| by Sierra Abukins

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Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin
Hanna Hodgets (University of Oxford) and Jordan Garcia (FAO) speak with the priests in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin in Yerevan, Armenia, during the Monterey Summer Symposium on Russia.

It can feel nearly impossible to have a rational discourse in these polarized times.

That’s what makes the Monterey Summer Symposium on Russia stand out as a unique space for learning and connection.

“The program’s design flows from looking at what is missing in the curriculum of traditional MA and PhD programs,” said Anna Vassilieva, who leads the program as director of the Monterey Initiative in Russian Studies. “Serious graduate students and rising experts are hungry for a professional bilingual experience, applying their Russian language skills for debates and discussions, and for navigating in the region—in meetings with local scholars and residents. The symposium represents a new model of international education to me; it is truly the educational entrepreneurship in action.”

Each year, a cohort of fellows is selected from Russian and Eurasian studies programs in the United States, Great Britain, and Europe. Fellows study with the leading intellects and practitioners in the field, including experts from the post-Soviet states, in a variety of formats including skills-based workshops, roundtables, sightseeing tours, and working dinners. Experts from Russia teach in Russian.

The symposium represents a new model of international education to me; it is truly the educational entrepreneurship in action.

— Anna Vassilieva

For the first time, in summer 2023, the program was held in Georgia and Armenia, giving the 13 fellows a unique chance to look at Russia through the lens of a post-Soviet state. 

The content reached wider audiences through a partnership with CivilNet, an online television and media platform with a focus on human rights and democracy in Armenia. Many videos from the sessions are now available online and have garnered thousands of views.

Apply for Summer 2024

Applications are now open for the Monterey Summer Symposium on Russia 2024, which will be held in Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey from July 2 to 20, 2024. Applications will be accepted through February 1, 2024. Most costs are covered by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and private donors. Apply here.

Reflections from 2023 Participants

Alika Zangieva 

PhD student, Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University

The Monterey Symposium was one of the most enriching academic experiences I have had. Anna Vassilieva strategically curated the program to consist of scholars from different academic disciplines, professional backgrounds, and points of view. Our discussions consisted of anthropologists debating policy matters, policy experts discussing 19th-century history, and Russian scholars debating trends in American academic culture. Discussions were heated, powerful, and moving. This symposium was one of the only academic spaces where I felt total freedom to voice my views and finally ask questions that I had been hesitant to probe in the past. As a PhD candidate in Ottoman history, I did not expect a Russia-focused symposium to be so beneficial to my historical and professional knowledge. This program is for anyone eager to widen their erudition and challenge themselves in a deeply interdisciplinary environment.

Professor Ronald Suny 

Professor of History, University of Michigan

The symposium is a unique experience for both the participating fellows and the faculty experts. Imagine working in the actual countries we were studying, talking to local people, listening to experts from those countries, and experiencing the everyday life of Armenians, Georgians, and Russians in the South Caucasus. When you study a subject in such a locality, unexpected and surprising things occur. Perhaps the most striking for me was the visit to the famous Pankisi Gorge in a remote part of Georgia, on the border with Chechnya, where we met with and discussed local affairs with women from a minority community, the Kisti, and were involved in extraordinarily frank discussions about gender relations, ethnic differences, and the aspirations of minorities.

Moving between Armenia and Georgia, using Russian as a lingua franca with which to meet and talk to locals, gave us a revealing angle to evaluate the complex and fraught relations of these two small countries with their giant neighbor to the north. Both countries have been inundated with Russians fleeing from Putin’s war, and we were able to gauge on the ground the effects of the massive immigration of Russians and the differential reception in the two countries. There is no other way to delve so deeply into local and international politics, the complexities of ethnic relations, and the shifting dynamics of Russian-Caucasian relations than being on the ground.

Hanna Notte

Director of the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation

What is it like to attend the Monterey Summer Symposium on Russia?

Captain Jordan Garcia

U.S. Air Force officer and graduate student at the Naval Postgraduate School

The symposium was the perfect blend of academic vigor, recreation, and travel. It was education at its finest led by giants in the field of Russian and Eastern European affairs. This experience, fully funded by the Carnegie Corporation and other donors, provided firsthand access to developments on the ground in the Caucasus and personal engagement with world-class experts. 

A personal highlight for me was the opportunity to network with peers who are already experts in their own right, and whose interest in Eurasia closely correlates with my own. I am certain that these professional associations, memories, and friendships will last a lifetime. In short, I would encourage anyone who meets the application requirements to consider the Monterey Summer Symposium on Russia as an ideal capstone event for a graduate degree or as a building block in a doctoral program. 

Rebecca Johnston

Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kansas

The symposium was an inspiring and motivating experience. As a historian aspiring to do work that bridges the academic and public policy spheres, it acquainted me with multiple, invaluable colleagues and mentors who have successfully built precisely that type of career. As a teacher, it introduced me to new perspectives, resources, ideas, and content to build into my future courses on Soviet, Caucasian, and Russian history and politics. As a postdoctoral scholar whose dissertation work was cut short by the pandemic, it allowed me to conduct archival research that will greatly improve my book manuscript.

Even among the numerous incomparable experiences of the symposium, our meeting with the Pankisi Women’s Council ranks at the top. This is an extraordinary group of women in Georgia’s Pankisi Valley who organize and advocate for human and civil rights and on local community issues. We had the incredibly rare opportunity to spend the afternoon speaking with them about their work, values, and everyday life in Pankisi. Thanks to the symposium, I can bring their perspectives back to my classroom to help my students better understand the substance and diversity of lived experiences within this region.

Karen Harutyunyan

Editor in chief of CivilNet

The symposium organized in Armenia proved to be a significant event, not only for the participants but also for CivilNet as a media organization. This occasion provided us with a unique opportunity to engage with and cover presentations from leading Russia specialists, experts, and practitioners. Their lectures and individual interviews with CivilNet delved into various aspects of Russia’s historical, political, economic, cultural, and societal landscape.

Notably, we were able to create valuable content and share the insights of renowned scholars with our audience, contributing to a better understanding of the multifaceted issues surrounding Russia. This collaboration allowed us to establish a strong network for future commentaries as a media organization.

Overall, being an exclusive partner with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey proved immensely beneficial for CivilNet. We eagerly anticipate future collaborations of this nature.