On February 9, 2004, St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, NY hosted an evening in honor of Professor Nina Garsoian, Emerita of Columbia University in New York. His Eminence Abp. Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of North America presided over the evening. Abp. Barsamian was himself a student in the Armenian Studies program at Columbia University when Prof. Garsoian headed it in the 1980's.
It is common knowledge that Prof. Garsoian is one of the greatest thinkers, writers and teachers of our age and a preeminent authority on ancient Armenian history. As a faculty member at Smith College, as a Dean at Princeton University and then as head of the Armenian Studies Department at Columbia University, in addition to her activities as a board member of the Ford Foundation and other organizations concerned with learning and culture, she has played an influential role in the life of higher education in America, and especially to the Armenian community.
What is not so well known is the part she played in forming the Seminary's relationship with its sister institution, St. Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary, when St. Nersess first moved from Evanston, IL. Thanks to her work with Abp. Tiran Nersoyan in those early days, St.. Nersess and St. Vladimir have enjoyed many years of fruitful cooperation.
It was thus especially fitting that the Dean and Professor of Church History at St. Vladimir's, Professor John Erickson, and his wife Helen were present for the evening, as was Prof. John Behr, Associate Professor of Patristics. In addition to the St. Nersess Seminary staff and student body, four members of the Seminary board were present: Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian, Rev. Fr. Garabed Kochakian, Mrs.Artemis Nazerian, and Mrs. Elise Antreassian-Bayizian. It was a pleasure to also welcome two of Prof. Garsoian's long-time friends, Prof. Norma Phillips (retired) of Queens College and Mr. Stephen Schneiderman. Formerly of Smith College.
The evening opened with Vespers in the Seminary chapel, presided over by His Eminence Abp. Barsamian and assisted by the guest clergy and nine St. Nersess seminarians. After the service, an informal time of wine, hors d'oeuvres and conversation was enjoyed. Mrs. Adrienne Kachadourian of Binghamton, NY provided music on the harp. A festive dinner followed, prepared by the Women's Guild of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church in White Plains, who generously donated their time and talents to make the evening an especially pleasant one. The Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Dean of the Seminary, offered opening remarks, and introduced the prominent guests.
At the conclusion of the dinner, Professor Abraham Terian, Academic Dean of St. Nersess, introduced the evening's first three speakers. Dr. Ervine stressed the many fields into which Prof. Garsoian's students have entered: teaching, the ordained ministry, art, architecture, restoration and library science, as well as Armenian history and Armenian philology. Dr. La Porta reviewed Professor Garsoian's main contribution to the world of Armenian learning, while Dr. Mathews emphasized her intellectual and spiritual generosity, her devotion to teaching, and the high quality of her personal friendship toward her students.
Professor Garsoian's own words were the high point of the evening. She had been asked to speak on the development of her thoughts and research in Armenian history over the years. With typical modesty, she stated that her many achievements were the result of "forces beyond her control". Bilingual from birth, she was fascinated from the onset by language, and by names, a fascination which led her to begin examining the Persian origins of many famous Armenian names; for instance, those in the Mamikonian clan. First a scientist and a pianist, she progressed through archeology to history, bringing with her the eye of a painter's daughter, an attention to detail, and a sound imagination. Finding that there was no one teaching Armenian in America, she taught herself as, in some ways, we all must: "in the final analysis, everyone is self taught."
Professor Garsoian emphasized that the study of history, including Armenian history, is a "house with many mansions," a discipline with many aspects. It requires "an enormous leap of the imagination into a world that is not our own." But that leap should not have as its starting point any pre-conceived notion or what conclusions one must reach. In other words, the study of history is never to serve any hidden agenda. The presence of such agendas, she concluded jeopardizes the future of Armenian studies.
At the conclusion of Prof. Garsoian's talk, Prof. Terian presented her with a list of her students and colleagues who will be contributing articles to a special number of the St. Nersess Theological Review to be published in her honor. The special number will appear early in 2005.
His Eminence Abp. Khajag Barsamian officially closed the evening with is own personal remarks on the importance of Prof. Garsoian's long career. However, dessert and coffee provided further opportunities for the guests to congratulate Prof. Garsoian before their departure.
St. Nersess Armenian Seminary looks forward to honoring other prominent servants of Armenian culture who have had formative roles in the Seminary's history.