July 31, 2020
Տե՜ս Հայերեն

Armenia’s Official Strategy Paper for the Advancement of Armenian Studies

Written by Gayane Ayvazyan
Translated by Dzovinar Derderian

This article discusses the development of Armenia’s state policy for Armenian Studies since 2003 and the subsequent redefinition of the field in the Republic of Armenia (RA). In particular, it examines the making of Armenia’s official strategy paper for the advancement of Armenian Studies, which can be traced back to an Armenian Studies conference in 2003 and to historian Gevorg Khoudinyan’s article from 2004. This strategy paper outlined the definition as well as educational and research goals of Armenian Studies. Dr. Ayvazyan provides an overview of the ideologies that ground this state project of regulating Armenian Studies and how this policy has harmed and confined the scholarship produced in the spheres of the humanities and the social sciences into nationalist and orientalist frameworks.

Through the undertaking of a number of state initiatives in the last two decades, Armenia’s academics quickly adopted the state policy for the advancement of Armenian Studies, which has directed the various fields of humanities and social sciences in the country. In order to initiate a discussion around this state policy, this article attempts to show how the strategy paper for the advancement of Armenian Studies developed and what its ideological basis is.

The state project of directing Armenian Studies can be traced back to a 2003 Armenian Studies conference that Armenia’s National Academy of Sciences and Yerevan State University organized. At that time, the Kocharyan administration had asked the conference organizers to develop a description and strategy paper for Armenian Studies, which they subsequently submitted to the government. Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan (2000-2007) enthusiastically supported this undertaking.

In April 2006, at the initiation of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), hearings took place in the RA National Assembly, where government officials and academics debated issues regarding the teaching of Armenian Studies subjects. In particular, participants discussed proposals to amend and add to the existing RA laws “On Scholarly and Technical-Scholarly Activities,” “On Education in Undergraduate and Graduate Specializations,” and “On Education.” The speakers emphasized that in schools and institutions of higher education the teaching of Armenian Studies subjects (e.g., Armenian history, language, literature and religion) had to inculcate ethics of Armenianness, national self-preservation, national consciousness, national ideology and security. Among one of the proposals was to adopt a differentiated approach to instructors of Armenian Studies and to pay them salaries higher than those of other instructors.[1]

On October 13, 2006, a committee was created to develop a comprehensive program for Armenian Studies. The committee included senior government officials, along with chairs and directors of departments and institutes of humanities. This committee was annulled in 2010 and replaced by a new council that would deal with matters related to Armenian Studies. In January 2012, the government officially approved the strategy paper, which delineated a policy and a schedule of steps to be taken by 2025 for the development of Armenian Studies.

The Strategy Paper and Its Impact on Armenian Studies

Armenian Studies thus became a state policy and strategy. To understand the mechanisms, scope, and weight of this strategy’s conception of Armenian Studies, it suffices to take a look at the subjects listed in the very beginning of the strategy paper, which says: Armenian Studies is a system of scholarship entailing Armenian linguistics (encompassing the Armenian language in all its forms), Armenian literature, Armenian history with its affiliated fields (archeology, ethnography, source criticism, historiography, scholarship of manuscripts and bibliography, epigraphy, numismatics, historical geography of Armenia, historical demography, anthropology, etc.), history of medicine, Armenian jurisprudence, the history of Armenian sociopolitical and economic thought, Armenian philosophy and art history, Diaspora Studies, and the study of the historical and cultural relations of Armenians with neighboring peoples. This means that Armenian Studies deals with all of the social sciences and humanities without any exceptions.[2]

The strategy paper puts forward the main goals of Armenian Studies, which fit in the ideological frameworks of the above-mentioned fields of scholarship. It calls on Armenian Studies to preserve the national character of the people, to educate and provide Armenian ethics for future generations,[3] to shape patriotic citizens with high moral values, and to increase their national consciousness. This scheme also includes a military-patriotic education to prepare citizens for the defense of their country’s territorial integrity and statehood. [4]

