IRVINE (UCInews) — Diran Apelian, UCI Distinguished Professor of materials science & engineering, and his wife, Seta, a retired orthodontist, recently funded a $100,000 endowment to support graduate students in UCI’s Armenian Studies Program. The couple is committed to keeping Armenian history and the Western Armenian language alive.

“The program itself, and what it stands for, is critical for the survival of the Western Armenian language,” said Diran Apelian. “We want to make sure that the Western Armenian language is sustained, and that, more importantly, young people who are in need will have the resources enabling them to study.”

Between 1915 and 1923, the Ottoman Empire systematically killed over a million Armenians in what is known as the Armenian Genocide. Survivors, including the Apelians’ ancestors, fled to safety and created new communities in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Compounding that diaspora, another byproduct of the Armenian Genocide is that the survival of the Western Armenian language is in jeopardy – UNESCO declared it an endangered language in 2010.

Western Armenian is rarely taught intergenerationally, with fewer descendants of genocide survivors who live outside of Armenia learning the language. UCI’s Armenian Studies program offers two years of instruction in Western Armenian. UCI’s School of Humanities has both undergraduate and graduate programs in Armenian history and a minor in Armenian Studies.

UCI’s Center for Armenian Studies hosts a variety of events to the community and public, including film screenings and book talks. It is led by Houri Berberian, professor of history and Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair in Armenian Studies. “The Apelians’ generous support will be a tremendous help to our graduate students as they pursue their research,” said Berberian. “Because of the far-reaching nature of academic publishing and dissemination of knowledge, the scholarship they produce will have a wide impact beyond the here and now.”

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