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A Generational Question: ‘If You Don’t Speak Armenian, Are You Really Armenian?’

By Marie Papazian
Barnard College of Columbia University Class of 2021
ANCA Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program Participant, 2017

“If you don’t speak Armenian, are you really Armenian?”

On our walk to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) offices under the warm D.C. sun, my peers were debating this question loudly. Passionate exclamations ensued, involving the assertion that losing one’s ability to speak Armenian was equivalent to assimilating altogether: ignorant and morally reprehensible.

I walked along quietly, pondering the various assertions of my peers. I appreciated where these arguments came from. Part of me agreed, part of me felt ashamed, and part of me began to question the validity of my “Armenian-ness.” Little did I know this was the same question my grandmother, as well as many other members of my family, have faced over the years.

I am fifth generation Armenian-American on my mother’s side, and third-generation on my father’s. My ancestors in the U.S. all managed to find marriageable Armenians. And so I am considered by some to be “100% Armenian,” or “full Armenian.” That is, before they learn that my knowledge of the Armenian language is at an introductory level at best.

My maternal grandmother, Marilyn Arshagouni, was born in 1935 to one of the earliest Armenian families to settle in Los Angeles—a shocking fact, given that the current Armenian population there is almost half a million. In childhood, she didn’t know many other Armenian families, and the language, though spoken by her father’s family, was not spoken in her home. Despite her lack of knowledge of Armenian, she was smart and hardworking, becoming the first junior at UCLA to be elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honors society and later graduating with highest honors and a BA in English. The English language was her first love, and she went on to study English at graduate school.

Mrs. Marilyn Arshagouni with her granddaughters, Ani and Marie.

When my grandmother married my grandfather in 1956, he began bringing her closer to Armenian culture. He was born and raised in the Armenian Diaspora, in Greece, and so he was a native speaker and had a strong sense of community. Once my grandmother met Richard Hovannisian, a graduate student of Armenian history at UCLA, she furthered her great, though untraditional, contributions to the Armenian community. She helped edit his dissertation, which would become the classic Armenia on the Road to Independence. She then went on to edit the first volumes of his four-volume History of the Republic of Armenia.

For over 25 years my grandmother taught English and history at the Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian High School in Encino, Calif. And she and my grandfather were on the Armenian Monument Council that established the first Armenian Genocide monument on public land in California.

Given her great influence on the Armenian community, I was stunned when I learned of the accusations that she bore the brunt of as an Armenian born in the U.S. It is an accusation that both of my parents have heard countless times. It is one to which I am just now being exposed.

My ancestors have lived in the U.S. for over 100 years. Despite this, my love of Armenian culture is strong, and my yearning to give back to my community even stronger. Ours is an important history and an important story. Each of our experiences is different. Some of us grew up in the midst of an Armenian-speaking community. Others, like my grandmother and me, grew up surrounded at home by an incredible library of Armenian books and culture and friends.

Although my grandmother was never fluent in Armenian as a child, her immersion into the community led her to pick up a considerable amount of the language. It was the same with my mother. I expect that it will be the same for me. I still plan to study Armenian in college. But, as I do so, I will remember that our goal as a Diaspora should be inclusiveness, as a nod to our shared, bitter, and rocky history. It is counterproductive to shun those who have not had the privilege of a strong cultural or linguistic upbringing. As Yeghishe Charents, the famous Armenian writer and poet, wrote, “Oh, Armenian people, your only salvation lies in the power of your unity.”

And so, I disagree with the assertion that one must speak Armenian to truly be Armenian. If that were the case, my grandmother would be an outcast in our greater community, despite her countless contributions. As members of a diaspora, exposure to the Armenian language isn’t all that unites us.

It is our love of community, our blood, our shared history and future, and our determination to help in any way we can. I am beginning to learn that. Although I will continue to face questions from my peers about the validity of my Armenian identity, I embrace my ethnicity wholeheartedly. And as my grandmother did, I will continue to do my part, not only as an Armenian but also as an Armenian in America.

58 Comments on A Generational Question: ‘If You Don’t Speak Armenian, Are You Really Armenian?’

  1. There must be multiples in number of people with Armenian heritage (verifiable Armenian DNA and/or Family Tree with one or two parents of 100% Armenian heritage) who do NOT speak Armenian or have Armenian family names, yet, having as much interest/commitment to their heritage as Armenian speaking ones.

