Monday, December 26, 2016

Hagop Nalbandian and the American University of Armenia

It was sometime in 1915, in Marash, Cilician Armenia. The Armenian death marches were being held up for unknown reasons. They were waiting for newly discovered Armenians who were hiding from Turkish authorities. Sobbing mothers, entire families, young girls in groups were being betrayed. The Turkish authorities were running around like children finding hidden toys. There was an Armenian man who was betraying his fellow Armenians. The Turks were promising him riches and anything he wanted from the newly emptied Armenian homes. When the Turks were satisfied that they had found enough Armenians hiding from certain death, or worse, the Turks took the Armenian traitor and put him prominently at the front of the deportation group. The man violently protested to his Turkish overlords, yelling, “I did what you wanted.” The Turks said, “Yes you did, but how can we ever trust you again if this is what you do to your own people.” It's not known what “his” people did to him.

Hagop Nalbandian is not a traitor, but, wittingly or unwittingly, his statements seem identical to those that might be made by an agent provocateur. Twenty years ago he accomplished what no Turk could have. Using email and access to the Unix UseNet User Groups he single handedly killed a near decade-long effort to educate Turkish students and others on the genocide of the Armenians. At the time, it was the single longest-running debate on the internet (today those User Groups are called Google Groups). Nalbandian wanted that education done his way or no way. It ended up no way for he didn't have a way. Today, we find Nalbandian demanding education in Armenia be done his way or he will slander the Armenian higher education system. In an era of fake news, fake analysis, photoshopped images, this narcissist has found a new calling.

Nalbandian is now spearheading a campaign against the American University of Armenia (AUA). His charges are very serious and require a response. This is not an official AUA response, by any means. It is my response based on facts and references. Nalbandian posts his hatred of this institution on Facebook. He calls the AUA a pro-CIA/US/NATO nest of spies serving a Turkish agenda. He makes such claims with no proof to an otherwise unsuspecting audience.

Hagop Nalbandian claims, among other things:

1. The AUA is a CIA/US/NATO hub. As the basis for this claim Nalbandian says the idea for an AUA was initiated by Americans as well the western funding of reports and studies by the Political Science and International Affairs (PSIA) Program of the AUA. Even if the idea of the creation of the AUA were suggested by Americans – which it was not -- so what! I would ask Nalbandian for a list of those American AUA progenitors and have them state that it was their idea and not one which was suggested to them by local prominent Armenians. The following quote is taken from Wikipedia and has been there long enough for it to be edited and corrected. This information can be verified by contacting Armen Der Kiureghian, the current president of the AUA.

In 1989, Yuri Sarkissian, then rector of the Yerevan Polytechnic Institute, suggested to Armen Der Kiureghian, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, that an Armenian technical university based on the Western model ought to be established to foster educational progress in Armenia.” Thus, Nalbandian is wrong.

Why shouldn't the AUA accept funds for projects and studies that come from western sources? Has Nalbandian demonstrated that the AUA has rejected funding from non-western sources which could be evidence of pro-western bias? No, he has not. Nalbandian also needs to show that AUA's publications are used to influence the thinking of Armenians or the Armenian government. Nalbandian may claim the AUA has such influence, but we need to see his detailed survey data. Where is it?

Does any of what I have written just above prove that the AUA is not a nest of western spies? No, it does not. Nor has Nalbandian demonstrated that the AUA is a nest of spies. I would ask Nalbandian to compare the number of anti-Armenian studies and reports that come out of western institutions and compare that number to what he claims the AUA has purportedly generated. Part of the AUA record can be viewed here.

2. The AUA is anti-Yerevan State University (YSU) and anti-other Armenian universities. One need only review the number of professors and lecturers who teach at both the AUA and places such as YSU to begin countering this Nalbandian claim. A convenient place to start is here. Nalbandian should compare the cooperative record of the AUA, the Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University and the French University in Armenia before stating foolish conclusions. One can also look at an article on AUA-YSU cooperation on the YSU's own website: Clearly, Nalbandian does not know what he is talking about.

3. The AUA receives donations from American-Armenians whereas if the AUA didn't exist such donations would go to other institutions. We would need to see a double-blind survey of donor intention regarding this issue and salary spreadsheets of pay scales of the respective universities as a requirement to reach such a conclusion. Without such documents, Nalbandian's claims are again, baseless.

4. The AUA receives proceeds that would have gone to the AGBU Melkonian School in Cyprus, shutdown in 2005. Again, Nalbandian offers no proof for this claim. We would need to see AGBU's accounting records. If Nalbandian has them, we need to see them. There are news reports on the subject, but the conclusions made do not follow AGBU's statements made in this specific article. Nalbandian cannot base a claim on a guess and then have us assume his claim is accurate.

5. The AUA is corrupt and is a reflection of the general decadence in Armenian governance. I demand Nalbandian produce an example of a bribe or similar transgression indicative of systemic corruption at the AUA. There is a reason the AUA is a western accredited institution associated with the University of California system. If one wants to see a 2004 Wikileaks document on the subject, it is here or a study by Michigan State University. Nalbandian's claims fall short, again.

Finally, I am a lecturer at the AUA. One of the courses I teach is The Scientific Method and Critical Thinking. At less than half of Nalbandian's age, my students could easily rip Nalbandian's anti-Armenian arguments to pieces and be proud of doing so. Another self-serving Armenian, a reporter for the Kyiv Post, Armine Sahakyan, who also has nothing good or accurate to say about Armenia, was challenged to a debate by my students. She declined claiming she is not an expert. In her case, the goal is not to inform but to obfuscate and perhaps to pick up a convenient paycheck.

I ask members and readers of Nalbandian's Facebook page to ponder his motives. Why would he do this? What could he gain from such massive misinformation? In this era of mainstream media propaganda and fake news, knowledge and thinking is required, not jumping on some bandwagon.

I would invite Hagop Nalbandian for a debate in my class and take his place prominently at the front of the class and see what “his” people do to him.

David Davidian
Yerevan, Armenia