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Prof. James R. Russell, Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, will give a lecture entitled “The Armenian Magical Medical Tour: A Manuscript in the NAASR Collection” on Thursday, September 16, at 8:00 p.m., at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) Center, 395 Concord Ave., Belmont, MA. Prof. Russell’s lecture will be given in honor of the three founders of NAASR: Thomas T. Amirian, Arra S. Avakian, and Manoog S. Young.

Prof. James R. Russell has been the Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University since 1992. His books include Bosphorus Nights: The Complete Lyric Poems of Bedros Tourian, Armenian and Iranian Studies, The Book of Flowers, An Armenian Epic: The Heroes of Kasht, Zoroastrianism in Armenia, and Hovhannes Tlkurantsi and the Medieval Armenian Lyric Tradition.

Among a collection of books and papers recently given to NAASR by the late Dr. Levon Z. Boyajian there is an unusual notebook of magical and medical writings. Though Boyajian thought the notebook had been lost, it turned up among his books after his death and was recognized by Prof. James Russell as the magical notebook about which Boyajian had told him.

Unusual Text Mixes Medicine, Spells

The medical portion of the text is modern and Prof. Russell dates it to the 1920s at the latest, the 1890s at the very earliest. There are also spells and magical portions in late Classical Armenian which were evidently copied from an older MS of the 17th or 18th century. Some of the spells are known from other sources. One spell mentioning Solomon belongs to a cycle of Solomonic myth well known in Armenian.

Though there is no formal connection between the two texts—the medical and the magical—in the notebook, the volume has the title Bzhshkaran, “Book of Healing.” In Russell’s view, the presence of the texts together is not coincidental: healing and magic went together; and Solomon, in addition to his mastery of magic and control of demons, was reputed in legend to have written a book of all the cures for all diseases.

Dr. Levon Boyajian grew up, as did Prof. Russell, in Washington Heights in New York City. In this lecture, Prof. Russell will give insights into this treasure from the NAASR library and reflect on the manuscript’s curious journey from the old world to the new, and the area he has dubbed “Washington Hayots.”

Talk to Honor NAASR’s Three Founders

NAASR’s Director of Academic Affairs Marc Mamigonian states, “We thought it would be very appropriate to pay tribute to the three men who first established NAASR, and what better way to do so than by a lecture by the holder of the Harvard Chair on the subject of a rare text from NAASR’s own rich library.”

Thomas Amirian, who passed away in 1993, Arra Avakian, who died this past July, and Young, of Belmont, MA, NAASR’s Founding Chairman, Chairman Emeritus, and longest serving member of the Board, came together in the spring of 1954 following a powerful talk by Prof. Richard Frye of Harvard University. Frye had called for the establishment of permanent programs in Armenian Studies and greater awareness of Armenian civilization. Amirian, Avakian, and Young, soon joined by other NAAR founding members, began discussing how to make Frye’s vision a reality. NAASR was launched in 1955 and by May 1959 funds had been raised to endow the first chair in Armenian Studies in the U.S., at Harvard University.

Admission to the event is free (donations appreciated). The NAASR Center is located opposite the First Armenian Church and next to the U.S. Post Office. Ample parking is available around the building and in adjacent areas. The lecture will begin promptly at 8:00 p.m.

More information about the lecture is available by calling 617-489-1610, faxing 617-484-1759, e-mailing, or writing to NAASR, 395 Concord Ave., Belmont, MA 02478.


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