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So You’ve Got A Sabbatical?

By Dickran Kouymjian Haig and Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies

American Universities initiated long ago a system whereby professors would receive paid time off every seventh year to conduct research usually leading to publication of a major work. The “sabbatical” year or semester is not automatically given. A program of research must be presented to a university committee specially constitute to review sabbatical proposals.

My research project for my 1997-1998 sabbatical year was on Armenian paleography, the study of the development of the Armenian script as used in manuscripts from the fifth to the twentieth century. A joint project to prepare an Album of Armenian Paleography which would present an abundantly illustrated series of manuscript pages showing how Armenian script changed over the centuries was undertaken in 1990 by Professors Michael Stone, Director of the Armenian Studies Program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Henning Lehmann, President of Aarhus University, Denmark, and a specialist in early Armenian religious texts, and myself.

At the invitation of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies at Wassenaar this past February, I was able to work with Prof. Stone on the organization of the volume. In March both of us went to Aarhus, Denmark for discussions with the publisher. All of this after a number of research and photography expeditions in Erevan, Jerusalem, Venice, Paris, London, Dublin and American cities during the past seven years. A completed draft of the book, which will be more than 500 pages with some 200 color plates in folio was turned over to the Aarhus University Press. The volume is supported in large part by the Carlsberg Foundation of Amsterdam. The volume should be released at the end of next year.

However, the work is far from over. Because we have tried to use recent computer technology in compiling precise alphabet tables for each of the more than 200 dated manuscripts selected for the Album, by scanning slides and photographs and then cutting out alphabets letter by letter using special software, there are a thousand and one details to check and recheck. During the sabbatical I have spent most of my time finishing research on the history of Armenian paleography from the earliest medieval manuals on writing to pioneering eighteenth and nineteenth century studies and the more modern approaches of the twentieth century. This work has been helped over the past three years by grants from the Bertha and John Garabedian Foundation of Fresno and the Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon.

But the sabbatical has not been just the Album of Armenian Paleography. I have also been able to make progress on the study and decipherment of the only known Armenian papyrus, a single leaf probably from the late sixth century, discovered in 1892, but then lost to scholarship. I relocated this valuable document among the uncatalogued Armenian manuscripts in the Bibliotheque nationale de France in Paris. The papyrus has a Greek text but is written entirely with the Armenian alphabet. The presumption is that it was an exercise sheet of an Armenian soldier or merchant in Byzantine controlled Egypt trying to learn Greek. It represents the oldest surviving example of handwritten Armenian known. The papyrus and a discussion of it will appear in the Album of Armenian Paleography, but I am also preparing a separate monograph on the papyrus with a team of specialists including a scholar of Greek from Cambridge University, James Clackson, who studied Armenian with the late Charles Dowsett of Oxford.

A sabbatical leave also allows professors the freedom to participate in international conferences which would be normally difficult to do, especially from California, during the academic year because of heavy teaching and administrative responsibilities. Thus, in June 1997, I was invited to conduct a two week seminar for graduate students on medieval Armenian art and history at the Central European University in Budapest, a school founded and supported by George Soros. Also while in Budapest I was able to present a paper at the 35th International Orientalists Congress. The theme of the congress was great orientalists of the past and I spoke about Sirarpie Der Nersessian, the first to put a scientific foundation to the history of medieval Armenian painting. Because I was on the International Advisory Committee, I had a chance to meet with the President of Hungary, the head of the Academy, the Crown Prince of Jordan (the keynote speaker on the opening day), and Prof. Edmund Schutz, a member of the Hungarian Academy, a leading Armenologist who, as some readers of Hye Sharzhoom may remember, was invited to Fresno State jointly by former Librarian Henry Madden and myself in the late 1970s.

In September I was asked to lead a panel on Armenian miniature painting in Apocryphal Bible manuscripts at an international conference held in Geneva on Armenian Apocrypha sponsored by the Universities of Lausanne and Geneva. While in Geneva, I had special meetings with His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia, who was in the city in his capacity as President of the World Council of Churches. Our meeting involved planning of the 1700th anniversary of the conversion of Armenia to Christianity to be celebrated in 2001 and the years leading to it. The following month, while in Erevan, I also met with His Holiness Karekin I at Holy Etchmiadzin to discuss the same issue, and once again this April in Paris with Aram Catholicos. I hope to report in more detail on these meetings when I return to Fresno..

In October I was invited by the Armenian Ministry of Culture and the American University of Armenia to conduct a ten day film festival devoted to Armenian-American filmmaker, Rouben Mamoulian. With the help of the UCLA film archive and our own Armenian Studies Program (especially Fran Ziegler, our secretary), cosponsor of the festival, Armenians were able to see twelve Mamoulian films, from his first, Applause of 1929, to his last, Silk Stockings of 1957. Most had never been shown in Armenia or the former Soviet Union. Auditoriums at both the Cinema House and the American University were packed. I will try to repeat the festival in the fall in Fresno in a special course devoted to the 100th anniversary of Mamoulian’s birth.

In November, I read a paper on the illustrations of the Armenian version of the Romance of Alexander the Great at a three day conference sponsored by UNESCO and the University of Paris on Alexander. My interest was devoted to the oldest illustrated Armenian version of the History of Alexander the Great, the famous.

Venice Mekhitarist manuscript of the early fourteenth century which still preserves more the 80 of its once 120 miniature paintings. Since the conference, I have become more and more attracted by this unstudied area of Armenia art and have began a more profound examination of what is the only extensive cycle of secular miniatures in the whole of medieval Armenian painting. I will include this research in a special lecture at the University of Geneva in May and in my sabbatical report when I return.

Last week, a most impressive three day international conference on the Armenian Genocide was held at the Sorbonne in Paris under the title “L”Actualite du Genocide des Armeniens,” sponsored by the Committee for the Defense of the Armenian Cause (equivalent of the ANC in the United States), scholars from the United States including recent speakers in our Fresno State Armenian Lecture Series (Richard Hovannisian, Ara Sarafian, Stephan Astourian), from France of course, especially French jurists interested in the general question of international law and genocide, two Israeli scholars who spoken strongly against their own government’s vacillating position on the Armenian genocide, and two Turkish historians, one from Germany, Fikret Adanir, and one from Istanbul, Ragib Zarakolou, who together with his wife published Turkish translations of Vahakn Dadrian’s and Yves Ternon’s books on the genocide and were imprisoned for it. My own contribution “Confiscation of Armenian Property and the Destruction of Armenian Historical Monuments as a Manifestation of the Genocide Process,” was a continuation of my earlier testimony in 1984 to the International People’s Tribunal which concluded that a genocide was committed against the Armenian by the Turkish government.

Many think a sabbatical is an extended summer vacation; perhaps for some it is, but most scholars and teachers use the time to carefully consider questions or finish writing books which are impossible with the heavy undergraduate teaching load at CSUF. This summer will be no exception, tying together loose ends from all these projects and seeing at least one of them through the press. But of course a real vacation away from libraries, manuscripts and writing is much anticipated for July or August. This interim report is for those who follow the scholarly side of the Armenian Studies Program until the fall semester when a thorough one will be present, and with slides!