Waving Goodbye to Half Our Language

Garen Yegparian

BY GAREN YEGPARIAN

I’ve been reminded of a sad situation twice in recent weeks.  We may soon preside over the death of Western Armenian, handing Talaat and Ataturk yet another murderous victory.

Some three years ago, a friend mentioned seeing Western Armenian on a U.N. list of endangered languages.  More recently, another friend e-mailed the link to a site that showed decreasing use of Western Armenian.

Then, I had a conversation with one of the best versed “young” people (40-something) in the language.  This friend remarked that facility with Western Armenian was becoming more significantly decreased through disuse.  This was not solely a reference to others, but to the situation on that person’s own life.

But the clincher, the one that really hurt, was a comment from a good friend of my parents … this is my go-to source of new (to me) words.  It was really bone chilling: “Don’t waste your time trying to save Western Armenian, it’s over”.  Given the source, this was really shocking.

No doubt some will take great pleasure in observing the irony of addressing this issue in English.  But that’s part of our problem, the overwhelming presence of the Diaspora’s host countries’ languages.  It leads to disuse of our own language.  Given that the segment of our nation that was subjected to Genocide and now lives in dispersion was/is the Western Armenian speaking one, it is that half of our language and all its innate wealth that will succumb.

I a twist of positive irony, a glimmer of hope may be coming from those Armenians who have lived underground within Turkey’s borders for the last three generations.  If their process of rediscovering the fullness of their Armenian roots really takes hold, they will become the new and long-term speakers of Western Armenian

Regardless, I’m a bit too stubborn to accept this looming defeat and invite you to join me in maintaining and even building on what we have.  Let’s speak it, write it, and most importantly, teach it to all our Western Armenian compatriots.

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12 Comments

  1. bigmoustache said:

    preserve the armenian community in lebanon to ensure the languages survival. armenians will stick to their western armenian despite foreign language influence in certain communities but nowhere is this the strongest than the middle east. and the two nations with the biggest armenian populations in the middle east are syria and lebanon (lebanon having more).
    preserve armenian life in syria and lebanon where they speak beautiful western armenian despite living in an arab country. you cant find patriotism anywhere else like you would in lebanon and syria

  2. john the turk said:

    Garen
    “”I a twist of positive irony, a glimmer of hope may be coming from those Armenians who have lived underground within Turkey’s borders for the last three generations. If their process of rediscovering the fullness of their Armenian roots really takes hold, they will become the new and long-term speakers of Western Armenian””” You are in denial and I am having a great pleasure

  3. Levon said:

    All languages evolve. It’s a natural process. Just as in nature, if a species doesn’t evolve, the only other alternative is extinction. I would argue that having all Armenians speaking a common, standard dialect is more beneficial to the long term sustenance of the language as a whole. Here in LA, I often times see Armenians forced to speak English with one another because the differences in dialectic and proficiency levels between them prevent them from conversing in Armenian. For a small group of people, we really don’t need to sustain three distinct dialects (as I believe Persian-Armenian is a dialect with sub-dialects of its own). Let’s move on from the emotional, irrational connection we have to artificial constructs and look at what’s best for our future as a single Armenian race, not Western Armenians, Hayastantsis, or Persian-Armenians.

    • Hratch said:

      Levon, there is no such thing as a Persian-Armenian. At best they should be referred to as Iranian-Armenian. In other words, Lebanese and Syrian Armenians do not call themselves Arab-Armenians. They’re Lebanese-Armenian or Syrian-Armenian. The lack of logic and ignorance is perhaps our worst enemy.

      • Levon said:

        Hratch, the term is irrelevant. I did not use the terms Lebanese-Armenian or Syrian-Armenian, you did. Persian-Armenians are those Armenians that have lived in the historical land of Persia, which only started being referred to as Iran in the 20th century.

        Armenians had already been living in what was Persia or the Persian empire for hundreds of years (if not longer) before the country started being called Iran in the foreign world. Furthermore, the reason why I call Western Armenians “Western Armenians” is because they originate from “Western Armenia”, otherwise I would’ve called them “Ottoman or Turkish”-Armenians, as some people do.

        The equivalent for Persian-Armenian in Armenian is “Parskahay”. How many “Iranian Armenians” actually refer to themselves as “Iranahay”. The vast majority I know (including my own in-laws) call themselves “Parskahay”, because it’s probably more historically correct. But in any case, I really don’t care enough to get hung up on which term is “correct”. If you like to use “Iranahay” instead, that’s totally fine. I wish for the day when we can all just be “Hay” and speak a uniform, proper Hayeren with no dialects and no further divisions.

        My grandparents are Western Armenians (originating from Erzerum, Kilis, Izmir, and Bolis and having lived in Syria and Romania), my parents were born in Soviet Armenia, I was born in Los Angeles, and my wife is from Iran. Needless to say, I speak and/or fully understand several dialects and sub-dialects of Armenian and believe firmly that we should have a standard single dialect spoken by all our people.

