From Post-Soviet Studies to Armenianology

By Kotchikian, Asbed | Demokratizatsiya, April 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

From Post-Soviet Studies to Armenianology

Kotchikian, Asbed, Demokratizatsiya

This article is an attempt to map the field of Armenian studies and studies on Armenia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. To manage this task, I trace the developments the literature on post-Soviet independent Armenia has undergone through a mix of reviewing and analyzing published material from the field of Armenian studies. Although this exercise might have loopholes and may not be inclusive, it should serve as a stepping stone for scholars wishing to venture into the field of Armenian studies or utilize Armenia as a case study for research in their respective disciplines.

Armenian Studies or Armenianology?

Labeling the studies conducted on modern Armenia can be accomplished by utilizing techniques used to define the field studying the Soviet Union. Beginning in the mid-1960s and continuing well into the early 1980s, a great number of texts attempted to address the conceptual/methodological difference between "Soviet studies" and "Sovietology."1 Ironically, it was the end of the subject of the study-the Soviet Union-that made it possible to develop finite parameters of what was meant by these two terms. Aryeh L. Unger made one of the clearest distinctions in an article published in 1998:

Sovietology concerns first and foremost the study of Soviet politics thus making it a field or sub-discipline of political science. While not the exclusive preserve of political scientists, specialists from other disciplines-history, economics, sociology, law, among others-may be considered as practicing Sovietology to the extent that their work touches on aspects of politics.2

He continued:

"Soviet Studies" suggests itself as an obvious candidate for the generic term designating studies in the humanities and social sciences that have the Soviet Union as their object, leaving "Sovietology" as the specific term designating the study of Soviet politics.3

Furthermore, by looking into the classic definitions of area studies' goals, one observes four main trends: (1) providing knowledge of practical value about important world areas, (2) providing students and scholars with awareness of cultural relativity, (3) presenting an understanding of social and cultural entities as they exist in areas, and (4) furthering the development of a universal social science.4

Based on these classifications and the distinction between "ologies" and area studies, it might be possible to operationalize the concepts of Armenian studies and Armenianology, as well as include the various publications dealing with post-Soviet Armenia under one or both of the two categories. The problem of Armenian studies, however, is that its lack of structure prohibits a multidisciplinary approach utilizing the various social sciences and language instructions, supplemented with strong supporting courses in history, government, or religion.5 Instead, those scholars dealing with Armenian issues have chosen to observe and analyze problems from the prism of a single discipline, pigeonholing their concerns and thus rendering the field as Armenianology rather than Armenian studies.

This phenomenon is peculiar considering that there are more than a dozen chairs of Armenian studies outside of Armenia scattered all over the United States and the world, and it is expected that these chairs promote the development of robust Armenian studies programs. The problem with this expectation is that most of these chairs focus their scholarly effort on specific issues, such as medieval history, art, language, or literature, and do not bring together resources from a range of disciplines to enable various methodologies to simultaneously answer a given question. Concordantly, post-Soviet Armenian studies have remained within the realm of social sciences' political branches, entrenching most studies dealing with modern Armenia within the field of Armenianology.

A Country and Its Study Defined by Conflict

The convergence of the Soviet Union's collapse, Armenian independence, and the rise of the Karabakh movement provided many historians, political scientists, and sociologists fertile ground to study the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and use it as transitory scholarship to venture into and define the field of Armenianology. …

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From Post-Soviet Studies to Armenianology


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