THE PEOPLE OF ARMENIA
Written by Reverend George Filian and originally published in 1896
Who are the Armenians? The average American knows very little about them, while few even of the educated classes have much knowledge of the race or its history. Many people regard them as barbarians, partially Christianized. Some think them of Chinese type; most often they are considered as Turks because the chief portion of Armenia is part of the Turkish Empire; every Armenian feels justly indignant at the latter classification. The old story applies of the Irishman who refused to consider himself an American though born in America, on the ground that “being born in a stable did not make one a horse”; we know that the Scotch and English in Ireland do not consider themselves Irish; we know it would be worse than absurd to call the English children born in India Hindoos. When the missionaries of the American Board first went to Turkey, the people there supposed from the name American, that they must be Indians, and crowded to see them out of curiosity, but they were much surprised and probably somewhat disappointed when they found them very like themselves. In the same way, being born in Turkish Armenia does not make one a Turk. The Turks are one race, the Armenians a totally different one, and different in the very foundation type. The Turks are Turanian, the Armenians Aryan. The Turks belong to the Turko-Tataric stock; they are kinsmen of the Tartars.
The primal origin of the Armenians will be found in Genesis, Chapter 10,—from Togarmah, the son of Gomer, the son of Japheth; the Armenians are sometimes called the Sons of Togarmah. Togarmah had a son named Haig (the Armenian records tell us), and Armenians call themselves Haigian or Haigazian from him; and the land of Armenia is called Hayasdan or the land of Haig. He was a powerful warrior and the founder of the Armenian Kingdom, which began 2350 B.C., and ended with Levon VI., 1375 A.D.; thus lasting 3725 years, though with intervals of extinction. Their own kings did not always reign in Armenia; sometimes other nations ruled over it; by way of compensation, sometimes the Armenians ruled over other nations. The people never call themselves Armenians, or their country Armenia; they use the name simply for the sake of foreigners. But where did the name come from? Of course as with many very old ones, the origin is somewhat a matter of guesswork. Some derive it from the great King, Aram, the seventh from Haig; some from Armerag or Armen, the eldest son of Haig,—the more probable supposition of the two; still others connect it with the Hebrew Aram (Aramea), the district of Mesopotamia and North Syria, and derive both from a word meaning “man,” most old names of nations having meant that originally. Whatever its origin, it is certain that the Armenians are a very ancient nation,—as ancient as the Assyrians or Persians.
The people belong to the stock formerly known as Japhetic, later as Caucasian (from the Caucasus Mountains on the north of Armenia), then as Indo-European, now as Aryan; the most advanced type of mankind, and the most physically beautiful. And what are the people of the United States? Hamitic or Negroid? Of course not. Semitic (Arab, Jew)? Certainly not. They are Japhetic or Aryan too—exactly the same as the Armenians. Indeed, the type of face is the same, and the type of character. The Armenians are often called the Anglo-Saxons of the East; they are the same blood, features, religion, and civilization as those of the West, and are true brothers and sisters, though the opportunities of the latter have been greater; however, the ancestors of the former were Christians in Asia before those of the latter were in Europe, and they kept the mother land faithfully while the others ran away.
The tongue spoken by the Armenians is one of the great family now known as the Aryan languages; certainly one of the oldest of them if there is any difference in the ages of the different branches, though that really means nothing. It has no relation whatever to the Semitic tongues like Chaldee or Phoenician, nor the Tataric tongues of Scythia, though those were in the earlier ages its nearest neighbors, while it is blood brother to languages so widely separated as Irish on the west and Hindoo on the east, to Gothic and Greek, Lithuanian and Latin. Linguists think the whole Aryan family much younger than the Semitic or the Turko-Tataric or the Mongoloid, but this would not be granted by the Armenians without much more solid proof than has yet been brought forward. They claim first that Noah and his sons lived in Armenia, which has been shown must be true; second, that they spoke the Armenian language, which therefore was the very oldest. Some of the arguments in favor of this are as follows:—In Armenia, near Mt. Ararat, are places with Armenian names, which have preserved the same names from the time of Noah till now. North of Ararat is a city named Erivan, which in Armenian means “appearance”; after Noah’s ark rested on the mountain, the first place he saw was Erivan. Another city southeast of Ararat is called Nakhichevan, which in Armenian means “the first station”; it was the first stopping-place of Noah when he came out of the ark. The first chief or King of the Armenians, Haig, built a village and called it Hark, which means “fathers,” as he was the father of the Armenians; and when Haig fought with Belus and killed him, the place was called Kereznank, meaning “grave” or “graves.” There are many such places in Armenia, where the names have always been the same and are certainly Armenian now, indicating that the language has always been the same; here are a few: Arakaz, Armavir, Shirag, Ararat. The latter took its name from Ara, the Armenian king who was the son of Aram, that great King who ruled in Armenia for fifty years; the name means “lofty” or “holy.” These instances show the antiquity of the language; but even if they were not sufficient, it would not affect the antiquity of the race. Many very old races speak languages much less old. The mass of people in Tuscany are Etruscans, a race which some people hold to be much older than the whole Aryan family; but they speak Italian, a very modern tongue. A large part of the Basques, believed by many scientists to be the oldest race in Europe, older even than the Tuscans, speak Spanish, much more modern even than Italian. So that it does not follow that the Armenian race, aside from the language, may not be the oldest in the world.
The old Armenian classic language is very difficult, from the number of particles and participles in it; but modern Armenian is one of the easiest of languages to learn, very regular in inflection and the spelling entirely phonetic. There are no exceptions or anomalies; for instance, to pluralize a noun, you invariably add the particle ner or er. Thus, doon means “house;” the plural is dooner. Manch is “boy”; plural mancher; mannugh is “child,” mannughner “children.” The irregularities of English in these forms are too well-known to need illustration. The Armenian tongue is not only very regular, but very sweet, as well to the ears of foreigners as of natives. The testimony of “Sunset” Cox of Ohio is worth citing on this point. He was United States minister to Turkey some years ago, and as such presided at the Commencement Exercises of Robert College in Constantinople, that being the rule of the college. In his address on this occasion, he said he did not like Bulgarian (which is a Turkish tongue), because it had no sweetness;—indeed, there is none in any of the Turkish languages, which are strong and emphatic, but harsh. But he said he liked Armenian; it was the “sweetest language he ever heard.” He went on to say that Adam talked Armenian in the Garden of Eden, proposed to Eve in that language, and succeeded in winning her heart; in any other language he might not have done it. “It is the loveliest of tongues to make love to a woman in, and sure of success if the lady knows Armenian.” I think he was right; but I think too, that next to Armenian, if not equal to it, is English. It sounds as sweetly to my ears as Armenian. I am an Armenian and my wife is an Armenian; but I proposed to her in English and was successful; not a sure test, perhaps, for any language is beautiful when words of love are uttered in it to ears that are willing to hear; and true love may be successful without any words at all.