    The key performance measure should be “Interest/awareness to heritage” rather than spoken languages or family names.

  2. avatar Sharistan Melkonian // August 17, 2017 at 12:38 pm // Reply

    Thank you, Marie, for your candid look at a challenge that has faced our communities for too long. There will always be some who do not fully appreciate the challenges of living in the diaspora, of maintaining language in a foreign land.

    Your grandmother was a teacher and mentor to many, including me. Her love of country, nation and language was contagious.

    One comment though. While it is true that “Some of us grew up in the midst of an Armenian-speaking community.” That “Others…grew up surrounded at home by an incredible library of Armenian books and culture and friends” is not necessarily a contradiction. Some had the luxury of both.

  3. avatar PAUL BARDIZBANIAN // August 17, 2017 at 12:46 pm // Reply

    THOSE WHO JUDGE INSUFFICIENIES IN OTHERS OFTEN TIMES THINK THEY ARE ELEVATING THEMSELVES–HAH ESSEH TOUGHHH ERTA!!!!!

    • avatar Dr Zareh Darakjian // August 18, 2017 at 5:54 pm //

      The question is misplaced. This is not an opinion question.

      If you have Armenian blood, to some extent, then yes, genetically speaking you are partly Armenian.

      How you feel about being am Armenian is a different matter.

      Whether I am Armenian or not is a genetics question and not an opinion.

      Now, in the USA you rarely see Armenians majoring in Armenian history, Literature, Linguistcs….no mattet what the resson, this does make a difference in their literary contribution… yes they may me great community servers, but they cant analyze an Armenian poem, or novel.

      This is not a moral judgement. But if you want full appreciation of Armenian culture, you do need to learn the language to the point where you can dicuss and critique Armenian litersture, art, painting etc.. the good and the bad.

      You are Armenian genetically. But your participation and enjoyment of this belonging to the full extent may rewuire that you give up an MBA for a degree in Armenian Litersture, History.

      This is not an opinion but a fact.

      Thank you.
      Zareh Darakjian, Ph.D.

  4. My niece speaks Armenian and she doesn’t have an Armenian last name. My son has an Armenian last name, but speaks no word of Armenian, so where does that fit into the categories? We just can not fit into a box everything.

  5. avatar Paul Yeghiayan // August 17, 2017 at 3:33 pm // Reply

    Being Armenian is about the beats of your heart, not what comes out of your mouth.

    • Thanks Paul – I’m going to memorize that one.
      I love my ancestors and culture but only speak keetch keetch Armenian

    • avatar Gerard Panossian // August 17, 2017 at 9:12 pm //

      % 100 AGREE .I consider the HAMSHEN ARMENIANS… even that they were Muslims

  6. Strongly agree. Great post

  7. avatar Ann Nahabedian // August 17, 2017 at 3:35 pm // Reply

    Marie; I applaud you on your thoughts on this subject. I agree. Right on. Forge ahead.

  8. avatar Ann Nahabedian // August 17, 2017 at 3:36 pm // Reply

    I applaud you on your thoughts. I agree. Forge ahead.

  9. avatar john abajian // August 17, 2017 at 3:42 pm // Reply

    I continue to understand a little Armenian, I speak less. My grandparents were “100% Armenian from Istanbul and Armenia. My parents were second generation. I am no less Armenian than my cousins who speak Armenian fluently — and my commitment to proudly carrying on my heritage is evidenced every time I cook traditional Armenian food as taught to me by my grandmothers, my parents and my aunts or when I send financial contributions to Armenian causes. AHMOT!

  10. avatar Janet Haroian // August 17, 2017 at 3:55 pm // Reply

    As the only American born ARS-East USA board member that attended the opening of our ARS Women & Children’s medical center in Akhourian, many years ago, I was told by an Ungerouhie after returning from that trip that since I did not speak the language, I had no business being there. Initially I was taken aback by such a comment but did note that it was ALL the ARS Ungerouhies who worked to raise the funds to open the center, and that I was proud to represent them at the opening and as a board member. Since that time, the Ungerouhie that said this to me has not raised that point again. I believe that she saw the dedication I have had to the ARS and the Armenian people. I may not speak Armenian much at all above an elementary level, but my heart is full and proud of my heritage and I pass that along to my children.

