Who do we consider to be Armenian?

ARF-ER CC Chairman George Aghjayan (Photo: Knar Bedian)

How many Armenians are there in the world?

I have often heard or seen mentioned that there are 10 million Armenians worldwide. Recently, a few social media posts got me thinking about this figure and realistically who we can consider to be Armenian. To do so, I think it is easier to first state unequivocally those who cannot be practically considered Armenian.

The most obvious are those claiming to be Armenian but not Christian. Our nation has been defined as Christian almost from the beginning, and everyone knows Armenia was the first nation to declare Christianity as its national religion. Over the last 1,000 years of subjugation, if an Armenian converted from the Christian faith, then they were no longer considered Armenian. So, those who are Muslim, Jewish or do not believe in a God cannot possible be considered Armenian. We cannot be sure how many of these so-called non-Christian Armenians there are, but most likely they number in the millions.

But really this is not specific enough. The core of our nation has always been the Armenian Apostolic church. So, those who are Catholic, Protestant, Mormon or members of any of the many other Christian sects cannot be considered Armenian. Again, I am not sure how many such people there are, but I would guess over one million worldwide.

I think we must also consider those who were not born to two fully Armenian parents. While someone who has full Armenian parentage is clearly Armenian (assuming they meet the other criteria we have or will lay out), their non-Armenian spouse, no matter how sympathetic he or she might be to the Armenian people, clearly cannot be Armenian. After all, we are not in the business of assimilating others into our nation. Neither can the children from a mixed marriage be considered Armenian.

So now we have gotten to a core of those who can reasonably be considered Armenian – the full-blooded Armenian Apostolic. But is that enough? Isn’t more required than simply birth and religion? For example, if one does not speak pure Armenian (not corrupted by foreign words from Russian, Turkish, Persian, Arabic, etc.), can they really be considered Armenian? Even if they speak Armenian, what is the extent of their engagement in the Armenian community? Shouldn’t we expect an Armenian to participate in Armenian community life, and if they don’t, can they reasonably be considered Armenian? To be considered Armenian, you must fully embrace the language, food, culture and also contribute to the betterment of the Armenian people through the various community organizations. Again, those failing on any of these points must number in the millions.

Sometimes I sense Armenians treat their Armenianness as some sort of membership in an exclusive country club.

It seems to me that those who know nothing of our rich history or geography really cannot be considered Armenian. After all, aren’t these equally as important as language and culture?

The last criteria I would use to consider someone Armenian is that they should be living in Armenia. The so-called hyphenated Armenian is a fictitious construct to which we should not succumb.

At this point, I think we can acknowledge that really there are not even one million Armenians in the world. Based on the criteria above, I am not one of them, and I am sure by now you have gotten my point.

Sometimes I sense Armenians treat their Armenianness as some sort of membership in an exclusive country club. Such pride itself is not bad, but when this pride in Armenianness leads to exclusivity, then it becomes destructive.

This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend the 50th anniversary of the AYF Junior Seminar where over 300 of our ARMENIAN youth from all backgrounds were embracing their Armenianness. No one in this world has a right to tell them they do not measure up!

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George Aghjayan

George Aghjayan is the Director of the Armenian Historical Archives and the chair of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Central Committee of the Eastern United States. Aghjayan graduated with honors from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Actuarial Mathematics. He achieved Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries in 1996. After a career in both insurance and structured finance, Aghjayan retired in 2014 to concentrate on Armenian related research and projects. His primary area of focus is the demographics and geography of western Armenia as well as a keen interest in the hidden Armenians living there today. Other topics he has written and lectured on include Armenian genealogy and genocide denial. He is a board member of the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), a frequent contributor to the Armenian Weekly and Houshamadyan.org, and the creator and curator westernarmenia.weebly.com, a website dedicated to the preservation of Armenian culture in Western Armenia.
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13 Comments

  1. If you were to apply for Armenian Citizenship, the Armenian government will require you prove that you are Armenian (all Armenians are entitled to citizenship). The question is
    how to you do that.

    • The criteria are published in the embassies websites. For instance , only my maternal grandmother was fully armenian, however, i am baptised in armenian church, and studied in armenian college in venice and my heart is armenian and i am very active amongst the armenians of Albania, been also for some time operational secretary of the community, and usually armenians visiting albania get in touch with me. So with these criteria i can apply for citizenship (mainly baptism cert.)

    • Michael: It’s not very often that our “Baron AghjaIAN” misses anything, so, like you, I was also surprised that he didn’t mention the name spelling. I also notice that you have correctly changed his Westernized first name to an appropriate Armenian title.

  2. Brilliant! Since we were almost annihilated during WWI, it seems we should be thankful for EVERY person who identifies as ARMENIAN (with no further restrictions). The world has changed when everything you mentioned was “important” to our elders…. And I say thank goodness for these changes. Bravo for assimilation; however, it is my hope that future generations know where they came from!!!

  3. Maybe you don’t consider me Armenian, but I sure consider myself one. My mother was 100% Armenian, Victoria Tarvez Bozyan Gordon. My father was older when he married my mother so I knew very little of my Scottish ancestors. We lived with my Bozyan grandparents until after I graduated from college on me. He migrated to America in so consider them my only grandparents. My grandfather, Arakel Bozyan was the major male influence in my life. He came to NYC in 1881-2, and was learning a trade planning to return to Armenia when the first massacres occurred. He sent for members of his family and was one of the founders of an Armenian church in NYC. I have seen his name and the name of my grandmother’s brother in a bible in the foyer of that church. The rest of the story is too long to tell here, but he married, had my oldest uncle and my mother, then moved to Newport, RI, where his other three children were born and where I was raised. He became a well known and highly respected antique dealer

    • i think he was being sarcastic with his article because he says “based on the above criteria, i am not one”. the message being that we should not be so exclusive when it comes to who we consider to be armenian.

  4. Thank you George Aghjayan, for this article. I once went to an Armenian wedding of friends who were Armenian Apostolic. I was placed at a table for the wedding reception at a table with a middle-aged couple. During the conversation, they asked me what Armenian church I attended, to which I answered that my parents raised me Methodist, but they had been Armenian Catholics. At which point, this couple rose and moved to another table. So I guess all the support that my parents gave to Armenian organizations meant nothing to them. Greater power comes from addition, not subtraction.

  5. Please share your message with the children attending Seminar next year so they understand everyone in attendance is Armenian. There are Armenian children in attendance who attend church regularly and those who don’t. There are children who speak fluent Armenian and those who don’t. There are children with brown hair and brown eyes and those who don’t. They all attended to learn more about their ancestry.

  6. The need to define Armenianness is incredibly harmful. My mother was the only one in her family to marry a non Armenian. The way her family treated me and my father, as “others” — the neglect and lack of connection — left a huge mark on me on. It was a club I could never be a part of even though I look Armenian, have elementary language proficiency, and am well read on Armenian history. For decades I’ve wondered what I am and where I fit in. Pushing 40 and I’m glad I now know — not with my blood relations, but with my relations of choice.

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