PALESTINE — Birzeit University mourns the death of historian, politician, and storyteller Albert Aghazarian, a professor of history and former director of the university’s Public Relations Office, who passed away on January 30, 2020.
Known mostly as a historian, teacher, and storyteller, Aghazarian was a fluent speaker of Arabic, English, French, Armenian, Hebrew, Turkish, and some Spanish. He graduated from Birzeit College in 1970 and took on the leadership of the university’s Public Relations Office in 1979, holding this position until 2002.
Aghazarian stood out when he coordinated the Palestinian delegation’s media efforts at the 1991 Madrid Conference alongside Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. Always ready to address and face great challenges, especially at Birzeit University, he defended the Palestinian cause and Palestinians’ rights also at international conferences and on trips around the world.
When in 1980 Military Order 854 had been issued by Israel, placing institutions of higher education under the command of the Israeli military governor, Aghazarian stood up against this decision. He defended the right of academic freedom that includes the right of international academics to obtain working visas in Palestine. Aghazarian, with the university’s team under the guidance of the late Gabi Baramki, played a significant role in efforts to uplift the educational system under occupation, defying curfews and closures imposed by the Israeli occupation authorities.
Knowing the history of every corner in Jerusalem, Aghazarian also led international tourists on tours through the city, telling its stories, teaching them about its significance, and reinforcing the national identity and culture of Palestinians.
Albert Aghazarian was born in 1950, in the Armenian quarter of the Holy City, to parents who fled the 1915 genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman government. He studied first in Jerusalem and Ramallah, before leaving for Beirut, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in 1972 and obtain his master’s degree in Arab and Islamic studies at Georgetown University. In 1979, upon his return from Washington, D.C., he joined Birzeit University as a lecturer in cultural studies and was soon assigned director of public relations.
He was the deputy editor of the daily Al-Quds, between 1973 and 1976 and a founding member of the Arab Intellectual Forum, in 1977, in Jerusalem.
Aghazarian was awarded a medal by King Albert II of Belgium, taking his place among the fifty highly influential people honored by the king. After his retirement from the university, Aghazarian conducted research, delivered lectures, and provided simultaneous translation for conferences, symposiums, and high-level political meetings.
With charisma, a solid understanding of the importance of communication, and his ability to deliver effectively relevant information and messages, Aghazarian has contributed greatly to the evolvement of Birzeit University. His readiness to share his vast knowledge and witty sense of humor will be missed greatly.