Melikian Center events bridge cultures through dance, cuisine

Group photo of students and faculty in an auditorium.

Armenian and Persian students and faculty gather to celebrate at a recent culture night hosted by the Melikian Center at ASU. Photo courtesy Jamie Edmonds

By Victor Johnson

As the summer officially kicks off in Arizona, so has the Critical Languages Institute (CLI) program, an enriching initiative that shines a spotlight on the diverse languages and cultures of Eurasia, Eastern Europe and Russia. Hosted by the Melikian Center at Arizona State University, the program brings together students dedicated to learning and sharing their knowledge of various languages. The domestic program runs through July 12, providing a vibrant platform for cultural exchange and linguistic immersion.

Plus, over the summer, the program has been hosting culture nights. 

“Culture nights are an opportunity for faculty, staff, students and community members to come together and celebrate the 12 different cultures and languages at the Critical Languages Institute,” CLI Director Jamie Edmonds said. “Additionally, they provide a way for students of those languages and cultures to show themselves and others how much progress they have made in a very short time.”

Students presenting at the front of a classroom.
Turkish language students present tongue twisters in Turkish on Turkish culture night. Photo courtesy Jamie Edmonds

Recently, the program highlighted Persian and Armenian cultures in an event brimming with cultural activities. Students indulged in authentic cuisine, participated in traditional dances and engaged in language activities that deepened their understanding and appreciation of these cultures. A highlight of the evening was the Kahoot! trivia games, where students competed enthusiastically for top honors. The trivia questions, crafted by participants of each language program, added a fun and educational twist to the festivities.

So far, the CLI program has celebrated languages including Ukrainian, Polish, Turkish, Tatar, Uzbek, Persian, Armenian, Albanian and BCS (Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian). Each cultural night offers students a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the languages they study, fostering a deeper connection to the cultures behind the words. 

One of the highlights of the Armenian and Persian culture night was the lively dancing and music that accompanied the festivities. 

As described by Persian student Will Zhou, “During Armenian and Persian culture night, we featured medieval Persian poet Saadi, also known as Saadi of Shiraz. He once wrote a poem called ‘Bani Adam,’ meaning ‘Sons of Adam’ or ‘Human Beings.’ 

“As one translation puts it, ‘Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul.’ To me, this message of unity alludes to what I enjoyed most about cultural night: We are stronger when we work together. The collaboration between the Armenian and Persian classes led to what I liked most about Persian night specifically: the meaningful connection we established with our audience.”

Fellow Persian student Michael Motola shared his enthusiasm for the dancing that accompanied the music.

"I hope Will and I have started a trend of bringing people together with the power of dancing when I went off script and got everyone down to dance the Baba Karam,” Motola said.

“CLI is breaking down bigotry and fear by teaching about other cultures,” he added. “My Grandma summed it up perfectly: ‘What they are doing here is great. ... I learned so much, and they're bringing people together.’”

Two men play guitar while a woman sings.
Albanian students perform "Elita 5" by Al Kapone in Albanian on Albanian culture night. Photo courtesy Jamie Edmonds

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