Western Armenian Renaissance – Update 2.1

Original graphic: Rupen Janbazian, h-pem editor

My colleague put it perfectly on the fourth episode of the Meet the Revolution podcast. “When it comes to language—the Armenian language—there’s been some sort of online virtual renaissance, almost like a virtual զարթօնք (zartonk | renaissance) of Western Armenian, since this pandemic hit,” said Rupen Janbazian, the editor of h-pem.com. And he’s right, isn’t he? Unless you’ve been living under Patrick Star’s rock for the past three months, you’ve seen it, high and dry: the Western Armenian language, in action, en-ligne.

Back in February, the Armenian Communities Department of the Gulbenkian Foundation announced the “Creative Culture Program” for Lebanese youth to create in the Western Armenian language. It was Armstrong’s small step that launched a discussion on language revival using innovative methods. What came after was a global pandemic and the title of this piece: a boom in Western Armenian content that is creative, vocal and witty in nature, incentivized by the starving need for daily familial and familiar conversations, online—not in a textbook, not within the four walls of a classroom, not only about patriotism or nationalism, but about our present and every day; finally, like any other thriving language, alive. 

[RELATED: Read Shahen’s commentary in Western Armenian in the Hairenik]

In this piece, I will try and break down the multifaceted flow of virtual Western Armenian content and conclude it with a message to all those who think our language is dying, because it’s anything but.

Աղուոր Բաներ-esque (Aghvor Paner | “Nice Things”, inspired by poet Zahrad’s words, “when nice things happen, [consequently], nice things happen”) artsy pages have been sprouting left and right on my Instagram timeline lately, be it either old pages dusting off their creative selves or new ones taking flight into the great Western Armenian virtual unknown, from advocating for feminism, May Day and #BlackLivesMatter to crafty alternatives of dialogue slang and calls to self-isolate.

Western Armenian podcasts are now a thing, mostly thanks to our better-than-ever culturally-thriving Armenian community of Istanbul. Heard of Ասպանդակ\Asbantag? What about «անուն ճաշ քաղաք» (“Name dish city”)? It’s fine if you haven’t, because you know about it now! What about h-pem’s audiobook of William Saroyan’s short stories? Or the radio-theater of Yervant Odian and Hagop Baronian humor pieces on YouTube by Yeghia Akgun?

Old short films such as Ara Madzounian’s award-winning “The Pink Elephant,” Tony Partamian’s Sunderland-awardee “Hrametsek” and Vatche Boulghourjian’s Cannes-awardee “Fifth Column” have resurfaced and are being celebrated by a younger generation. Hamazkayin Lebanon’s Kaspar Ipegian Theater Troupe has started uploading its taped theatrical performances on YouTube.

It doesn’t end there, and it only gets weirder! Sebu Simonian giving us a virtual tour of the Dino Hall at the Natural History Museum of LA County in Western Armenian? Yes, please! A bolsahye telling me how to bake my Easter choreg on his YouTube channel? Of course! Vahe Berberian and his weekly virtual talk show (which I always manage to tune into)? Also available!

I’ve covered artsy and audiovisual, but we’re still only halfway through. Western Armenian haikus are a thing now, thanks to Garin Bedian, who’s also part of a new community on Twitter, sworn to tweet only in Western Armenian, no matter the topic. As an excited member of this community, I texted my longtime friend Sevan Gharibian and new friend Sarin Akbas to found the first and only Western Armenian Telegram channel, «Ի՞նչ Կայ Չկայ», which already has an approximate 300 subscribers and serves to send custom-made fun-to-use stickers, tiny quizzes, literary pieces and creative works. Not too far back, Hamazkayin’s “Kantsaran” launched an online contest—#ՏունըՄնանքՈւՍտեղծագործենք (Let’s stay home and create)—to encourage young Armenians to write poetry about the pandemic. The new Gulbenkian “Be Heard” Prize has sparked additional dialogue on how (and why) to discuss non-Armenian topics in Armenian and the importance of it all, pushing my community and above to create in a language that is too-familiar, but only used to discuss the same few limited topics in an everlasting loop.

