Armenian Studies at the University of Connecticut: A Retrospective

Historical Roots

The effort to bring Armenian Studies to the University of Connecticut (UConn) began in 1984 when a small group of volunteers started a fund raising campaign.  Approximately $70,000 had been given or pledged within three years, and the Inaugural Program took place on October 24, 1987, United Nations Day, in the form of an art exhibit, banquet, and lecture on the Storrs campus.

The lecturer was Dr. George Bournoutian, who became Visiting Professor of Armenian Studies. Thereafter for several years, Dr. Bournoutian offered undergraduate courses on Armenian history and culture at UConn’s Stamford, Storrs, and Greater Hartford campuses.

A curriculum of three formal undergraduate offerings was developed: History of the Armenian People from Ancient Times to 1375; History of the Armenian People from 1375 to the Present; and Topics in Armenian Culture and History. A one-credit undergraduate seminar met Saturdays at the Greater Hartford Campus. The constituencies for these courses included young Armenian Americans; students and teachers who had no ethnic connection with Armenia, but who wanted to learn about it because of an interest in Russian or Middle Eastern affairs; and older adults, mostly Armenian Americans, who enjoyed studying about their own ethnicity.

Armenian language instruction in Storrs was offered, based upon sufficient enrollment, within the University’s Critical Language Program and, while interest was sufficient, an Armenian Students’ Cultural Association was supported. Periodically, there were other events organized on the Greater Hartford and Storrs campuses linked to Armenian studies. In 1989, visiting scholars from across the Northeast presented a five-evening seminar on “Contemporary Armenian Issues”.

In 1993, Dr. Ludmila Haroutunian of Yerevan State University (YSU) made a number of presentations at the University and at meetings with Connecticut’s Armenian-American community. Dr. Haroutunian’s presence at UConn in 1993 was in association with what has become the cornerstone of the UConn-YSU-Armenia relationship, close academic ties between UConn’s School of Social Work and YSU’s Department of Sociology, described in some detail below. Finally, in the fall of 1999, Professor Peter Balakian (Colgate University) came to UConn as part of a first year student reading project that included discussion of a book and lecture by its author, in this case Balakian’s book, Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past.

Other benefits of the pilot program in Armenian Studies include considerable increase in materials on Armenian-related topics donated to the University’s Homer Babbidge Library; the increase in Armenian exhibits (cassette tapes, manuscripts, maps, records, models, flags, etc.); and support for the Armenian Students’ Cultural Association. The Armenian Students’ Cultural Association serves as a vehicle for Armenian Americans at the University of Connecticut to meet and communicate with other people about current issues.  Between 1991 and 1993, several UConn health professionals participated in a multi-faceted, USAID-funded needs assessment and subsequent training program for community health nursing in the Armenian earthquake zone region. More recently, in late 2000, a group of 12 Armenian farmers and an accompanying Armenian academic agronomist and translator completed a training program within the University’s Institute for Public Service International (IPSI) while visiting both the Greater Hartford and Storrs campuses.

The Armenian Studies program was moved from the Department of History to the Division of International Affairs in 1992. Between 1992 and 1997, the Deans of the Division of International Affairs, Richard Vengroff and Lucy Creevey, maintained contact with Alice Norian, an important member of the Connecticut Armenian community, who would later bequeath a substantial endowment to restart Armenian studies at the University.

New approaches, and a revitalization of Armenian Studies, were called for in light of the retirement of the UConn Armenian Studies leadership in 1994.  The three UConn principals — Frank Stone of the School of Education, Allen Ward of the Department of History, and Arpie Charkoudian of the Jorgensen Auditorium — chose a very attractive early retirement incentive package offered by the State of Connecticut and left the University within a few weeks of one another.  Revitalization and leadership of Armenian Studies was ably accomplished and provided by by UConn’s School of Social Work.

School of Social Work

UConn’s School of Social Work has developed the deepest and longest-lived ties between it and YSU. The existing mutually beneficial work between YSU and UConn began through Mr. Garbis Moushigian, an Armenian-American with Master’s in Social Work, who spent a year in Armenia after the devastating 1988 earthquake. While in Armenia, Mr. Moushigian was supported by a Swiss-based foundation, SOS Armenia. His primary function was to establish a children’s mental health program in the earthquake zone. While in Armenia he met and consulted with Dr. Haroutunian. A member of the Supreme Soviet at that time, she was aware of Western social work and understood that the imminent breakup of the Soviet Union would lead to a collapse of social institutions, making social work an important profession in the newly independent republic. Dr. Haroutunian asked Mr. Moushigian to find an American school of social work that would be willing to work with them.  Mr. Moushigian initiated contact with the Dean of UConn’s School of Social Work (SSW), Dr. Nancy Humphreys. At an initial meeting it was agreed the Dean would invite Dr. Haroutunian to visit UConn and that the costs of the trip would be paid by SOS Armenia.