  11. You don’t have to speak Armenian to have an Armenian spirit. Many Armenians are very Armenian despite not speaking the language. However, speaking the language deepens and enhances the Armenian experience

  12. avatar Hay aghchik // August 17, 2017 at 4:16 pm // Reply

    Great story, many applause to those who are involved in the Armenian community. Being that the Armenian language started in approx. 189 BC from the Artashesian Dynasty and then later the alphabet in 405 AD, this cannot be forgotten and must survive as it has for so so many years. Why would you not continue those traditions of prayers, songs, poems, books that were made to carry on through generations. Not to mention what a beautiful and enjoyable language it is. Those parents whom have spoken Armenian in the home, have said countless sayings and repeated countless recipes and prayers that their ancestors said. We appreciate them dearly. To truly feel the magnitude of this beautiful culture, one should embrace its language. Go to Armenia, read the gorgeous stones written with Armenian letters. Read the age-old Bibles written in Armenian. The vocabulary of the Armenian languages is ten times that of English. Hear the beautiful tunes by the oud, the saz, the classical composers who have made it their mission to continue those rich songs and dances. What is next, no one will care about the Armenian History? The countless battles fought to preserve our Christianity? The food made from scratch using techniques no one else would fathom? Where is the appreciation? I feel this article was a bit ignorant and suppressing. We are a united people and should strive to learn this priceless cornerstone of our culture.

    • My Armenian mother (raised in Birds Nest Orphanage) was focused on surviving in a new land and wanted me to be an English speaker in order to succeed here. I have a very limited vocabulary of Armenian and am always trying to learn more Armenian but a.) it is not the easiest language to learn for me and b.) as someone in my 50s I find it hard to learn a new language now.
      You should NOT assume that we don’t want to know it or to learn it…have compassion on those who can’t speak it but wish that they could.
      To push us away or to judge us is a way of dividing rather than unifying us.
      I’m so tired of hearing comments like yours. They make me feel ashamed and defeated. The reason I don’t know Armenian was that the genocide happened. My family were refugees and were traumatized people trying to do their best in the new world. So please don’t put us down.
      Where the Turks tried to destroy us, people like me are trying to pick up the threads. Learning to cook Armenian dishes, listening to Armenian music. I know the history and I share my culture whenever I can. I even wrote and performed a play about the genocide. But I get the feeling you would not be welcoming of me…

  13. Marie, this was a wonderful read and oh so very true!! Keep up the great work and to be a “real” Armenian is something that we feel inside of us, not how well we speak or do not speak the language. Being Armenian is something even more special, it’s that feeling inside of us all.

    Hugs & Bacheegs my dear…. you have grown up into a fine young lady!

  14. avatar Robert Ashod Boyajian // August 17, 2017 at 4:29 pm // Reply

    I have to laugh at the recent immigrants of Armenian heritage, who come to this country and think they know everything about American politics, and about Armenian ethnic heritage. Half of them speak Russian, eat pork instead of lamb, do not attend the entire Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church … and yet, they feel justified to look down their noses at me and others because I’m not fluent in Armenian. I am married to another 100% Armenian for over 43 years. My father was a POW in Germany, his parents managing to stay-off the welfare rolls. My mother’s grandfather was well-known in his province of Armenia. My son is a ViceChair of Radiology at a prominent NewYorkCity University-based hospital system. He took a `total immersion’ course, while in college one summer, in Armenia, and emerged more fluent and commanding of the language -and its dialects- than they could ever hope to be. My daughter is an Asst. District Attorney of the State of New York. I have written over 30 essays, publishable, on Orthodox Christian Ethics. To them, I implore them to be contrite in their “A-moht-ootioon”; and, I pray for them.

  15. It is our love of community, our blood, our shared history and future, and our determination to help in any way we can….
    I hope most of the Armenian speakers could honestly say, what Marie says…Bravo, Marie…
    Having said it, though – try to learn Armenian language…it is beautiful…

    • avatar Դանիել Տորումեան // August 18, 2017 at 9:01 pm //

      Իմ համեստ կարծիքով որոշ տարբերություն մը կայ կատարեալ հայու եւ հայասէրի մը միջև։ Դեռ չեմ գտած ֆրանսացի մը որ ինքն իրեն կատարեալ ֆրանսացի համարէ, սակայն չգիտնայ «ես իսկական ֆրանսացի եմ» կամ «Յաւերժ կեանք Ֆրանսային» ըսել։ Նոյն պարագան անգլիացիի մը, գերմանացիի մը, արխենթինացիի մը հետ։ Առանց հայ լեզուի, ուշ թէ կանուխ իսկական հայ ազգութիւնը կը կորսուի, սակայն կարելի է մե՜ծ հայասէր (armenophyl) ըլլալ։

