Richard G. Hovannisian, 1932-2023

ARISC’s Vice President Stephen Jones shares this remembrance of Richard Hovannisian, who died July 10, 2023, at the age of 90:

Richard Hovannisian.
Photo from USC Shoah Foundation

Richard Hovannisian, one of the titans in South Caucasian studies and a founding father of the field of Armenian Studies in the US, died at the age of 90 on July 10, 2023.  His scholarly achievements are extraordinary, and his legacy includes projects like the Armenian Genocide Oral History Project at UCLA, which back in the 1970s, presciently, recorded over 1000 survivor accounts of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.  His conference series – Historic Armenian Cities and Provinces – resulted in 15 edited volumes on the history and culture of Western Armenia and the Armenian diaspora. And then there are his scholarly works, such as his four-volume work, The Republic of Armenia (published between 1971-1996), an extraordinarily detailed exploration of the Armenian first republic between 1918-20 which leaves no archive untouched.  As with all his work, these four volumes provide a lucid, accessible, and balanced assessment of the Armenian Republic and its place in the world following WWI.  It is a masterpiece which any historian of the South Caucasus, certainly including myself, must carefully examine before starting his or her journey into 20th century South Caucasian history. Richard ran the program in modern Armenian and Near Eastern history at UCLA for decades and he mentored, guided, and promoted students and scholars of the region, who are now teachers and professors of Caucasian history throughout the world.

Richard was an ecumenical scholar, deeply invested in preserving Armenian culture and history, but never a narrow defender of official narratives of Armenian history.  He was critical when he needed to be with an intellectual compass firmly focused on his concern for a democratic as well as an internationally secure Armenian state.  President of the Society of Armenian Studies, he was also a founding member of the American Research Institute for the South Caucasus.  He understood that the Armenian republic’s fate was tied to the Caucasian region as well as to the broader world of the Armenian Diaspora.

When I first started my own work on Georgia in the late 1970s, I soon found myself on the UCLA campus, welcomed by Richard as someone who might be able shed light on the complicated history of Armenian-Georgian relations.  He, of course, knew far more than I did about the relationship between these two neighboring states. He brought me to multiple conferences and events in California over the years, where I was introduced to the well organized and powerful Armenian Diaspora, as well as to his family and his swimming pool!  I won’t forget his simplicity and his generosity. Like all scholars of the South Caucasus, I treasure his knowledge of the region, which was so gently and modestly expressed to nervous young scholars like me in the 1980s and 1990s.  Richard’s legacy to the field is truly exceptional and we will miss his warmth and especially those qualities of honesty and tolerance which he brought to his own scholarship and passed on to his students.

Stephen Jones

Director of the Program on Georgian Studies
Davis Center of Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University
ARISC Vice President