By Jennifer Wheelock
UCLA plans to launch The Promise Armenian Institute, an entity that will establish a world-class research center and platform for public outreach about Armenia while integrating and expanding the university’s existing Armenian studies offerings and connections to that country.
“This institute will be UCLA’s new hub for all initiatives and research related to Armenia and the diaspora,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “It will energize the teaching of Armenian history and culture in addition to reaching out to Armenians and Armenian institutions through research and public programs.”
The first initiative of its size and scope, the interdisciplinary institute will have a home in the UCLA International Institute and will focus activities around two pillars. The first pillar is the Center for Armenian Studies, which will attract top faculty and visiting lecturers, support graduate and postdoctoral research on Armenian studies and provide funding for language classes. Building on an in-depth study of Armenian society, culture and history — including scholarship about the 1915 Armenian genocide and the worldwide diaspora — the center will provide the academic foundation for the institute’s second pillar, Programs for Public Impact.
Programs for Public Impact will coordinate new and ongoing projects in archaeology, the arts, business and law, engineering, health policy and medicine, information technology and social policy, leveraging UCLA’s expertise to strengthen communities in Los Angeles, in Armenia, and throughout the diaspora. Among existing UCLA efforts that already contribute to this mission are the Armenian Genome Project, which includes the study of genetics and familial diseases; faculty collaboration with the Armenian Health Ministry to improve the country’s public health; and cultural heritage partnerships with the National Library of Armenia on digital projects. Ongoing and future cultural programs include art exhibitions, film screenings, music performances and other events featuring Armenian artists.
The institute, which has been in the planning phase for several years, is being created with a $20 million gift from the estate of well-known philanthropist and entrepreneur Kirk Kerkorian. Before his death in 2015, Kerkorian financed and served as executive producer of the film “The Promise,” a personal passion project raising awareness of the 1915 Armenian genocide. When the movie opened in 2017, proceeds and gifts inspired by the campaign around the film supported a number of charitable causes, including The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law.
“The Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA, which will support students, alumni and faculty for generations, is a testament to Mr. Kerkorian’s generosity and extends his unparalleled legacy,” said Dr. Eric Esrailian, chief of UCLA Vatche & Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, a producer of “The Promise” and close friend of Kerkorian. “With this new institute, the university will continue to keep the promise to remember Armenia’s history, to recognize the impact Armenians are making at UCLA and in our community, and to facilitate scholarship and collaborations around the world in perpetuity.”
“The Promise” and the Emmy-nominated companion documentary “Intent to Destroy” have been used extensively in educational campaigns over the past two years, and in October, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide.
“The film ‘The Promise’ was Mr. Kerkorian’s gift to the Armenian people and the world. The Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA will continue the legacy,” said Kerkorian’s close friend and personal attorney Patricia Glaser, an executive producer of the film. “The Armenian genocide needs to be acknowledged and the Armenian culture needs to be allowed to flourish.”
“Kirk would be proud and thankful to UCLA for the fulfillment of The Promise Armenian Institute,” said Anthony Mandekic, Kerkorian’s estate executor, close friend and another executive producer of the film.
Campus and community leaders announced the new institute at a reception Tuesday. Attendees included businesswoman Kim Kardashian, “The Promise” actor Christian Bale, writer-director Terry George, producer Mike Medavoy, and tennis icon and philanthropist Andre Agassi.
“The new institute builds on a 50-year history of Armenian studies at UCLA, which started in the 1960s, and the university’s first endowed chair in the field in 1969,” said Cindy Fan, vice provost for international studies and global engagement. “Joining the International Institute’s other research centers on world regions and global issues, The Promise Armenian Institute will be a model of UCLA’s engagement with our global and local communities. This generous gift will benefit all of UCLA and beyond.”