    • avatar Դանիել Տորումեան // August 18, 2017 at 9:04 pm //

      Իմ համեստ կարծիքով որոշ տարբերություն մը կայ կատարեալ հայու եւ հայասէրի մը միջև։ Դեռ չեմ գտած ֆրանսացի մը որ ինքն իրեն կատարեալ ֆրանսացի համարէ, սակայն չգիտնայ Ֆրանսերէնով «ես իսկական ֆրանսացի եմ» կամ «Յաւերժ կեանք Ֆրանսային» ըսել։ Նոյն պարագան անգլիացիի մը, գերմանացիի մը, արխենթինացիի մը հետ։ Առանց հայ լեզուի, ուշ թէ կանուխ իսկական հայ ազգութիւնը կը կորսուի, սակայն կարելի է մե՜ծ հայասէր (armenophyl) ըլլալ։

  16. Thank you for this excellent article, Marie! I grew up in the 1950s and 60s where both parents spoke Armenian to my sister and me but we responded in English. As an adult I am disappointed I cannot not read, write, or speak in Armenian. Perhaps my parents only wanted to make sure we spoke English when we started school. I did a project on Bilingual Education for my Professional Teaching Certificate a few years ago and found out that “passive bilingualism” refers to this situation where a child does not speak in their “home” language but can still understand it. My sister is now taking Armenian lessons and my goal is to do the same.

  17. avatar Carolann Najarian MD // August 17, 2017 at 4:58 pm // Reply

    I have been told many times that I am not Armenian because I am a Protestant Not so long ago when an elderly gentleman learned that I was Protestant he asked how I was invited to
    attend the Armenian event we had kindly offered to drive him home from. I repeated my name and he still didn’t get it. At that point as I tried to curb my anger I told him that he should look at the program again. My husband
    and I were listed as the biggest donors to the event and I told him that I’d been to Armenia/Artsakh 60 or more times to deliver healthcare ,etc etc. He begged forgiveness but the damage was done. I was furious.
    People who judge our Armenian-ness based on language or religion haven’t looked around. We are a small people
    Anyone who wants in should be welcome.

  18. avatar Shant Harootunian // August 17, 2017 at 5:16 pm // Reply

    A very well written and well expressed position. One thought that I have often wondered about: how many Armenians from the middle east would be as fluent in our language if they had lived in a country like the United States which fosters inclusion, rather than in a middle eastern country where they are largely “ghettoized”?

  19. avatar Hagop hagopian // August 17, 2017 at 5:31 pm // Reply

    If you don’t speak English are you an American? British national? Spin it all you want. Tesghagron bedk e Ella’s vor Hai Ellas!!!

  20. avatar Hagop hagopian // August 17, 2017 at 5:34 pm // Reply

    A Shish Kebab is a Shish Kebab

  21. avatar Arsen Mashoian // August 17, 2017 at 5:45 pm // Reply

    Language is the identity of a nation, if we lose that where do we stand?

  22. avatar Bedros Tcherkezian // August 17, 2017 at 5:56 pm // Reply

    Who am I ? To judge how much Armenian you are?
    Who are they ? To judge how much Armenian we are …
    Կը կարդամ կը խօսիմ բայց եթե չ’զգամ …ու չ’ունիմ հայու ՀՈԳի …
    Bedros Tcherkezian

  23. avatar Raffi Dimoian // August 17, 2017 at 6:13 pm // Reply

    (ENGLISH FOLLOWS)

    Yes meg pan me ch’hasketsa. Inchu amen meg aynkan neghvadz e hos??? Hankist yeghek, joghovurt! Siretsek iraru…oknetsek iraru…yev amenen garevore – NERETSEK iraru. Yete bidi nahantsvadz hay ullank mer khbardutyunov – yegek orinag ullank iraru gdor-gdor ch’chartelov! Indzme atchab.

    There’s one thing I don’t quite get here – why is everyone so upset here…angry even? Shall we relax a little? Can’t we love each other? Help each other? Most importantly – FORGIVE each other? If we want to be this enviable community proud of our Armenian-ness, can we perhaps be examples first? At least by not instantly attacking each other?

