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What is an Armenian?

This article was first printed in the 1980 Hye Sharzhoom, Vol. 2, No. 2. It is being reprinted here as part of a series of looking back at the pages of Hye Sharzhoom.


What does it mean to be Armenian? To know the Armenian language, or the culture, or the literature? These are a few of the common views.

I would like to offer my opinions, from my perspective as a third-generation Armenian. I would like to examine what it is to be Armenian.

There are those who say to be a genuine Armenian you must speak Armenian. Where does this view come from? Often from the older generation and sometimes it is heard from those who have recently arrived from Armenian communities abroad. But is it necessary to speak Armenian to be Armenian?

For others, religious or political affiliation is involved. Some say the Apostolics are better Armenians than the Protestants or vice-versa. Others say the Ramgavars are more Armenian than the Tashnaks, or that the Tashnaks are better Armenians than the Hnchaks.

Some might add culture and literature to the debate. Don’t you need an understanding of these to be an Armenian? Maybe music is the most important, or perhaps poetry, or even dancing.

I have posed many questions and have offered no answers. To do so would limit the question of “what is an Armenian.”

What, then, is the over-riding characteristic of an Armenian? What does it mean to be Armenian?

To be Armenian is to have the unquenchable spirit and faith of the Armenian people.

I say spirit and faith, and I mean that essence which has enabled a people to remain just that, a People, for over two thousand years, throughout massacre, persecution and all manner of tribulation. We are alive as a people, while others have fallen through the march of history, alive as a people against constant, overwhelming and grinding oppression.

How does one obtain this spirit? Does being born to Armenian parents automatically enroll one in the ranks of the Armenian nation? To be Armenian it is not necessary to have Armenian racial characteristics. It is not even necessary to be born an Armenian, to have an Armenian last name, or be a member of a certain political party. There is no all-inclusive class of Armenian.

It is necessary to desire to partake of that body of knowledge that is known as Armenian. One must also be willing to contribute as well as to take.

To be Armenian is to have the spirit and also to pass the spirit on to others—to your children, to your friends, and to the world at large. This entails passing on knowledge of Armenian history, customs and traditions. And once these have been instilled once this spirit has been nurtured, the natural desire for more information will follow. And because it is so natural it will be all the more effective.

What is the tie that binds us? What is it then to be Armenian? To be Armenian is to have the pride in our past and the confidence to work in the present. The future will hold no barrier and the present no difficulties to those who are concerned and who carry the spirit. To be Armenian is to have that pride and spirit that ties us all. To be Armenian is to see that the Armenian heritage is not lost.