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Armenians

Armenians

ETHNONYMS: Self-designation: Hay. Other names include Armyanin (Russian) and Somekhi (Georgian). The land of Armenia is called Hayasdan.


Orientation

Identification. Historically, the Armenian nation has been situated in the Anatolian highlands of Asia Minor. Greater Armenia, as identified by the ancient Romans, once lay to the east of the Euphrates River, while Lesser Armenia lay to the west. At different times Armenian kingdoms have occupied territory within the present-day boundaries of modern Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan, as well as the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. As recently as the early nineteenth century, Eastern Armenia was controlled by Persia and Western Armenia by the Ottoman Empire. In 1828 Eastern Armenia came under Russian rule. The transition to Soviet rule was marked by a brief and difficult period of independence (1918-1921). In 1915 many Armenians fled persecution and genocide in eastern Turkey (Western Armenia) and came as refugees to Eastern Armenia. This genocide and the subsequent seventy years of Soviet rule have played a major role in shaping contemporary Armenian culture and consciousness, in addition to determining the geography and demography of present-day Armenia.

Location. The Armenian Republic (formerly the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic) is in the southwestern region of the former Soviet Union, bordered on the east and west by Azerbaijan and Turkey, respectively, and on the north and south by Georgia and Iran, respectively. Its territory comprises 29,740 square kilometers, and its border is 1,422 kilometers long. Armenia encompasses multiple climatic zones, varying seasonally in temperature from 13° C to 25° C. Much of the land is dry and arid, which has made large-scale cultivation difficult.

The Armenian Republic consists of thirty-seven administrative regions and twenty-seven towns and has its own constitution and governmental institutions. The official language of the republic is Armenian. The three main industrial centers are the capital city, Erevan; the pre-Soviet capital city, Gumri (formerly Leninakan, and before that, Alexandropol); and Kirovakan. The republic consists of six economic regions: Ararat, Shirak, Lori, Agstev, Sevan, and Sjunik. Since the 1920s the Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have opposed each other in a violent border dispute over the fertile region of mountainous Karabagh (the Nagorno-Karabagh Oblast), which by Soviet law is an autonomous region within the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan, but which is populated by a majority of Armenians (80 percent in the 1970s) and is, according to Armenian accounts, traditionally Armenian.

Demography. In 1990 the population of the Armenian Republic was 3,515,000, with the second-highest population density in the Soviet Union. The ethnic composition of Armenia is highly homogeneous, with Armenians constituting 93.5 percent of the population. Russians make up 2.7 percent, and Kurds account for 1.5 percent. The remaining 2.3 percent is composed of other nationalities. Nearly 66 percent of the Armenian people live in urban areas, and 60 percent (1.5 million) live in Erevan, the republic's capital.

Linguistic Affiliation.

The Armenian language represents an independent subgroup of the Indo-European Language Family. The Armenian alphabet was devised in the early fifth century by Mesrop Mashtots, for the purpose of translating biblical texts and Christian liturgical materials. In the twentieth century, written Armenian has undergone two spelling reforms in Soviet Armenia, to improve the phonetic relationship between the written and spoken languages and to standardize the grammar. There are many spoken dialects in Armenia today.


History and Cultural Relations

The first known textual reference to the Armenians is by the Greek historian Xenophon, dated approximately 400 b.c. From this time on Armenians were a noted cultural presence in the Mediterranean world. Centered in eastern Anatolia, now within the boundaries of modern Turkey, historic Armenia was a buffer zone between successive empires: first between the Roman and Persian empires, and then between the Byzantine and Muslim empires. By the sixteenth century, Greater Armenia had been absorbed into the Iranian and Ottoman empires. This is the source of the division of Armenia into two cultural and linguistic halves: eastern and western. Today two dialects have been standardized: one for the Eastern and one for the Western Armenian peoples. Eastern and Western Armenia have distinctive cultural and literary traditions reflecting their linguistic differences. Today, Western Armenian is characteristically spoken in the Armenian diaspora by Armenians deriving from Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and other countries of the Middle Eastprimarily those displaced by the genocide of Armenians in Turkey in 1915. Contemporary speakers of Eastern Armenian are characteristically indigenous to the region of historic Armenia (the current Armenian Republic) or belong to the Armenian communities of Iran. Yet the split between Eastern and Western Armenians predates the Soviet period; indeed, it goes back to the sociopolitical context of the Middle Ages.