    Whether we speak Armenian or not is a good question, I don’t disagree, but honestly I’m much more worried about our excellent ability to divide among ourselves! We are so natural! Can we finally end this? It’s ok, we can end it in English too. I’m not attacking you who have been a part of this division. I too have. I humbly admit it. It is why I decided to start my response in Armenian – I think we SHOULD try to preserve it. But I also decided to translate it – respect for everyone who doesn’t speak our language.

    Two words – Love & Forgiveness
    Ser u Nerum (Neroghutyun)

  24. avatar art K hagopian // August 17, 2017 at 6:35 pm // Reply

    Marie : you should be proud for your committment to participate in many kinds of armenian activities whether it is done in English or armenian. When I first landed in Toronto from Egypt ages ago (over 50 years) many of our ungers in the AYF Us chapters didnot speak armenian but they were more involved, more active and more committed to armenian issues than many of us. (from the middle east).

  25. First of all quite a few Armenians are racists ,second we are segregatists ,we segregate every body. To be a good Armenian is an Armanian that s proud to be Armenian and contributes and works in he Armenian community or contributs to Armennia.You don t have to be an Armenian apostolic to be a good Armenian , that’s B S. You can be a protestant a catholic or even a moslem Armenian As long as you feel Armenian and are proud of your heritage.Religion has nothing to do with nationality.

  26. I wander if anyone has studied the reason for Armenians retaining the language in countries w/fewer ethnic diversities V/US….
    I guess it’s us and them. Verses us and them, and them and them…….

  27. Beautiful and inspiring, Marie, so thank you for this. Our hearts and souls speak for us, and that language comes from a very deep and authentic place that unites our behavior. and commitment through the generations.

  28. Beautiful and inspiring, Marie, so thank you for this. Our hearts and souls speak for us, and that language comes from a very deep and authentic place that unites our behavior and commitment through the generations.

  29. avatar serop Bedrosian // August 17, 2017 at 10:42 pm // Reply

    This debate about Armenianness will go on for as long there will be Armenian communities in the diaspora. Let’s look at our past history. Armenians under Ottoman rule were forbidden to speak Armenian in public. Armenians were denied to build schools in their communities. Turkish government officials cut the tongue of any Armenian who dared speak Armenian in a public place. As a result of this brutal policy Armenians spoke only Turkish. As a child while growing up in Lebanon I remember destitude families who had survived the genocide they all spoke turkish at home. Nonetheless they felt strongly Armenian. They suffered the horrors of the Genocide because they were Armenian. Their children were fortunate to go to Armenian schools and the new generation speak Armenian although away from ancestral homeland. So, the fact our grand parents were able to keep their Armenian identity for over 500 years under oppressive Ottoman rule was because they were on their ancestral lands. On the other hand Armenian communities in India, Singapore and Eastern Europe have mostly disappeared although they built churches and schools and published Armenian newspapers.
    My own conclusion from this historic experience of Armenian people is that language alone will not be enough to save Armenians from being assimilated over a period of time. Language is a weapon that will help us defend against assimilation, but it is not enough to continue our existence forever. Sooner or later diaspora will become history. We must set our eyes on Armenia and try to strengthen it. Diaspora and Armenia must work together to plan and organize repatriation of diaspora Armenians. If and when that happens we will not need to worry about Armenianness.

  30. Good answer to frankly a bigoted question. Who is anyone else to judge for goodness sake?

  31. Agree with the author. Fluency in the spoken language means nothing. Its the love of our culture and history, belief in the Armenian Cause, how we treat our brothers and sisters and how we carry ourselves in this adopted country of ours (or other adopted countries across the world) which makes us really Armenian. I know some Armenians who speak fluent Armenian who care nothing for the Cause, speak constantly of our impending doom and care nothing of our history or are even ungrateful to the US for the life they live here. If these were the only real Armenians i would rather be Dutch.

  32. Komitas didn’t speak Armenian when he first went to Etchmiadzin to ask to enter the seminary. He only spoke Turkish.

  33. I have experienced the “language test” on and off during my lifetime. It hurt the most in our Tekeyan Folk Dance Group of the mid 70’s where newly immigrated youth from Beirut would proselytize, and even talk amongst themselves in Hye. I forgave my parents who spoke fluently, but rarely to us, because of the severe pressures of assimilation in the 20’s through 50’s. Armenian was spoken primarily as their “secret language” to each other. Having each been taunted and stoned as Kindergartners in Lowell and Leominster, when Armenian was their ONLY language, their torment and shame was palpable. Of course I would love to speak better Armenian, can read and write perfectly-but the cultural connection to the Armenian community came first. Thank you, Marie, for opening the door to discuss this oft unspoken and hurtful judgment.

