ALTERNATE NAMES: Hay
LOCATION: Armenia (in the southwest of the former Soviet Union)
POPULATION: 5–7 million
RELIGION: Armenian Apostolic Church; some American Christian sects
The exact origins of the Armenian people have been debated by historians. Some believe that Armenians are native to the Anatolian Highlands and the Ararat Valley of west-central Asia. Others believe they migrated there. Their presence, however, was documented before the fifth century BC . Armenia's location, on a major trade route between Europe and Asia, has made it subject to foreign invasion and domination. Throughout its history, the Armenian people have been ruled by many empires, including the Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Russian, and Ottoman.
In the twentieth century, the Armenian people struggled to create an independent homeland. During World War I (1914–18), they were treated as possible enemies when Turkey joined the Central Powers against Russia. In 1915, many Armenians were rounded up and sent to concentration camps in the Syrian desert where as many as one and one-half million were killed. This has come to be known as "the Armenian genocide" and it still deeply affects the character and mind-set of the Armenian people.
In 1936, Armenia became a republic within the Soviet Union. Armenians voted for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, just months before its collapse in December of that year. The capital, Yerevan, is in the center of country.
The Republic of Armenia is located in the southwestern part of the former Soviet Union, and shares borders with Iran to the south, Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, and Azerbaijan to the east. The country is landlocked, extremely dry, and has very few natural resources. Although the Republic of Armenia's area is only 11,620 square miles (30,100 square kilometers), Armenians have historically occupied a much larger territory. Their culture once spread throughout north-and west-central Asia.
Estimates of the worldwide Armenian population range between five and seven million. About three and one-half million Armenians live in the Republic of Armenia. A large Armenian diaspora (a community of people living as refugees) exists in many countries of the world.
Ethnic Armenians make up more than 90 percent of the total population of the Republic of Armenia. Large communities of Azerbaijani Turks and Kurds lived in Armenia until 1988. They left as conflict grew between Armenians and Azeris in the neighboring republic of Azerbaijan. Other minority populations in Armenia include Russians, Greeks, and Jews.
The Armenian language was written for the first time in the early fifth century. Its alphabet was invented by a scribe named Mesrop Mashtots, so that Christian liturgy and scriptures could be translated and written for the Armenian people.
The Armenian language has many dialects, some of which cannot be understood by speakers of other dialects. Two standard printed dialects exist: Western and Eastern. Western Armenian was the dialect of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and is used by the Armenian diaspora. Eastern Armenian was the dialect of Armenians in the Russian Empire and Iran; it is the official language of the Republic of Armenia. Armenians everywhere think that being able to speak the language is an important part of being Armenian.
Armenian folklore is deeply historical. It draws on centuries of national heroes. Mesrop Mashtots, for example, has often been shown in works of art and in educational and historical writings. Other folk heroes include a mythical King Ara and the fifth-century warrior Vartan Mamikonian, who was martyred defending Armenians against the Persians.
|English||Pronunciation of Armenian|
|How are you?||EENSCH PAY-sus|
|Good bye.||hah-DZO-oo-tyoon [or] ste-SEE-oo-tyoon|
|What's your name?||EENSCH-ay AH-new-nut|
Another body of Armenian folklore is biblical in nature. For example, many people believe that Noah's Ark landed on Mount Ararat—a once-volcanic mountain that sits on the Turkish side of Armenia's western border. Gregory the Illuminator (Grigor Lusavorich) is the saint and popular national hero credited with bringing Christianity to Armenia by converting King Trdat III in AD 301, making him the first ruler to adopt Christianity as a state religion.
Some people believe that Christianity was introduced in Armenia by the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. But it was not until King Trdat III's conversion that Christianity became the state religion. By the late twentieth century, the Armenian liturgy had not changed much since the Middle Ages.
Not all Armenians are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, partly due to the pressures of communism in Soviet Armenia. Nevertheless, the Armenian Church has played an important role in preserving the history and culture of its people.