        • Hratch said:

          Regardless of what Iran was or is, and how long the Armenian population has been living there, the fact remains that by referring to them as Persian-Armenian we are actually degrading our culture identity. In today’s world, a Persian referres to the indigenous people of Iran. No one would consider a Persian being anything other than a person from the Persian race. Your in-laws or anyone else erroneously referring to themselves as Persian-Armenian does not make it right. In other words, naming your child Vatchik, Vahik, Edik, Danik, Tomik does not make it right either. It is Vatch, Vahe, Daniel etc….To be cute, you can add the ‘ik’, but not on official documents!

          I totally agree that a standard single dialect should be adopted, but this is impossible to achieve. The simple addition of “ah” (oor ah, inch ah, hon ah) is perhaps the greatest travesty to our language. The whole of Armenia from government officials down to the garbage collector has adopted this idiotic dialect (if it can be called a dialect). Anyway, the subject was about the extinction of the Western Armenian dialect and I think we can thank our Eastern brothers for its demise. Their lack of interest and respect has come to fruition.

          • Samuel said:

            Hratch – there’s absolutely nothing degrading about calling someone a Persian-Armenian. Persian Armenians have their own title as they have lived in the lands of Persia for 200 years more than Armenians in Lebanon and Syria and have therefore created an identity of their own. Numerous Professors in the linguistics field refer to Armenians in Iran as Persian-Armenians. I understand a lot of what you are saying and respect your opinion but think you’re taking things a bit too far by blaming our Eastern brothers or saying that it’s not rights for someone to name their kids with the ‘ik’ at the end of the name. We are one people but we have differences which should be cherished not assimilated.

  4. Hratch said:

    When one side does not respect or acknowledge the other, this is the end result. Most Eastern Armenians come from Western heritage, however most have completely turned their backs to Western Armenian tradition and culture. They would rather teach you their ways, whether right or wrong, instead of trying to incorporate some positive elements of Western tradition into their lives.

    This is perhaps a direct result of Soviet indoctrination. The Soviets were notorious in instilling their people with pride and glory. They claimed to be the best in everything. I suspect this belief system rubbed off on the Armenians and created a “we know better” mentality. Not only rejecting Western Armenian culture, but also rejecting all Western society norms. As a result, not being able to assimilate and respect other traditions and opinions.

  5. john said:

    Bravo Levon. Stop these stupid divisions among Armenians. Lebanese Armenians don’t like Persian Armenians and Persian Armenians don’t like Hayastansi and this whole hatred will continue until we stop playing these stupid games. We need to treat each other with respect and even if we don’t like each other, we still should keep our opinions to ourselves and not hurt others. These animosities have made the Armenians among the most divided people on earth similar to the Palestinians or the Arabs. This backstabbing must STOP NOW.

  6. john said:

    We need to learn from the Jews and Armenians should support and help each other irregardless of whether one is Lebanese Armenian and the other is Persian Armenian and the other is Hayastansi. If we stab each other in the back we will never progress as a people. The Turks will laugh at us . The Jews help each other alot and their synagoges loan money to Jews who loose their jobs. They help each other find work.They have a network of support systems. Why don’t we Armenians start being patriotic EVERY Day not only on APRIL 24th.

    • www.Voskanapat.info said:

      Jews had their share of divisions. On East coast when they were arriving en mass, they would go to separate synagogues and wouldn’t talk to each other. German Jews belittled Polish Jews, they in turn hated Russian Jews, etc.

      I think that the uniting power was actually Jews from Turkey who brought the idea of collecting the “Infidel” tax and continued to collect it when they escaped Ottoman Empire. This money was put to rebuild communities and support the poor.

      What they have now is a prominent well connected community in almost each city and town. They still collect their tax to support their schools, hospitals, recreation centers and Israel.

      Armenian diaspora chose a different route – once out of the Ottoman rule, many decided to blend in and become more Americans, French, Russians the the natives themselves. Instead of continuing collecting the tax they relied on the “rich” Armenians to support their schools and churches. The rich had to compete with the local rich and assimilated faster than the rest abandoning their communities. The few remaining Armenian communities have to rely on the wills of the dying members. Our churches switched to pathetic practice of catering exclusively to folks over 80 – these who in a few years would die and send them a check for 10% of their estate. This is why schools and community centers are abandoned and in disrepair.

      Our so called “leadership” is the first to blame. They are the same people who preach ‘democracy” for Armenia but remain in stone ages of corruption, favoritism, and tribalism when it comes to running our own local community affairs. The rest of the people are in deep denial still thinking that the “rich” among us should have to do everything and we are not be bothered with a monthly or annual bill.

      It is tax time this weekend. Pick up your federal return form 1040 and look at line 37 – Adjusted Gross Income. Divide that number by 100 and multiply by 1.915 – this is how much you owe to your local Armenian community. Send them checks on April 24 and demand accountability for your funds by next April 24, 2014.

  7. Hratch Tchaghatzbanian said:

    Talaat already succeeded in completely (or 99%) destroying 136 known/recorded dialects of Western Armenia. Will we work to bring it back? Of course not. That’s not how language works. The fact is that language and culture is a special kind of plant that can’t survive for a very long time when you cut it from the soil it grew in. I will be well satisfied if any 5th generation Armenian in the diaspora is able to speak more than 20 words in Armenian, but that’s about as good as it gets. Move back, or move on.

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