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Seventh Annual UCLA Undergraduate Colloquium in Armenian Studies

Seventh Annual UCLA Undergraduate Colloquium in Armenian Studies

The Gladzor Gospels: Illuminated Manuscript, 1300-1307 Part of the UCLA Special Collections.

In association with UCLA Undergraduate Research Week, the seventh annual UCLA Undergraduate Colloquium in Armenian Studies will take place May 26-28 on Zoom.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 to Friday, May 28, 2021
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM

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Wednesday, 26 May, 10 a.m.-12 noon PDT


Moderator: Michelle Garabedian (UCLA)


Panel 1: 18th century Armenian Political Thought

 Téa Balasanyan (Communications, UC San Diego)

“The Ambition Trap” Constitution Draft in Armenian National Awakening

The present study analyses the draft of the first Constitution of an independent Armenian progressive state, written by a representative of the Armenian national liberation ideology and member of the Armenian community in India, Shahamir Shahamirian. The chosen methodological approaches for this research are content analysis and comparative analysis.

The Constitution of the independent Armenian state of 1773 named “The Ambition Trap” presents a legal act consisting of 521 articles and includes constitutional and legal norms as well as norms of civil, family, and criminal law. In the text itself, these norms are not systemized, and the present study attempts to organize them into the main branches of law. It is determined that the author reflects on the need of creating a unitary parliamentary republic with a unique way of power distribution. Lastly, the study demonstrates that “The Ambition Trap” was conceived by the author not only as of the Constitution of the future independent Armenian state but also as a program for the national liberation of the Armenian people for their independence. In addition, nearly identical provisions of this unique document can be seen in many Constitutions of modern countries and international conventions and declarations such as the first ratified Constitution of the United States of America, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, etc., which proves the exceptionally high level of legal thought of Armenian authors of previous generations.


Panel 2: 19th-20th Century Armenian Drama and Society

Vane Mardyan (Philosophy, UCLA)

Ethics and Existentialism in Modern Armenian Drama: A Philosophical Approach through Literature

In modern Armenian works of drama, many classic and diverse themes exploring the multi-faceted elements of life are depicted. Philosophical subjects are favored within many literary works. In my paper, I will discuss ethical boundaries and existential questioning in Aleksandr Shirvanzade’s “For the Sake of Honor” and Levon Shant’s “Ancient Gods”. This will involve an analysis of the personalities and motivations of the characters, as well as a literary- ethnographic approach to situate the characters in the cultural/social organization of the family and community to which they belong. Thereafter, ethical and existential structures will be selected for study in tracing the character’s developments. Ethical relativism and absolutism are portrayed through the actions and dialogue of Shirvanzade’s characters Andreas and Margarit Otarian through their conflict over the former’s defrauding his business partner, who emerges as the father of Margarit’s lover. Andreas is a prime example of a moral agent who acts in his own self-interest, hence, a manifestation of ethical egoism. Meanwhile Margarit, who adopts an absolutist perspective regarding her family, follows the unconditional moral obligation of the categorical imperative in formulating her viewpoints. In like manner, Shant’s symbolic characters Father Superior and Young Monk, though deriving from different walks of life and representing divergent values, face similar issues in processing their parallel existential crises. In this context, both question their identity and makeup as people in working through the anxiety and religious skepticism they experience in their quest for freedom.


Thursday, 27 May, 10 a.m.-12 noon PDT


Moderator: Arman Antonyan (History, UCLA)


Panel 3: Armenian Political Activities at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Madeleine J. Nephew (History, Columbia University) 

The Press as a Vehicle for Armeno-Turkish Exchange in the Years Following the Ottoman Constitution

Political and social life in the Ottoman Empire changed dramatically with the constitutional revolution of 1908. The ascension of the Young Turks from opposition to political power witnessed an intellectual homecoming from Europe, where Ottoman dissidents had carried on political discourse in exile. Subjects once considered taboo were now debated in newspapers published and circulated just steps from the Sublime Porte in central Constantinople.

