The USC Institute of Armenian Studies advances research and collaboration that examines the social, cultural, educational, and political challenges facing Armenia, Karabakh, and the Armenian communities in the Diaspora.
To study and re-define the complex issues that make up the diverse contemporary Armenian experience, the Institute conducts research, advances public service, and generates networks among global Armenian communities.
The Institute of Armenian Studies is committed to supporting and delivering content, accessible to both scholars and the community at large, through programs that address:
- Security, development, and democratization in Armenia and Karabakh
- Protection and documentation of human life and heritage
- Armenian identity, values, and contribution globally
- Partnerships among the Diaspora, Armenia, and Karabakh
- Changes in Turkey, Russia, Iran, Georgia, the Middle East, and impact on Armenians
- Armenian language as identity capital
- Creation of sustainable and accessible community archives
The Institute benefits from the thought partnership and support of its Councils, including the Academic Council, the Leadership Council, and the National Honorary Council.
Salpi Ghazarian joined the USC Institute of Armenian Studies in 2014 after returning to Los Angeles from Yerevan, Armenia, where she co-founded and directed the Civilitas Foundation, a think tank and advocacy organization. Civilitas and its media program, CivilNet, pioneered a new culture of responsible journalism through online television and data-based reporting. Salpi’s previous posts include Special Assistant to the Foreign Minister of Armenia from 2000 to 2008, West Coast Coordinator for the Zoryan Institute for Contemporary Armenian Research and Documentation, and editor and publisher of Armenian International Magazine. Salpi is a USC Alumna.
Dr. Shushan Karapetian
Shushan Karapetian leads the Institute’s research and scholarship initiatives, deepening the integration with entities both on and off campus and expanding the scope of academic programming. She received a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from UCLA in 2014, where she taught Armenian Studies courses for ten years. Her dissertation, “‘How Do I Teach My Kids My Broken Armenian?’: A Study of Eastern Armenian Heritage Language Speakers in Los Angeles,” received the Society for Armenian Studies Distinguished Dissertation Award in 2015. In 2018, she was the recipient of the Russ Campbell Young Scholar Award in recognition of outstanding scholarship in heritage language research. She also serves as associate director of the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA. Shushan researches, teaches, and writes about the Armenian experience, particularly focusing on competing ideologies at the intersection of language and the construction of transnational identity.
Silva Sevlian oversees diaspora-related initiatives as well as university and student relations. She manages the Institute’s annual cornerstone event Innovate Armenia and the Digital Diaspora Initiative. Silva’s interest in the field stems from an oral history project she conducted in Ethiopia through the USC Africa Student Fund, studying the shrinking Ethiopian-Armenian community in Addis Ababa. Prior to joining the team at the Institute, she worked as a researcher at the Center on Public Diplomacy and later, on the executive team at USC Shoah Foundation. Silva has a Bachelor’s Degree in Print Journalism and a Master’s degree in Public Diplomacy, both from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Syuzanna Petrosyan manages programs related to the Republic of Armenia and administers the Institute’s communication efforts. Her previous work includes Executive Producer at Annenberg Digital News site Neon Tommy, Senior Editor for the Public Diplomacy Magazine, Contributing Editor for the Journal of Public and International Affairs, and Communications Manager at the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife in Armenia. Syuzanna is co-founder of the Turkey-Armenia branch of the Olive Tree Initiative at University of California, Irvine (UCI), an experiential education program that takes students on trips to conflict regions. She has Bachelor’s Degrees in Economics and International Studies from UCI, and a Master’s Degree in Public Diplomacy from USC. Syuzanna is a California certified mediator.
Chitjian Researcher Archivist
Gegham Mughnetsyan works with post-genocide archival materials of Armenian diaspora. The work entails documentation, translation and digital collection building. In addition to the diaspora archives, Gegham has also worked on the completion of an extensive bibliography of academic works pertaining to Nagorno Karabakh. Gegham has been leading the oral history initiative tasked with recording, translating, transcribing the stories, and digitizing archival documents about the community of Armenian displaced persons who in the course of World War II were uprooted from their homes in the Nazi-occupied regions of the Soviet Union, ended up in a refugee camp in Germany and after the war found refuge in the United States. Gegham received his undergraduate degree from University of California, Berkeley in Peace and Conflict studies where his focus was on US foreign policy toward Nagorno Karabakh and he went on to complete his graduate degree at the American University, in Washington DC, where he studied International Affairs.
