Before we get to know the Armenian culture, let me tell you to whom this applies. The Armenian culture does not only imply the culture of people in Armenia but also the culture of Armenian people living anywhere in the world.
Armenians often refer to themselves as Hay. In addition, they are known to refer to their province as Hayastan. If you have read the Bible, that is an interesting fact that you might have missed. The region of current Armenia is called Ararat in the Bible. The same region was also called Urartu by the Assyrians.
Historically, there have been many names of the Armenian people. Different civilizations have referred to them by different titles. Furthermore, even the Armenian people may identify themselves with different names in different regions.
Apart from Hay, Armenians are known to refer to themselves as people of Ararat or Nairi. Additionally, they may refer to their abode as Nairian ashkharkh. Torkomian, Haiki Seround, are some other names they have referred to themselves as.
Introduction to the Armenian Republic
The province of Armenia has been historically known for its mountainous plateaus. The Mesopotamian plains surround the southern side of the plateaus. In addition to that, the Transcaucasian plains cover the northern region of the plateaus. While Asia minor surrounds the western region of the Plateaus. By the same token, Iran surrounds the Eastern region of the mountainous Armenian Plateaus.
The geography of the plateau is quite complex, consisting of various rivers, valleys, and land elevations. Moreover, there are volcanic peaks found on the plateau. The Armenian plateau features two very important rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Collectively, these rivers act as a major source of water for the Middle Eastern region. On average, the Armenian Plateau is measured to be at an elevation of about 5600 feet or 1700 meters from sea level.
The Republic of Armenia is one of the newest independent countries in the world. The province celebrated its freedom in 1991 after the Soviets ruled the province for seven decades. At present, the Republic of Armenia contains only one-tenth of the old Armenian plateau. Furthermore, Turkey, the Republic of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan-Naxçivan, and Iran are the countries that surround the borders of Armenia. If you have ever been to Armenia, you might know about its Highland-continental weather. The province is known to have significantly cold winters as well as pretty hot summers.
It is a volcanic country that sometimes suffers from droughts and earthquakes.
Language and symbolism in the Armenian culture
The official language of Armenia is Armenian. Before 1991, when Armenia came under the reign of the Soviets, Russian acted as the second official language of the province. Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian are two major types of the standard Armenian language. Western Armenian originated from the traditional Armenian more prolonged during the 19th century in Istanbul. Eastern Armenian is more popular among ex-Soviet countries, Iran and Yerevan.
Mount Ararat is one of the places of the highest symbolic significance among Armenian communities. Unfortunately, at present, it remains outside the national boundaries of Armenia. Despite that, it can still be seen from the horizon of Yerevan. The manuscript that depicts the original history of the country is held in high regard and preserved as a national treasure. Additionally, an old structure has quite some cultural significance in Armenian culture, known as the statue of Mother Armenia. It’s a shrine that has an ever-burning flame. It signifies the remembrance of victims of the 1915 genocide.
History of Armenian People
The archaeological research of the ancient cultures in the province signifies the presence of a prior agriculturally advanced civilization. Furthermore, the prehistoric civilization is also considered to have been familiar with the concepts of metallurgy and industrial processing.
The true source of the people of Armenia has been a matter of much research among the experts. Many similarities aren’t found between the Semitic language and the Indo-European language. These similarities were pointed out by various linguists during the 1980s. In conclusion, it was noted that the possibility of the same geographical origin is the only way it could have happened. Throughout history, the Armenian plateau has been invaded many times. Furthermore, the expansions of Alexander the Great were also a part of Armenian history. The locals survived through the invasions of the Romans and Sassanid Persians. Even if the result usually ended with their defeat. Their culture survived.
A history of invasions
It should be noted that not all invasions ended in the defeat of Armenians. The locals fought off Arabian expansion. Additionally, the original kingdom of Armenians was lost to the invasions of the Seljuks and Tartars in the eleventh century. A new kingdom was birthed in Cilicia. This newly born kingdom survived through various crusades up until 1375. However, they were once again invaded and lost to the Ottoman empire. Armenians bore witness to a long-lasting war between two giants of the region. The war between Iranians and the Ottomans brought a lot of devastation to the province.