Armenians celebrate major Christian holy days such as Easter and Christmas (which they observe on January 6 followinng the calendar of the Orthodox Church). As elsewhere in the Orthodox world, Christmas is a religious holiday rather than an occasion for elaborate gift-giving as it is in the United States.
Like other people of Europe and North America, Armenians celebrate the New Year on January 1, by going from house to house visiting friends and relatives. Birthdays are celebrated with parties for friends and extended family members. It's customary for the birthday person to give classmates or co-workers a special treat such as chocolate.
Many other happy occasions are celebrated. For example, if someone enjoys very good luck, such as a good grade on an exam or a new job or a new home, it is customary to treat friends and co-workers to a celebration (magharich). On Vardavar, a pre-Christian spring holiday, young boys and teenage men splash water on people passing by in the street. Some people think this is playful fun; others see it as a nuisance.
Each year on April 24, Armenians the world over sadly commemorate the Armenian genocide. On December 7, the anniversary of an earthquake that devastated northern Armenia in 1988, many Armenians visit cemeteries in mourning.
Major rites of passage in Armenian society include birth, marriage, and death. Birth is celebrated by family and friends, as is a baby's first tooth. This is celebrated by a playful ritual in which the baby is given a number of gifts, such as a pencil and a pair of scissors. The gift that the baby chooses is thought to predict its future career. For example, choosing the pencil might mean that a baby will become a writer or a teacher.
Today, marriages are performed both in church and in state registry offices. The groom's parents give the couple a big party at their home. When the bride and groom enter their home for the first time as a married couple, Armenian flat bread (lavash) is placed over their shoulders. For good luck, they then break a small plate by stepping on it. In traditional families, a new bride's parents visit her in her new home on the fortieth day after the marriage and give her a trousseau (ozhit).
Funerals are usually held on the third day after death. The funeral procession includes traditional music. Families commemorate the seventh and fortieth days after death by visiting the cemetery.
Family and friends are very close in Armenia. It is considered polite to visit without an invitation, unlike the custom in the United States where it is considered impolite to visit someone's home unannounced.
As a sign of affection and respect, most social gatherings include toasting (with alcoholic drinks) each other's families, health, and good luck.
Armenians greet one another with handshakes or with kisses on the cheek. Women and men alike show physical affection with friends of the same sex. It is as common to see two men walking down the street armin-arm as it is to see two women doing so. Teenage boys and girls date one another, usually going to the movies or talking together in coffeehouses.
More than one-third of the population lives in Yerevan, the capital. Another third lives in other industrial and urban areas. The remaining third lives in villages of varying sizes across the country.
In urban Armenia, most families live in apartment buildings ranging from four to fifteen stories high. By American standards, apartments are small. They consist of a kitchen, living room, separate bathroom, one or two bedrooms, and perhaps a balcony. Children and grandparents rarely have their own bedrooms. They sleep together on beds or sofas in the living room or balcony. Parents sleep together in the bedroom, sometimes with one or more children.
In villages, many Armenians have private houses, ranging in size from two rooms with a kitchen to very large houses with many rooms. Village homes may have small farming plots and small barns where cows, pigs, chickens, goats, and sheep are kept. Compared with other republics of the former Soviet Union, Armenians enjoy a wide variety of goods and services, such as public transportation, telephones, indoor running water, and electricity.
In cities, towns, and villages alike, adults live with their parents even after marriage. A new bride will move into her husband's parents' home. Children care for their parents in old age, and grandparents play a large role in raising their grandchildren. Siblings and cousins play together as children, and usually remain close throughout adulthood.
In villages and towns, marriages are sometimes arranged by older relatives and friends. Divorce and remarriage is far less common in Armenia than in the United States. Armenians have large families, although the birthrate has declined recently.
For more than one hundred years, urban Armenians have dressed like other urban peoples of Europe. Jeans are popular with young people.
Traditional costumes for both men and women include baggy pants worn under long shifts or overcoats. These costumes are worn for special cultural celebrations and dances. Distinctive regional accessories include sheepskin hats, engraved metal belts, and jewelry, sometimes made of coins. Women traditionally wear their hair in two long braids.
