The Center for Near Eastern Studies of the University of California, Los Angeles sponsored a special colloquium entitled “Renegotiating Identity in Terms of the Other: Armeno-Islamic Interchange in Anatolia during the Second Half of the Thirteenth Century,” on Friday May 2, 1997 on the UCLA campus. Following a UCLA tradition, Dr. Peter Cowe, Visiting Associate Professor of Armenian Studies in the Department of Near East Languages, invited one other specialist, Prof. Dickran Kouymjian, to consider in depth the role of Armenians in Asia Minor after the Mongol invasion. The two papers were prepared in advance and distributed to faculty and graduate students for study. The focus of the conference was on the writers Yovhannes and Konstantine Erzinkats’i and their relationship and assimilation of trends in Islamic culture.
The first paper entitled “Urban Brotherhoods in the Thirteenth Century and the Canons of Yovhannes Erzinkac’i” was present by invited guest Dr. Kouymjian, Haig & Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies and Director of the Armenian Studies Program, California State University, Fresno. He discussed in detail the Constitution written by Yovhannes Erzinkats’i in 1280 for the Armenian Brotherhood of Erzinjan and its relation to similar Islamic fraternal organizations.
The second paper “Poetic Renewal as Indicator of Societal Redefinition” was given by Dr. Peter Cowe, who considered the poetics of the both Konstantine and Yovhannes and their interchange with Islamic culture.
Prof. Leslie Pierce, Visiting Professor of Ottoman History at UCLA, was the chair and discussant of the Colloquium. She emphasized how important it was to make available this rich Armenian source material to specialists of medieval Islamic history and literature because it presented a fascinating insider’s view of what urban life was like in the transition period after the Mongol conquest and before the rise of the Ottomans.
A lively discussed ensued around a number of questions related to early Armenian- Mongol, Armenian-Islamic and Armenian-Turkic relations in the pre-Ottoman period. Topics ranged from the preservation of minority cultural monuments, in this case Armenian, to statistics on population and demography. Both Profs. Cowe and Kouymjian spoke about the influence of literary and historical conventions from the Islamic world on Armenian intellectuals. Dr. Kouymjian explained that the cultural borrowings which took place in both directions illustrates how vibrant Armenian culture was in those years. “Armenians were players in the game,” he said, “sometimes minor, sometimes major, but always present. It was only 1915 and the Genocide which took them out of the great cultural exchanges in Asia Minor, to the apparent loss of Anatolian culture which is poorer now than ever before.”
Professor Kouymjian will participate in two other conferences in May. On Saturday, May 10th he will present a paper entitled “Who Reads Saroyan Today” at a conference on “William Saroyan and Contemporary Scholarship,” sponsored by the Stanford University Libraries. The conference, which begins at 10 AM and continues into the afternoon, is part of a celebration of the consolidation of the William Saroyan Literary Collection at Stanford University. It is open to the public.
The following weekend, May 17-18, he will participate at the special conference “Armenian Van/Vaspurakan” organized by Prof. Richard Hovannisian at UCLA. On Saturday, May 17 he will give a paper entitled “Van under Mongol-Turkmen Domination,” and on the following day, Sunday May 18, he has been invited to give an illustrated lecture on “Pictoral Memories of Armenian Van.” The UCLA Van Conference will be held from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM on Saturday and 1:30 to 5:30 PM on Sunday in 1200 Rolfe Hall. It is free and open to the public.