Dr. Lilit Keshishyan
Lilit Keshishyan is a Lecturer in The Writing Program at USC and a Research Associate at the Institute of Armenian Studies. She works on the Institute’s Digital Diaspora Initiative, interviewing for the oral history project, conducting research on the diaspora community, and managing the digitization of materials. Before joining USC, she taught Comparative Literature and Writing courses at UCLA and English Composition at East Los Angeles College. Lilit holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the UCLA, where she also received her B.A. Her academic work has explored the intricacies and challenges posed by issues of identity, language, and place in the literature of the Armenian diaspora.
Media Content and Operations Manager
Sareen Habeshian is a multimedia journalist who helped launch the Institute’s podcast and video broadcast programs. She manages the Institute’s media program and participates in production, bilingual interviews, and editing. Sareen also works on research projects in a bilingual capacity and produces English-language content for the Institute’s partner organization, CivilNet, an online Armenian newspaper. Sareen holds a Master of Science degree in Journalism from USC, and Bachelor of Arts Degrees in Media Studies and Armenian Language and Literature, with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies from UC Berkeley.
Asik Yekikan oversees the financial aspects of the Institute’s expenditure on a daily basis, correlating with USC business office on all processes. Asik is in charge of maintaining accounts and drafting and submitting all paperwork and documents related with Institute’s numerous projects and suppliers. For over twenty years, Asik worked in the private sector as an Accounting Director. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Iran Zamin University in Tehran (IAU).
Editor of Focus on Karabakh
Emil Sanamyan edits the Focus on Karabakh page and writes on politics and security in the Caucasus and the wider region. His articles have appeared in the Jane’s Defense Weekly, Economist Intelligence Unit, Foreign Policy, The Diplomat, Open Democracy, EurasiaNet and elsewhere. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona and Virginia Tech University and lives in the Washington DC area with his family.
The pandemic and the Nagorno-Karabakh War (Sept. 27 – Nov. 10) brought an urgency to the Institute’s activities. And of course, although this report only covers 2020, the work has simply intensified now, in this post-war situation.
What do we wish we could do?
Covid isolation and the war resulted in a national awakening. The new thirst for knowledge, for information that explains history and geography, that supports memory and identity – the Institute can produce content in many forms to meet that need.
Now that Armenia’s and Artsakh’s political and legal status is front and center in everyone’s mind, it has become very obvious that the foundational documentation that is sorely required – legal and academic – is missing, or sorely insufficient. And no one can do this work except scholars.
While others are spearheading support to widows and orphans, the refugees and the displaced, or strategizing military buildup, the Institute needs the resources to develop the documents that serve as the basis for the political and legal victories that are needed. Every conversation leads to the difficult questions of status and justice for Karabakh. The answers to those questions require solid research that is integrated within the broader academic world. The Institute is well-placed to support and nurture this task.
MAKING THE ARMENIAN LANGUAGE ACCESSIBLE:
The post-war national awakening has spurred an intense interest in the Armenian language. Armenians all over the world, of all generations, are seeking paths to explore, learn, re-learn, immerse themselves in Armenian, in an accessible and productive way. The Institute already leads some of the most meaningful and relatable language related programming but that doesn’t mean more is not needed. Just the other day, the Dean was surprised that one of the most prestigious universities in Los Angeles, doesn’t offer Armenian language instruction. The intellectual and pedagogical talent is already here, all that’s necessary are the resources to launch Armenian language instruction at USC.