The education sector is also digitally thriving. We have so much online Western Armenian educational and pedagogical content, and unfortunately, for most of us in the diaspora, it took a pandemic to make the move. Alik Arzoumanian from Watertown, Mass., narrated a Dr. Seuss classic for her kindergarten students and quickly became a “YouTube sensation,” opening a whole new world for teachers in the diaspora to make the much-needed virtual move. From elementary math to anything and everything, these creators were further encouraged by initiatives like Gulbenkian’s “Prizes for Teaching in Armenian Online.”

But kids got way more than they bargained for because it doesn’t stop at school-related learning! From Hamazkayin Canada’s children’s storytime Facebook live sessions to Parev Arev’s now frequently-uploaded quirky rhymes; animated classic fairy tales by Pokrig; Lala and Ara posting children’s original content for everyone to see; AGBU starting a free-of-charge Learning Zone initiative on their Armenian Virtual College; quality-dubbed Treasure Island; TUMO’s recent comic; my friend Sarin’s independent YouTube grammar classes; even storytelling in the Hamshen dialect; the list goes on… Soon, Nayiri.com will release a smartphone autocorrect, and a group of international youngsters will publish fictional novels. I’m confident I missed out on so much more online content I might’ve come across. 

A few valid concerns brought to my attention by friends are worth noting, though. My friend Kourken Papazian pointed out how all this is “still a drop in the ocean of needed reforms,” and Kayane Madzounian was worried about how the abstract online presence of content would be treated once lockdown measures were lifted and physical presence of such content is nonexistent.

Maybe UNESCO was wrong all along and we’re simply too lazy to keep the language alive, and that’s on us.

All this and we’re only halfway through 2020, and apparently, depending on whom you ask, only in the first wave of the pandemic. Maybe all we needed was a break from our daily non-Armenian lives to talk about our non-Armenian lives, in Armenian.

Maybe UNESCO was wrong all along and we’re simply too lazy to keep the language alive, and that’s on us. 

Maybe we skipped the phase of making our language “cool,” “hip,” and “slangy” because we were too pre-occupied by post-genocide displacement, mourning and immigration. 

Maybe most of our curricula gears are stuck with everything that has to do with the traditional, leaving out all that interests kids and youth today.

Maybe we corrected and disputed the spelling and grammar more than we should’ve and drove our youth into avoidance altogether because, frankly, we don’t care if արեւ (arev | sun) is written with an է or an ե if we’re not publishing a book anytime soon.

Maybe we didn’t modernize the language enough, “taboo” vocab is close to nonexistent, our word for “sexy” isn’t sexy enough, and maybe because sexiness isn’t for Armenians.

Maybe it’s time the older generation should consider giving us some space to breathe and create in a language that feels like home but also, somehow, too distant to be used in everyday life. This is your cue to stop telling me whether I can or cannot use կոր (“gor”), because I won’t. Slang is also a language.

Maybe we’re on the right track, and maybe we’re too hesitant to use the wrong words, verbs, spelling or grammar, but enough. My generation is often credited for impressing the older ones when given the appropriate time, space and resources. So, give us exactly that, the benefit of the doubt, and we might prove UNESCO wrong.

Shahen Araboghlian

Shahen Araboghlian

Shahen Araboghlian is an alumnus from the Lebanese American University, BA in Political Science/International Affairs, with an Exchange Degree from Sciences Po - Paris. He’s currently a Graduate Program Scholar in Multimedia Journalism at LAU. He was the former management assistant and social media strategist at h-pem.com. His interests revolve around labor rights, social movements, development studies, and IOs.
Shahen Araboghlian

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  1. A very nice article, with many refreshing ideas, good points, and great resources. I would also like to add one more resource to the list: the excellent blog hayerenblog.wordpress.com. For the past four years, a group of dedicated individuals have worked tirelessly to keep Western Armenian alive through this blog. Here’s how it works: young (and not so young) Armenian speakers submit their short or long paragraphs or articles with the goal of improving their written language. Others help them to correct their pieces.
    I do think it is important to strive for correct spelling, although fear of making mistakes should not stop us from expressing ourselves in our language.

  2. It’s Western Armenian’s last gasp….A language is meant to be spoken, read and written to be considered “living”. All this online hoopla is a mere fraction of this. It’s probably all that can be expected givern the circumstances.

