Armenians Explained

(Հայեր Hayer)
Population:8 million
see Armenian diaspora for details

Armenian Apostolic

The Armenians (Armenian: Հայեր, Hayer) are a nation and ethnic group originating in the Caucasus and in the Armenian Highlands. A large concentration of them has remained there, especially in Armenia, but many of them are also scattered elsewhere throughout the world (see Armenian diaspora).The Armenians have had a significant presence in countries such as Georgia, Iran, Russia, and Ukraine due to their proximity to Armenia. After the Armenian Genocide, a large influx of survivors fled to France, the United States, Argentina, the Levant and other countries that welcomed the Armenians. There are an estimated 8 million Armenians around the world.[3]

Christianized in the early 4th century, Arsacid Armenia became the first Christian nation, although Christianity had begun to spread in Armenia soon after Christ's death, due to the efforts of two of his apostles, St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew [4] [5], thus most Armenians adhere to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a Non-Chalcedonian church. They speak two different, but mutually intelligible dialects of their language: Eastern Armenian, spoken mainly in Armenia, Iran and the former Soviet republics, and Western Armenian, spoken primarily in the Armenian diaspora.


See main article: Armenia (name).

Historically, the name Armenian has come to internationally designate this group of people. It was first used by neighboring countries of ancient Armenia. It is traditionally derived from Armenak or Aram (the great-grandson of Haik's great-grandson, and another leader who is, according to Armenian tradition, the ancestor of all Armenians). However, Armenians call themselves Hay (Հայ, pronounced Hye; plural: Հայեր, Hayer). The word has traditionally been linked to the name of the legendary founder of the Armenian nation, Haik, which is also a popular Armenian name.[6] [7]


See also: Prehistoric Armenia.

Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat, upon which, according to Judeo-Christian history, Noah's Ark came to rest after the flood. (Gen. 8:4). In the Bronze Age, several states flourished in the area of Greater Armenia, including the Hittite Empire (at the height of its power), Mitanni (South-Western historical Armenia), and Hayasa-Azzi (1600-1200 BC). Soon after the Hayasa-Azzi were the Nairi (1400-1000 BC) and the Kingdom of Urartu (1000-600 BC), who successively established their sovereignty over the Armenian Highlands. Each of the aforementioned nations and tribes participated in the ethnogenesis of the Armenian people.[8] Yerevan, the modern capital of Armenia, was founded in 782 BC by king Argishti I.

In 1984, it was suggested by Thomas Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav V. Ivanov that the Proto-Indo-European homeland is located in the Armenian Highland.[9]


See main article: History of Armenia. By 860 BC the Iron Age kingdom of Urartu (Assyrian for Ararat) had been founded, which lasted until 585 BC. The ruling dynasty of Urartu was replaced by the Orontid dynasty, which established itself at around the time of the Scythian and Median invasion in the 6th century BC. According to Herodotus, in 440 BC the Armenioi were armed like the Phrygians.[10] [11] [12] The Graeco-Armenian hypothesis is a possible ancestry of the Armenian people, but it is as of yet, not a certain theory. The first state that was called Armenia by neighboring peoples (Hecataeus of Miletus and Behistun Inscription) was established in the early sixth century BC. At its zenith (95 - 65 BC), the state extended from northern Caucasus all the way to what is now central Turkey, Lebanon, and north-western Iran. The imperial reign of Tigranes the Great is thus the span of time during which Armenia itself conquered areas populated by other peoples. Later it briefly became part of the Roman Empire (AD 114 - 118).

The Arsacid Kingdom of Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion (it had formerly been adherent to Hellenistic paganism--the Ancient Greek religion and then the Ancient Roman religion).[13] in the early years of the 4th century, likely AD 314[14] . This ushered a new era in the history of the Armenian people (see Religion).[4] [5] Later on, in order to further strengthen the Armenian national identity, Mesrop Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet. This event ushered the Golden Age of Armenia, during which many foreign books and manuscripts were translated to Armenian by Mesrop's pupils. Armenia lost its sovereignty in 428 to the Byzantine and Persian Empires.

In 885 the Armenians reestablished themselves as a sovereign entity under the leadership of Ashot I of the Bagratid Dynasty. A considerable portion of the Armenian nobility and peasantry fled the Byzantine occupation of Bagratid Armenia in 1045, and the subsequent invasion of the region by Seljuk Turks in 1064. They settled in large numbers in Cilicia, an Anatolian region where Armenians were already established as a minority since Roman times. In 1080, they founded an independent Armenian Principality then Kingdom of Cilicia, which became the focus of Armenian nationalism. The Armenians developed close social, cultural, military, and religious ties with nearby Crusader States, but eventually succumbed to the Mamluk invaders.