SUPPORTING IDENTITY AND LEADERSHIP:
All of the Institute’s programming adds substance to contemporary Armenian identity. The pandemic and the war highlighted the need to foster leadership as a driving feature of that identity. The intellectual and strategic resources of the university combined with the vision and mission of the Institute can tackle this head on – supporting and selecting Armenian identity as part of one’s growth as a leader and change maker.
STUDENT OPPORTUNITIES AND ENGAGEMENT:
The Institute employed up to 17 students over the course of this calendar year who supported the Institute’s research programs by transcribing interviews and digitizing documentation for four different oral history projects; writing articles for community newspapers and the Institute’s website; expanding the Institute’s network of global scholars; producing short films and editing video/audio content for media, promotional, and fundraising programs; and cataloguing and maintaining the Institute’s digital archives. The Institute held exit interviews with graduating student workers, providing them with useful feedback and guidance.
The Institute hosted two remote open houses (9/1 & 9/2) for USC students to introduce them to the various activities of the Institute and opportunities for employment, research, collaboration, and volunteering.
In January, the Institute’s student workers launched a new initiative entitled Open Mind Policy – a series of student-led discussions on topics relating to the Armenian-American experience. From speaking to a techie-turned-priest to sharing what one might not be able to share with one’s grandmother, students are given a chance to engage in thought-provoking conversations. The meetings have continued remotely via Zoom after the university transitioned to remote learning.
Since university activities have transitioned online, the Institute has held periodic zoom meetings with student workers to offer support and strategies for adjusting to remote learning and working.
In collaboration with the Armenian Students’ Association and Alpha Gamma Alpha, the Armenian Sorority, the Institute organized several events focused on helping students and families understand and process the Karabakh war, which has directly impacted families outside Armenia.
On December 12, the Institute hosted a lunch meeting with a group of Armenian Studies graduate students from UCLA in order to learn about their projects, needs, and opportunities for collaboration.
FUNDRAISING AND DONOR RELATIONS:
Given the unusual circumstances of the pandemic preventing any in-person meetings or gatherings and the central role of the war for the global Armenian community, fundraising and donor relations have taken a very different profile.
The Institute had been gifted the use of a large 2 story dwelling in Armenia, just 20 minutes from the center of the capital. The Tacori Center will serve as a regional hub for conferences and retreats. Armenia’s location near Iran, Turkey, and Russia will enable scholarly gatherings for researchers unable to travel to Europe, the US or Russia, Iran. Given the new circumstances with Covid-19, the Institute is working on creative remote programming, to start.
Institute Director, Salpi Ghazarian, wrote the introduction for the volume entitled, Armenia’s Velvet Revolution: Authoritarian Decline and Civil Resistance in a Multipolar World, co-edited by Laurence Broers and Anna Ohanyan and published by I.B. Tauris.
Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, was first author on a co-authored chapter on the status of Armenian as a heritage language in Los Angeles, “Armenian in Greater Los Angeles: Negotiating Intralinguistic Diversity in a Diaspora Epicenter,” for an upcoming Routledge volume, Multilingual La La Land, co-edited by Claire Chik & Maria Carreira.
Gegham Mughnetsyan, Chitjian Researcher Archivist at the Institute, submitted his chapter “Armenian Displaced Persons: From Funkerkaserne to Montebello,” to the upcoming volume Diaspora and ‘Stateless’ Power, edited by Tsolin Nalbandian, Sossie Kasparian, and Talar Chahinian to be published by IB Tauris.
Dr. Lilit Keshishyan, a Research Associate at the Institute and Lecturer in USC’s The Writing Program, submitted her chapter “Defiant Adherence: Cultural Critiques in Late Twentieth Century Armenian Diasporic Literature,” to the upcoming volume Diaspora and ‘Stateless’ Power, edited by Tsolin Nalbandian, Sossie Kasparian, and Talar Chahinian to be published by IB Tauris.
Videos — The Institute’s social media channels have over 120 educational videos. These are some examples:
After War, Before Peace: a new series on Youtube about the aftermath of the war; the first episode has 4,500 views.
Podcasts – The Institute has several series of podcasts, which appear on all podcast platforms and over 20,000 people have listened to these conversations just this year.