According to legend, Armenia was the first nation to convert to Christianity, between the years 301 and 330, when a Parthian missionary, Saint Gregory the Illuminator, met the Armenian King Trdat. Prior to the national conversion, the first Christian Armenian church was founded by the saints Bartholomew and Thaddaeus in the first century. Despite the pressures of Zoroastrian Iranian, Islamic Seljuk (1063-1072) and Mamluk, Mongol (1242-1244 and 1400), Russian, and Soviet occupiers over the centuries, the Armenians have retained their Apostolic church to the present day. Although the church was at first subordinate to Constantinople, it broke away at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 to follow a Monophysite doctrine. Armenians nevertheless continued to make a significant cultural contribution to the Byzantine Empire, notably through their distinctive tradition of church architecture. In fact, it is rumored that when the Hagia Sophia Basilica was damaged by an earthquake, the Patriarch Basil sent for the Armenian architect Trdat to come to Constantinople and direct the repairs. Squinches, small archlike structures that make the structural transition from four walls to a circular dome (and upon which the dome rests), are often attributed to the Armenian architectural tradition, or even specifically to the architect Trdat.

Another major challenge to the authority of the Armenian church began in the late nineteenth century when, as part of a policy of Russification, the czarist government attempted to convert Armenians to the Russian Orthodox church with tactics such as the imprisonment of the Armenian clergy and the confiscation of church property. Yet the church has survived and is today enjoying a renaissance in its leadership of the Armenian people. Today several distinctive Armenian churches have formed in the diaspora, including a Protestant church (which originated under the influence of Presbyterian missionaries in Turkey in the nineteenth century); an Apostolic church with a catholikosate at Amelias, Lebanon; and an Armenian Catholic church. The majority of Armenians both in the diaspora and in the Armenian Republic, however, belong to the Armenian Apostolic church, with its catholikos (primate) at Echmiadzin in the Armenian Republic.

Today, in the context of perestroika, and glasnost, the conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabagh region, an Armenian nationalist movement is growing in the republic. Born out of conditions of oppression and persecution in the late nineteenth century, Armenian nationalist parties last dominated Armenian politics in the republic during the period of independence. Often having a Socialist agenda, these parties stated as their goal the liberation and improvement of the Armenian people. These groups retained some power among Armenians in the diaspora throughout the Soviet period.

Settlements

Traditional Armenian villages generally consisted of two or three hundred households or, in the mountainous regions, twenty to thirty farms. Although separate, the households were interdependent. When village families could not produce enough to meet their own subsistence needs they engaged in barter. Individual houses were often arranged around a central courtyard or were grouped together around a communal space in which fruit trees were usually grown. The flat roofs of contiguous houses provided a space where neighbors and relatives might gather socially (although in some regions subterranean houses might have domed or cone-shaped roofs with a central opening called yerdik'). Most often, the individual houses each consisted of a stable and two rooms: one for the reception of guests and one for general living. Part or all of the structure was often subterranean, a building feature derived from defense tactics. External walls were built of either mud bricks or the indigenous tuf (tufa, a kind of volcanic rock). Kitchens and bathrooms (outhouses) were usually located in external structures. There was usually a special oven, called a t'onir, in the center of the earthen floor of the reception room. The t'onir is a round hole dug in the ground, which can be used for baking Armenian flat bread (lavash ) and for heating the home in winter. In some households, the fire in the t'onir was never extinguished and was said to symbolize the family. The t'onir is still common to Armenian village households today.

Living arrangements, accommodations, and architectural styles differed from village to village and were altogether different in the towns of Alexandropol (later Leninakan, now Gumri) and Erevan, where people participated much less in their neighbors' daily lives. In the towns, family units were smaller and men were primarily artisans, merchants, and traders by profession. Residents of the villages might come to the towns to visit the bazaar, where most business was conducted. Traditionally, in addition to the Armenian populations of Alexandropol and Erevan, there have been large Armenian populations in the cities of Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) and Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan). Generally these Armenians were also artisans, merchants, and businessmen.


Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Less than one-third of the land of historic Armenia was arable, and cereals were the staple crop. Although the crops were the responsibility of the men, the women often helped during the harvest if extra hands were needed.