During the 18th century, Russia also entered this undeclared competition of gaining a foothold on the Armenian plateau. The Russian empire succeeded in pushing away the Ottomans and Iranians from the southern regions of the Caucasian mountains. The Armenian plateau, stuck between the contests of three invading empires, suffered wars for quite some time to come.
As the twentieth century started, the Russians and the Ottoman empire divided the province amongst themselves. The Ottoman empire was led by Turkish people, who are known to have been systemically massacred Armenians during the early 1900s. 1915 to 1923 is known as the period of Turkish authorities organizing ritual genocide of the native population.
The genocides of Armenian people
A young Turk leader came to the seat of power of the Ottoman empire. He grabbed the opportunity of World War I to order mass extermination of Armenians. The Turkish leadership imagined a Turkish-only empire. This was propagated as a nationalist agenda to create a one-religious society.
These genocides annihilated the local Armenian populace. Many succeeded in scattering to far-flung regions. However, the death toll erased a huge chunk of the Armenian population. The total estimates of the aftermath of these genocides are claimed to be somewhere between 600,000 to 2 million Armenian people.
Treaty with the Soviet Union
The Russian empire that reigned over the southern region of the Caucasian mountains lost its grip. Eastern Armenia, which came under the Russian empire, now faced the risk of invading by the Turkish army. A desperate attempt at Yerevan somehow succeeded in pushing off the invading forces. This saved the locals from the fate of extermination that the Armenians under Turkish rule suffered. Riding on the waves of recent victory, the Armenians won at Sardarapat as well as Bash-Aparan. It led to 28 May 1918, when the Armenian people declared their independence.
While the Armenians were celebrating their hard-fought victories, the Kemalist Turkish army was on the warpath. The Bolsheviks’ invasion attempts forced the hands of a newly independent government. Armenia ended up signing a treaty that handed over most of its lands to the Soviets. It became a Soviet republic as well. The Soviets reigned over the entirety of historical Armenia for about seventy years.
If you know about Soviet culture and history, you might be familiar with the concept of Glasnost. It was introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev, a former leader of the Soviet Union, in 1985. This meant an inclusive and open approach to administration. It was supposed to offer a chance for the public to put forward their thoughts and demands to the government. Glasnost offered Armenians the opportunity to finally try and look for their own national identity. The concept of Glasnost was quite revolutionary. Seen as a measure to create more transparency in government administrations.
The Armenian populace made full use of this opportunity. There were a series of demonstrations to request the Soviet administration. Unification of Karabakh and Armenia was what they aimed at. These demonstrations happened in Yerevan as well as Stepanakert. A series of strikes, as well as demonstrations, continued during the anniversary of the independence day of Armenians.
Even after the persistence of the Armenian people, fate did not offer them much relief. Massacres of Armenians occurred again in 1988, in Azarbaijan. These caused Armenians to look for refuge throughout the regions nearby. As if that were not enough, earthquakes of devastating proportions wrecked the province in the same year. The genocide of Armenians continued in 1990 as well. This time it happened in Kirovabad and Baku.
Finally, after all their struggles and hurdles, the Armenian people gained true independence. This momentous occasion happened on September 21, 1991.
Culture of Armenian people
The people of Armenia put heavy emphasis on people offering bread and salt as a symbol of welcoming a friendly guest. Even while welcoming foreign dignitaries, bread and salt are offered as a symbol of friendship. The traditional meal of the local populace is known to be Harissa. It is made of wheat grain along with the lamb. Low heat is applied while cooking this meal. The pomegranate is the national fruit of Armenia. While Armenians may be scattered throughout the world, almost all of them can be seen as united in their love for barbecues.
The country is also known for its vines and grape production. Additionally, Armenian brandy is consumed during family breakfast get together on vacation days. Kettle legs are prepared with various spices in Khas, which is a big pot used for such events.
The economy of Armenia is mostly western style. Known for its extensive privatization. Transportation seems to be a constant source of issues for the nation. The problem is its landlocked nature. This has directed industries to focus on the production of high-value products. Diamond cutting as well as the construction of high-value electronic instruments is the current focus of the industrial economy.