  3. Bravo! Western Armenan is the true language of being Armenian. To me, the language spoken in our Republic is a different language–let us face it. But first, back to the basics. If the word is properly pronounced, writing it is no problem–the pronunciation of each letter in the alphabet must be learned. eg., P=p as in person; B= Ban, not pan;
    d=soft d, not t, Vardan, not Vartan. Wine, soft g=gini, not Gini.

  4. Bonsoir c tres important d enseigner de mon cote je parle mais je ne sais pas lire.

    Bien a vous,
    Renee kazezian

  5. I wholeheartedly agree that the Western Armenian is the right and most attractive Armenian to be spoken and preserved at all cost. Nothing makes me angrier than to listen to these Eastern Armenian spoken in Armenia. A Language full of Russian and Turkish words mixed in every sentence. The whole spoken language is down right ugly, rough and false. It is spoken with many annoying variety of accents enough to drive a sane person to insanity. As for their writing and pronouncing Armenian surnames goes.., well, it՚s another sore spot, and it only tells us how seventy years of Russian influence has not only effected the way they think, but also write and speak.

  6. I studied both and can honestly say that Eastern Armenian is much more clear and more pragmatic. I don’t see any future for the WA anywhere, it will line up with grapar and be frozen…

  7. Lol these comments claiming Western Armenian is better than Eastern Armenian hahah first of all Eastern Armenian spoken in Armenia is 10000 times closer to Classical Armenian it has preserved all the sounds of old Armenian and has the original three way distinctions. While Western Armenian has dropped numerous sounds and has flipped other sounds. For instance the classic Indo European word for DOOR in English DUR sin Eastern Armenian DURAY in Russian became TUR in Western Armenian. GERMANIA became KERMANIA Italia became IDALYA. These are all wrong. Western Armenians don’t understand that they speak a horrific butchered version of Armenian and can’t understand real Armenian Eastern Armenian so they get mad. Western Armenians use Turkish Arabic and Farsi words on a daily basis yet claim eastern Armenians use Russian when in reality there are literally only one or two words from Russian used and it’s slang terms. Back to the point. Western Armenian spoken by the diaspora is the Istanbul dialect of broken Armenian with dropped sounds switched sounds has lost all the Indo European features and sounds more like Arabic now yet they claim its “real” Armenian when it’s the complete opposite. Eastern Armenians pronounce all the sounds in the alphabet created by Mesrop Mashtots while Western Armenian can’t pronounce 15 of those original sounds anymore. Just sad how western Armenians can’t accept reality

    • I’d like to say how thankful I am for this article. I’m happy to see Western Armenian being used and celebrated. Shad shnorhagal em.

      But I am disappointed by some of the comments on this comment section. I do not believe either dialect of Armenian should be deemed superior to the other. All Armenian dialects (and pre-genocide there were many more than two distinct dialects) should be respected.
      Both western and eastern armenian have evolved in their own way and both continue to blossom into the 21st century. This is not a beauty contest people.

      Please respect and learn from one another. Armenian is Armenian, wether it be Eastern or Western, Persian or Tiflis dialect. Languages evolve, accept it and embrace this while preserving the beauty of the past.

      Thank you again for this article. I hope to see more like it.

  8. This is for these who look down their collective nose on the Hayastan or Eastern Armenian phonetics and language. There is no doubt that Arevmtahays in “western” cultural centers (even in Istanbul, though it was not considered part of the West for most of its history) were able to preserve and develop Armenian cultural, literary and even religious heritage through centuries of Armenian “dark ages” when we did not have a statehood. And this is not to diminish the contributions of Armenian communities in Tbilisi, India, Iran, etc. however, what Western Armenians don’t realize is that Mesrop Mashtots worked in the court of King Khosrov IV, whose capital was Vagharshapat, the seat of the Armenian church, not somewhere in western Armenia. At the time, Mashtots, was a court scribe and translator in Greek and Persian languages, when he was tasked by that king to study the “relevant” languages of the time and come up with an alphabet for his country. Since the King and his court were from, based in and spoke in what is today called Eastern Armenia(n), obviously, the new alphabet would be designed to reflect the “Eastern” phonetics of the King’s court, i.e. the official language of the land, not a provincial western, which at the time was under Greek influence, or any other local dialects – Mush, Artsakh, etc. Now, it appears that in 1600 years our Western half have not figured out (or refuse to admit) that Mashtots, himself a tsur Mshetsi like my grandfather, did not invent an alphabet with two letters intended to sound like P, as it does in Western Armenian phonetics (parev/barev and pigh), or two letters that sound like K (Kevork/Gevork and kit), or two T’s (Tavit/David and trchun). They don’t seem to ask themselves why invent the hard ‘T (‘toon-house) if he meant to pronounce it as Doon, or the hard ‘K (‘kin-woman), if he meant to pronounce it as Geen. This only shows the resilience and hastakoghutiun of our nation. It’s probably why we have survived this far, for it wasn’t for our diplomatic skills, for sure.