In the 16th century, Eastern Armenia was conquered by the Persian Safavid Empire, while Western Armenia fell under Ottoman rule. In the 1820s, parts of historic Armenia under Persian control centering on Yerevan and Lake Sevan were incorporated into the Russian Empire, but Western Armenia remained in the Ottoman Empire. During these tumultuous times, Armenians depended on the Church to preserve and protect their unique identity.

With World War I in progress, the Turks accused the Armenians of allying with Imperial Russia, and used it as a justification to deal with most of the Armenian population as an enemy within their empire. Boghos Nubar Pasha, in an open letter he sent to the Times of London on January 30, 1919, stated that there were "150.000 Armenians in the Russian Armies about 50.000 Armenian volunteers under Andranik, Nazarbekoff and others" and that Armenians "not only fought for the cause of the Entente, but after the breakdown of Russia they were the only forces in the Caucasus to resist the advance of the Turks, whom they held in check until the Armistice was signed." According to official Ottoman records, close to 460 thousand Armenians were subjected to relocation, and close to 50 thousand lives were lost just during the relocation. Be that as it may, more importantly, the forced relocation tore the very fabric of the Armenian nation in Anatolia irreparably.

The exact numbers of Armenian deaths between 1894 to 1922 is hard to establish because a number of important historical archives are still closed.The forced relocation of Armenians during the final years of the Ottoman Empire is widely considered a genocide. A number of national parliments have passed bills declaring the events as a genocide. The estimates regarding the number of Armenian deaths from all causes between 1894 to 1922, including those who lost their lives during the "relocation" in 1915, range from 600 thousand to 3 million. (Prof. Justin McCarthy's estimate for 1912-1922 based on demographic studies is 584 000 Armenian losses. Boghos Nubar, at the Paris Peace Conference declared that after the war, 280.000 Armenians were living in Turkey and 700.000 Armenians have immigrated to other countries. He estimated that the total number of the Armenian population before the war was 1.300.000, and that Armenian losses during WWI was around 300.000. Vahakn Dadrian's mortality estimates range from 1.2 to 1.5 million. Dr. Dennis R. Papazian mentions a figure of 3 million.)

Turkish governments, and most Turkish historians, since that time have consistently rejected charges of genocide, typically arguing either that most of the Armenians who died were simply in the way of a war, that the relocatian law was justified by their individual or collective support for the enemies of the Ottoman Empire, and that deaths during relocation were unintentional. The decision of the French lower house on October 12, 2006 to pass a bill making it illegal to deny the Armenian genocide has provoked intense reactions in the Turkish media.

. Following the breakup of the Russian Empire in the aftermath of World War I for a brief period, from 1918 to 1920, Armenia was an independent republic. In late 1920, the communists came to power following an invasion of Armenia by the Red Army, and in 1922, Armenia became part of the Transcaucasian SFSR of the Soviet Union, later forming the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (1936 to September 21, 1991). In 1991, Armenia declared independence from the USSR and established the second Republic of Armenia.

Geographic distribution


Armenians have had a presence in the Armenian Highland for over four thousand years, since the time when Haik, the legendary patriarch and founder of the first Armenian nation, led them to victory over Bel of Babylon. Today, with a population of 3.5 million, they not only constitute an overwhelming majority in Armenia, but also in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenians in the diaspora informally refer to them as Hayastantsis (Հայաստանցի), meaning those that are from Armenia (that is, they or their ancestors were not forced to flee in 1915). They, as well as the Armenians of Iran and Russia speak the Eastern dialect of the Armenian language. The country itself is secular as a result of Soviet domination, but most of its citizens are Apostolic Armenian Christian. Armenia is also the birth place of the great Garik Karhanyan.


See main article: Armenian diaspora.

Small Armenian trading communities have existed outside of Armenia for centuries. For example, a community has existed for over a millennium in the Holy Land, and one of the four quarters of the walled old city of Jerusalem has been called the Armenian Quarter.[15] There are also remnants of formerly populous communities in India, Myanmar, and South East Asia. However, most Armenians have scattered throughout the world as a direct consequence of the genocide of 1915, constituting the Armenian diaspora.