In addition to its disciplinary goals, the strategy paper delineates the contours of scholarly research. It states that the unique characteristics of Armenian civilization have to guide the undertakings of Armenian Studies. Therefore, research projects have to focus on the discovery and appreciation of the essential characteristics of the Armenian people, with the purpose of preserving Armenian identity.[5] As such, Armenian Studies is proclaimed as a core component of the political project of the nation-state.[6] First, this project aims to preserve the material and spiritual values of “Armenian civilization.”[7] Second, it grounds the struggle against the anti-Armenian propaganda of Turkey and Azerbaijan by using state resources to present the history, language, and cultural heritage of the Armenian people to the international community.[8] Armenian Studies thus becomes a tool that serves to strengthen Armenian statehood and national security, and to deepen Armenian identity.[9] In this framework, Armenian Studies also must help to unify Armenians around Armenian statehood.[10]

Until the adoption of the strategy paper, the conception of Armenian Studies in Armenia was different from its current meaning. In both scholarly literature and in educational programs Armenian Studies was understood to refer to classical Armenian Studies, which scholars had studied in relation to Arab, Iranian, Georgian and Assyrian Studies and other fields of Middle East Studies developed in the nineteenth century, first in European schools, then in Russia. Yet, despite the rising critique of Orientalism in the 1970s in the West along with the emergence of postcolonial theory, Armenia’s academic and educational circles have not scrutinized the imperialist-colonialist frameworks of Armenian Studies.[11] Scholars of Armenian Studies have not gone beyond the obligation of studying the biographies of Orientalists Marie-Félicité Brosset, Victor Langlois and others, and the unconcealed feeling of pleasure at meriting the attention of receiving the attention of European and Russian scholars of the Middle East. This approach has been integral to the teaching of Armenian Studies in the programs of educational institutions in Armenia.

The strategy paper of Armenian Studies, especially due to the support that it has received from the state in the last few years, has drastically changed the scope of Armenian Studies by consolidating a wide range of fields and disciplines in the humanities and social sciences under the ideological umbrella of Armenian Studies. The targeted spheres have quickly adopted the principles and aims expressed in the strategy paper. However, as much as Armenia’s strategy for Armenian Studies seeks to be a unique national project, it is on the one hand a simple national program, and on the other hand it largely recreates the pre-Saidian colonialist Orientalism. The original aim of Middle East Studies, as well as Armenian Studies, has been to produce knowledge about the peoples of the East and to categorize them. That body of knowledge has not become a discipline of linguistics, history, or geography. Instead, it has viewed peoples and cultures, including Armenians, as one kind, as one unit with common characteristics and as part of a universal system. Such a framework overlooks the individual. Until today many scholars in the humanities and social sciences in Armenia continue to follow orientalist frameworks; with minor changes, they regurgitate knowledge of Armenia and Armenians through the colonialist prism of Middle East Studies.

Gevorg Khoudinyan and the Making of the Strategy Paper

For almost a decade, from 2003 to 2012, this strategy paper has garnered much attention. Multiple conferences, discussions, hearings, revisions, and high-level committees were organized for this thirteen-page strategy paper (five pages of which are a schedule for steps of action). Certainly, the government spent significant sums of money on these activities. Yet by a simple comparison we can see that this strategy paper is largely derived from the article of historian and member of the ARF Gevorg Khoudinyan, titled “Armenian Studies in the 21st Century” and published in 2004.[12] Khoudinyan’s ideas were reproduced in the different programmatic points of the strategy paper in overly simplified and concise language. Still, some of Khoudinyan’s concepts and expressions such as “nation-value” and “the principle of rejection and infiltration,” slipped into the language of the strategy paper. This is a direct indication of the connection between the Armenian Studies strategy paper and Koudinayn’s article. While Khoudinyan was the main architect of the strategy paper (the content of the strategy paper primarily relies on his ideas, while the remainder of the paper consists of technical-organizational aspects), he was not part of the governmental committees. In the plentitude of academic patriarchs that made up the governmental committees it would have been difficult to decipher Khoudinyan’s influence on the Armenian Studies strategy paper. However, his two-part “Armenian Studies in the 21st Century” article is not necessarily important for verifying who the author of the strategy paper was, as much as for understanding the main aims, intentions, and political calculations that guide the state project. This lengthy article, from more than fifteen years ago, is the key to understanding Armenia’s state strategy paper for the advancement of Armenian Studies. The official document makes particular promises about the advancement of scholarship and describes in dry language the state project’s plan of action. Khoudinyan’s article, on the other hand, reveals the ideological basis of the strategy paper and specifies the role it assigns to Armenian Studies.