1991:  Drs. Haroutunian and Humphreys met for the first time in1991 to explore possible collaboration. During this visit a study tour of local social service agencies was organized, as well as extensive consultations with various UConn SSW faculty. The visits included several different social service agencies and programs that have relevance to the needs of the newly independent Republic of Armenia. In many of the visits Dr. Haroutunian was able to speak from first hand experiences of the transition taking place in the former Soviet Union.  There was extensive local press coverage of her visit, and her observations and perspectives.

During these initial discussions, agreements were reached that (a) UConn would help create the social work profession in Armenia; and (b) in cooperation with the Armenian Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, the initiative would begin by setting up a series of short-term training programs in order to get as many “trained” social workers on the ground as quickly as possible.  The role of UConn’s SSW was to help the YSU Department of Sociology conceptualize the six-month training program and to provide resources for these programs. It was also agreed that the Dean and a delegation from the UConn SSW would travel to Armenia in 1992 to meet with government officials and others to explain social work and its importance to people in the new country.

In addition to providing consultation and leadership to the curriculum development of the six-month training programs, the UConn faculty pledged to send books and journals, training plans, and training aides. A module on interviewing techniques developed by the Office of Staff Development Services of the Connecticut Department of Social Service, including several video demonstrations, was translated into Armenian and used with all of the trainees. In addition, UConn shipped, with support from the United Armenian Fund, over 10,000 books and journals to the new social work library at YSU. Through the generosity of retiring social workers, the YSU Social Work Library has been supplied with complete sets of several of the major scholarly and professional journals in social work. Shipments of books, journals and educational supplies have continued to YSU ever since.

1992–Trips to Armenia, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.:  In spring 1992, Dr. Humphreys, Mr. Moushigian and Ms. Kerrie Jones Clark, Executive Director, Windham (CT) Area Community Action Program, visited Armenia as official guests of the government. Ms. Clark had hosted one of the agency visits in 1991, and the Windham program had many service programs similar to those needed in Armenia. During the visit, the delegation met with the Minister of Labor and Social Welfare and other officials of the Ministry, and consulted with the leadership on prospective places for training and employing of social workers, the latter including several general and specialized acute and rehabilitation hospitals, mental health clinics, an old age home, and local health clinics. Extensive meetings and consultations were conducted with faculty to plan for the initial six-month training programs, as well as the formal academic training of social worker students. Expenses for the 1992 trip to Armenia were paid for by the SSW’s Dean’s Contingency Fund; funding for Ms. Clark came from her agency.

In summer 1992 UConn hosted another visit of Dr. Haroutunian to Connecticut, this time accompanied by Mr. Ashot Yesayan, the Minister of Labor and Social Welfare. Visits, meetings and consultations were arranged with many agencies, including a lengthy consultation with the United Way. Dr. Haroutunian, Minister Yesayan, Dr. Humphreys, Dr. Julianne Wayne, and Mr. Moushigian presented a paper on the development of social work in Armenia as part of a round table discussion at the Conference of the International Association of Schools of Social Work in Washington, D.C., in August 1992. The expenses of this trip were paid for by the Armenian Ministry; expenses for the trip to Washington, D.C., were paid by the SSW Dean’s Contingency Fund.

1993:  In the fall of 1993, Dr. Haroutunian was hosted by UConn for a two-week period of intensive consultations. During this period the curriculum and field internship activities for the third year of the four-year Bachelors program in social work were finalized. In addition, a set of competencies for the six-month trainees was developed that served as the basis of oral examinations administered later by the UConn delegation. In addition, Dr. Haroutunian made a number of presentations to student groups at UConn, to other local social work education programs, and to many Armenian-American community groups in Connecticut and New York.

1994:  A four-person delegation from UConn traveled to Armenia in June 1994. The expenses for this trip were met through the Dean’s Contingency Fund. Members of the delegation included Dr. Humphreys, Dr. Julianne Wayne, Mr. Moushigian and Ms. Arlene Dermirjian, an Armenian-American social work doctoral student from Hunter College. The primary purpose of this visit was to administer oral examinations to the graduates of the first training program at the conclusion of six-month training program. The faculty strongly believed that the newly created profession would have higher status and become accepted more quickly if it had the “seal of approval” from U.S. educators. An individual one-hour oral examination, with translation, was conducted with each trainee. The examiners were highly impressed with the quality of the trainees; all but one was certified for graduation. Decisions regarding certification were reached jointly by the UConn delegation in consultation with the YSU faculty. The process of planning for the examinations allowed the YSU faculty to better understand western approaches and standards for education and examination.

An important meeting was also held between the UConn delegation and YSU faculty members with the Vice President of Parliament and members of its Standing Commission on Health and Social Welfare. The primary purpose of this meeting was to stress the importance of including social work in the laws that define and recognize professions in Armenia. (Recognition is an equivalent government sanction as licensing is in the U.S.). Dr. Humphreys was a principal presenter along with Minister Yesayan and a member of the YSU faculty at a national roundtable discussion on the development of the “Armenian Model of Social Work”.

