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Topics in Modern Armenian History

Staff Article

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.