Unpacking Armenian Studies (14 new episodes), hosted by Institute Director, Salpi Ghazarian, is home to interviews with academics, journalists and policymakers in the field of – and on the fringes of – Armenian Studies. It seeks to understand and make accessible the conversations about who these scholars are, what they do, and why it matters.
Inch by Inch (4 new episodes), hosted by Institute’s Chitjian Researcher Archivist, Gegham Mughnetsyan, features brief and very personal takes on the world with an Amrenian twist. They play with words, sounds and the memories they conjure.
Language Therapy with Dr. K (9 episodes), hosted by Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, was launched in June. It explores how sociolinguistic forces drive attitudes, decisions, and practices around language. The podcast brings together language experts, cultural icons, artists, and regular people from all walks of life, and tries to boil down complicated issues while hopefully offering some much-needed therapy and catharsis.
After War, Before Peace (1 episode), hosted by Institute Director, Salpi Ghazarian, was launched on November 12, two days after the signing of the trilateral ceasefire by the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. It features a new series of conversations with scholars, diplomats, policy makers, journalists, and experts to understand what comes next in the aftermath of war and before peace.
Armenia and Azerbaijan at War (5 episodes), features a series of conversations with scholars, journalists, and government officials to give context to the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Each episode looks at different themes: 1) Security or Democracy — A False Dichotomy? 2) Turkey & Russia — Friend or Foe? 3) Armenia’s Borders: Tavush Everyday 4) Understanding the ‘International Community’ and 5) Roads to Peace.
In response to the Nagorno-Karabakh war, the Institute expanded its Focus on Karabakh platform on its website (in existence since 2016) to offer daily news on the war, updated maps, chronologies, timelines, and other resources. A recent addition to the portal features Voices on Karabakh, where scholars, artists, and intellectuals reflect and contribute to War: A Symposium of Thoughts.
In March, the Institute launched #MyArmenianStory, an oral history project that collects Armenian life stories through crowd-sourced interviews. The purpose of the project is to record, gather, and document individual stories and reconstitute them as part of the national story. #MyArmenianStory will create a resource base that reflects the scope and depth of the Armenian experience for researchers. The same resources will be shared with other centers on campus, since the concept and project relate to other groups. The planning stage was supported by a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon, Portugal.
In an effort to engage prospective participants, the Institute staff conducted a dozen information sessions and curated consultations with groups like educators, young professionals and students.
CONFERENCE ORGANIZATION AND PARTICIPATION:
Every Friday between October 9 and November 6, the Institute offered one segment of a 5-part conference series, entitled Armenia and Azerbaijan at War, which featured a series of conversations with scholars, journalists, and government officials to give context to the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Each iteration looked at a different theme: 1) Security or Democracy — A False Dichotomy? 2) Turkey & Russia — Friend or Foe? 3) Armenia’s Borders: Tavush Everyday 4) Understanding the ‘International Community’ and 5) Roads to Peace. The video and audio recordings were featured as YouTube videos and podcast recordings on the Institute’s various media outlets.
On October 31, Emil Sanamyan, editor of the Institute’s Focus on Karabakh portal, participated in the one-day conference entitled “Nagorno Karabakh/Artsakh and the Palimpsests of Conflict, Violence, and Memory” organized by the Armenian Studies Center of the UCLA Promise Armenian Institute. His presentation, “Redrawing a Regional Map? What Could Be Turkey’s Goals in the New Armenia-Azerbaijan War” was part of a panel on Diplomacy and Geopolitics.
On April 24, Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, participated in a panel discussion entitled “Identity after Genocide,” organized by Glendale Community College.
January 29 – Sato Moughalian, Flutist and Author, presented her recent book, Feast of Ashes: The Life and Art of David. In an illustrated talk, she recounted the career of her grandfather, the renowned ceramicist who mastered the Kütahya tradition in the years before the Great War and in 1919, founded the art known today as the Armenian ceramics of Jerusalem. This event was co-sponsored by the USC Department of Middle East Studies and USC Visual Studies Research Institute.