In addition to examination of students and consultation with faculty, the delegation also met with a number of officials. Meetings were held with the following organizations and representatives: Edward Kulakowski, the American Center Director at the U.S. Embassy, the head of the UNICEF office for the Caucasus region, and a program officer at the German Embassy. In addition, several meetings and discussions were held with Ms. Susan Olds, Director, and Mr. Bruce Grogan, Senior Advisor and Program Officer, in the Transcaucasus Office of USAID. Consultations with Mr. Grogan continued throughout 1994-1995 regarding the development of the PAROS need assessment system that was subsequently implemented in Armenia.

Also, during 1994-1995 three six-month training programs were carried out, graduating 60+ individuals ready to assume social service jobs in the private sector or within the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.

1996-1997:  Mr. Garbis Moushigian spent the 1996-1997 academic year in Armenia on a Fulbright Fellowship. His primary responsibility was to develop 8-10 field education sites, as well as to train faculty and agency personnel on the fundamentals of field education as a part of professional social work education. He also conducted seminars with students to help them integrate classroom instruction with fieldwork learning. He was further involved in helping faculty begin the process of creating a new Master’s program in social work. During the summer of 1997, Dr. Humphreys traveled to Armenia to review and consult with the newly designated field work agencies and meet with faculty for planning the Master’s program with the YSU faculty. Also during this visit, Dr. Humphreys, Dr. Haroutunian and Mr. Moushigian met with the Catholicos, the Patriarch of all Armenians, to discuss on-going project as well as invite his help in securing funding for the continuing development of social work in Armenia. In February 1997, a request for funding was submitted to the Lincey Foundation. The application followed months of consultation with officials at the Fund for Armenian Relief, which had promised to support the application to the Foundation, which was unfortunately unsuccessful.

1999-2000:  Dr. Haroutunian was in the U.S. on a Fulbright at George Mason University, doing research in the area of conflict resolution strategies at the Department of Conflict Studies. While in Virginia she made several trips to Connecticut to consult on current and future program activities. She also consulted with two Armenian-American Master’s of Social Work students at UConn who traveled with Mr. Moushigian to Armenia in March 2000 (expenses paid for by the Contingency Fund). Major work was completed on the courses and lesson plans for components of the newly established Master’s program in Social Work. Fifteen graduates of the Bachelor’s program were admitted to the Master’s program in the fall 2000. Various components of the program were developed by several faculty members in consultation with Dr. Haroutunian. The lesson plans were then given by Dr. Haroutunian to YSU faculty, who are now teaching the courses, with e-mail consultation from UConn faculty. Dr. Humphreys and the individual who developed the clinical component of the program will travel to Armenian in June 2001 to assess the initial year of implementation of the program.

In spring 2000 two Armenian-American, second year MSW students from UConn traveled to Armenia as a part of their field placement. One student with background in media production shot the footage for a 50-minute video, “Beginning Where the Soviet Ends: The Story of the Development of Social Work in Armenia.” Much of the post-production cost of editing and formatting the video was covered by a grant from the Charles Mosesian Family Foundation. The second intern completed a series of eight focus groups with sub-groups of women in Charentsavan, a Soviet-era planned community about 30 miles from Yerevan. The focus groups pointed to the need to create a women’s center to help women face the many problems associated with the dramatic transition in government and the economy that has resulted from the break up of the Soviet Union. The Women’s Center planned for this project is based on the recommendation that came from these focus groups. Dr. Haroutunian sought the needed funding for the Women’s Center from a chapter of the International Association of Armenian Women in Southern California. This group did make a modest contribution of a few thousand dollars, but only for the establishment of a women’s center in Yerevan. Two current second year MSW students, not of Armenian ethnicity, went to Yerevan in March 2001 to help establish and get the Yerevan Women’s Center operational. These students’ expenses were paid for by the Dean’s Contingency Fund.

UCONN-YSU Partnership

The partnership between UConn’s School of Social Work, Office of Global Affairs, and Yerevan State University (YSU) focuses on the development of the institutions by way of curriculum development, collaborative research and outreach activities in three Armenian communities. The project builds both on the expertise of interdisciplinary faculties and on prior, successful joint undertakings between the universities in the field of social work. As a land grant university with a goal to serve Connecticut’s communities, and as an established research university seeking to extend its internationally oriented activities and impacts, the partnership offers UConn a number of practical and intellectually stimulating opportunities. UConn and its faculty have the opportunity to contribute to and learn from community-building outreach activities within a society in need, while working with existing and new Armenian colleagues in an established relationship. YSU, an established yet evolving NIS institution, has the opportunity to gain in the same ways and reap the rewards of helping fellow citizens in the still-developing Armenian state that this year is celebrating 1700 years of nationhood as a unified religious community.

The partnership between UConn and YSU comprises of a number of interrelated activities that are designed to strengthen both the curricula and international expertise of the participating institutions. The partnership focuses on interdisciplinary strengths of the universities in community development, broadly defined, and will be composed of several interrelated components: (a) curricula development and related technical training at YSU; (b) continued improvement of prior, collaboratively developed academic degree programs in Social Work at YSU; (c) exploration of  possible new avenues of interaction between the institutions and their faculty and (d) greater opportunities to involve the strong Armenian-American community of the Northeastern U.S.A. in on-going collaboration between YSU and UConn.