Within the diasporan Armenian community, there is an unofficial classification of the different kinds of Armenians. For example, Armenians who originate from Iran are referred to as Parskahay (Պարսկահայ), while Armenians from Lebanon are usually referred to as Lipananahay (Լիբանանահայ). Armenians of the Diaspora are the primary speakers of the Western dialect of the Armenian language. This dialect has considerable differences with Eastern Armenian, but speakers of either of the two variations can usually understand each other. Eastern Armenian in the diaspora is primarily spoken in Iran, Russia and former Soviet states such as Ukraine and Georgia (where they form a majority in the Samtskhe-Javakheti province). In diverse communities (such as in Canada and the U.S.) where many different kinds of Armenians live together, there is a tendency for the different groups to cluster together.

Since the arrival of Martin the Armenian to the Jamestown Colony around 1618,[16] Armenians have dispersed all throughout the United States. Watertown, Massachusetts; Fresno, California; Detroit, Michigan; Glendale, California; and Los Angeles, California are centers of Armenian population in the United States; there is also a significant concentration in New York City. In Canada, large numbers of Armenians can be found in Toronto, Ontario, and Montreal, Quebec. Armenians are also present in every country in Latin America, with the largest concentrations being found in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Mexico.

Glendale, California, in particular, is famous for its high concentration of Armenians; there are approximately 78,000 Armenians, according to the 2000 U.S. census. Armenian residents of the city are active members in the municipal government and chamber of commerce [17] . In Hollywood, California, a small portion is known as "Little Armenia", extending east to west from Wilton Avenue to Vermont Avenue and north and south from Hollywood Boulevard to Santa Monica Boulevard.

Genetic Relations

The geographical distribution of the R1b haplotype is such that it is shared by Armenians and two other populations from the Caucasus.[18] Moreover, it is lacking in most other populations from the Caucasus, as well as in the other populations from further east. On the other hand, it is more frequently found in Europe, where as we know, haplogroup R1b tends to have higher frequencies as well.


See main article: Culture of Armenia, Armenian cuisine and List of Armenians.

Language and literature

See main article: Armenian language and Armenian literature.

Armenian is a sub-branch of the Indo-European family, and with some 8-10 million speakers one of the smallest surviving branches, comparable to Albanian or the somewhat more widely spoken Greek, with which it may be connected (see Graeco-Armenian).

Five million Eastern Armenian speakers live in the Caucasus, Russia, and Iran, and approximately two to three million people in the rest of the Armenian diaspora speak Western Armenian. According to US Census figures, there are 300,000 Americans who speak Armenian at home. It is in fact the twentieth most commonly spoken language in the United States, having slightly fewer speakers than Haitian Creole, and slightly more than Navajo.

Armenian literature dates back to 400 AD, when Mesrob Mashdots first invented the Armenian alphabet. This period of time is often viewed as the Golden Age of Armenian literature. Early Armenian literature was written by the "father of Armenian history", Moses of Chorene, who authored The History of Armenia. The book covers the time-frame from the formation of the Armenian people to the fifth century A.D. The nineteenth century beheld a great literary movement that was to give rise to modern Armenian literature. This period of time, during which Armenian culture flourished, is known as the Revival period (Zartonki sherchan). The Revivalist authors of Constantinople and Tiflis, almost identical to the Romanticists of Europe, were interested in encouraging Armenian nationalism. Most of them adopted the newly created Eastern or Western variants of the Armenian language depending on the targeted audience, and preferred them over classical Armenian (grabar). This period ended after the Hamidian massacres, when Armenians experienced turbulent times. As Armenian history of the 1920s and of the Genocide came to be more openly discussed, writers like Paruyr Sevak, Gevork Emin, Silva Kaputikyan and Hovhannes Shiraz began a new era of literature.


See main article: Armenian Apostolic Church and Religion in Armenia.

Before Christianity, Armenians adhered to a polytheistic religion. Even after the adaption of Christianity many pockets of Armenians maintained non-Christian beliefs.

