The University of California, Irvine (UCI) is now offering courses in Western Armenian. The idea for the quarterly course series proposed by Houri Berberian drew some skepticism at first, but enrollment in Armenian 1A quickly reached maximum capacity, according to the university’s official website.
When Houri Berberian became the Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair in Armenian Studies at UCI in 2016, she had a vision of what the School of Humanities program could become.
Photo: Steve Zylius / UCI
“It was very important for me and for the donors to teach Western Armenian – not because it’s better than Eastern Armenian or anything ridiculous like that, but because it’s dying,” Berberian says.
“This is the language that, in a sense, the genocide tried to eliminate by eliminating its speakers. So, it’s crucial historically for the descendants of Western Armenian speakers to be able to pass down the language,” she says.
With the success of the Western Armenian language series under her belt, Berberian is looking to the future. She hopes to build an Armenian studies center focused on the diaspora and to have an endowed chair for Armenian women and gender studies – the first of its kind.
In 2010, UNESCO declared Western Armenian an endangered language, largely because almost all of those speaking it are found in the Diaspora, either refugees or descendants of survivors of the 1915-1918 Armenian genocide.. In the Republic of Armenia, Eastern Armenian is now the primary language – and the only one taught in schools.
In January this year SIL International, the ISO 639-3 registrar decided to provide a separate “hyw” language code to Western Armenian.