According to Khoudinyan, Mesrop Mashtots was the first Armenologist who outlined the primary aim of Armenian Studies: “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding.”[13] However, in the contemporary context of globalization, when information is weaponized, Armenian Studies becomes a tool of global competition[14]—with the aim to “inculcate Armenian ethics in the new generation, advance our spiritual and material culture, [and] self-preservation.”[15]In Armenian Studies, the person is the representative of the Armenian nation and as such, is himself the subject in relation not to nature, but to those like him and to other nations.”[16] The author attempts to find a middle ground between politics and scholarship, which would allow Armenian Studies to simultaneously realize the project of defending national values, and to search for scholarly truth.[17] Nevertheless, the latter objective is defeated by the former.

Khoudinyan states that scholarly knowledge as an important component in “the teaching of Armenian ethics,”  becomes “defunct” if it does not serve as a weapon for state policy.[18] “The teasing out of the functional significance of scholarly knowledge belongs not to scholarship, but to the political sphere of scholarship—the apparatus of Armenian Studies. With such an approach, the first and most important ‘wheel’ of the Armenian Studies apparatus will begin to ‘turn’ with the speed necessary for the whole machine. At the same time, [Armenian Studies] will not get sidetracked from its main purpose of producing knowledge; that is, it will attend solely to scholarship—to the search for truth, without worrying at all about the sharp double-edged-sword characteristic of knowledge, since such worries are not at all within the functions of [the field of] Armenian Studies.”[19]

Khoudinyan proposes a mechanism to regulate Armenian Studies, within which the “Bloc of Political Planning” oversees the outcomes of Armenian Studies and serves as the “brain center” for the government’s policy implementation in the sphere of humanities. It also presents projects to the government for the spheres of education, scholarship, and culture.[20] The government, in turn, implements these projects through the republic’s governmental bodies.[21] The Bloc of Political Planning’s responsibilities include the nurturing of dynamics internal to the republic and designing Armenia’s relations with the outside world. For example, if a scholar notices negative trends in the psychology of the Armenian people, making the nation vulnerable to the outside world, the “brain center” is to present to the government a prescription for healing the “disease.” The Bloc “cultivates and implements steps that eliminate possibilities that would allow the Armenian people to obtain such a character (image), and [takes actions] to create a positive image of Armenians. This means that we are overcoming our shortcomings among ourselves, and presenting our strengths to the outside world.”[22] The criterion for perfecting the nation, or in the words of the strategy paper “[the apogee of] the Armenian people’s unique essential characteristics” is being “native, Arian, Eastern Christian, and, at the same time, a barrier to European civilization.”[23] Armenians Studies is called upon to save “the decay of the elite culture” among Armenians and to prevent “the ‘rejuvenation’ of provincial-Asian traditions, presented as popular culture.”[24]

Armenian Studies in Service to State Policy and Elite Politics

Khoudinyan’s ideology guides the state strategy that paves the way for fully burying Armenia in intellectual darkness. Researchers in Armenian Studies are bound to serve the center that designs the politics of the scholarship. Researchers are not the creators of politics: they do not have any authority to undertake such a thing. Rather, they are simply the suppliers of this center and they are not even to consider how their research serves politics. This project of Armenian Studies reveals the state’s policy to destroy the human person in Armenia, where s/he is doomed to belong to a race, religion, and civilization defined by the authorities, but not ever to have the freedom to be a human. In the last few years, when there has been a proliferation of elite schools and of different elite social strata, it is not at all surprising that the political undertaking of Armenian Studies aims to serve an elite culture, in opposition to the provincial, so-called popular culture.