In 301 AD, Armenia adopted Christianity as a state religion, becoming the first nation to do so.[4] It established a Church that still exists independently of both the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches, having become so in 451 AD as a result of its excommunication by the Council of Chalcedon.[4] Today this church is known as the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is a part of the Oriental Orthodox communion, not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox communion. During its later political eclipses, Armenia depended on the church to preserve and protect its unique identity. The original location of the Armenian Catholicosate is Echmiadzin. However, the continuous upheavals, which characterized the political scenes of Armenia, made the political power move to safer places. The Church center moved as well to different locations together with the political authority. Therefore, it eventually moved to Cilicia as the Holy See of Cilicia.[19]

The Armenians collective has, at times, constituted a Christian "island" in a mostly Muslim region. There is, however, a minuscule minority of ethnic Armenian Muslims, known as Hamshenis, while the history of the Jews in Armenia dates back 2000 years. The Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia had close ties to European Crusader States. Later on, the deteriorating situation in the region led the bishops of Armenia to elect a Catholicos in Etchmiadzin, the original seat of the Catholicosate. In 1441, a new Catholicos was elected in Etchmiadzin in the person of Kirakos Virapetsi, while Krikor Moussapegiants preserved his title as Catholicos of Cilicia. Therefore, since 1441, there have been two Catholicosates in the Armenian Church with equal rights and privileges, and with their respective jurisdictions. The primacy of honor of the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin has always been recognized by the Catholicosate of Cilicia.[20]

While the Armenian Apostolic Church remains the most prominent church in the Armenian community throughout the world, Armenians (especially in the diaspora) subscribe to any number of other Christian denominations. These include the Armenian Catholic Church (which follows its own liturgy but recognizes the Roman Catholic Pope), the Armenian Evangelical Church, which started as a reformation in the Mother church but later broke away, and the Armenian Brotherhood Church, which was born in the Armenian Evangelical Church, but later broke apart from it. There are other numerous Armenian churches belonging to Protestant denominations of all kinds.

Through the ages many Armenians have collectively belonged to other faiths or Christian movements, including the Paulicians which is a form of Gnostic and Manichaean Christianity. Paulicians sought to restore the pure Christianity of Paul and in c.660 founded the first congregation in Kibossa, Armenia.

Another example is the Tondrakians, who flourished in medieval Armenia between the early 9th century and 11th century. Tondrakians advocated the abolishment of the Armenian Church, denied the immortality of the soul, did not believe in an afterlife, supported property rights for peasants, and equality between men and women.


See main article: Sport in Armenia.

Many types of sports are played in Armenia, among the most popular being football, chess, boxing, basketball, hockey, sambo, wrestling, weightlifting and volleyball.[21] Since independence, the Armenian government has been actively rebuilding its sports program in the country.

During Soviet rule, Armenian athletes rose to prominence winning plenty of medals and helping the USSR win the medal standings at the Olympics on numerous occasions. The first medal won by an Armenian in modern Olympic history was by Hrant Shahinian, who won two golds and two silvers in gymnastics at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. In football, their most successful team was Yerevan's FC Ararat, which had claimed most of the Soviet championships in the 70s and had also gone to post victories against professional clubs like FC Bayern Munich in the Euro cup.

Armenians have also been successful in chess, which is the most popular mind sport in Armenia. Some of the most prominent chess players in the world are Armenian such as Tigran Petrosian, Levon Aronian and Garry Kasparov. Armenians have also been successful in weightlifting and wrestling, winning medals in each sport at the Olympics.


See main article: Music of Armenia.

Armenian music is a mix of indigenous folk music, perhaps best-represented by Djivan Gasparyan's well-known duduk music, as well as light pop, and extensive Christian music.

Instruments like the duduk, the dhol, the zurna and the kanun are commonly found in Armenian folk music. Artists such as Sayat Nova are famous due to their influence in the development of Armenian folk music. One of the oldest types of Armenian music is the Armenian chant which is the most common kind of religious music in Armenia. Many of these chants are ancient in origin, extending to pre-Christian times, while others are relatively modern, including several composed by Saint Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet. Whilst under Soviet rule, Armenian classical music composer Aram Khatchaturian became internationally well known for his music, for various ballets and the Sabre Dance from his composition for the ballet Gayaneh.