  34. avatar Laslo Dajbukat // August 18, 2017 at 3:46 am // Reply

    It is true that it is not obligatory to speak Armenian in order to be Armenian. In the first place you have to love your culture, your heritage and your nation. But it is also true, that those who have lost their ability to speak Armenian, are much more vulnerable, the danger is much more bigger to be lost for the nation once for all. Especially in the Diaspora, learning Armenian is also a little bit of learning to be Armenian (I am talking about the small communities). I was born in Hayaqaghaq (Armenopolis, in Transylvania, which was part Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, later became part of Romania). My name is not Armenian, and in Transylvania, where approximatly 1500 Armenian are still living, but no one speaks anymore Armenian, being part of the “historical” Diaspora, those who fled from Armenia, capital Ani, in the 12-13-th centuries. I came back to my roots, now I’m living in our Fatherland (Hayreniq), I am speaking fluently Armenian, and despite this there are people who are telling about me, that: “look at this guy, he’s not Armenian, but how beautiful he speaks Armenian”. It is because of my name. When I’m asking them, but why are you saying this? they get confused, telling me that they meant that I was not born in Armenia. But this is stupid, of course. 80% of the Armenians are born outside of Armenia. And the most important thing would be to be united, but we have big difficulties in this issue. But Marie, it worth learning back our language, it’s a very beautiful and powerful language. (Astvatsayin lezu e)

  35. Dear All,
    This is a very sensitive and touching topic and there are so many different views and justifications related to it; all of which are valid depending on how we look at things.
    I was born in Lebanon and lived my life in between Lebanon and the US; recently Armenia has been added to it. What I have witnessed and experienced in those 40 years resulted in my opinion below; which I firmly believe in.
    My views in this regards are as such:
    – With all respect to those disaporan armenians who do not have or haven’t had the chance (rightfully or thru lack of persistence from their parents) to learn and thus speak armenian, I strongly believe that speaking one’s native language is an indisputable prerequisite for the survival of the race.
    – Although, as mentioned in few comments above, we find armenians who do not speak or read Armenian but do a lot more to the nation and their people, sadly this is a very small minority. The vast majority of those “ian”s neither speak Armenian nor know much about Armenia. Their Armenian-ness is limited to: attending church, being a member of an organization, cooking armenian food, attending April 24 marches, updating FB profiles on April 24, participating in action alerts etc…
    – I am convinced that the language is a must to truly “live” as an Armenian. After all what differentiates one race from another if not for the language; the songs, the poems, the literature, the words etc.
    – At the end no one is in a position to judge the other and everyone is free to live his life the way he wants; but at least let us state facts as they are: the survival of our race is in great danger, more and more armenians are succumbing to the white genocide and here we are discussing whether we should speak armenian or not! Very sad.

  36. avatar Vahe H. Apelian // August 18, 2017 at 8:24 am // Reply

    Well, well, Marie, I sure am a contemporary of your grandparents and those who claim ‘losing one’s ability to speak Armenian was equivalent to assimilating altogether: ignorant and morally reprehensible’, can be certain that they are also addressing and including me as well in their misguided and ignorant characterization, although I am a fluent Western Armenian speaker and writer. Our number has dwindled and continues to be dwindling precipitously by the day while the written and spoken Armenian in Armenia is evolving very fast in a way that has brought me to a point where I literally do not understand passages after passages of Armenian spoken and written in Armenia.

  37. avatar Donna Marie Coyle // August 18, 2017 at 10:37 am // Reply

    Thank you Marie, I understand what you are saying honestly and clearly. I grew up with an American/Armenian mother and American/ Ukrainian father. Our Mom parents fled eastern Ottoman Empire, Bandirma in 1913 and Constantinople in 1920’s.

    We heard English and Armenian mixed with some Turkish words. My siblings do not speak Armenian, however, we know our history, culture, and cook our cuisine. Our grandfather called us all yavrous. He would cry and swear in Turkish while watching the nightly news of the Vietnam War. He was a peaceful and loving grandfather, I miss him.