Clothing. For nearly 200 years European styles of dress have been popular in Armenian towns and cities. Until the Soviet period, however, traditional dress could be found in many villages. For both men and women traditional garb consisted of baggy trousers covered by long shifts and overcoats. Men in particular might wear sheepskin hats and elaborate metalwork belts made in the style of their particular region. It was popular for women to wear their hair in long braids until marriage and to wear gold and silver jewelry (especially coins), which represented the family's wealth and investments. Most clothing was made of wool, although cottons and silks were used when they were available. Many features of traditional Armenian dress are common to other peoples of the Caucasus.

Food. The Armenian diet was somewhat monotonous, consisting largely of grains and cereals. Bulgur, pilaf, porridge, and flat bread were staple items. Dairy products were also commonly eaten, such as yogurt, milk, butter, and cheese. A popular Armenian drink to this day is tan, a mixture of water and soured yogurt. Fruits such as apricots and figs were dried for consumption in the winter and were often eaten with nuts. Other fruits, such as berries, were canned, and vegetables were pickled. Grapes were very commonly grown in Eastern Armenia, where there is a long history of wine production. Meat was eaten rarely, usually only when an animal could not be sustained through the long winter. Livestock were kept primarily for dairy products, and in winter they shared living quarters with the family.


Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. Traditional Armenian cultural practices have changed dramatically since the 1915 genocide and subsequent dispersal of Armenians from eastern Anatolia. Many traditional elements still characterize contemporary Armenian life, however, particularly in rural villages of the former Soviet Union. The most general category of Armenian descent was the azk, a nonresidential community of Armenians with kinship and political loyalties. The largest unit of Armenian kinship was the clan (gerdastan ). While this term may refer to the immediate relatives of a single parent or grandparent, it is also used to describe patriarchal, patrilineal clans that included ancestors in the male line, sometimes extending as far back as six or eight generations. These clans resembled other European and Caucasian clan organizations dating back to the Middle Ages. Among the many responsibilities of the head of the clan were the maintenance of clan honor, consent for all marriages, the burial of deceased clan members, and the avenging of blood feuds. Clans often served the purpose of self-defense against other clans and other peoples.

Although the clans were not characteristically residential, they sometimes occupied a particular territory within a village. In such cases, a network of blood ties constituted a cooperative economic unit, and consensus was required among male members for the disposal of any property. Both residentially and nonresidentially based clans were exogamous, with strict taboos against marriage between second cousins and between god kin and against levirate.


Marriage and Family

Marriage. Armenian families were traditionally patrilocal, requiring that the bride move to the home of the groom's parents at the time of marriage. In traditional Armenian society marriages were arranged by the families of the bride and groom or by a matchmaker hired by the groom's family. In-law (khnami ) relations were very important to social life in the village, and therefore the wedding was a social event involving the entire community. The average age of a bride (hars ) was between 14 and 16 years, while the average age of the groom (p'esa ) was between 15 and 20. The bride and groom were generally, but not always, acquainted prior to the engagement. The engagement began as a series of negotiations between families and did not involve the participation of either the bride or groom. When the boy's father ascertained the approval of the girl's father for the marriage, the "word was tied" (khos-gab, i.e., preengagement, occurred), and the female relatives on both sides began visiting one another. With the first visit of the girl's entire family to the home of the boy, the actual engagement and in-law relationship was established. The engagement usually lasted from several months to two years, during which the boy and girl prohibited from talking with one another during family visits. If the girl had older, unmarried sisters, it was considered important for her to wait for them to marry first. A party to celebrate the formal betrothal was hosted by the girl's parents, and at this party the boy's mother placed gold coins or some other ornament (like a ring) on the girl (nshan ), thus instigating the period of her initiation as bride in the boy's household.

