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Christians in the Muslim World

The great heritage of Armenian culture

The first activities that were to form the basis for the foundation of the Centre for the Study and Conservation of Armenian Culture sprang from a meeting of groups of Italian and Armenian scholars and architects who, based at the Polytechnic of Milan, and starting in the academic year 1967-68, organised a series of research missions to study Armenian architecture in Anatolia. These missions received strong support from the governing body of the section for scientific and technological cooperation of the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. To this first group of scholars belonged Prof. Adriano Alpago-Novello, Prof. Harutiun Kasandgian, the engineer Armen Manoukian and the architect Herman Vahramian in Italy itself, and the architect Armen Zarian who had recently moved to Armenia.



In the autumn of 1968 a Department of Armenian Studies was created at the Institute of Humanities at the Faculty of Architecture of the Polytechnic of Milan, and this soon broadened the field of research by adopting a comparative approach. A collection which was rare for its time of evidence, photographs, icons, books and historical records of an artistic kind concerned with the medieval monuments of Armenia, began to be assembled by this department.


With the setting in motion of a study on the architecture of Georgia in 1969, the area of research was broadened to the whole of the region of the Caucuses and the department took on the name of 'The Centre for Caucasian Studies'.



In February 1976, Prof. Alpago-Novello proposed to the Armenian community of Milan the project of creating a Centre for Armenian Studies, with its own buildings, its own research staff and its own independent administration and funds in order to assure the best possible conservation or continual study of the material that already existed or of material that was presently being gathered. The Manoukian, Serapian and Pambakian families welcomed the idea and agreed to take on the financial responsibilities for the centre. In June of the same year the Centre for the Study and Conservation of Armenian Culture (CSDCA) was established in Milan, with its address at Via Melzi d'Eril n. 6.



Ever since its foundation, this centre, which was for a time directed by Prof. Adriano Alpago Novello (who has recently died), has availed itself in Italy of the cooperation of a large number of scholars, amongst whom we may mention: Prof. Boghos Levon Zekiyan of the University of Venice, Dr. Giulio Leni of the Polytechnic of Turin, and Prof. Gabriella Uluhogian of the University of Bologna. From Armenia the Centre received the valuable cooperation of the architect Armen Zarian of the Armenian Academy of Sciences and the Erevan Nakhagitz Institute.


The graphic, photographic and bibliographic evidence and records that were gathered during the course of the various research missions that were engaged in from the 1960s onwards led to a series of publications. Of these the most prestigious have been the Documenti di architettura armena ('Documents of Armenian Architecture'): monographs of a scholarly character that provide complete records on individual Armenian monuments and their sites. The edition of each volume (this series included twenty-three volumes in all) required a patient work of cooperation between the scholars of the Centre and scholars who worked in Armenia.



The essays on the history of architecture that accompanied the large number of tables of discoveries and photographs were signed by Italian and Armenian researchers. The editing of the whole series was the work of the architect Herman Vahramian who in Milan accompanied such editorial activity with an intense work of cultural promotion (under the acronym ICOM) that found expression in a large number of conferences and publications on the culture of the Middle East.


In May 1985, Herman Vahramian, Agopik and Setrak Manoukian founded the publishing house Oemme Edizioni. This was a non-profit making association that not only flanked the centre as regards all publishing activities but also created a series of original publications not only on Armenian culture and iconography but also on the culture and iconography of other peoples.



This new publishing house deliberately employed the initials of Onnik Manoukian in order to bear witness to the moral and financial support that this figure had given to the work of the centre and to its related publishing activities.


In 1992, at the time of the move of the professorial chair of Prof. Alpago Novello from the Polytechnic of Milan to the University of Venice, the Centre for the Study and Conservation of Armenian Culture and the publishing House Oemme moved to Venice, to the Loggia del Temanza which had been recently restored thanks to a financial contribution made by the Manoukian family. This building, which was the property of the Moorat Raphael Armenian College, thus became, as a result of the kind permission of the Mechitarist Fathers, the new location of the two institutions which in that same year became, at a legal level as well, a single association, the OM association.


Since 1995, the activities of this association have been organised into three separate sections:



1. the Architecture and Restoration Section which, side by side with the work of research and record gathering that had been underway for years, began to develop an intense activity in the territory of Armenia directed towards the promotion of technically highly qualified initiatives in the field of the conservation and restoration of the heritage of monuments to be found in that territory. Together with that in Venice, another section was opened in Milan in 2001 and this was followed by the opening of yet another in Erevan which was legally defined as a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) and called the Karedaran Centre for the Study and Conservation of Armenian Culture.



2. the Music Section, whose purpose is the promotion of people's knowledge about ancient and contemporary Armenian music, side by side with initiatives involving the organisation of musical events also has the task of gathering original musical material that runs the risk of disappearing.



3. the Cultural Initiatives Section. All the most disparate initiatives involving the promotion of knowledge about Armenian culture and its relations with other cultures belong to this section. This section is involved in the organisation of study seminars, exhibitions, conferences, publications and so forth.