  9. I thought we had put this debate to rest, but I guess not. Again, this article was not meant to criticize any form of spoken Armenian. The author’s intent was to highlight a small renaissance in Western Armenian.

    Languages evolve in many ways; Armenian is no exception. This evolution in language should be respected and celebrated. Instead the tone and verbiage of many of the comments beneath this article have been negative and sometimes down right offensive.

    1) No one should claim superiority in their manner of speech. And no one should look down on someone else for their way they speaking. This is rude and inconsiderate. All Armenians should respect each other. In fact, all humans should respect one another. Remember the Towel of Babel?

    2) All forms of vernacular Armenian have borrowed vocabulary and syntax from other languages. This is inevitable. Yes, the spoken Armenian in the Republic of Armenia has a some Russian, Turkish and Persian. Also, Western Armenian has borrowed from Turkish, Arabic, Greek, English, French, etc. So what?

    3) Eastern Armenian has stayed more true in pronunciation. Western Armenian has lost some sounds. So what? Accept it and move on. I say “tram” — you say “dram” or “pogh” — big deal! Who cares? Give me a t, td, or d — I can figure it out! In fact the T-D, K-G, P-B sound shifts (among others like F-P) are extremely common in many other languages. Parsi VS Farsi. Father vs Padre, Mother vs Madre etc etc etc…

    4) Armenian has and always will evolve. I don’t see any of us speaking Grapar anymore… In fact, let’s investigate some common Armenian words. Take “nav” (boat) for example… “Nav” is 100% Latin (think NAVigation,etc). The word for mirror (hyli) is 100% Greek. “Bagh” (cold) is also Greek. I could go on for ever with this…My point is, language is and should be free to evolve in its own way. English is a massive amalgam of Latin, French, Greek, etc…but you don’t see anyone arguing of this. I don’t see English speakers bickering over the English of the USA, England, Wales, Scotland, Australia, South Africa,etc… Maybe the acceptance of evolution in the English language is part of its WORLDWIDE success and (unfortunate) dominance.

    5) Compare the Spanish (Castellano) of Spain and other Latin American countries. Each country has its own manner of speech. This is inevitable as populations separate through time and space. Also compare, the Korean in North and South Korea. North Korea has more Chinese and Russian — South Korea uses more English and Japanese. Kurdish in Turkey is very different from Kurdish in Iraq. Etc etc etc ….

    In closing, this comment section has gotten a bit out of hand. So much so that maybe someone should write an article about 1) The evolution of modern vernacular Armenian and 2) Prejudices, biases and misconceptions among specific subsets of our community. Also, if you decide to post anything remotely derogatory on this page again I suggest you earn a degree in Linguistics first.

  10. It’s early morning and I feel so relieved after reading the blog. What a conscious effort to keep the Armenian Identity. Wishing the movement much success for realizing that it’s your turn to keep our national treasures.

  11. Here is my dilemna, and maybe by understanding where I am coming from, you can see why there are strong feelings about dialects. I am from the diaspora, my family spoke western Armenian at home as a child. That and the church is really all we had left of our culture. So I understood western Armenian, but time has eroded my understanding. I am now 68, I spoke western Armenian when I was 5. I’d like to relearn the language, but I want to relearn the original language that my family spoke because I comes back much easier. Once I can understand what folks are saying again, it would be easier to learn the eastern dialect. Right now, I cannot understand anyone speaking quickly, or newscasts. So, I have to relearn the western first. I think others might be having the same experience. If you have any suggestions of websites that teach western Armenian to English speakers, they would be appreciated.

    • Dear Diana,
      maybe you can try Zndoog.com, it’s a website created for sharing western armenian ressources. A lot of it is mainly for children, but still helps in an effort to relearn the language. Wishing you all the best on your journey back to western Armenian!

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