Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Armenia and Me: A Lesson in Diversity, LDS Missionary Work, and Librarianship

The LDS Church has begun to take an interest in Armenia in the last twenty years. In August 2006 Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder Jon M. Huntsman Sr., Area Seventy and Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Seventy went there on a twelve-day tour to rekindle relations with the Armenian President.

The Liahona in 2007 reported: "mong the highlights of the visit was meeting Armenia’s president Robert Kocharian in his palace in Yerevan. The president is a longtime friend of Elder Huntsman, a friendship nurtured during the past 18 years as Elder Huntsman made extensive humanitarian contributions to rebuild the country following the devastation of the 1988 earthquake, which killed, injured, or left homeless more than one-third of the country’s three million people.

The one-hour visit to the presidential palace drew national press coverage as Elder Huntsman updated the president on plans for a cancer hospital to be built in the capital city.

The Church leaders were hosted by the Armenian Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanian, who met them upon arrival. He accompanied Elder Ballard and the others during their stay, which included a visit to the city of Gyumri, where schoolchildren greeted the Church leaders and showed their appreciation for the donations from Elder Huntsman that helped build their school. The Church leaders also visited high-rise apartments that were built and donated by the Huntsman family. Elder Huntsman, his son Peter Huntsman, and associate David Horne began humanitarian work in Armenia in 1988. Their efforts helped lead to the recognition of the Church in 1994.

Approximately 800 of the 2,000 members of the Church in Armenia were able to attend the member meeting with Elder Ballard and Elder Tingey." The LDS Church is beginning to be a presence in Armenia.

I also have developed a relationship with Armenians in an interesting but different independent way.

Back in 1982 when I was a graduate assistant to Lamar Barrett who had me research the Church in the Middle East primarily in Greece, Turkey and Armenia. Brother Berrett was very interested in my history training and wanted me to help him on a book he hoped to one day publish. He told me that his research assistant was quiting and would I be interested in working for him. He was writing a history of the Armenian Mission. He wanted me to start research on it since he didn't have much time to do much on it.

I was given an office which I shared with Spencer J. Palmer's assistant, Richard Lloyd Anderson's assistant and Truman Madsen's assistant. Bruce Satterfield was one of the assistants and Larry Price was the other but I can't remember who they worked for now. In my office there was a bunch of notebooks on pioneer heritage and some manuscript documents on the Armenian Mission. I came to know names like Jacob Spori, Badwagon Paranian and Joseph W. Booth both early missionary to Armenia. Joseph W. Booth has ten diaries in the Mormon Missionary Diary Collection at BYU. Booth had served three missions in the area in Greece, Turkey and Armenia. I know Lamar Barrett was instrumental in helping them acquire them. He had contacted many of their descendants. They were some of Lamar's favorite people and he would mention them often when he would check up on my library research. He was always enjoying telling people stories about these early missionary pioneers. He and I made trips to the HBLL Library and the Church Archives in Salt Lake City.

He had a lot of research completed on the Middle East but was always too busy to sit down and write it. He told me he had too many irons in the fire. I started writing but only wrote twenty or thirty pages. Ilhan Yildiz has a brief paper Missionary Work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Middle East that describes a few of these people. I see that he finally had Blair Van Dyke sit down and write the book using his research. Kelly Odgen helped spruce it up. Now they know there was lot of research done by dozens of graduate assistants also. The book was finally published in 2005 as Holy Lands A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Near East, American Fork, UT.: Covenant Books, 2005.

Lamar Berrett in an interview with Alexander Baugh before he died in 2007 described his writing the book: "I’m working with Blair Van Dyke on a book we’ve titled, A History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Near East. We’re just about through with that and then we’ll be banging on the door of a publisher. And the reason we’re doing that together–the two of us–is because in the early 1970s I did all the necessary research to write this book. But I haven’t been able to write it up. One day I was in Wyoming going over the Mormon Trail with some of the BYU faculty and teachers and I said, “I’ve got all this research done, if any of you want to be a writer, see me.” So Blair saw me, and he said, “I want to do it, I’m interested in the Near East.” So he’s been working on it for five years, and I mean that’s a lot of work. But I got the original sources."

