Cultures, Armenian Heritage, And Orthography

The death of culture by ~Gabryellalf
The death of culture by ~Gabryellalf

A couple nights ago I had a long discussion with my wife about maintaining the Armenian culture. But first, why is it so important to maintain a culture? What is culture anyway? In this context, culture is “the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.” Many people, unfortunately, never get to experience another culture to its fullest. Those who do will probably agree that it takes a long time to develop sufficient in-depth appreciation for the language, customs, art, history, poetry, songs, religion, food, character traits, jokes and everything else that makes up a culture. I see culture as the fragrance of a bouquet of flowers. Each society, as a unique bouquet, has its own beautiful culture with intricacies, some with similarities, but to truly understand these we need a fine tuned sense of “smell” (appreciation more appropriately). I believe few people get the wonderful opportunity to experience multiple cultures and even fewer get to meaningfully contribute to more than one. I am not talking about a four week visit to France, or even a one year immersion program. How about a study abroad for five years or living in a different country for a decade? I have lived in the United States for over fifteen years and find myself discovering interesting cultural undertones every day. Perhaps that is due to the wonderful diversity of this culture. Going back to the main question of why maintain a culture, I believe we must because we as individuals are small links in the greater chain that defines a culture and need to maintain to provide those around us and those that come after us the opportunity to appreciate and celebrate that which is beautiful in every society. Armenians have become very small in numbers and not too many non-Armenians actually study the Armenian culture, but I am sure those who do are bound to discover many amazing jewels created during the past few thousand years. Letting the fragrance of this or any beautiful bouquet parish one individual, one family at a time, through indifference or deliberate acts is not too different from ethnocide.

All people of Armenian heritage must celebrate that heritage, maintain and if at all possible contribute to that heritage just as they contribute to any other culture with which they identify. Who is an Armenian? Anyone who celebrates, attempts to understand, helps preserve, contributes to the Armenian culture is an Armenian. Perhaps this definition needs further refinement but for me a person of Italian descent who studies the Armenian culture or contributes to it in some capacity is far more Armenian than a person of Armenian ancestry who ignores his/her roots.

This brings me to the question of identity. As humans we have many roles, job titles, social responsibilities, individual qualities, and personal idiosyncrasies. To understand our cultures, our heritage, our ancestors, our history is to understand ourselves which is perhaps one of the key requirements for self-actualization.

Thank you for sticking with me through this long detour but the discussion I had with my wife revolved around the Armenian language which currently has more than one orthography (see Traditional Armenian and Reformed Armenian). Just as having two systems of weights and measures creates confusion, additional non-value added work, and need for conversions, so does having two different ways of writing create issues when communicating in a language especially across many dialects, proficiency levels, and geographic and other boundaries (ArmSCII vs. UTF-8 for example). The two systems simply make it more difficult to preserve the Armenian culture, teach Armenian, and publish in Armenian. I’m sure there are linguists working on various parts of the language but I very much hope that soon a leadership force will emerge to standardize along a common easy-to-teach standard, teach that standard across the globe, and use the language as the tool to perpetuate the Armenian culture.

5 Comments

  1. A difficult question that of identity. We live in a utilitarian age – for example why learn a language which is not “useful”?

    For Armenians language, religion, cuisine, music, even cultural idiosyncracies are elements of an identity which is precious if only because it was almost exterminated.

    The language ultimately will depend on what happens in the Republic of Armenia as increasingly that will be where the living language survives.

  2. You raise very good points. Thank you! Let me respond to each individually. Why learn a language which may or may not be useful? To fill a stomach (live a good life, etc.), one need not go beyond basic marketable skills but to appreciate life and death, I’d argue we need more. Languages are key barriers and the necessary basics for people to go beyond their own cultures. I’m not talking about simple “hello, thank you, etc.” here. I envy people who know 5-6 languages fluently as I am limited to only three. I wish your second point was not true, especially the “almost exterminated” part. Regarding your third point, I’d be very happy if the Armenian diaspora followed the lead (at least when it came to the language) of the Republic of Armenia. Your point is precisely what I am afraid of, that is losing the language and, as a result, in-depth appreciation of Armenian culture in the diaspora.

  3. I raised the points as a challenge not because I necessarily agree with them. Heritage is important in and of itself and the Armenian culture is important, not because its better but because it is unique and it has survived for so long against such incredible odds. Language is an integral part of heritage and culture and you are right that knowing more than one language is a richness. The Turks have a saying that each language is a different soul.

    My concern is that in our western societies where so much emphasis is placed on getting ahead it is difficult to transmit to children the richness of a small ancient culture.

  4. My mother used to say «Քանի լեզու գիտես այնքան մարդ ես:». As I finished typing the last sentence, I thought here’s actually an example of conveying an atom from a culture that if translated into English will lose some of its meaning. Thanks for helping achieve the purpose of this blog with your comments.

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