Different academic circles in Armenia immediately supported this state vision of Armenian Studies. Back in 2003, the name of “The School of Humanities of the National Academy of Sciences” changed to “The School of Armenian Studies and Social Sciences.” New Armenian Studies research centers, journals, and funds proliferated. One cannot even find traces of intellectual opposition to this strategy’s ideological commitments. Quite the opposite, researchers have welcomed with open arms the invitation to serve the state’s policy with their academic work, particularly in regard to the topics of religion, the Church, the army, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. It will suffice to take a look at the titles of research projects that received grants through a competitive application process overseen by the State Committee of Sciences, which shapes Armenia’s policy on scholarship. In the past ten years, the state has financed projects with the following titles: “Religion in the Social Life of Armenia,” “Aspects of the History of Armenian Theological Thought” (2010), “The Complying of Rebellious Azerbaijani Groups to the Republic of Armenia, 1919-1920,” “A Textual Analysis of Discussions on the Armenian Genocide in the International Sphere” (2013), “Armenian Philosophy as an Agent to Shape, Implement, and Modernize Ideals of National Identity,” “Modern Religious Processes in the Context of Preserving Ethno-Cultural Values” (2015), “The Issue of the Formation of National Identity in the Context of the Modern Processes of Internationalization of the RA Higher Education,” “The Ideological Grounds of ‘Nation-Army’” (2018).

The topics in this list suggest a top-down approach to knowledge production that Armenia’s academy inherited from the Soviet totalitarian system. Sadly, in the post-Soviet era, the academy has been unable to break from the past and to diversify. Instead, it has turned from obediently serving one political ideology to becoming another’s complacent servant. The paradigm of the humanities and social sciences transitioned from the so-called Marxist-Leninist ideologies to the liberal nationalist school of thought. Thus, the academy has successfully preserved the barricades of conservatism and remained in ignorance of other ideological currents and politics circulating in the world.

Since President Robert Kocharyan’s second term (2003–2008), Armenia’s state policy towards the humanities has been regurgitating the imperialist-colonialist frameworks of Middle East Studies. Later, components of Nazi ideology were added to these frameworks. According to the Armenian Studies strategy paper, this policy will be upheld until 2025. In Armenia, scholarly works in the humanities and social sciences are from the outset bound to predetermined research outcomes. The researcher does not need to understand nor explain sociopolitical and cultural phenomena. An Armenologist’s mission is not to develop new conceptualizations. S/he must only reproduce and reaffirm the governing system’s ideological clichés. The Armenian Studies strategy paper shows that the Republic of Armenia has not yet become a civil society; rather, it has remained confined to a monolithic national community.

Governing the Masses, Benefiting the Elite

Behind the national curtain, however, carefully hides a self-colonizing project, which Armenia’s government has implemented towards its citizens. In the context of decades of blockade by neighboring countries, Armenia has experienced the establishment of a political and economic pyramid-like oligarchic system that has created a sharp polarization between the rich minority and the poor majority. The closed borders and the endless state of war have allowed the Armenian elites to have extensive political and economic power. This situation benefits the elites and Armenian Studies is inclined to prolong this status quo.

