Spotlight Detail

A Q&A with Director Houri Berberian


UCI launches Center for Armenian Studies
A Q&A with Director Houri Berberian

Houri Berberian, Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair in Armenian Studies within the Department of History at UCI, is dedicated to putting UCI on the map for a unique and timely field of research: global Armenians with a focus on Armenian women and gender. While studies on Armenia and the diaspora have existed at UCI for over a decade, they are now receiving much deserved institutional support with official center status.

Led by Berberian and administered by the UCI Humanities Center, the new Center for Armenian Studies supports campus-wide instruction, research and programming centered on Armenians and Armenia within a regional and world context, with a unique focus on women and gender. With center status, Berberian seeks to make UCI the international destination for both the study and celebration of this unique intersection of ideas, even if virtually for now.

Below, Berberian discusses her upcoming plans for the center and her broader vision for its continued growth.

Since you joined UCI in 2016 as the director of the Armenian Studies Program, you’ve accomplished significant milestones including the funding of both first and second-year Western Armenian language courses and the development of several scholarships and fellowships for Armenian studies students. What will having a center now allow you to further accomplish?

It is an honor to be designated as a center. It demonstrates recognition of the prominent place Armenian studies holds in the School of Humanities and comes with essential and much needed staff assistance. The center has the potential to strengthen the Armenian Studies Program by supporting the Armenian studies minor and its multidisciplinary courses as well as various graduate degrees with a focus on Armenian topics. The center also promises to facilitate higher levels of research productivity and collaboration across many departments and provide external visibility for the program, school and university. With a strong programming history and demonstrated community support, the Center for Armenian Studies will contribute to the diverse intellectual and cultural life of the campus and the wider community. This academic and institutional visibility will enable a much stronger presence nationwide and globally.

What types of events and programming are you planning for the academic year?

We have an exciting line-up of programs this academic year that include two online film screenings and Q&A sessions with the filmmakers (one in fall, the other in winter) as well as a virtual salon of sorts, that is, a three-part series, on the contemporary situation of Armenian communities in the Middle East, one each for fall, winter, and spring. This series will be a very timely and thought-provoking intervention during a tense time in the region and world by exploring the diverse Armenian communities in four countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Turkey. By focusing on the Armenian minorities, broader questions regarding diaspora, minority politics, migration and more will be examined. 

How would you define what makes UCI’s Center for Armenian Studies unique among any other such centers across the nation?

UCI’s Center for Armenian Studies is the only center in the nation and the globe whose primary foci will be the global Armenian diaspora and Armenian women and gender. Thus, one of the center’s missions is to develop programs in history, culture and literature of the Armenian diaspora, as well as Armenian women and gender, and to engage with larger diaspora studies nationally and internationally while contributing transformative research in both Armenian studies and diaspora studies.

Our global diaspora with a long, rich history and a dispersed population twice the size of the Republic of Armenia inspires and yet has not received due scholarly attention. During prolonged periods of dispersion, it is the Armenian communities outside of ancestral lands that have contributed to sustaining, preserving, and shaping Armenian identity in multiple ways. A center such as ours aims to tap into an understudied and exciting area of research. Although UCI’s Center for Armenian Studies is not the only research center in the country, it is certainly one of few. There are fourteen endowed chairs in Armenian studies in the nation, yet a much smaller number have centers, and none focus predominantly on the diaspora or women and gender. UCI’s Center for Armenian Studies, therefore, has the potential to lead Armenian diaspora studies as well as in studies of women and gender. As a unique center among other Armenian studies centers, it will help develop the field both in the diaspora and in Armenia.

What do you hope to accomplish with center status?

We hope that with center status, the initiatives of the program, including an endowment for Armenian language, will attract more attention. The center will further propel interdisciplinary research, teaching and outreach towards the ambitious broader goal of establishing an endowed Center for Armenian Diaspora Studies. It will become a hub that will attract scholars and students to produce scholarship on the Armenian diaspora in ways that have never been attempted before and all who are curious and enthusiastic about Armenian studies at UCI to help generate its impact.

How might those who are interested in the center support its initiatives?

There are many ways to help. We are seeking community support to create an endowment for Armenian language, to preserve our heritage, make Armenian available as a research language, and offer these courses to students and the community for generations to come. In 2010, UNESCO named Western Armenian an endangered language, making our mission to keep the language alive all the more important. We would also appreciate support for our students, so they can deepen their understanding of Armenian culture and history through summer research and experiential learning. Support for these initiatives, we hope, will lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of the vitality and value of a center as well as the significance of expanding the center’s capacity and impact through an endowment.

Those interested in learning more about supporting the center may reach out to Rakib Haque, director of development at UCI, here.

Related links:

Connecting history
Giving to keep a language alive
Houri Berberian awarded outstanding book prize from the Society for Armenian Studies
Keeping a language alive
Putting Armenia on the map for future generations
Renowned UCI chemist supports breakthroughs in Armenian studies