My paper centers on a months-long exchange carried out in 1912 and 1913 between Abdullah Cevdet, a prolific and eclectic political thinker, and a group of Armenian writers. Their multilingual back-and-forth took place in three newspapers: Jamanak, published in Armenian, Le Jeune-Turc, published in French, and Ijtihad, published in Ottoman. Their arguments on the relative merit of Armenian and Kurdish claims to civilizational longevity in eastern Anatolia are best understood in the context of ongoing imperial contraction – then encapsulated in the traumatic experience of the Balkan Wars and the 1913 Ottoman coup d’état – and the intense intellectual discourse that grew up around what was clearly felt to be an existential crisis. I demonstrate that Cevdet’s articles represent an early formulation of Kurdish national identity, constructed in complicated (but not total) opposition to Armenian nationalism and located firmly within the Ottoman framework. What did it mean to be a nation, especially in the imperial context, and especially on the same piece of land? I argue that this conversation represents a brief flowering of political possibility just two years before the Armenian Genocide.


Martin C. Adamian (History, UCLA)  

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Armenian Bourgeoisie: Ideological Problems and Practical Relations

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), the most influential Armenian revolutionary party of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, had a complex relationship with the Armenian bourgeoisie in both ideological and practical terms. This relationship shifted between periods of outright violence and hostility, and periods of cooperation. Constantly accused of being in league with the bourgeoisie by its left-wing opponents, the ARF had to justify this vacillating relationship in the context of an already eclectic ideology. While the ARF’s official ideology, which was a mix of socialism and nationalism, regarded the Armenian bourgeoisie as an exploiter class to be struggled against in the present and to be swept away in the distant future, the party never fully integrated struggle against the bourgeoisie into its revolutionary praxis and generally saw them as potential allies in the national revolutionary struggle. The need for class struggle against the bourgeoisie became a more clearly articulated and stressed part of the ARF’s ideology over time but remained secondary to the national struggle in both theory in practice, further proving the party’s character as a national organization rather than the representative of any one class in Armenian society. Despite its practical and ideological flexibility, the ARF was unable to bring the Armenian bourgeoisie into the revolutionary struggle either through pressure from the increasingly active Armenian working class or through calls to national solidarity.


Panel 4: Music and Identity in the American-Armenian Diaspora

Tiffany Tufenkjian (Physiological Science, UCLA) 

Using Kef Music to Understand Western Armenian-American Identity

The music brought by Armenians to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries captures a unique snapshot of their lives in the Ottoman Empire. As they grappled with their new Armenian-American identities, a new genre of music developed unique to these Armenians called kef. In this paper, I argue that kef music illustrates the transformation of early Armenian identity in America by recalling their history, highlighting their social ideals, and tracking their cultural integration over a century in America. Analyzing the development of kef music by drawing on methods from the field of ethnomusicology unveils the complex identity of this Armenian-American diasporic community. This paper first looks at a layer of their identity that preserves their Ottoman roots, shown in the Middle Eastern instruments they used to perform Anatolian melodies and the lyrics that preserved languages spoken in the Ottoman Empire. This paper then explores another layer of their identity influenced by American culture, shown in the characteristic big-band style and upbeat nature of kef music. Finally, this paper examines a shift in kef music and thus a re-evaluation of identity upon the arrival of strong nationalist sentiments from the Armenian diasporic community of Lebanon in the latter half of the twentieth century. While scholars like Sylvia Alajaji provide a compelling analysis of Armenian music to understand the identities of various diasporic communities, the purpose of this paper is to use kef music to delve into the evolving identity of one particular diasporic community of Armenian- Americans.


Friday, 28 May, 10 a.m.-12 noon PDT


Moderator: Nora Bairamian, graduate representative (NELC, UCLA)


Panel 5: Contemporary Armenian Social, Political, and Ecological Issues

Neinel Zani Estapanians (Anthropology & Psychology, UCLA)

Stuck in Crisis: The Perceived Residual Impacts of the 1988 Earthquake on Life in Spitak, Armenia

