Being Armenian yesterday and today

By Harry Hagopian
August 25, 2010

I am Armenian. "An Armenian, what is that?" many people would ask...

Well, Armenians are a nation and an ethnic group which originated in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highland. There are roughly eleven million of us worldwide. 40 per cent of Armenians live in the Republic of Armenia, a tiny former Soviet Socialist Republic in the Southern Caucasus bordering Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan that gained its independence in 1991. The other 60 per cent of Armenians live in the Diaspora - including in North America, Europe and the Middle East.

We also have our own Indo-European language with 38 letters to the alphabet - or the aypoupen in Armenian - that were literally created by a monk, St Mesrop Mashtots, in 405 AD.

This is the initial clue to our Christian heritage and background. The first work of literature with this new alphabet was the translation of the Bible from Greek, and a first copy was printed in 1666 by Voskan Vardapet, an Armenian priest living in Amsterdam.

Interestingly, the very first sentence translated into Armenian was from the Book of Proverbs, “That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight”.

Famous Armenians - Hayer in Armenian - include the well-known composer Gomidas Vartabed, considered as the father of Armenian musicology, Aram Khatchaturian who composed wrote pieces such as the Sabre Dance and Spartacus which became a well-known British TV theme tune for ‘The Onedin Line’.

There is also the writer and playwright William Saroyan whose works include The Human Comedy and who famously wrote in his last book, Obituaries, “My work is writing, but my real work is being.”

What a great summation of the Christian life that phrase is.

Listen to the broadcast version podcast here:


© Harry Hagopian is an International lawyer and EU political consultant. He also acts as Middle East advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and as Middle East consultant to ACEP (Christians in Politics) in Paris and is a regular Ekklesia contributor ( Formerly, he was Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee and Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches. He is a member of, and adviser to, the Armenian Orthodox Church. Dr Hagopian’s own website is

This is the first in a series of reflections ( to mark the 20th anniversary of Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Armenia. These are being broadcast daily on Premier Christian Radio ( and will be archived as podcasts on Ekklesia, with thanks to PCR.

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