Impact in Profile: Richard Hovannisian

Impact in Profile: Richard Hovannisian

Out of all the Armenian families in the small California town where Richard Hovannisian grew up, Hovannisian had the only native English-speaking mother, was well-versed in American culture, and other than the Armenian dishes his family ate at home never knew much about his heritage or Armenian history.

Today, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Hovannisian is one of the leading experts on the Armenian Genocide who founded the Armenian Studies program at UCLA and is now an adjunct professor at USC, advising USC Shoah Foundation on its Armenian Genocide testimony collection.

Hovannisian attended UC Berkeley and received his PhD in history at UCLA, where he joined the faculty in 1962. Inspired by his recent travels to the Middle East, he founded UCLA’s undergraduate and graduate programs in Armenian history a few years later.

In 1969, Hovannisian created one of his most remarkable courses, History 107D: a seminar in which students recorded and conducted interviews with Armenian Genocide survivors and then transcribed them. The project ultimately gathered more than 800 interviews.

“I grew up with that generation of survivors, and I thought they’d be around forever,” he told The Daily Bruin in 2011. “Then I looked left, and I looked right, and they were disappearing.”

Hovannisian is the author of Armenia on the Road to Independence; The Republic of Armenia, Volumes I-IV; and The Armenian Holocaust; and has edited, contributed to or written dozens of other books, scholarly articles and journals on Armenia and Near Eastern society and culture. He is also a leader in the Armenian scholarly community, serving on the board of directors of organizations including Facing History and Ourselves, the International Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide and the Society for Armenian Studies, which he also co-founded.

He was also honored by His Holiness Karekin I and the President of Artsakh with the Medal of St. Mesrop Mashtots for his advancement of Armenian Studies.

Today, Hovannisian is USC Shoah Foundation’s scholarly advisor for its new Armenian Genocide testimony collection. The Armenian testimonies were filmed by J. Michael Hagopian and the Armenian Film Foundation between 1972 and 2004. Testimonies in the collection, the largest archive on film of Armenian Genocide interviews in the world, were recorded in 10 countries and 10 languages, including English, Armenian, Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish. The first set of testimonies from the collection will be integrated and indexed in the Visual History Archive in April, in time for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

“The addition of these interviews to the Visual History Archive will provide broad access to a multilingual collection of material,” Hovannisian said about the collection. “It will help to bring sorely needed attention – and study – to this dark corner of human understanding.”

Hovannisian is also helping to introduce some of the clips that will be featured on the USC Shoah Foundation website this month as part of its 30-day Armenian testimony clip series. Watch these clips for Hovannisian’s insights and contextualization of some of the interviews that make up this fascinating and diverse collection.