On December 7, 1988 a devastating earthquake destroyed the northern regions of Armenia, injuring and taking the lives of thousands. Since then, individuals describe the impacted cities as being in a continuous state of recovery and stagnation. Previous studies have assessed the psychological impacts of the earthquake on the surviving population. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Spitak, Armenia, this study contextualizes the earthquake within Armenia’s broader political history and focuses on the three-decade-long recovery process, notably the earthquake’s perceived impacts on Spitak’s surviving communities. During the summer and winter of 2019, I interviewed survivors and their descendants across a broad demographic spectrum and analyzed the disaster’s perceived implications on their everyday lives and contemporary psychology. Findings suggest that the proximity of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the earthquake played a factor in Armenia’s subsequent economic stagnation through increased levels of poverty and joblessness. Spitak’s inability to regain economic stability after the earthquake is associated with the survivors’ experiences of perpetual liminality on the communal level, where surviving communities feel a sense of continuous stuckness and ambiguity in a recovery phase. On individual and familial levels, however, survivors experience transitional liminality, often feeling caught between economically strenuous situations. The research concludes that the accumulation of constant change as a result of economic uncertainty on the microscopic level prevents the community as a whole from exiting the post-disaster recovery phase. Thus, creating a paradoxical state of feeling too much, yet not enough change.


Arman Antonyan (History, UCLA)

Antisemitic motifs in anti-Armenian narratives: the case of Turkey and Azerbaijan

To make sense of Armenians, Western observers since the 19th century often relied on comparisons to Jews—and antisemitic tropes such as Jewish greed and parasitism. As numerous scholars have noted, there are genuine commonalities between the Armenian and Jewish peoples that contributed to the emergence of similar stereotypes. In the 20th century, Armenians and Jews each experienced a genocide that defines their identities today, and political activism forms a key part of the relationship between their respective diasporas and genocides. In parallel fashion, shared anti-Armenian and antisemitic motifs have evolved in tandem with these historical developments. This paper examines two countries where a robust construct of the Armenian has translated into systematic violence, hatred, and persecution against Armenians: Turkey and Azerbaijan. Anti-Armenian media in both countries, such as pseudo-academic literature and presidential speeches, are compared to a selection of key antisemitic texts. I argue that institutional anti-Armenianism in Turkey, tracing back to the years leading up to the Armenian Genocide (1915-1923), has evolved a set of motifs common to (and in some cases, diverging from) traditional antisemitism, indicating a potential mirrored understanding of Jews and Armenians in Turkey. In Azerbaijan, institutional anti-Armenianism is significantly more recent and borrows pre-existing Turkish motifs as its foundation. However, due to the primacy of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in its society, the Azerbaijani state has elevated and built on these anti-Armenian motifs, constructing new expressions of anti-Armenianism that redeploy old antisemitic tropes.


Nareg Kuyumjian (Science, Technology, and International Affairs, Georgetown University) 

Institutional Adaptive Capacity and Hydropolitics along the Kura-Araks in the South Caucasus

Climate change-induced water stress paired with recently intensified post-Soviet interstate conflict in the South Caucasus places an increasing level of geopolitical importance on the Kura-Araks as the main source of freshwater for the region. Even so, and despite being classified as a high-risk of conflict river basin (Wolf, Yoffe, and Giordano 2003), the hydropolitics along the Kura-Araks have not yet been understood within the water security literature. My research sets out to understand the role water plays in South Caucasian geopolitics by measuring the adaptive capacity of water institutions pertaining to the Kura-Araks through principle-based treaty analysis of nine regional water agreements. Upon identifying the 1) flexibility and 2) conflict resolution capacity of regional water institutions, analysis is conducted to explain the current water institutional status quo— defined by ill-defined legal norms, weak dispute resolution mechanisms, low provisional flexibility, and a lack of multilaterality— through the vantage point of each riparian’s interests. Namely, analysis seeks to complexify Turkish hydrohegemony, Georgia’s dependence on hydropower, Armenia’s strategic water cooperation, and Azerbaijani water security. Lastly, water’s current and future role in regional relations is assessed along two axes: the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and climate change. In an increasingly multipolar world founded on a ‘new regionalism,’ it is concluded that without healthy adaptive capacity, the already fractured South Caucasus region will struggle to engage in constructive functional cooperation, endangering the livelihood of local communities. </>