Nshan Thomas Kesecker
When I first arrived in Armenia, I was not sure what would happen. I was headed to Yerevan State University’s Department of Oriental Studies as a Birthright Armenia volunteer. Since I graduated with my masters in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago in 2015, I had been interested in perhaps pursuing further studies in Armenia. For years, I had been interested in Armenian scholarship, especially in my field of study. In Western departments, Armenian sources (primary or secondary) are rarely utilized and are often not considered entirely. A major reason for this is that many Armenian scholars publish in Armenian or Russian, which are not considered to be main languages of international scholarship. One of my goals as a Luys scholar in 2015 was to help expose modern Armenian scholarship to a wider audience, so that Armenian scholars could have their work recognized more broadly.
To put it frankly, I did not know what to expect from Yerevan State University. Everything I had heard about it was negative. In fact, some were angry that I would try to go there expecting to gain anything positive from the experience. What I discovered, from the moment I first set foot in the Department of Iranian Studies, was an extremely warm, familial environment. Everyone in the department was encouraging and happy to help me do everything I could to succeed in Armenia. It was a department that I could thrive in and I have been able to accomplish exactly what I set out to do. After I finished volunteering with Birthright Armenia, I started working at the aforementioned department as a lecturer in Old Persian, was accepted into the department’s PHD program, and have also been translating academic articles from Armenian to English, editing, and publishing my own articles. In addition, I am starting a podcast that will be dedicated to Armenian topics called the Hayastan Podcast. You will be able to find the Hayastan Podcast on most podcast platforms and you can find the show here:
A lot of people, both from Armenia and from diaspora communities, ask me, “Why Armenia?” My reflexive response is, “Why not?”