Avedis Sanjian

Professor of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures, Emeritus


On July 22, 1995, UCLA lost a truly great friend. Avedis K. Sanjian, an internationally respected pioneer in Armenian studies who helped make UCLA a major center for the discipline died at the age of 74.

The Turkish-born Sanjian earned two degrees in English: a bachelor's degree from the American University of Beirut in 1949 and a master's degree from the University of Michigan in 1950. In 1956, he became the first graduate student at Michigan to receive a doctorate in Near Eastern studies.

Sanjian's academic career began in 1957 with an appointment at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies as a postdoctoral research fellow in Armenian studies. During the four years (1957-61) of his postdoctoral fellowship, Sanjian researched and wrote his first book, The Armenian Communities in Syria under Ottoman Dominion, published by the Harvard University Press in 1965. In 1961, Sanjian was appointed assistant professor of Armenian studies at Harvard University?a milestone in the history of higher education in the United States, as it was the first full-time appointment in Armenian studies. At the urging of the noted Orientalist, the late Sir Hamilton Gibb, then Director of Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Sanjian developed the first curriculum of Armenological courses in the United States. It encompassed Armenian language, literature, and cultural history. While at Harvard, Sanjian also compiled A Grammar of Classical Armenian (Harvard University, 1963), to enable students to learn this ancient language.

In 1965, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), invited Avedis Sanjian to join its faculty as associate professor of Armenian studies. Three years later, he was promoted to the rank of full professor. The next milestone in his professional career came in 1969 when he was appointed to the newly created Chair for Armenian Studies at UCLA, the first ever endowed chair established at UCLA. At his suggestion in 1979, the Chair was named after the great medieval Armenian mystic poet Grigor Narekatsi. Also in 1969, Sanjian inaugurated the Graduate Program in Armenian Studies. His fourth book, Colophons of Armenian Manuscripts, 1301-1480: A Source for Middle Eastern History, was published in 1969 by the Harvard University Press.

From 1970 to 1974, Professor Sanjian served as chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, which had four undergraduate and seven graduate degree programs. During that time, he also worked on his monumental tome, A Catalogue of Medieval Armenian Manuscripts in the United States, which was published in 1976 by the University of California Press.

Professor Sanjian wrote 10 books and authored more than 40 articles in English and Armenian on various Armenological subjects published in scholarly journals. He was a founding member of the Society for Armenian Studies, an international organization dedicated to the promotion of Armenian Studies. He was the editor-in-chief of its scholarly publication the Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies, whose first issue won the “Best New Journal” award in 1985. He was also a member of various scholarly organizations and Armenian cultural organiz

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