Genocide.

We will begin the introduction at 6:30 in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese at 630 Second Ave., with the film screening beginning around 6:45.

They Shall Not Perish and Watenpaugh


This event is co-sponsored by the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University. In addition to this event on Wednesday, April 24th, Dr. Watenpaugh will present a lecture at the Kevorkian Center on Tuesday, April 23rd at 6 PM.

4.23 Lecture Poster


Dr. Keith David Watenpaugh is Professor and Director of Human Rights Studies at the Watenpaugh PictureUniversity of California, Davis. He is a leading historian of human rights and humanitarianism, whose numerous publications include the book Being Modern in the Middle East: Revolution, Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Arab Middle Class (2006) and Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism (2015). He has been a leader of international efforts to address the needs of displaced and refugee university students and professionals, primarily those affected by the wars and civil conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. Since 2013, Watenpaugh has directed an international multi-disciplinary research project to assist refugee university students and scholars fleeing the war in Syria. This project has garnered support from the Carnegie Corp. of New York, the Open Society Foundations and the Ford Foundation. He recently won the IIE Centennial Medal for his efforts.