The politics of controlling a large portion of the population that suffers due to war and poverty had to create Armenian Studies, even if it had not existed. Armenian Studies in Armenia is a factory of identity, the task of which is twofold. On the one hand, it tries to produce a pure and monolithic Armenian organism, in which it unites Armenians of the Diaspora and Armenia. In so doing, it deprives Armenians of class, sex, sexuality, worldviews, and any other component of diversity. Instead, Armenian Studies dresses them in the straitjacket identity that it has created. On the other hand, Armenian Studies continuously inculcates Armenian citizens with the fear of national danger and extermination. It flattens the globe and splits it into pro-Armenian and anti-Armenian sides. According to Armenian Studies, three of the immediate neighbors of Armenia are adversaries. Turkey and Azerbaijan are absolute enemies as they contest the right of Armenians to exist, whereas Georgia is relatively antagonistic, with the difference being that it does not contest the right of Armenians to exist. The Russian, Iranian, and European policies are friendly towards Armenians.[25] The strategy of Armenian Studies persistently distances Armenia’s population from its geographic surroundings. It turns Armenia against its natural habitat, diminishing the prospects of a peaceful coexistence in the region, and closing the spaces of dialogue and reconciliation.

For two decades, this backward-looking approach and strategy has produced, cultivated, and penetrated into the different spheres of the republic’s educational, cultural, and social life. Armenian Studies has successfully accomplished what it has set out to do and one cannot see an alternative to it in the near future. But the implementation of this strategy in the sphere of the humanities is resulting in the dramatic erasure of intellectual life in Armenia. The post-Soviet years and the victory of independence should have opened the doors to casting off dictated and directed practices of thought; in its place, freedom of thought should have been born. Such free thinking would have also required the reevaluation of one’s own past. Instead, in the third republic, the humanities and social sciences, as sites of critical thought, have been placed under the heel of high-ranked elite groups and have served the latter’s agenda. This has impeded the emergence of intellectuals who would give form to the voices of social groups found in the margins, who remain unheard and disregarded.  

Dr. Gayane Ayvazyan graduated from the Department of History of Yerevan State University. She holds a doctorate in history and works at the Mesrop Mashtots Research Institute of Ancient Manuscripts. She has been a visiting scholar at University of Graz, Bilkent University (Ankara), Şehir University (Istanbul), Louvain Catholic University, South-West University “Neofit Rilski” (Blagoevgrad), and International Hellenic University (Thessaloniki).

[1] “Hayagitutyan zargatsume orakhndir e” (April 4, 2006). http://www.parliament.am/news.php?cat_id=2&NewsID=1738&year=2006&month=04&day=04 (Accessed April 20, 2020).
[2] “Hayetsakarg haygitutyan zargatsman” (Jan. 12, 2012) https://www.e-gov.am/u_files/file/decrees/arc_voroshum/2012/01/qax1-7_1.pdf (Accessed Apr. 20, 2020), Part I, ¶¶ 1-4.
[3] Ibid, Part IV, ¶ 1.
[4]  Ibid, Part III, ¶ 12. (This and all the subsequent emphases are mine.)
[5]  Ibid, Part III, ¶ 16.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid, Part III, ¶ 13.
[8] Ibid, Part V, ¶ 9.
[9] Ibid, Part IV, ¶ 2.
[10] Ibid, Part I, ¶ 3.
[11] See Edward Said. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.
[12] Gevorg Khoudinyan, “Hayagitutyune 21rd darum. Azgayin shahere yev hayagitutyan npataknere mrtsaktsayin nor mijavayrum,” Part 1, 21rd dar, 3 (2004), 24-42; Gevorg Khoudinyan, “Hayagitutyune 21rd darum. Azgayin shahere yev hayagitutyan npataknere mrtsaktsayin nor mijavayrum,” Part 2, 21rd dar, 2(4) (2004), 3-29.
[13] Ibid, Part I, 34.
[14] Ibid, Part II,  21-22.
[15] Ibid, Part I, 38.
[16]  Ibid, Part II, 4.
[17] Ibid, Part I, 38-39.
[18] Ibid, Part II,  6.
[19] Ibid, Part II, 11-12.
[20] Ibid, Part II, 27.
[21] Ibid, Part II, 16.
[22] Ibid, Part II, 28.
[23] Ibid, Part I, 23.
[24] Ibid, Part II, 7.
[25] Ibid, Part II, 19-20.