CHSS Discussion
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CHSS Hosts Discussion on Stalin’s Camps in Akeldama Book Series by Vache Sargsyan

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YEREVAN, Armenia — On November 20, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) of the American University of Armenia (AUA) and Ashot Johannissyan Research Institute in the Humanities co-hosted the third and final session of the discussion series on research projects implemented at the Institute. At the core of these research endeavors is the express intent to tackle complex issues of modernization within Armenian social and cultural life. 

This panel discussion covered Vache Sargsyan’s Akeldama book series and featured CHSS Adjunct Assistant Professor Dr. Siranush Dvoyan and Assistant to the AUA President on Academic Affairs and Associate Professor at CHSS Dr. Vahram Ter-Matevosyan. 

In his opening remarks, Dr. Ter-Matevosyan highlighted the importance of this series that aimed to reinstate discussions on various topics in the social sciences. The first panelist was Dr. Dvoyan, who introduced the Akeldama book series and spoke about how it was adopted as a project since the founding of the Johannissyan Institute in 2014. While studying the notes by unknown author Vache Sargsyan, Dr. Dvoyan realized that there is a lack of information about Armenians’ experiences in Stalin’s camps. Hence, she made a commitment to study Sargsyan’s archives and publish the Akeldama book series.  

Sargsyan was exiled in 1941, after graduating from school at age 17. He was sent to Siberia initially for 10 years, which was subsequently extended by a few more years to 1956. The book describes the brutality and harsh conditions prisoners endured in Stalin’s camps, starting from the extreme cold conditions to psychological abuse. The first book recounts the author’s journey in Stalin’s camps, while the second illustrates his imaginary conversations with Sonya Karol, his lost love, and depicts Sargsyan’s descent into madness. Eventually, he commits suicide in 1987 putting an end to his severe pain and suffering from illness. Even his suicide was committed in a way that was common in Stalin’s camps. 

Dr. Ter-Matevosyan remarked that the book is written in perfect Armenian and its various dialects add a unique touch to the book. There are numerous characters in the book and, despite the depiction of severe scenes in Stalin’s camps, it is rich in humor, too. Dr. Ter-Matevosyan also expressed the potential of turning this book into a textbook so students better understand what it meant to survive Stalin’s camps.

The discussion was followed by an engaging Q&A session, which provided the opportunity for guests, students, and faculty members to delve deeper into the specific context and period of the author’s life. 

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.