The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin served as the site for the first-ever “Global Armenian Library Conference,” which took place August 25-27 in Armenia, attracting heads of the most prestigious Armenian libraries in the world.
Under the auspices of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and with the support of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, Rachel Goshgarian, director of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, and the Rev. Fr. Asoghik Karapetian, the head of archives at Holy Etchmiadzin, organized an event that fostered dialogue and discussion about library organization and cataloguing as well as book preservation and digitization. The conference was the first cultural program to take place in Armenia as part of the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Armenian printing press.
The three-day conference was held in the Old Theological Seminary at Holy Etchmiadzin. The first day consisted of brief presentations by the participants on their specific collections, detailing the history and contents of each collection, and their current cataloguing system, digitization program, and acquisitions methods. Formal academic presentations were made on the second day, and covered topics including library organization, book distribution, digitization, and preservation. Participants traveled to Noravank Monastery on the third day, where they participated in a roundtable discussion led by Professor Kevork Bardakjian.
A dinner in Yerevan provided a final opportunity for the participants to discuss the concerns and ideas raised in a more casual atmosphere. His Holiness Karekin II attended the final dinner and praised the participants and their works. Remembering the importance of the libraries of his childhood, he reflected on the holy nature of books.
At the dinner’s conclusion, Fr. Asoghik thanked the participants for attending and sharing their knowledge and experience, and spoke enthusiastically about future concrete collaborations between the libraries.
“I think it’s time well spent simply to get us all in one room at one time to meet each other face to face and talk to each other. That in and of itself was groundbreaking work and extremely worthwhile,” said Michael Grossman, a library assistant in the Middle Eastern division of the Widener Library at Harvard University.
Hasmik Poghosyan, the minister of culture of Armenia, and Hranush Hakobyan, the minister of diaspora, welcomed and participated in the conference. Both ministries pledged their support for future endeavors. On the evening of August 25, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Marie Yovanovitch, held a reception in her Yerevan home for the participants.
The Very Rev. Fr. Nareg Louisian of the Bzommar Armenian Catholic Clergy Institute in Lebanon concurred about the value of bringing together the heads of Armenian libraries from around the world. “This was indeed an historic conference and greatly useful to all of us. In addition, I am enthusiastic about working with fellow heads of Armenian libraries around the world,” he said.
Aside from participants coming together for the first time to discuss important issues and the challenges they face in their respective libraries, the event set the stage for future cooperation among these organizations.
“After attending this conference, I have a greatly renewed sense of hope of cooperation among Armenian libraries and of someday everyone having access to materials that have been for far too long completely inaccessible,” said Edward G. Matthews, representing North America’s St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.
In the coming months, both a list serve for conference participants and a general website for Armenian libraries and collections will be created.
The following libraries were represented at the conference: the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the Catholicate of Cilicia, the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Jerusalem, the Mkhitarian Brotherhoods of Venice and Vienna, the Bzommar Armenian Catholic Clergy Institute, the Mesrob Mashdots Manuscript Repository, the National Library of Armenia, the National Archives of Armenia, the Fundamental Library of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, Yerevan State University, Harvard University’s Widener Library, the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), the British Library, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Art, the Abovian Armenian National Library, the AGBU Nubarian Library, the American University of Armenia, the National Children’s Library of Armenia, the Avedik Isahakyan Central Library, the Armenian Library and Museum of America, the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research, the Armenian Cultural Foundation, the Armenian Prelacy, and many of the regional libraries of Armenia.
Taleen Babayan interviewed Rachel Goshgarian regarding this conference in September, 2009.
TB: What were the steps you took in organizing the conference?
RG: When I first proposed the idea to Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, he was very enthusiastic. When I suggested the conference take place in Armenia at the Mother See, Archbishop Barsamian discussed this idea with His Holiness Karekin II, and Vehapar was not only interested, he gave us his blessing to proceed with preparations. He then appointed the Rev. Fr. Asoghig Karapetian, who is the head of the archives at the Mother See, to organize the conference with me and the two of us began preparations.
TB: What was the significance of the conference?
RG: It was a major first step. One of the most interesting realizations we made was that most of the people who head up Armenian libraries or collections have no training whatsoever in library sciences. Most are highly educated individuals with a background in history or literature, and most of us have learned about organizing libraries and preserving books etc., either through our own individual research or through conversations with trained librarians.
The Armenian tradition of printing goes back many centuries. Even the smallest of our library collections has a very impressive range of books and publications. All of the heads of these libraries and collections care deeply for Armenian heritage and culture, and for that reason, this meeting was both useful and reassuring. Oftentimes, it seems that not only in Armenia, but in the Diaspora, and amongst non-Armenians, books and reading have taken a second seat to other forms of learning and technology. But sitting in a room with other individuals who have dedicated their lives to books and to making Armenian literature and history available was a powerful experience, especially since we were there together at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
TB: Who helped you organize the conference?
RG: Putting together this conference was indeed the result of great efforts by many people. First, His Holiness Karekin II offered his enthusiasm, his blessing, and his inspiration for the conference. Archbishop Barsamian championed this idea from the very beginning. I am truly impressed by our church leadership in that it continues to recognize the importance of Armenian learning and preservation of Armenian heritage, as it always has.
At the Zohrab Center, I was not alone in organizing the conference. My colleague Taleen Babayan from the very beginning brainstormed with me and undertook a lot of the organizational preparation for the conference. One of the best things about this conference was working with the members of the brotherhood of Holy Etchmiadzin, and realizing just how capable this newly trained generation of priests is. Fr. Karapetian was extremely organized and did an excellent job of managing the participation of the Mother See. Very Rev. Fr. Mushegh Babayan [no relation to Taleen Babayan] provided excellent support and enthusiastic direction. This conference truly was a team effort and one that all of us are proud to have organized together.
The following libraries were represented at the conference: the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the Catholicate of Cilicia, the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Jerusalem, the Mkhitarian Brotherhoods of Venice and Vienna, Bzommar Armenian Catholic Clergy Institute, the Mesrob Mashdots Manuscript Repository, the National Library of Armenia, the National Archives of Armenia, the Fundamental Library of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, Yerevan State University, Harvard University’s Widener Library, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), the British Library, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Art, the Abovian Armenian National Library, the AGBU Nubarian Library, American University of Armenia, the National Children’s Library of Armenia, the Avedik Isahakyan Central Library, Armenian Library and Museum of America, National Association of Armenian Studies and Research, Armenian Cultural Foundation, Armenian Prelacy, and many of the regional libraries of Armenia.