Christianity was introduced as the state religion in Armenia back in 301. The reign of the Soviet Union discouraged any religious practices. Atheism was one of the significant features of the Soviet Union. Despite the numerous invasions, genocides, and cultural assimilation attempts, the Armenians clung tightly to their cultural identity. The Soviet Union may have discouraged religious expressions. However, many still gather in their churches during times of crisis. Catholic, Evangelical, Apostolic, and Protestant are the denominations of Christianity present in the Armenian nation. Moreover, most of the locals follow the Apostolic Armenian Church.
A lot of Armenians are known to believe in the presence of the afterlife after the passing away of any person. While most of the Christian churches emphasize the practice of asking for redemption after any sin, Apostolic churches don’t usually focus on it. Even the concept of hell is not present in the religious views of the Apostolic church system. Memorial services are held for the departed. It is customary in their culture to celebrate the birthdays of loved ones, even when they are dead.
Arts of Armenian culture
While the people of Armenia and their government have been wholly supportive of the arts, the privatization of industries brought with it its own difficulties for artists. In recent times, the support of the arts has been done through local funding campaigns. The support of the government fades with increasing privatization.
Armenia is known to have an incredibly rich history of oral and written literature. The collection and preservation of traditional folklore and poems started as recently as the nineteenth century. This was due to an emerging trend of interest towards folklore-based literary art in European countries. One of the famed early literary works by Gregory Narekatzi named Lamentations spread waves throughout the literary community.
European literary works are known to have heavily influenced the literary arts of Armenian authors. More than a few of the literary works also showcase the tragic events that have happened throughout the history of the Armenian people. The historical genocide of Armenians that occurred during 1915 erased many of the best artists of the era as well. For quite a while after the genocide, there was no new literary work published. In time, new talents started emerging among Armenian people. However, now the artists are scattered throughout different places that they escaped to.
The Armenians under Soviet reign were supported by the government. The artistic atmosphere of the Union was quite encouraging for budding talents. Some of the people that led the demonstrations of Glasnost were authors and writers themselves.
The art of Armenia has a rich history dating back to ancient times. From stone engravings to manuscripts and tapestries, from sculptures to architecture, graphic artistic talents throughout eras have been plenty. The nineteenth century propagated an era of artistic expression through Armenian romanticism. From then on, people started showing much more interest in learning various art forms.
The frequent genocides, as well as invasions of different countries, worked to suppress the expression of art for quite some time. It should be noted that the reign of the Soviet Union was the era that actually helped out the local artists the most. The supportive atmosphere of the Soviet administration towards artists helped them grow their talents.
Armenian culture is known to have had musical performance arts that date back before the prehistoric era. During the nineteenth century, the innovative approaches of Armenian artists in the musical genre helped evolve oriental music.
The nature of historical Armenian music was more solemn. It may have been due to the tragic past that plagued Armenian people throughout their history.
Cultural significance in anthropology
The invasions & genocides throughout their history scattered the local populace to many different countries. Armenian is not a term used to depict only the people of Armenia, i.e. those living inside the boundaries of the country. It also points to the people with Armenian cultural heritage passing onto them. Despite their different nationalities, Armenian people have been known to hold onto their cultural identity quite strongly. No matter where they are, their customs and traditions get passed to the next generation. Furthermore, they are known for holding a strong sense of family unity.
Many families are known to stay together. Weddings call for the gathering of most of their near or far-flung relatives. These are happy celebratory occasions with fun rituals. Hospitality is also a major part of their culture. They are known to offer their guests bread and salt as an invitation and reassurance of friendly hospitality. Ancient arts that have been discovered by experts in the field depict dancing figures. This points to the fact that Armenian people were culturally advanced enough even in ancient times to have practiced dancing and music along with graphic arts.
Armenian people have been through a lot. Despite the attempts of various forces to rob it of its identity, Armenian culture survived through it all. If you meet people of Armenian origin on your travels, try to be respectful of their customs.
Featured Image Credit: Credit: Hasmik Baghramyan/UNESCO