The wedding celebration itself (harsanik' ) was commonly held in autumn (approximately one year after the engagement). It would begin on a Friday and last between one and seven days, with the consummation occurring on a Sunday evening. On the wedding day the groom and his party would go to the home of the bride, where she would be dressed by his godmother or, if dressed by her own female relatives, she would be veiled by the godmother. An outer veil was removed after the wedding ceremony; an inner veil was not removed until after consummation of the marriage. After she was dressed, the bride was escorted to the church by the groom and his relatives. The marriage took place there, and the godparents (k'avor and k'avorkin ) of the groom usually presided over the ceremony as well as over the subsequent festivities. These festivities were conducted at the home of the groom, where all the guests gathered. Upon entering the house, the bride and groom would break dishes, jars, or sometimes eggs to symbolize good luck in the new home. Also during their entrance to the house, the bride and groom wore lavash (traditional Armenian flat bread) draped over their shoulders to ward off evil spirits. The wedding festivities usually included (and still do in some regions of Armenia) the pre-Christian practice of jumping over a fire three times to ensure fertility. The bride and groom would "fly" (t'rrch'il ) over the fire together, while the guests circled around them, holding hands and dancing. The bride was expected to remain quiet throughout the party, both in respect for her in-laws and husband and in sorrow at leaving her own family. The period directly preceding the wedding ceremony was one of joviality for the groom and of lamentation for the bride, who was about to permanently leave her home. On the day following the wedding ceremony the groom's parents would send a red apple to the parents of the bride, to recognize the bride's virginity. The bride was prohibited from seeing her family for the first week after marriage but on the seventh day her parents would visit her at the home of her in-laws, bringing symbolic gifts or sometimes the trousseau. This practice is known as "head washing" (gloukha laval ). The bride herself was not permitted to visit her parents until after the birth of her first child or, with the permission of her mother-in-law, after forty days. Many of these practices pertaining to marriage are still common today in the Armenian Republic, although generally engagements are shorter, lasting one to two months. Similarly, whereas autumn was traditionally the season for weddingsbecause fruits and vegetables were still available, because the summer's wine was ready to be drunk, and because animals that could not be supported during the long winter could be slaughteredtoday weddings take place year-round.

Division of Labor. Labor in the household economic unit was strictly divided according to the principles of gender and generation: the patriarch managed communal work and the incomes of all family members, while domestic work and the household itself were supervised by the wife of the head of the family. The rigidity of the domestic labor hierarchy and the pertinence of gender and generation to the associated social roles are best illustrated by the subordinate position of the new bride. Upon entering the household of her in-laws, the bride was expected to serve all of its members. Because cooking was the privileged work of the mother-in-law, the bride's responsibilities included menial tasks such as cleaning the shoes of all household members. Her face was usually veiled in public for at least one year (and sometimes it was tightly bound, a practice known as mounj ), and during a ritual period of silence she was allowed to speak to no one except children and her husband (should they find themselves completely alone). After the birth of her first child, she was sometimes permitted to speak to the women of her household. Some women maintained a period of ritual silence for ten years or for life. The other responsibilities of the bride included kissing the hands of elders, never falling asleep if her father-in-law was still awake, and helping him to dress and undress. Humiliating tasks were considered an initiation of the new bride into the household. In general, women's responsibilities included the preparation of food, clothing, and domestic items such as candles, soap, and pottery; the weaving of rugs; and the tending of dairy animals and poultry. While women were working, the eldest children of the household would care for the younger children. This required little work in the case of infants, who were swaddled. Men were responsible for the heavy agricultural work, the building of houses and furniture, and the working of leather. The vast majority of labor was organized by family units, although occasionally an entire village might undertake a project. Hospitality, regarded by Armenians as a great virtue, was considered to be the obligation of everyone, male and female.

Domestic Unit. Within a village, families resided either in extended family (clan, or gerdastan), or nuclear (untanik' ) units. Extended family residences were usually multigenerational and consisted of somewhere between fifteen and fifty relatives who were bound together by principles of patrilineal descent. Residential nuclear families usually consisted of an elder married son who had left the extended family home with his wife and older children.

Inheritance. The extended family home was typically inherited by the youngest son, who remained there with his wife and children and cared for his parents after his elder brothers had moved away. Property was nevertheless generally distributed evenly among brothers. The senior male of the domestic family was usually succeeded by his eldest son, and the wife of the family head was typically succeeded by the eldest son's wife.


Sociopolitical Organization

Village organization was often distinct from clan organization. The traditional Armenian village (kiwgh ) was governed by a local patriarchal headman, usually a senior representative of the wealthiest family in the village. However, the village headman (tanouter ) was elected by residents, who usually cast votes by placing a nut or a bean in the hat of their candidate. The headman's responsibilities included mediating domestic and village-level quarrels, distributing tax loads, and punishing violations of custom.


Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Most rituals in Armenian tradition follow the calendar of the Armenian Christian church, so that, for example, Easter and various saints' days are often celebrated. The new year is celebrated on 1 January in Soviet tradition, and it is customary for people to go visiting from house to house on that day to wish each other luck and success for the new year. At midnight of New Year's Eve, it is common to go to the cemetery to visit and drink a toast to deceased family members. Christmas is celebrated by Armenians on 6 January, which is also the date of Christmas in the Orthodox church. Like other peoples of the Near East, Armenians believe in the evil eye and have various ritual means of diverting it, such as wearing blue clothing or a clove of garlic.

