Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian, President of Haigazian University, was a guest speaker for the Armenian Studies Program Lecture Series on Monday, November 14. The presentation on “Armenian Educational Life in Lebanon: Haigazian University,” was given in front of a large audience, including many Haigazian alumni and the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State, Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval.
Armenian Studies Program Coordinator Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian, who traveled to Beirut last summer to give a presentation at Haigazian University, introduced Dr. Haidostian.
Dr. Haidostian, who has served as President since 2002, discussed the mission of the University in the context of Armenian life in Lebanon. Among the many challenges faced by the University are those related to regional tensions, student achievement, and securing a stable financial future.
Haigazian University was founded in 1955 in Beirut, Lebanon and named in honor of Dr. Armenag Haigazian, a highly respected educator with a Ph.D. from Yale University. He, like many Armenian intellectuals during the Armenian Genocide, was arrested by Ottoman authorities and eventually died in the Syrian Desert.
According to Dr. Haidostian, the establishment of the University on October 17, 1955 was “one of the best examples of how you can reverse things in history,” a history that had seen numerous Armenian colleges destroyed during the years of the Genocide.
Dr. Haidostian spoke not only about the foundation of the University and its humble beginnings, but also about the history of the Armenians of Lebanon and their importance to the Armenian Diaspora. A large percentage of Armenian leaders: clergy, educators, and writers, came from Beirut. Beirut was a spiritual home for the Diaspora due to its geographic proximity to the lands of historic Armenia and Cilicia in the north and because it became the headquarters of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, the Armenian Catholic Church, and the Armenian Evangelical Church.
Dr. Haidostian spoke about the challenges facing the University and Lebanon. As a constantly evolving nation and one with “only one friendly neighbor, the Mediterranean Sea,” according to Dr. Haidostian, the University must function and thrive in an ever-changing environment. One challenge is how to provide a good quality education equivalent to what a student would receive in the United States, while simultaneously preserving the Armenian identity and Christian witness of the institution. Today, 43% of Haigazian students are Armenian with the rest from very different backgrounds and religions. Haigaizian University maintains an atmosphere that includes everyone and preserves the multiple identities.
Despite the challenges, Haigazian University alumni have found many successes, holding top positions in major companies and many government agencies within Lebanon. The accomplishments of a Haigazian graduate were even documented in the movie “The Lebanese Rocket Society,” which told the story of math and physics Prof. Manoug Manougian, who in the early years of the University established the Lebanese Rocket Society (LRS) with his students. The LRS eventually prepared and launched a rocket called the Cedar IV, which would become the first successful rocket launch in the Arab world. A replica of this historic rocket now sits in front of the University’s administrative building.
Haigazian University’s impor-tance to the Armenian Diaspora and Dr. Haidostian’s commitment to the University and its students are undeniable. The lecture gave an insight into higher education outside of the United States and life within Lebanon all within the context of the Armenian Diaspora. Haigazian University will continue to thrive and grow with Dr. Haidostian at the helm for many years to come.