The Armenian Genocide caused widespread emigration that led to the settlement of Armenians in various countries in the world. Armenians kept to their traditions and certain diasporans rose to fame with their music. In the post-Genocide Armenian community of the United States, the so called "kef" style Armenian dance music, using Armenian and Middle Eastern folk instruments (often electrified/amplified) and some western instruments, was popular. This style preserved the folk songs and dances of Western Armenia, and many artists also played the contemporary popular songs of Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries from which the Armenians emigrated. Richard Hagopian is perhaps the most famous artist of the traditional "kef" style and the Vosbikian Band was notable in the 40s and 50s for developing their own style of "kef music" heavily influenced by the popular American Big Band Jazz of the time. Later, stemming from the Middle Eastern Armenian diaspora and influenced by Continental European (especially French) pop music, the Armenian pop music genre grew to fame in the 60s and 70s with artists such as Adiss Harmandian and Harout Pamboukjian performing to the Armenian diaspora and Armenia. Other Armenian diasporans that rose to fame in classical or international music circles are world renown French-Armenian singer and composer Charles Aznavour, Hasmik Papian, pianist Sahan Arzruni and more recently Isabel Bayrakdarian. Certain Armenians settled to sing non-Armenian tunes such as the heavy metal band System of a Down (which nonetheless often incorporates traditional Armenian instrumentals and stylings into their songs) or pop star Cher. In the Armenian diaspora, Armenian revolutionary songs are popular with the youth. These songs encourage Armenian patriotism and are generally about Armenian history and national heroes.


See main article: Armenian cuisine.

Armenians enjoy many different native and foreign foods. The most popular food is khorovats an Armenian-styled barbecue, which is famous world-wide. Lavash is a very popular Armenian rollable bread, and Armenian baklava is a special treat. Other famous Armenian foods include the kabob (a skewer of marinated roasted meat and vegetables), t'pov dolma (minced lamb,or beef meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves), kaghambi dolma (minced meat and rice wrapped in cabbage), amarayin dolma (cored tomatoes, eggplants and green peppers stuffed with minced mixed meats and rice), and pilaf, a tasty rice dish. Also, Ghapama,a rice dish, and many different salads are popular in Armenian culture. Fruits play a large part in the Armenian diet. Apricots (also known as Armenian Plum) originate from this area and have really unique taste, peaches are native too and are very popular; also common are grapes, figs, pomegranates, and melons.


The nation-state of Armenia is the most prominent Armenian institution today. Other important institutions include:

See also


Further reading

External links

Notes and References

  1. A Different Tradition: Hamshen Armenians Struggle for Identity and Recognition.Julia Hakobyan, March 02, 2007. ArmeniaNow.
  2. A Different Tradition: Hamshen Armenians Struggle for Identity and Recognition.Julia Hakobyan, March 02, 2007. ArmeniaNow.
  3. Miniature Empires: A Historical Dictionary of the Newly Independent States - Page 3 by James B Minahan
  4. see Book: Hastings, Adrian. A World History of Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. 289. 2000. 0802848753.
  5. Web site: Armenia first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion.. 2007-02-27.
  6. Web site: Haik and Hayastan. 2007-03-04.
  7. Web site: Armenia Provinces. 2007-03-04.
  8. Vahan Kurkjian, "History of Armenia", Michigan, 1968,; Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia, v. 12, Yerevan 1987; Artak Movsisyan, "Sacred Highland: Armenia in the spiritual conception of the Near East", Yerevan, 2000; Martiros Kavoukjian, "The Genesis of Armenian People", Montreal, 1982
  9. The Early History of Indo-European Languages, Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov Scientific American, March 1990, P.110
  10. Herodotus, The Histories, VII.73
  11. East Translates East
  12. Book: Anne Elizabeth Redgate. The Armenians. 2008-02-10. 1998. Blackwell Publishing. 0631220372. 14.
  13. "The conversion of Armenia to Christianity was probably the most crucial step in its history. It turned Armenia sharply away from its Iranian past and stamped it for centuries with an intrinsic character as clear to the native population as to those outside its borders, who identified Armenia almost at once as the first state to adopt Christianity". (Nina Garsoïan in Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, ed. R.G. Hovannisian, Palgrave Macmillan, 1997, Volume 1, p.81).
  14. traditionally dated to 301 following Mikayel Chamchian (1784). 314 is the date favoured by mainstream scholarship, so Nicholas Adontz (1970), p.82, following the research of Ananian, and Seibt The Christianization of Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Albania) (2002).
  15. Web site: Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem. 2007-02-27.
  16. Web site: Armenians in the Unites States. 2007-02-27.
  17. Web site: Mixed reactions from Glendale Armenians. 2007-10-26.
  18. Flemish DNA and Ancestry: History of Three Families Over Five Centuries ... - Page 261by Guido Deboeck
  19. Web site: A Migrating Catholicosate. 2007-02-27.
  20. Web site: Two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church. 2007-02-27.
  21. Web site: Sport in Armenia. 2007-02-27.