    Best, Donna Marie

  38. avatar Margaret-Rose Dally // August 18, 2017 at 11:12 am // Reply

    If you speak Armenian, are you Armenia? Is that the other side of the coin. I think people should not forget their heritage and knowing several language is so good. I am not Armenian, but I speak the language. I volunteer here in Armenia. How many Armenian descendants can say they helped the people in Armenia? Some never back after leaving. So Armenians go to USA, they do not speak English nor do they try to learn it. They are so proud to be Armenian and yet they forget how bad it is for people here.

  39. The measure of an Armenian is how much his or her work benefits Armenians.

  40. avatar Vatche Iskedjian // August 18, 2017 at 3:12 pm // Reply

    Just before participating to the first AYF tri-regional seminar at Camp Hayastan in 1984, our advisors in Canada warned us not to be surprised (nor angry) at the fact that almost all participants from the US East Coast were non-Armenian speakers. To our delight, we met and became friends with 3rd generation US Armenians who we found more patriotic, more devoted to the Armenian cause than most Armenian-speaking diaspora members. During that same time, we were also invited for a BBQ in Lowell where we witnessed the patriotism and devotion in the tearful eyes of members of the community who in most part were not fluent in Armenian. Being and feeling Armenian is in the heart and soul of a person. What good is it if a person is entirely fluent in Armenian, yet has zero participation in the advancement of the Armenian cause?

  41. Let us see how well the newer transplants do in passing along the Armenian language and spirit to their children in the Diaspora. They may not realize how much is involved in staying Armenian outside Armenia. Unfortunately, once the realization occurs, it may be too late for the children. Too bad some must learn the hard way. As a people who may near extinction soon, we can’t afford to lose even one Armenian.

  42. There is so many Armenians from Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Central Asia and so on, and there is many-many different reasons why some of them do not speak Armenian language. I have another question to Armenians who used to live in Armenia, speak Armenian language (and just because of that count themselves patriots.)Why did you leave Armenia to America and blame others for not knowing the language? Some of us can not even answer, because for some reason the parents did not teach.Stop judging,learn to help to each other!

  43. avatar John Vartanian // August 19, 2017 at 12:23 am // Reply

    I don’t think so.I think your just a waste to the Armenian culture. Because the culture won’t make sense to you.You are the same as those Fresno Armenians that just say their Armenian and don’t speak it and start marrying outside there race and forgetting who they really are.

  44. avatar Roxann Muradian Petzold // August 20, 2017 at 8:11 pm // Reply

    My sister and I were first generation Americans. When she started school, she spoke only Armenian and came home wondering why no one understood her. As a result, my parents did the reverse and only spoke English in the home around us. My sister continued to understand since my parents spoke Armenian to each other and our grandparents lived above us and did the same. I was an infant and grew up with very little ability to speak but did understand some. This was at a time that having a foreign name made you “different”. I have always loved my heritage and was actively involved at church. I am not married to an Armenian but have 3 sons who were strongly influenced by my family and would tell others at school that they were Armenian even though they have a German last name. Their wives cook Armenian food even though they are not. In 2015, my children had the commemoration decal on their cars and my one daughter-in-law was stopped by a policeman in Great Falls, MT. He asked her about it and she explained that her husband was 1/2 Armenian. He thanked her for honoring the Armenians because he too was 1/2 Armenian. Who you are has nothing to do with the language you speak but what is in your heart. If we want to keep the language alive, then one parent must speak only English while the other speaks only Armenian. Your children will be bilingual – something I wish my parents knew those many years ago. The proof is with my cousin whose children would sit at the table and speak English to her and Armenian to their dad. My one daughter-in-law is Japanese and my grandchildren are bilingual as well as understanding their heritage from both sides. Whether we speak the language or not, we stay connected. I don’t remember a time when our communities did not organize to send money overseas to help our people. I know many if not most do so today. We are family and no one should make us feel less because we can’t speak Armenian.

