Her Father’s Legacy

10.10.2018 von Katrin Löwe in People, Science, Research
Love brought her to Halle over 30 years ago. Nowadays, Dr Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan is a professor of Armenian studies who is fighting for the future of her subject.
Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan stands by the stone cross that was erected in Halle to commemorate the Armenian Genocide in 2015.
Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan stands by the stone cross that was erected in Halle to commemorate the Armenian Genocide in 2015. (Foto: Markus Scholz)

Her father once said, “I didn’t name you ‘Armenuhi’ for nothing”. Armenuhi, the Armenian. Bearer of an old and worthy culture. “It’s a legacy that has accompanied me throughout my life”, explains Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan. The Yerevan-born academic is now a professor of Armenian studies at the University of Halle and the director of the university’s Mesrop Research Centre for Armenian Studies, where German and Armenian researchers have been working on Armenian language, culture and history across multiple disciplines for the past 20 years. Both the professorship and research centre are unique in Germany.

The researcher is sitting in her office, surrounded by thousands of books, and talking about her career, which has also been shaped by her family. Her father co-founded the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan, “Matenadaran”, which holds a famous collection of handwritten texts. She used to go past it on her way home from school. Drost-Abgarjan spent a lot of time there following the early death of her mother. “I grew up in this atmosphere of ancient Armenian culture, which forms an essential part of world culture. I was always fascinated by it”, she says. So she studied Armenian philology, worked at the Academy of Sciences, and obtained her doctorate in classical philology and Byzantine studies in Moscow and Tbilisi in the mid-1980s.

She came to Halle in 1985. She had already been here ten years before as a member of a student brigade that helped to develop the area of Halle-Neustadt. This isn’t just where she met her future husband; she also liked the city steeped in over 1,000 years of history. She’s never regretted her move to Halle, she says. After her habilitation (qualification as a university lecturer) in 2003, Drost-Abgarjan was awarded a visiting professorship, funded by the German Academic Exchange Service,  in Armenian studies in 2010. She now works as an associate professor at the Oriental Institute. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with really excellent scholars throughout my career”, she says, having worked with people like Professor Sergej Averintsev in Moscow; the former seminar leader for Byzantine Studies at the University of Halle, Professor Peter Nagel; and the first director of the Mesrop Research Centre, Professor Hermann Goltz, who sadly passed away in 2010. She emphasises that following in his footsteps is a great responsibility. The Mesrop Research Centre not only deals with millennia-old culture, but also with the Armenian Genocide in recent history. Research into the genocide must continue, explains Drost-Abgarjan, highlighting that Turkey still denies the atrocity 100 years on. “All crimes must be brought to light and processed”.

Her own most important academic project has been the translation and exploration of the 1,000-page hymnal used by the Armenian Apostolic Church since the 5th century, having begun this project with Goltz. The researcher may refer to this as her “life’s work”, but she’s certainly not run out of plans. She’s currently helping to update the first historiographical work of Christianity, and she’s working on a dictionary of Middle Armenian. Her to-do list also includes a lexicon of Armenian culture. So the mother of two sons is left without much free time. The little time she does get is spent with languages. Drost-Abgarjan has a command of ten ancient languages, speaks fluent Armenian, Russian and German, and can even carry out academic work in French, English and Italian. Next up is Portuguese: One of her sons has just married a Portuguese woman.

But she has a great desire to return to her Armenian studies. When the so-called small disciplines were hanging in the balance at the University of Halle, she “fought like a lion”, explains Drost-Abgarjan. And with success. However, the 63-year-old director of the Research Centre will only be reassured when Armenian studies have been consolidated as a sustainable subject for study, teaching and research – with a full professorship. “Then I’ll be able to sit back and relax”.

Festive event and science conference

The Mesrop Centre for Armenian Studies at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a festive event and a science conference on 18 and 19 October. On Thursday, 18 October, high-ranking guests from Armenia as well as representatives of the state of Saxony-Anhalt are expected in the Löwengebäude.

Ihr eigenes wissenschaftlich größtes Projekt war die noch mit Goltz begonnene Übersetzung und Erforschung des Hymnariums der Armenischen Apostolischen Kirche, eines 1.000 Seiten umfassenden Gesangbuchs, das vom 5. Jahrhundert an bis heute in Nutzung ist. Die Forscherin spricht von einem Lebenswerk – was nicht heißt, dass sie keine Pläne mehr hat. Aktuell arbeitet sie an einer Aktualisierung des ersten historiographischen Werks des Christentums und einem Wörterbuch des Mittelarmenischen. Auf ihrer Liste steht auch noch ein Lexikon zur armenischen Kultur. Viel Freizeit bleibt der Mutter zweier Söhne da nicht. Die wenige verbringt sie unter anderem mit Sprachen. Drost-Abgarjan beherrscht zehn alte Sprachen, fühlt sich in Armenisch, Russisch und Deutsch zu Hause, kann wissenschaftlich auch in Französisch, Englisch oder Italienisch arbeiten. Nun folgt Portugiesisch: Einer ihrer Söhne hat gerade eine Portugiesin geheiratet.

Ein ganz großer Wunsch führt indes zurück zur Armenologie. Als kleine Fächer auch an der Uni Halle auf der Kippe standen, habe sie „gekämpft wie eine Löwin“, sagt Drost-Abgarjan. Mit Erfolg. Beruhigt ist die 63-jährige Mesrop-Leiterin aber erst, wenn die Armenologie als nachhaltiges Fach in Studium, Lehre und Forschung gestärkt ist – mit einer ordentlichen Professur. „Dann kann ich mich zurücklehnen.“

Professor Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan
Institute for Oriental Studies
phone: +49 345 55-24083
email: armenuhi.drost@orientphil.uni-halle.de

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