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Institute of Russian History, Culture Opens in Washington

© Wikipedia / SenordesupremoThe American University (AU) College of Arts and Sciences
The American University (AU) College of Arts and Sciences - Sputnik International
The Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History was opened at the American University in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History officially opened its doors on Saturday at the American University (AU) in Washington, DC, and plans to develop a degree program in the fall, Institute Director Anton Fedyashin told Sputnik.

“The Carmel Institute is the first named institute in the history of the American University (AU) and we are proud to offer it a home,” Fedyashin, who is a history professor at American University, said on Saturday.

“This fall, we will begin to develop a major and a degree program within the Institute,” he added.

The Carmel Institute was established within the AU College of Arts and Sciences by philanthropist and businesswoman Susan Carmel Lehrman.

Lehrman provided funding to elevate the former Initiative for Russian Culture (IRC) that used to promote a greater understanding of Russian culture in the Washington, DC area through film, academic conferences, student exchanges, art exhibits and musical performances since 2011.

The Institute will build upon IRC’s foundation by offering new classes, additional study abroad opportunities, as well as more robust academic symposia.

“The Carmel Institute is both an event-based organization and one that awards grants to American students to study in Russia,” Fedyashin noted.

Lehrman told Sputnik that while the United States is cutting funding for Russian studies programs, the number of US students desiring to learn about Russia is increasing.

“Since the Initiative began in 2011, we have seen a genuine thirst for greater people-to-people engagement and cultural knowledge about Russia among American students,” she said.

More than 14,000 students and guests attended the IRC events over the past several years.

“We are fulfilling a growing demand at a time when the American system of higher education is cutting back funds for Russian studies programs.”

The opening of the Institute comes at a time of tense relations between Russia and the United States.

By emphasizing common cultural bonds, Lehrman argued, the Institute will lead students to the path of mutual cooperation and a more peaceful world.

“I believe that, given the current political climate between our two nations, now is the most important time to establish this Institute. Rather than ignoring the problems between our nations, our program focuses on culture, shared values and common interests as well as differences.”

The IRC, and now the Carmel Institute, came about in large part due to the initiative of Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Lehrman said.

“He and his wife Natalya spoke of their desire to overcome the stereotypes still prevalent from the Cold War era, which we remember all too well. Our collective hope was to encourage cultural dialogue in order to halt a reversion back to those days,” Lehrman stated.

The relations between Russia and the United States deteriorated amid the conflict in Ukraine. A number of diplomatic and military channels of communication between the countries have been shut down amid the tensions.

Student Exchange Program

The American University (AU) in Washington, DC will start a student exchange program with two universities in Moscow in the Fall of 2015, director of the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History at American University Anton Fedyashin added.

"Thanks to the Initiative for Russian Culture (IRC), AU has established a direct student exchange program with MGIMO [Moscow State Institute of International Relations] and the Higher School of Economics in Russia," Fedyashin said.

Fedyashin added that the Institute plans to expand student exchange agreements with other Russian universities in the future.

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