Raymond Kévorkian is a historian, a scholar of the Armenian Genocide, former director of the Nubarian Library in Paris and the author of numerous works on the past and present of Armenia. He is taking part in a conference titled “Armenian Diaspora and Armenian-Russian Relations: History and Modernity,” organized by Moscow State University in cooperation with Foundation for development and support of Armenian Studies "ANIV" on September 14 and 15, 2016. We spoke to Raymond about the prospects that Armenian studies open up for residents of Russia and representatives of the Armenian diaspora.
By Tigrane Yegavian
T.Y.: You are one of the leading scholars of the Armenian Genocide. Your book was published in France in 2006 and received a lot of praise around the world. Could you comment on the new generation of historians in the Armenian diaspora? How would you characterize them? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
R.K.: The field of Armenian studies is being profoundly transformed. For a long time, the philological aspect dominated Armenian studies. Undoubtedly, this was due to the importance of medieval literary heritage, which makes some universal works, whose original versions were partially or completely lost, accessible to us. But history itself is now losing ground to anthropology or sociology, which are political sciences. In other words, the researchers’ sights are now fixed on modernity.
The new generation of scientists, both in Armenia and among the diaspora, shows great promise. They have at their disposal the theoretical foundation, laid down by our generation, and the context that didn’t exist in our time. Obviously, some of the new researchers will be more productive and will gain international fame, while others will choose an administrative career and won’t be as successful. Significant means were invested in creating Armenian studies departments at universities around the world, particularly in the United States. I hope these investments will be justified and that the number of students enrolling will meet our expectations.
A society without intelligentsia, without experts, is like a ship without its main sail. Today we are witnessing the return of some sort of balance in Armenian communities: more and more often, we see the rightful place being given to university scholars, if, of course, they posses the necessary qualifications and expertise.
T.Y.: Few people in France know anything about the state of Armenian studies in Russia, even though it has a long tradition of studying Armenia. What do you think of Armenian history and culture research currently being carried out at Russian universities?
R.K.: In the Soviet times, Russia and Armenia had a very active program of university exchanges in all aspects of the humanities. During the transition period this exchange suffered a blow as the Soviet scholarly tradition was practically destroyed. At the same time, there are several Armenian scholars working at Russian universities, but as far as I know there are very few Russians working in the field of Armenian studies. It’s possible that in the coming years we’ll see a new generation of scholars come out of the numerous Armenian diaspora, which needs such people to preserve its cultural points of reference.
T.Y.: Russia is home to one of the world’s largest Armenian diasporas. What are your expectations of this conference?
R.K.: We all know that the Russia-based diaspora plays an essential socio-economic role in Armenia’s life, particularly thanks to direct money transfers to relatives in Armenia. As far as I can see, this community is thriving and actively laying the foundation for internal organization. There’s no doubt that the conference at Moscow State University will promote a renaissance of Armenian studies in Russia. It’s possible that as a result, we’ll see Armenian departments open at Russian universities, or the study of the Armenian dimension in Caucasian geopolitics will be galvanized, considering Russia’s interest in this region. It’s possible that we’ll see quite a few students at the lectures spanning numerous academic disciplines, and this will give rise to new research ideas. In any case, the scholars, especially the young fellows, will require coordinated support, as well as the better adjusted mechanisms for publication of Russian-language papers — this has to be done by well-known Moscow publishing houses that can guarantee large print runs across all of Russia.
T.Y.: The 100 LIVES project is the general media partner of the conference. To what extent do such initiatives supplement the work of historians and researchers when it comes to disseminating knowledge about the Genocide?
R.K.: It’s great that the 100 LIVES project supports the work of the Aniv Foundation, which seeks to develop and promote Armenian studies and has taken upon itself the logistics and financing of the seminar. The foundation’s leaders realized the importance of providing assistance to university researchers and built a close relationship with Moscow State University. Each of these institutions has undeniable expertise, and I’m happy about collaboration between the Aniv Foundation and the 100 LIVES initiative, which is invariably sensitive to the needs of the Armenian community.
The 100 LIVES initiative and the Aurora Prize continue informing the world of the issues faced by the Armenian community and have imparted a universal dimension on these problems. The qualities of these projects’ leaders and their staff predetermine the future of these initiatives. It’s a very innovative strategy of communication.
The support of the conference, which is taking place in Russia for the first time in 20 years, within the walls of the prestigious Lomonosov University, is a wonderful act. Ultimately, this event will allow us to evaluate contemporary researchers' potential and to lay out future projects in the field of Armenian studies. We’ll be able to forge new partnerships and uncover the areas that require support.