November 5, 2019 - 15:14 AMT
UCI gets funding for second-year Western Armenian course

Armenian-American ENT-otolaryngologist, UCI alumnus Noubar K. Ouzounian, MD is funding a second-year Western Armenian course in the University of California, Irvine.

Born and raised in Lebanon, Ouzounian is ethnically Armenian. Both sides of his family were displaced during the Armenian Genocide. His father’s family ended up in a refugee camp in Lebanon; his mother’s settled in Syria.

Ouzounian is invested in preserving the heritage and language of his ancestors. He has found that UCI, with its vibrant Armenian Studies Program, is playing a vital role in this preservation and is thus a worthy recipient of his support.

In 2017, at the Armenian church in Costa Mesa, Ouzounian attended a lecture given by Houri Berberian, professor of history and the Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair in Armenian Studies at UCI.

“She was just starting the Armenian Studies Program and she spoke about her vision to make it a dynamic center for the study of Armenian history and language. That’s what moved me to initially donate to the program,” he says.

In 2018, Berberian, with the help of many Armenian community members, launched a language series in Western Armenian.

This is important because the majority of Armenians were divided between the Russian and Ottoman empires in the 19th century. Two vernacular Armenian languages—Eastern and Western—developed independently of each other. UNESCO declared Western Armenian an endangered language in 2010, mainly because almost all those speaking it are either refugees or descendants of survivors of the genocide.

“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,” Berberian says.

Even the most ardent supporters of Western Armenian could not anticipate that the first-year language course offered at UCI would quickly reach maximum enrollment. Its popularity spurred the School of Humanities to seek funding for the 2019-20 academic year to secure the course for a second-year. It was Ouzounian who stepped in, making a generous donation to ensure it continued.