Born in Fresno in 1932 and raised in Tulare, California, his family immigrated to the United States as Armenian Genocide survivors. His Father, Kaspar Gavroian, was born in 1901 in the village of Bazmashen, near Kharpert in Western Armenia. His Mother Siroon would often welcome Armenian families who lived in the area, many of whom were from the same villages in Armenia, filling their home with stories of survival, capturing the closeness of the Armenian community. Stories of faces, names, happy days and moments of struggle became organic to his childhood. With their shared experiences, his mother and father would raise a son, who would go on to immortalize the history of the Armenian people with his work, and along with his siblings, young Richard would carry on carving out new spaces of acknowledgment of those who came before him. Making a commitment to documenting Armenian history created the groundwork for modern Armenian Genocide Education programs. It is poignant to know that years later, Dr. Hovannisian would serve as a consultant to the California State Board of Education, most famously authoring the chapter on the Armenian Genocide in the State’s Social Studies Model Curriculum on Human Rights and Genocide.
A Guggenheim Fellow, Dr. Hovannisian received many honors for his scholarship, civic activities, and advancement of Armenian Studies in America and around the world. As a founder and six-time president of the Society for Armenian Studies, he served on the editorial boards of five journals and on the Boards of Directors of ten scholarly and civic organizations up until this past year, maintaining his spirit of giving through research, teaching and scholarship. During his career, he gave hundreds of lectures and participated in numerous international forums and in the media on Armenian issues. Dr. Hovannisian represented the State of California on the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) from 1978 to 1994, ahead of his work to shape the curriculum of Armenian Genocide Studies in schools.
As a proud Armenian native of California, Dr. Hovannisian became Professor Emeritus of Armenian and Near Eastern History and was the past Holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. He received his B.A. and M.A. in history from the University of California, Berkeley, and Ph.D. in history from UCLA. A member of the UCLA faculty since the 1960s, he organized both the undergraduate and graduate programs in Armenian History and served as the Associate Director of UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies from 1978 to 1995. He has also served as a distinguished visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, California State University, Fresno, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, University of California, Irvine, Chapman University, and University of Southern California.
Dr. Hovannisian was the recipient of encyclicals and medals from the Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin I and Garegin II and from the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, Karekin II and Aram I. In 1990, he became the first social scientist living abroad to be elected to the Armenian National Academy of Sciences.
He received honorary doctorates from Yerevan State University and Artsakh State University and was also awarded the Movses Khorenatsi Medal by the Republic of Armenia and the Henry Morgenthau Medal by the Armenian Genocide Museum and Institute.
For his impactful career and commitment to community service, he was honored by the Armenian Educational Foundation, Armenian National Academy of Science, Facing History and Ourselves Foundation, Jewish World Watch, Hamazkayin, Tekeyan, and Nor Serount Cultural Associations, the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region, Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, California State University, UCLA Friends of the Narekatsi Chair, Armenian Bar Association, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research, Society for Armenian Studies, and Armenian Professional Society, among many other organizations.
As a man regarded as a philosopher of history and Armenian Studies, Hovannisian received commendations from the U.S. Congress, California State Legislature, Los Angeles City Council, Fresno City Council, and Fresno County Board of Supervisors for his achievements during more than fifty years of teaching, research, writing, and lecturing worldwide about Armenian History, culture, and current matters of importance to the Armenian people.
In 2019 he was honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and in 2020 he received the Legacy Award from the ANCA-WR Education Committee.
One of the most admirable aspects of his legacy is the fact that as a scholar, he dedicated his life to chronicling the 1915 Armenian Genocide, as he amassed and donated more than 1,000 survivor and witness testimonies to the USC Shoah Foundation which were accumulated from the Oral History Project he created.
One of his most endearing honors came in 2011, when he was named “Most Inspiring Teacher” by the UCLA Alumni Association. In 2018, he was honored by the City of Lyon, France, and received the title of “Prince of Cilicia” from His Holiness Aram I.
“Dr. Richard Hovannisian’s life and work continue to inspire generations of Armenians,” said ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq. “Though he is physically no longer with us, he has left an indelible mark on the Armenian experience, and his legacy will continue through the people who knew and respected him and the millions who can and will access his work to learn from him at this pivotal moment in our history,” she added.
For more information about the wonderful life and legacy of the incomparable Dr. Richard Hovannisian, and to purchase tickets for the 2023 ANCA-Western Region Awards Gala, please click here.
The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region is the largest and most influential nonpartisan Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues in pursuit of the Armenian Cause.
Katy Simonian is a member of the 2023 ANCA-Western Region Awards Gala Committee.