In Memoriam

PROF. RICHARD G. HOVANNISIAN (November 9, 1932-July 10, 2023)

His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan, Prelate, and the Religious and Executive Councils join Armenians in the homeland and the Diaspora in mourning the passing of Professor Richard G. Hovannisian, a seminal figure in the field of Armenian Studies in the United States and worldwide, on Tuesday, July 10, at the age of 90.  

Richard Hovannisian was born in Tulare, California, on November 9, 1932, to Kaspar Hovannisian and Siroon Nalbandian, the third of four sons. Being the son of Genocide survivors played an important role in his academic path. In 1957, he married Dr. Vartiter Kotcholosian (1931-2021) in Fresno and had four children: Raffi, Armen, Ani, and Garo. Raffi went on to become the first Minister of Foreign Affairs (1991-1992) of the third Republic of Armenia.

Hovannisian began his academic life in 1954 by earning a B.A. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, followed by an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1966. His dissertation was published in 1967 with the title Armenia on the Road to Independence, which was the precursor to the magnum opus The Republic of Armenia (4 volumes, 1971-1996). He played an important role in establishing the teaching of Armenian history at UCLA, where he taught from the 1960s. In 1987, he became the first holder of the Armenian Education Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA, which after his retirement was named in his honor as the Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History. 

As historian and former president of the Society for Armenian Studies Bedross Der Matossian points out in an obituary, Prof. Hovannisian was a monumental figure in the field of Armenian Studies who established the field of Modern Armenian History in the Western Hemisphere. He supported the establishment of some of the most important chairs in Armenian Studies in the United States. A Guggenheim Fellow, he was the recipient of many awards. He served on the Board of Directors of multiple national and international educational institutions and was a corresponding member of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. Long before his  four-volume The Republic of Armenia was finished, he dedicated his research and career to battling the denial of the Armenian Genocide. Although not a scholar of the subject, he has contributed more to the discipline than many others within the field. He edited multiple volumes on different facets of the Armenian Genocide, including historical, literary, and artistic perspectives. He also spearheaded a monumental project to preserve the eyewitness accounts of the Armenian Genocide survivors, launching the Armenian Genocide Oral History Project in 1969. He and his students interviewed more than 1,000 survivors in California. In 2018, Hovannisian donated the collection to the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive to be available to scholars around the world.

After publishing his work on the first Republic of Armenia, he resurrected the history of Armenian towns and villages of the Ottoman Empire, starting the very popular series of conferences “Armenian Cities and Provinces” in 1997. He single-handedly edited and published 14 volumes of their proceedings. The volumes covered the history of Armenians in Van/Vaspourakan, Cilicia (with Simon Payaslian), Sivas/Sepastia, Trebizond/Trabzon, Baghesh/Bitlis, Taron/Mush, Smyrna/Izmir, Kesaria/Kayseri and Cappadocia among other places. The final book in the series, The Armenians of Persia/Iran, was published in 2022. Hovannisian also edited the two-volume The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, which is considered a classic Armenian History textbook. 

Der Matossian points out that Hovannisian came from a generation that fought against the stifling of Armenian voices within the fields of Middle Eastern and Ottoman Studies, which had relegated Armenian Studies to second-class status. He fought for the relevance of Armenian Studies within these fields and tirelessly fought against the efforts to marginalize Armenian issues and to deny the Armenian Genocide. In 1974, Richard Hovannisian, Dickran Kouymjian, Nina Garsoïan, Avedis Sanjian, and Robert Thomson spearheaded the project to establish the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS). The main objective was the development of Armenian Studies as an academic discipline. Hovannisian was the president of SAS for three terms (1977, 1991-1992, 2006-2009).

In 1982, Catholicos Karekin II of the Great House of Cilicia decorated Prof. Hovannisian with the Mesrob Mashdots medal. The distinguished historian received further decorations from His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, who bestowed upon him the Knight of Cilicia medal in 2001 and the Prince of Cilicia medal in 2018. The late academic was a longtime friend and collaborator of the Eastern Prelacy.

On behalf of the Eastern Prelacy, Archbishop Anoushavan extends his condolences to the family of Prof. Hovannisian, in the certainty that his monumental work has set an example for generations to come. May God bless his soul.