Armenians eat many of the same foods as other former Soviet peoples, including beet soup (borscht) ; roasted meat (khorovadz or shashlik) ; potatoes; and stews. Other Armenian delicacies are fresh trout from Lake Sevan; grapevine leaves stuffed with rice, ground meat, and herbs (dolma) ; flat bread (lavash) ; chicken porridge (harissa) ; and yogurt (madzun).
Armenia has its own state education system. School begins with kindergarten and lasts through the equivalent of American high school, with a total of thirteen grades. Armenia has a large number of technical and vocational training schools and an American University with English-language graduate programs in business, engineering, political science, and health. There are seven colleges, including the historic Yerevan State University, and the State Engineering Univeristy of Armenia.
Adapted from Webb, Lois Sinaiko. Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1995.
Armenia has rich traditions of church music and folk music. Choral arrangements by the Armenian composer Komitas (1869–1935) were inspired by both folksongs and liturgical music and are still extremely popular today. Folk music performed on traditional instruments and twentieth-century Armenian pop music (called Rabiz ) are also popular.
Since the language was first written in the fourth century, an enormous amount of literature exists, including religious texts, histories, epics, poetry, drama, political writings, and modern novels. Armenia also has opera, ballet, folk dance, and cinema. Armenians of all ages take great interest in their musical, literary, and artistic traditions, which are important influences in popular culture today.
Armenians have contributed to international cultural traditions in literature, painting, architecture, music, politics, and science. Novelist William Saroyan, tennis player Andre Agassi, physicist Victor Hambartsumian, and composer Aram Khachaturian are a few examples of Armenians who have made valuable contributions in their fields.
Work in Armenia is much like work in other industrialized countries. Clothing manufacturing, shoemaking, and computer technology are among Armenia's light industries. Chemical industries include the production of neoprene rubber.
Women make up a large proportion of the work force as teachers, doctors, musicians, physicists, researchers, factory workers, and governmental and nongovernmental administrators.
In rural Armenia, farmers work the land and care for livestock. Rural women do domestic work. Even the smallest towns and villages have schools, regional government representation, shops, and other kinds of non-agricultural employment.
In the late twentieth century, Armenians received Olympic gold medals in wrestling, weight-lifting, and boxing. Skiing and tennis are also popular sports, but soccer is perhaps the most popular. The Armenian soccer team, Ararat, was the champion of the Soviet Union in 1973.
Armenian entertainment includes movies, music, and traditional and modern dance. The Armenian symphony in Yerevan gives weekly performances that draw large crowds of all ages to the Opera House, which also hosts national operas and ballets. Armenian men like to play backgammon and chess at home and in city parks when the weather is nice. Armenians of all ages enjoy walks and visits to outdoor cafes. In the summer, the most popular forms of relaxation are trips to the beach at Lake Sevan and picnics in the countryside, where they roast meat and vegetables over open fires.
Popular Armenian folk art includes woodworking, stone-carving, metalworking and jewelry, painting, embroidery, and rug-weaving. Even the modern production of small salt dishes (aghamanner) may incorporate ancient symbols. There are several museums that feature folk arts and crafts, and an art fair known as Vernissage is held in Yerevan every weekend. Vernissage appeals not only to tourists, but also to local artists and the general public.
The main social problem in Armenia is its tense relationship with its neighbor Azerbaijan. There is a large Armenian section of Azerbaijan in which Armenians form a majority of the population but where they are treated as second-class citizens. Complicating the situation is the fact that Armenians are largely Christians and the people of Azerbaijan are mostly Muslim. There was a short but violent war fought in the early 1990s, followed by several years of uneasy peace.
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Bournoutian, George. A History of the Armenian People. Vol. I. Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda Publishers, 1993.
Bournoutian, George. A History of the Armenian People. Vol. II. Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda Publishers, 1994.
Lang, David Marshall. The Armenians. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1988.
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