Speaking to an audience of community members and students, Houri Berberian presented her topic in the Alice Peters Auditorium. Berberian received her Bachelor degree in History at University of California, Berkeley and completed her Master degree at UCLA. She is currently working towards her doctorate at UCLA. Her lecture came out of her doctorate thesis. She has been published several times including an article in the New Armenian Review.
The emphasis of her interest is to highlight the involvement of the Armenians in the constitutional movement of the early 1900’s in Iran. The Armenian political party, the Tashnaks, took a leading and vital part in Iran’s revolution to become a constitutional nation from 1905-1911. The revolution eventually failed under the oppression of the Shaw, but a the involved and prominence of the Armenians remains.
Berberian presented a brief history of the Tashnaks and their rise up until its involvement in the revolution. Established in Tiflis in 1890, the Tashnak party saw it’s greatest achievement, in this period, after the turn of the century. Through policies of organizing national self defense, the Tashnaks at one point enjoyed a fifty-five out of sixty member majority in the Armenian congress. At their peak Berberian observed the membership was 30% women. Though not involved in the fighting forces, women participated in support and community awareness.
Iran was of importance to the Armenians for several reasons. Berberian asserted the relationship between the Tashnaks and the Iranian Constitutionalists was especially important. In addition to Iran as a base for Tashnak Turkish-Armenian operations, Berberian proposed five reasons for involvement. Among those five was the political hope that success in Iran would further assist neighboring regions both Ottoman and Russian to also acquire constitutional reform. Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid also oppressed the Iranians. The Iranians did not have the money, force, or diplomatic influence to prevent against the onslaught of the Ottoman-Turks and it therefore befell the Tashnaks to assist as a blow against the Turks and to protect their own interests.
The culmination of Berberian’s focus leads up until 1911. The disappointment and frustration of the Tashnaks concerning the dissolution of the Iranian constitutional movement came at a period of change of the party’s agenda. Attention had already begun to turn to developments in Turkish Armenia and Russian Armenia, the end of the constitutional movement emphasized the closure of Armenian involvement in the Iranian political structure.
Presented by one of Dr. Kouymjian’s trademark generous introductions, listing her many accomplishments, Isabel Kaprielian spoke about Armenians in America in the early part of this century. Dr. Kaprielian is a native of Canada who received both her MA and Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. She has a double interest in history and philosophy. Kaprielian recent focus has been in immigration history studies with a special interest in the Armenian Diaspora both in America and Canada. She has co-authored two books with her husband. Most recently Pulse of the World: Refugees in Our Schools was published in 1994 and Facing Pluralism, published earlier. Currently Kaprielian is lecturing in the History Department at Fresno State. This semester she has courses in Armenian Studies and immigration history.
Her lecture for the evening focused on the Armenians coming from Europe settling and moving through Canada to America. The topic is comparably so recent that many of the families and connections still hold reference to people living in Fresno today. Her lecture covered all facets of community life including religion, language, culture, and politics. She spoke of the accomplishments of these early immigrants and the freedom they enjoyed. According to Kaprielian the strength of the communities was within the organizations and benevolent societies the Armenians formed to preserve traditions and reach back to Armenia.
The feature of her lecture was a video presentation of her own family history. Highlighting her grandmother Rose, the remembrance was an accomplishment of emotion and storytelling skill. Funded by grant money the presentation transcended its slim budget and allowed the viewer to empathize with Rose and her struggles and sacrifices. The video was a montage of antique photos faded within each other that followed the story a narrative gave of Rose’s story. It was a heartfelt tribute to both one woman and entire people.
The third lecturer in the series was a native of France. Educated through France’s strict education system, Stephan Astourian is now in America earning his doctorate at UCLA. Currently he is lecturer at California State University, Long Beach. He has published several articles most recently an article about the Nagorno Karabagh in the Mediterranean Quarterly. Astourian also took the opportunity to speak to classes individually the following day.
Using the example of the city of Zeitoun in Ottoman Armenia as a correlation to the subject, Astourian gave a chronological account of the growing conflicts that led up to the 1915 Genocide. Zeitoun was the last of the medieval vestiges of Armenian autonomy. As the Ottoman empire pressed for destruction of Selicia in the late 1850’s, Zeitoun soon found itself also part of the Ottoman aggression.
Refugees of the Selician defeat found themselves in and around Zeitoun. At one point Napoleon of France intervened on behalf of Zeitoun to prevent the Ottomans from attacking and massacring the people of the city as well. The Turkish oppression came in the form of subjugating the governor and heavy taxation. By 1884 the Zeitoun autonomy was terminated.
The Armenians attempted to lobby for relief in Istanbul, they were compensated with further atrocities. The 1870’s found the Armenian Congress in Istanbul providing reports of incidents of aggression from the Turks. The Ottoman government did nothing and allowing the racial tension to rise. The Armenian peasants suffered the greatest discriminations and hardship. Taxes were severely levied as well as crops taken in the name of revenue. Men were forced into yearly compulsory military service. And during the winter months Kurdish troops forcibly quartered in peasant homes.
The Fall semester lecture series was an excellent opportunity for exposure to scholars currently in the field. The most remarkable observation about the series is that is it able to exist at all. Without charging cover or enrollment students and community members can enjoy these fascinating speakers. What an educational experience it would be if every department and program on campus followed the example of the Armenian Studies Program and provided these kinds of occasions for Fresno State and the community.