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An Interview with Gabriel Balayan, Fulbright Scholar

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This week’s interview is with Gabriel Balayan, the Law Library’s first Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence.

Describe your background

I was born in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, and spent my childhood there. I am very proud to be from Armenia, part of one of the world’s ancient nations, and the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion.

Gabriel Balayan standing in a formal room with a table with a vase full of flowers and fireplace with a white bust on the mantle.My generation is the last who saw the Soviet Union, and clearly remembers the transformation period. My father, who is also a lawyer, was a Soviet serviceman who joined the Karabagh movement, which led to the independence of Armenia.  Subsequently, he became the first chairman of the independent Armenia’s parliamentary legal committee . As a result, my brothers and I grew up surrounded by politics and law. Perhaps it was the reason that I chose to study and specialize in law. There were many opportunities for me to observe the first steps necessary to form a new country and witness the deprivations of war and its effect on society’s psychology. Our roots come from Karabagh, and our family felt all the story on ourselves. However, in the same year the war ended,  I entered the Yerevan State University to study history. I graduated university in 1999 and a couple of years later, decided to attend law school.  I graduated from the Yerevan State University Law School in 2005.  In 2009, I defended my candidate of Law Sciences PhD thesis, “Constitutional and Legal Basics for the Right on Higher Education in the Republic of Armenia.”

Each September 21, we celebrate Armenia’s Independence Day, a celebration that acknowledges a difficult achievement, one that seems hard to keep, maintain, and develop.

The jobs I held in recent years were all related to politics, and I think it is very interesting for a lawyer to always consider politics and vice versa. We live in historic times, and I am convinced  that nothing is accidental. My generation has a lot to do, which our parents missed or couldn’t accomplish, and this is a real obligation that my generation carries forward. I consider myself optimistic and engaged –  always looking to the future, eager to learn and know more.

What is your academic/professional history?

My academic history started with publishing academic articles on the subject of criminal procedure when I was a law  student. However, in 2005,  after graduating Law School, my academic interests shifted to constitutional law, as I was invited to work at the Yerevan State University, where I developed a brand new course, “Education for Democratic Citizenship /Human  Rights Education.” While working on my PhD thesis, I developed a second course, “Legislation on Education,” becoming the first legal scholar in Armenia studying the  legal aspects of the right to higher education. During the last decade, I’ve published approximately 25 articles in peer review journals and a book. However, the most important writing for me, was that I was asked to write comments on the 39 article of the Armenian Constitution, to be published on the 15th anniversary of the Constitution by the Constitutional Court of Armenia.

In recent years, I changed my academic interests to constitutional basis of government control, and published several articles on the topic in different countries and languages. In 2010, after successful completion of a year long course organized by the Council of Europe, I passed the Armenian Bar Exam and received a certificate allowing me to practice law in the courts. In 2011, I received a  scholarship from IREX to conduct research on university financing and government control procedures at SUNY Plattsburgh. This was the first time I visited  the U.S. and it was a life changing experience for me. In 2013, I received a Fulbright scholarship, and as I learned later, I am the first lawyer from Armenia to receive one. I feel very honored and inspired by this fact.

How would you describe your job to other people?

During my first visit to the U.S., I came to the Library of Congress.  From this time forward, I began to hear about research possibilities here, and I realized that it was my dream to find an opportunity to become a visiting scholar at the Library.

My job at the Law Library is to conduct research on the constitutional basis of government structure in the U.S., and based on my findings, develop a policy paper for Armenia on best practices for constitutional construction of governance. However, it is not the only goal of my research project in the U.S., as I also aim to draft a curriculum on the same subject to be taught at the university for MA and PhD students.

I believe scholarly research also consists of  information gathered by sharing ideas with other scholars/specialists and having their feedback.  Thus, I am greatly interested in networking with Law Library staff to get their thoughts and views as well. Conversely, I am excited to share my knowledge of Armenian law, government and politics to those interested here.

Why did you want to work at the Law Library of Congress?

 It is no secret that the Law Library of Congress maintains not only the biggest but the most comprehensive collections of legal material, but also employs the best specialists in their respective jurisdictions and fields.

During the application process, it was my great pleasure to contact Mr. Peter Roudik, Director of Global Legal Research, for the scholarship institutional invitation letter.  Mr. Roudik, through our discussions regarding research possibilities, helped me produce a better project proposal and real view of what and how to act during this fellowship. Thus, I could not imagine any other place in the U.S. to perform my research.

What is the most interesting fact you have learned about the Law Library of Congress?

Well, there are many things you cannot learn by viewing a website or reading a description about a place. So, I am most impressed with the people, the staff, who are so willing to help and assist. Also, I was surprised to learn that there were no Fulbright scholars at Law Library before.

 What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

Perhaps, it’s about my family. I have three sons and the oldest will be 16 next month.  We all love skiing and hope to find a slope nearby in winter.


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