The Armenian Story
June / July 1992
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by Ani Ghazarian
As an Armenian youth it is my pleasure to discuss my heritage with others. Though small in numbers, the Armenians are a people who take great pride in their ethnicity and their diverse culture that has endured for centuries.
The famous Armenian author William Saroyan described us as follows:
“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread and music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered”..”send them into the desert without bread or water”..”then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again”.
Armenians first came to Canada in the late nineteenth century and they continue to migrate from various countries, including Lebanon, Syria, Egypt .. to name a few. The most famous Armenians to migrate to Canada were the Georgetown Boys who were orphans migrating from Asia minor in hopes of finding a new homeland where they could continue to follow and culminate their culture with that of the Canadian identity.
Even today Armenians continue to keep their culture alive through such traditions as the Armenian churches whether they be the Orthodox, Evangelical, or Catholic churches located throughout Canada and the United States.
Armenians accepted Christianity for their faith as early as the year 301.
As a people we enjoy such culinary delights as Shish Kebab and Bakhlava. Shish Kebab can either be beef, pork or chicken diced into small cubes and barbecued over an open fire. Bakhlava is another delicacy which is comprised of layers of puff pastry with crushed walnuts and a sweet sugar sauce. Many of our foods are similar to those of the Arabs and the Greeks.
Music is also very dear to our hearts. Through music Armenians tell stories of their past and they describe the beauty of their homeland. Many of the songs are patriotic and they have been a part of our culture for hundreds of years.
Along with the music, we have our traditional Armenian dances. The traditional Armenian round dancing is referred to as Shourch Bar. Another style of dancing is the Tak Bar which is similar to the Arabic. In general the music and dancing are a custom that we care to continue with today.
Education is a very important factor in the lives of Armenians. Presently, we have two day schools in Canada.
The schools are located in Montreal and Toronto, and they teach both Armenian and English to their pupils. The smaller communities which include Cambridge, Hamilton and St.Catherine, have Saturday schools where children learn how to read and write Armenian and they learn the old Armenian stories and history.
It is very important for me to learn about my heritage and I do this by being a member of the A.R.F.Y.O.C. (the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Youth Organization of Canada. There are presently seven chapters within Canada and the majority of these chapters are named after famous Armenian heroes.
One of several festivities held every year is the event commemorating Musa Dagh. Armenians from both Canada and the United States come to Cambridge in September and enjoy the music, dance and food.
Similarly, on Canada Day, we join together with several ethnic groups at Victoria Park in Kitchener, to enjoy each others’ food and culture. Armenians usually have a booth to sell their delicacies, and entertain with their traditional dances and music.
The Armenian Alphabet
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As an Armenian youth, Alain Hamarian of Cambridge, Ontario, continuously tries to learn more about her background, and says “I am proud to be given this opportunity to share my heritage with others .. hopefully people will find our history as interesting as we do”.
It has been said that a nation’s alphabet is the base of their excellence. With the 36 letters it contains, the Armenian alphabet is among the oldest and most original alphabets in the world. Architectural by origin, it is said to have amazingly appeared to its author as he meditated. Although quite a few scholars around the world believe that certain letters from the Armenian alphabet have been borrowed from the Greek alphabet, it can be proven today, after much research that this alphabet is entirely original, and has endured without change for over 1500 years and resists the modern urge to be phoneticized. Indeed the Armenian alphabet has been phonetical from its very origin and today still has only one letter for every sound and likewise one sound for every letter.
The story of Mesrop-Mashtots (353-440? A.D.), the inventor of the Armenian alphabet is quite fascinating. It is said that he was a well educated man and had mastered the Greek, Syriac and Persian languages. In his youth he joined the army, and later became an architect in the court of King Khosrov of Armenia.
Finding no spiritual satisfaction in lay life, he became a monk. In this capacity he formed his own band of followers and soon was known as a famous evangelist and teacher. In this last function he found his task extremely difficult due to the lack of Armenian literature. Realizing its indispensability for both religious and political reasons, he invented the Armenian alphabet in the year 404 A.D.
Soon afterwards, Mesrop-Mashtots set to translate the Bible. In this work he had the assistance of his many disciples. The Armenian translation of the Bible is internationally recognized as the “Queen of all translations of the Bible“. In Oshaken, Armenia, his grave is a place of veneration for all Armenians.