In many ways the Armenian collections and programs at the Library of Congress will forever be intertwined with the name Dadian.
Interest in the countries of the Middle East grew following the end of World War II, and that interest led to the creation of the Near East Section of the Library of Congress in 1945. Three years later, in 1948, a group of Armenian American academics, businessmen, community leaders and government employees gathered in Washington, DC to create the Committee for the Armenian Collection of the Library of Congress. The committee and its chair, Mr. Arthur H. Dadian, presented 111 Armenian titles to then Librarian of Congress, Dr. Luther H. Evans, in that same year. Dadian described the undertaking in the May 18-24 Library of Congress Information Bulletin: “What we are trying to do is just a humble undertaking by a few citizens to help enrich the Armenian collection of our Library of Congress. We are doing this because we hope that the Armenian literature, portraying as it does the accomplishments and struggles of a heroic and peace-loving people, may have something of value to all Americans.”
We may safely date the beginning of an Armenian research collection at the Library of Congress with this committee’s efforts. Its archives, however, held by the Near East Section ends in 1952. By 1959 a Turkish Area Specialist, Mr. Abraham Bodourian, a Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, added to the Armenian collections until his retirement in 1983, when the Library estimated that the Armenian language collection numbered some 6,000-7,000 items. It was only in 1991, with a generous grant by Mrs. Marjorie Dadian, Arthur Dadian’s widow, from his estate, that the Library was able to hire its first Armenian Area Specialist. Fortuitously, the appointment coincided with the establishment of a new independent Armenia, and both the Library’s Armenian collections and the Republic of Armenia have grown together.
From the estimated 6,000-7,000 items in the custody of the Near East collection at the time of the Dadian grant, the Armenian items have grown to some 45,000. These include manuscripts, rare Armenian and Armeno-Turkish publications from the Ottoman Empire, and the products of renewed publication activity following the independence of the Republic of Armenia. In point of fact, the growth was so remarkable that the Library was able to mount an exhibition in 2012 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first printed Armenian book, and the designation by UNESCO of Yerevan, the Republic’s capital, , as its Book Capital of the World in that same year. “To Know Wisdom and Instruction: The Armenian Literary Tradition at the Library of Congress” was open for five months and brought in an estimated 248,000 visitors. Its catalog, funded by the Dadian bequest, has been published in English (now out of print), Armenian, and Apple iTunes versions.
The grant also allowed the Near East Section to establish a lecture series whose goal was to present representative topics on all aspects of Armenian history, culture, politics, and life to the public. When it came time to name that series, Vardanants Day seemed the ideal choice. Although it is a religious holiday in the Armenian Church calendar, it is also one with political and cultural significance. It commemorates Vardan Mamikonian, the grand marshal of the Armenian military, and his followers who fought in 451 AD a battle at Avarayr against invading Persian troops whose goal was to convert the Christian Armenians to Zoroastrianism. Although martyred, their resistance prevented the implementation of the Persian intended policy of conversion. It is thus a day that commemorates a fight against assimilation which would mark the history of Armenia and the Armenians up to the present day.
The first of what would become a successful and long-lived series took place in 1994 and since then 18 other presentations have brought scholars, politicians, ambassadors, musicians, and DNA specialists to the Library of Congress to discuss their research and work. Beginning with the pianist, Sahan Arcruni’s 9th Vardanants Day Armenian lecture and concert in 2001, all the presentations are available either in audio format or as webcasts.
The twentieth lecture will take place on September 21st, 2016, fortuitously also the 25th anniversary of the Republic of Armenia’s declaration of independence. Equally fortuitous is the choice of lecturer. Professor Christina Maranci, is the Arthur H. Dadian and Ara T. Oztemel Associate Professor of Armenian Art at Tufts University in Massachusetts; she will speak on the iconic church of Zvart‘nots‘–the Vigilant Powers– within the context of its construction during the 7th AD during and after the first of the Arab invasions into the region. Maranci has recently published “Vigilant Powers: Three Churches of Early Modern Armenia,” the first exploration in English of these historically important Armenian monuments.
The Vardanants Day lectures have provided a forum for the dissemination of all things Armenian. They have provided an opportunity for scholars, politicians, scientists, artists, musicians and others to mix with the Armenian community, and for the general public to learn more about both Armenia and the role of the collections at the Library of Congress in the study of that ancient land and people. They have highlighted the contemporary scholarship in Armenian studies as well as the present political and social concerns of the day. The fact that this will be the twentieth lecture in the series is both a milestone and a recognition of the success of the Dadians’ vision in support of the Armenian collections and programs at the Library of Congress.
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