  45. avatar Proud to be American // August 21, 2017 at 4:23 pm // Reply

    I am not 100% Armenian. In fact I am 0% Armenian. My wife is 100% Armenian, but, in Carol’s term, passive Armenian. I attend Badarak. It is beautiful, calming and spiritual. I, we, are studying Armenian and have visited Armenia twice in the last five years, I study the language because I found the nation’s history to be both tragic and inspirational
    I surely have not mastered the language although I can now recognize and write the very challenging alphabet. We found the people in Armenia to be friendly. No one laughed, at least not to my face, as I tried to speak the language in Hayesdan. In fact they were patient and helpful as I plodded along in what was likely at best a 2nd or 3rd grade level. Would that have been the case in France, Italy, etc. I don’t think so.
    While speaking the language is an asset, this odar thinks being Armenian is not a language. It is a spirit of kindness and respect. It is an understanding of a tragic past with an optimistic view of the future. It is an understanding that Armenians are a small, but justifiable proud ethnicity. It is the realization and honor of representing a people and a nation that can hold its head high for both being the First Nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion in 301AD and keeping the religion alive through centuries of persecution.
    Being Armenian is more that a name, language or ethnicity. It is a spirit, a state of mind which will never die regardless of language.

    • I am 100% Armenian, fluent in three languages, fluent in Armenian (both main dialects) and I respectfully disagree. You can be spiritual, be respectful of others and be deeply religious and a devout Christian but none of those make or identify you as an Armenian. Armenians existed as a nation thousands of years prior to adopting Christianity as their state religion in 301 AD. Christianity is just another piece of the overall Armenian identity without which you are not less of an Armenian and with which you are not any better Armenian. In fact, religion does not recognize national identity. The Armenian language is the foundation of Armenian identity and its survival.

  46. If you have Armenian blood running through your veins you are an Armenian, period. Whether or not you speak the language, and practice the culture, determine how complete or incomplete of an Armenian you are. This does not mean that if you don’t speak the language you are less of an Armenian but that you are lacking that critical piece of Armenian identity and that you are more inclined to assimilate since I personally consider fluency in the Armenian language as a shield against assimilation. Conversely, if you speak the language, even if you speak it fluently, that does not necessarily mean you are a better Armenian than those who don’t but it does mean you are much more of a complete Armenian.

    The relationship between language and culture is deeply rooted. Language is used to maintain and convey culture and cultural ties. Different ideas stem from differing language use within one’s culture and the whole intertwining of these relationships start at one’s birth. As we learn the language and live the culture we learn to behave, act and react certain ways that are unique to our people which we instinctively identify with.

    So, let’s face it, contrary to common myth, language is not just a form of communication but rather it is a part of being who we are that not only distinguishes us from others but it acts as a means which unites us. If you are born into an Armenian family but don’t speak Armenian, you speak English as an example, it is highly likely that you do not hang out with Armenians who speak the language. You most likely read books from English authors and not Armenian ones which further alienate and distance you from your roots. Even though fluency in the Armenian language does not determine how good of an Armenian you are and even though the lack of knowledge in Armenian language does not determine whether or not you are a “real” Armenian its importance should never be underestimated. I think the language is the foundation of the Armenian identity and its survival.

    Հայոց լեզուն հիմքնա հայ ազգի գոյատեվման!

  47. Usually whether or not one speaks Armenian is due to events out of their control. It is determined by whether one’s parents sent them to Armenian school or themselves insisted on speaking Armenian at home. It is also determined by whether one grew up in a country that encourages multiculturalism–Canada, European countries–or whether one grew up in a country that encourages assimilation into the “melting pot”–USA. It is unfair to judge people for things that they cannot control.

  48. avatar Arsini Anteryasian // August 24, 2017 at 6:31 pm // Reply

    Great article
    The way i see it is we can not tick all boxes to be considered as Armenian
    For example we setteled in New zealand we do not have school no church and only small community however we are trying our bests to keep the culture and language my grandkids speak Armenian but only at home would they keep it for the next generation not sure because it is out of their control, oh well thanks for the lovely great article

  49. avatar Talar Kaloustian // September 5, 2017 at 5:23 pm // Reply

    Thank you for your article – please just know how much it means to me, and clearly to many others.

  50. “This does not mean that if you don’t speak the language you are less of an Armenian but that you are lacking that critical piece of Armenian identity and that you are more inclined to assimilate since I personally consider fluency in the Armenian language as a shield against assimilation.”

    Excellent point, Ararat, and I agree. I want to add that, if an Armenian does not speak Armenian because he/she grew up in a non-Armenian speaking environment, then it is very important that one who is proud of who they are and wants to keep their culture to at least take the steps to start learning the language.

    The important reason for this is that in Armenian there are several words or expressions which one can only understand if they know the language. Expressions that are hard to translate into English, for example. Thus by engaging in the language that way, the full experience of our culture can be felt.

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