March 5 – Dr. Aram Simonyan, visiting Fulbright Scholar from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, presented a talk entitled, “What is worse: street crime or suit crime? Evidence of Corruption from Armenia.” This event was co-sponsored by the Fulbright Outreach Lecturing Fund.
April 13 – Mehmet Polatel, 2019-2020 USC Shoah Center for Advanced Genocide Studies Junior Postdoctoral Research Fellow, gave a talk entitled, “Continuity, Escalation, and Local Actors: The Hamidian Massacres and the Armenian Genocide,” in which he explored the relationship between the Hamidian Massacres and the Armenian Genocide by tracing people and groups who were directly involved in both of these episodes as perpetrators and usurpers.
Airing of No Passport Required on PBS
January 20 – USC Institute of Armenian Studies staff were prominently featured on Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s PBS program No Passports Required, which covers food and diaspora communities in the United States, with this particular episode focusing on the Armenian culinary scene in Los Angeles.
During the year, the Institute actively interacted with the media, particularly in relation to the war in Karabakh. Additionally, the Institute distributed shared weekly updates and analysis with its extensive online audience.
Institute Director, Salpi Ghazarian, Dornsife Q & A
Institute Director, Salpi Ghazarian and Deputy Director, Shushan Karapetian, KPCC
Institute Director, Salpi Ghazarian, Los Angeles Times
Institute Deputy Director, Shushan Karapetian, World News
Institute Associate Director, Syuzanna Petrosyan, KTLA
Institute Associate Director, Silva Sevlian, Daily Trojan
OUTREACH AND PRESENCE ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
In 2020, the Institute sent 105 newsletter campaigns to a varied and extensive outreach list.
The Institute has a strong presence on the following social media platforms with 12,844 social media followers in total.
Facebook: 6815 followers
Instagram: 2190 followers
Twitter: 2687 followers
YouTube: 1152 subscribers
USC TEACHING AND SERVICE:
Dr. Lilit Keshishyan, a Research Associate at the Institute, taught 3 sections of “Writing 340 – Advanced Writing for Social Sciences” (Fall 2020) and 3 sections of “Writing 150 – Technology and Social Change” (Spring 2020) for The Writing Program at USC.
Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, taught “MDA 330 – The Armenian Heritage: History, Arts & Culture” course during the spring semester.
Institute Director, Salpi Ghazarian, and Associate Director, Syuzanna Petrosyan, guest lectured several times for Professor Diane Winston’s Spring 2020 course Journalism 585: Specialized Reporting: Religion – Armenia: Religion and the Velvet Revolution. Institute staff also advised students in their respective projects and were involved in planning a capstone trip to Armenia,which was cancelled as a result of Covid travel restrictions.
Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, served as faculty advisor to Lori Patatian, a Linguistics major, who wrote her capstone project on the correlation between the use of language in the Armenian church (Classical Armenian, Modern Armenian, and English) and the influence of church attendance in the Los Angeles Community.
Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, along with Dr. Frank Manis from the Psychology department, is serving as an advisor to Arman Dzhraghatspanyan, a Psychology major, who is working on a study that looks at the scope to which extended family may serve as a protective buffer against traumas experienced by Armenian families.
Institute Associate Director, Silva Sevlian, was invited to guest lecture at the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism – Professor Robert Bank’s course on Public Diplomacy on November 12th, 2019. Her talk was entitled, “How Non-state Actors Perform Their Mission and Public Diplomacy” in the Armenian context in LA.
Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, serves as the academic advisor both to the Armenian Students’ Association and Alpha Gamma Alpha, the Armenian Sorority.
Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, was guest lecturer at “The War in Armenia” event organized by the Armenian Affinity group at the USC School of Pharmacy. This event was attended by high level administrators at USC and a number of faculty and students.
Institute’s Chitjian Researcher Archivist Gegham Mughnetsyan participated in the Map It Out! Workshop aimed at providing university researchers with the knowledge of digital mapping tools. The workshop was organized by USC Humanities and the University of the Future and ran between September 29-October 29.
