A Fresno State lecture series is putting Armenian culture front and center.
The Armenian Studies Program's 2013 Fall Lecture Series kicked off Sept. 5 and already has covered the Armenians of Bitlis, the seizure of Armenian property in Aintab, the state of Armenia today, American Armenian contributions across the nation and the land mine-free Artsakh campaign.
The lecture series is presented by Fresno State's Armenian Studies Program and the Armenian Students Organization. The Armenian Studies Program began in 1977.
The lectures are designed to provide an opportunity for students and faculty members to interact with each other and the community over topics that promote Armenian cultural awareness.
"It's been a forum to bring people together," says Barlow Der Mugrdechian, coordinator of the Armenian Studies Program and director of the Center for Armenian Studies.
"There are a variety of topics — history, art, film festivals. We do so many things to draw people in. The topics are ways of approaching things that we can't always do in the classroom."
As part of the series, a new book, "David of Sassoun: Critical Studies on the Armenian Epic," is being released this month. Der Mugrdechian co-edited the book, which was printed through the Armenian Series of The Press at Fresno State. The Armenian Series is a cooperative effort between the Armenian Studies Program and the College of Arts and Humanities.
Der Mugrdechian created the book jacket, which comes from a photo of the David of Sassoun statue at Courthouse Park in downtown Fresno. He plans to talk about the book as part of the lecture series in late November. He is also working on a series talk in early November. On Sept. 27, he talked about a recent visit to Armenia.
The lecture series received a boost last year through a $10,000 grant by the Leon S. Peters Foundation. The Armenian Studies Program has a fundraising drive planned in the fall, with this year's goal $50,000.
The lectures and other activities have received strong community support over the years, Der Mugrdechian says. Between 50,000 and 60,000 Armenians live in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Arnold Gazarian, who supports Armenian programs at Fresno State as well as other university departments, says the lecture series has an important role.
"Historically, the Armenian community has played a great part in the greater Fresno community, yet its culture is not really well-known by so many of the citizens of Fresno," he says. "We've had so many new people move into the area in the last couple of decades. So the culture has been diluted. This is one way of bringing it to the forefront again.
"It has been successful; it is flowing at the university. The success also has proven with non-Armenian students in the studies. This program would not have been successful had it not had the backing of the community and people putting in the time and effort and throwing money into it."
Armenian student leaders at Fresno State say they are gaining a better understanding of Armenian culture by attending the lectures.
Vartush Mesropyan, a senior who is majoring in psychology and serving as president of the Armenian Students Organization, says she felt a sense of pride at Stepan Partamian's lecture Oct. 3 on "American Armenian Contributions to Humanity After the Armenian Genocide and the Armenian World: A Photographic Journey."
Partamian, author of the book, "Yes, We Have," and a founder of the Armenian Art Fund in Los Angeles, included a photo presentation showing how American Armenians have left their marks in many regions of the United States.
"It can be a tree, a building, a church, anything, and a lot of people don't know that Armenians are there," Mesropyan says. "I was actually getting butterflies. I thought, 'This is wonderful.' It just felt great, wonderful to be there."
On Oct. 8, Galinda Danilova talked on "Landmine Free Artsakh Awareness Campaign," focusing on how the war in 1992-94 between the Armenians of Karabagh and Azerbaijan left behind hundreds of mine fields. Danilova works for the Halo Trust, the world's largest humanitarian land mine clearance organization.
Marine Vardanyan, a junior majoring in public health and serving as vice president of the Armenian Students Organization, says she was emotionally touched at the lecture as she learned how lives have been altered through the de-mining process in Karabagh.
"We saw images of those who have been injured — and it was emotional," Vardanyan says. "I love the lecture series so much because it involves not only the students, but also the community. Everyone comes out. We would not have an opportunity to hear these speakers if it weren't for the program. As long as it brings Armenians together, there will be Armenians there. We are very supportive of each other. We value our attempts to preserve the Armenian culture."
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