This experience with Lamar Berrett developed a love in me for the plight of the Armenian people. Armenia borders Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and the Nakhchivan exclave of Azerbaijan to the south. Wickipedia describes the Armenian genocide that occurred in the early twentieth century: "In 1915, the Ottoman Empire systematically carried out the Armenian Genocide, during which 1.5 million Armenians perished. The ethnic cleansing of Armenians during the final years of the Ottoman Empire is a genocide, with one wave of massacres in the years 1894 to 1896 culminating in the events of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 -1923."

In 1996 I was hired at San Diego State University--Calexico Campus to be the director of the library. That year I was able to have my way paid to the American Library Association meeting. I had been co-authoring articles and a book with Patricia Beilke, a member of my doctoral committee at Ball State University. Dr. Beilke was a multicultural expert on Hispanic and East Asian children and literacy so she handled my cognate in services to multicultural population. She took me to a meeting at Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT). There I met Sylvia Monoogian and Araxie P. Churukian, two Armenian librarians. Sylvia Manoogian, was a librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library and Araxie P. Churukian was a librarian at UC Riverside both ladies were proactive in trying to help the struggling libraries back in Armenia. Having done research on Badwagon Paranian and reading Joseph Booth's diary in the Mormon Diary Project I was intrigued by the stories they told me of their people's struggle. I was soon drafted into EMIERT as the head of the collection development committee and the next year elected to its governing board.

As a result of my Armenian interest Sylvia Manoogian invited me to a meeting for those interested in Armenian library issues. I told her I wasn't Armenian but she told me that didn't matter as long as I had a love for the Armenian people. I was one of the six people to attend the group's first historic meeting. The American Library Association's Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (ALA/EMIERT) Armenian Librarians and Libraries Information Circle (ALLIC) Task Force held its inaugural meeting on Sunday, June 29, 1997, during the ALA Annual Conference held in San Francisco. ALLIC (or wave in Armenian) was granted official committee status at the Midwinter 1999 meeting and accordingly changed its name to the Armenian Librarians and Libraries Information Committee. In 2006 Sylvia was awarded the John Ames Humphry/OCLC/Forest Press Award for for her tireless efforts to rebuild the Gulbenkian Library of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, her contributions as a consultant to libraries and librarians in Armenia, and the cooperative spirit she has fostered among librarians from the nations of the Caucasus. I attended their meetings for about four or five years. Whenever I attend the ALA annual meeting I like to go to ALLIC to see my friends.

Because of my work in LDS history for Lamar Berrett I was able to play a small role in the formation of this library group which does such worthwhile work. The group though few in numbers does a great work in cataloging the church books and records in Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem. With a few funds they could do much more. If I had better connections in the LDS Church I would have them helped ALLIC. Sylvia Manoogian and Araxie Churukian are devoted and have sacrificed all they possess in preserving their heritage. I have a great love for them and what they stand for. They have motivated me to be a better LDS.

It is interesting what can spark our interest and make us conscious of the story of others. Good things are done throughout this world and we need to praise others for their efforts. I am proud to be their friend. I thank Lamar Berrett for developing my love for the Armenian people. That small seed has helped me to become one of the leading researchers in diversity issues helping K-8 educators learn about other cultures and made me the technology editor of the Multicultural Review.


Ron and Peggy said...

I loved your blog about the Armenian people. My husband is Armenian (BYU Graduate) and they are a warm, delightful, spiritual people. We are planning a trip to Armenia in September and I'm wondering if you can point me in the direction of a good tour book or tour operator.
Many thanks!

Ron and Peggy said...

I loved your blog about the Armenian people. My husband is Armenian (BYU Graduate) and they are a warm, delightful, spiritual people. We are planning a trip to Armenia in September and I'm wondering if you can point me in the direction of a good tour book or tour operator.
Many thanks!