INSTITUTE RESEARCH AND PROGRAMS:
In the framework of the Los Angeles—Yerevan Sister City relationship, the USC Institute of Armenian Studies continued its Policy Fellows Program, in collaboration with the office of Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian and the office of Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan. The Program selects and places mid-career professionals from Armenia in policy planning positions throughout the City of Los Angeles to learn from and contribute to the process of improving lives in both cities. Spring 2020 Fellow Ani Rubenyan came from Armenia’s Ministry of Health Department of Finance and worked full time with the City Administrative Officer of Los Angeles as a policy analyst. Her official duties involved overseeing the public’s discussions in member meetings, researching and analyzing budgets, and assessing various aspects of the healthcare system. In light of the pandemic, Rubenyan was assigned to a more urgent task – researching and reporting on the potential impacts of COVID-19 on city revenue flows.
Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, was awarded a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to pursue research on the representation and experience of families/students of Armenian descent in non-Armenian private/preparatory schools in the Greater Los Angeles area.
In September of 2019, the Institute announced a call for research support, entitled “From a Democratic Breakthrough to Challenges of Consolidation in Armenia,” providing an opportunity for original academic and policy research that addresses Armenia’s political transformation in the Spring of 2018. The general objectives of the call were to examine: the interests, institutions, socio-economic conditions, values, identities, and regional as well as global security conditions that shaped the context and primed the groundwork of the movement; the strategies and events that facilitated the Velvet Revolution; the challenges of democratic consolidation. Proposals were reviewed by an academic committee and twenty-three scholars from 8 countries were funded. Given the limitations on data collection presented by the pandemic, the Institute extended the deadline for scholars to complete their research.
Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, continued work on an ongoing research project co-sponsored by the Institute, in collaboration with the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA, that examines the Dual Language Immersion Program at Glendale Unified School District (GUSD) across seven languages. An official partnership has been sealed with GUSD for a long term research collaboration that will examine the experience of heritage language students and the impact of dual language immersion on the development and maintenance of their heritage language.
Institute Director Salpi Ghazarian traveled to New Jersey and Argentina to conduct interviews for a pilot Family Documentation Project, as part of the Institute’s ongoing Digital Diaspora Initiative. Four generations of a family, spread across three continents share their memories, supported by funds from the family. This is a unique opportunity to study migration, identity, history across geographics and generations.
Interviews within the Institute’s other documentation programs: Understanding Independence (conducted in Armenia) and Digital Diaspora continued to be transcribed and translated.
The Institute continued digitizing the approximately 400 hours of video recordings from the Armen Aroyan Collection, a compilation of 100 trips and nearly 1500 travelers to Western Armenia over 27 years.
Five recordings of the Sevan Armenian Dance Ensemble have been digitized and included in the Dance Heritage Video Archive at the USC Digital Library. The existence of these recordings was discovered during an interview for the USC Institute of Armenian Studies Displaced Persons Documentation Project with Angela Savoian, whose father, Jora Makarian, was a professionally trained dancer.
NON-USC PROGRAMS, EVENTS, AND SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS:
- On August 24, Institute Director, Salpi Ghazarian, was a presenter in the plenary session, Visionary Talks in the Pan Armenian Educational Forum organized by the Armenian Virtual College and the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Armenia. The plenary session featured visionary leaders from major Armenian diaspora educational institutions.
- On November 19, Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, discussed the past and present of the Karabakh conflict with Glendale Library Arts and Culture Director, Dr. Gary Shaffer in Introduction to the Conflict in Artsakh. The event was viewed by close to 600 people live with an additional 100 views after it was posted.
OTHER COMMUNITY SERVICE AND EVENTS / CONVENING PARTICIPATION:
The Institute provided a lesson plan on the Armenian-American experience in California for the CA Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum to the California Department of Education, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, and Research Associate, Dr. Lilit Keshishyan, serve on the Editorial Board of the Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies.
Institute Deputy Director, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, serves on the Armenian General Benevolent Union Education Task Force, aimed at defining and guiding the organization’s educational programming in the diaspora.