Arts. Education and the arts have traditionally been held in high esteem in Armenian society. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many young men were sent abroad for education and made significant contributions to international education, letters, and business. In the former Soviet Union, Armenians were particularly recognized for their contributions to science and the arts. A Western Armenian literary tradition has flourished in the diaspora, and Armenians have achieved a worldwide reputation for literature and painting. Armenians have been active in the government and politics of many countries of the world. Armenian folk arts notably include metalwork, woodwork, rug weaving, and verbal arts.

Medicine. In the nineteenth century Armenians practiced various healing rituals, but today medical care is primarily of the Soviet type. Exceptions are the treatment of colds or small wounds: the remedy for a sore throat is to take lemon with honey, and yogurt is used as a salve for the treatment of skin wounds.

Death and Afterlife. Armenian funerals generally take place three days after death. Prior to the burial, relatives and close friends gather at the home of the deceased; the men might stand and talk while the women take coffee and pastries together. The body is kept at home until the burial, and the coffin lid is placed upright by the front door of the house as a sign to neighbors that there has been a death in the family. The grave is visited by close friends and relatives on the seventh and fortieth days after death and on the anniversary, as well as at New Year. Until the visit on the fortieth day, male members of the family are prohibited from shaving. Food, alcoholic beverages, and flowers are common offerings for the dead.

Bibliography

Hoogasian-Villa, Susie, and Mary Kilbourne Matossian (1982). Armenian Village Life before 1914. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Matossian, Mary Kilbourne (1962). The Impact of Soviet Policies in Armenia. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Suny, Ronald G. (1983). Armenia in the Twentieth Century. Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press.

UNIDO (1990). Industry Brief: Armenia"Towards Economic Independence and Industrial Restructuring." United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

STEPHANIE PLATZ

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Armenians

Armenians

PRONUNCIATON: ahr-MEE-nee-uhns

ALTERNATE NAMES: Hay

LOCATION: Armenia (in the southwest of the former Soviet Union)

POPULATION: 57 million

LANGUAGE: Armenian

RELIGION: Armenian Apostolic Church; some American Christian sects

1 INTRODUCTION

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 (191418), 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.

2 LOCATION

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.

3 LANGUAGE

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.

4 FOLKLORE

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
Good day. BAH-rev
Hi. VOKH-tschwin
Yes AI-yo
No VOAWCH
Thank you. schor-ra-KAH-lem
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 Ararata 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.

5 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.

6 MAJOR HOLIDAYS

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.

7 RITES OF PASSAGE

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.

8 RELATIONSHIPS

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.

9 LIVING CONDITIONS

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.

10 FAMILY LIFE

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.

11 CLOTHING

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.

12 FOOD

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).

13 EDUCATION

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.

Recipe

Lahmajoun
(Armenian Pizza)

Ingredients

  • 8 lavash (Armenia flat breads), or 4 pita breads, split to separate into two flat circles
  • 6 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 eight-ounce can of chopped tomatoes
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • ½ pound ground lamb
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 two-ounce jar chopped pimentos

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°f.
  2. Place lavash rounds (or split pita rounds) on cookie sheet. Try not to overlap.
  3. Using a wooden spoon, mix all the other ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
  4. Spread mixture over the lavash.
  5. Bake in oven for 20 minutes, or until the edges of the lavash begin to brown and the meat is cooked through.
  6. Cut each pizza into wedges and serve while warm.

Adapted from Webb, Lois Sinaiko. Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1995.

14 CULTURAL HERITAGE

Armenia has rich traditions of church music and folk music. Choral arrangements by the Armenian composer Komitas (18691935) 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.

15 EMPLOYMENT

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.

16 SPORTS

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.

17 RECREATION

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.

18 CRAFTS AND HOBBIES

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.

19 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

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.

20 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bakalian, Anny. Armenian-Americans: From Being to Feeling Armenian. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1993.

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.

Walker, Christopher. Armenia. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.

WEBSITES

Embassy of Armenia, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.armeniaemb.org/, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Armenia. [Online] Available http://www.wtgoline.com/country/am/gen.html, 1998.

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