Prof. Nina G. Garsoian,1923-2022: A Pioneering Scholar and MentorNAASR joins with a community of scholars and friends around the world who mourn the passing of one of the titans of the field of Armenian Studies: Prof. Nina G. Garsoian 1923-2022). No short overview can do justice to Prof. Garsoian’s enormous contributions as a researcher, teacher, mentor, and exemplar.
For much of the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st, Garsoian helped to shape the study of Armenian history and the development of Armenian Studies as a whole, trained many scholars who have gone on to make significant contributions to the field, and wrote foundational works of scholarship.
A NAASR member for more than 60 years and a longtime member of its Academic Advisory Committee, Garsoian was, along with Prof. Richard Hovannisian, given the NAASR Founders’ Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Armenian Studies on the occasion of the organization’s 60th anniversary, celebrated in 2016. At that time, Hovannisian remarked that “Nina Garsoian is, for me, a role model … She is truly a pioneer.” Garsoian herself, in an inspiring recorded message shown at the celebration, commenting both on NAASR and the field of Armenian Studies, declared that “We were there at the beginning, this is not even the middle, and we hope it will go on for a long time to come.”
Nina G. Garsoian was Gevork M. Avedissian Professor Emerita of Armenian History and Civilization at Columbia University. She was born in Paris to Armenian émigrés from Russia and arrived with her family in New York in 1933. She received her BA from Bryn Mawr College 1943, and her MA and PhD from Columbia University in 1946 and 1958 in Byzantine, Near Eastern and Armenian History. According to a report published in 1958 by Dr. Armen Jerejian, then the head of Armenian Studies at Columbia, Garsoian’s doctoral work on the Paulician heresy was “the first time that such a scholarly work based on Armenian sources was accepted as a doctoral dissertation” by Columbia University. (Photos: Top: Nina Garsoian with Robert Thomson and Emmanuel Varandyan at a NAASR banquet,1964; Bottom: Garsoian speaking at the 1964 NAASR International Conference on the Armenian Language)
In 1962, Garsoian began teaching at Columbia on a visiting basis. In 1965 Garsoian was made assistant professor and NAASR’s decade-long support of the Armenian Studies program at Columbia began, followed by additional support from the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), thus allowing the Armenian program to exist on a full-time basis and to become a training ground for a new generation of scholars. In 1969 she was named full professor, and in 1973 Garsoian became the chair of the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures. She was appointed as the initial holder of the chair in Armenian History and Civilization at Columbia upon its establishment in 1979 and held the position until her retirement in 1993.
Professor Garsoian also taught at Smith College and served as the first female dean of the Graduate School at Princeton University (1977-79) and a trustee of the Ford Foundation. She was a long-serving director of the Revue des Études Arméniennes in Paris and was a co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. She was also a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and a corresponding fellow of the British Academy. (Photo: Garsoian speaking at a NAASR banquet in 1993, with Avedis Sanjian and Paul Boghosian)
In 1974, with Richard Hovannisian, Dickran Kouymjian, Avedis Sanjian, and Robert Thomson, she was a founding member of the Society for Armenian Studies and became its first president. In 2019 she received the SAS Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition and appreciation of her outstanding service and contribution to the field of Armenian Studies.
Among Garsoian’s many publications are The Paulician Heresy (1967), Armenia Between Byzantium and the Sasanians (1985), The Epic Histories (Buzandaran Patmut‘iwnk‘) (1989), and Interregnum: Introduction to a Study on the Formation of Armenian Identity (2012), and a memoir, De Vita Sua (2011).
(Photo: Garsoian with NAASR's Sarah Ignatius and Marc Mamigonian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018)