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English the name of the country is Armenia, but in the local Armenian language,
the country is actually called Hayastan. The name Hayastan comes from Hayk, who
was Noah's (as in Noah's Arc) great-great-grandson, and supposedly the founder
of the country and people. The word stan is a Persian word that means "land."
The English name, Armenia, may come from one of Hayk's descendants name Aram,
but others believe the name is rooted in Persian or Greek as references to the name
are stated in Old Persian inscriptions as well as in ancient Greek writings.
The Armenian people have one of the most historic cultures on earth. Due to isolation
from like people through much of history, the Armenians have developed unique traits
and cultural aspects that were developed thousands of years ago and continue to
exist and thrive today. However, recent changes to the country and people, particularly
Soviet rule and the end of the large diaspora throughout Europe have also changed
The Armenian people have always been tucked away in the Caucus Mountains, which
has somewhat isolated them, giving them a distinct language and culture that is
unlike anywhere else. Their language and alphabet are among the oldest existing
in the world and the country was the first in the world to officially convert to
Christianity (their historic church architecture is very unique); two things that
still define the people to a great degree.
Over time, Armenia has lost political power, but the people have always remained
Armenian in a cultural sense, despite the lack of a government representing them
at times. In many ways these outside rulers solidified Armenian culture as they
more strongly clung to their traditional foods, clothing, language, religion, and
way of life. It also helped spread ethnic Armenians to all parts of Europe and the
Middle East as traders and merchants.
Today most of the Armenian communities in Europe have disappeared or have been integrated
into local societies, but in the Middle East many communities thrive. For the Armenians
that have returned to Armenia they have brought back aspects of foreign cultures,
from Europe to the Middle East, yet at the core of Armenian culture, little changed.
Armenian culture and the lifestyle of the people were heavily challenged in the
1900s. As states were formed ethnic Armenians were forced to new lands, losing many
of their traditional homelands and many people along the way. The century was also
marked with the takeover of the people by the Soviet government as the country was
incorporated into the Soviet Union.
The Soviets changed many aspects of culture throughout their huge country and this
was no different among the Armenians. Fortunately for the Armenians, many changes
implemented by the Soviets were already present in Armenian culture. Many Armenians
were urbanized and found ways to profit and success in business and in the Soviet
system these talents and mentality made the country relatively prosperous. However,
the Soviets also striped the Armenians of their religion, they forced them to learn
Russian, and traditional foods and dresses were discouraged if not completely banned.
While some of these demands destroyed traditional Armenian culture, other demands
only magnified the importance of their unique culture to the Armenians.
Today Armenian culture remains unlike any other culture in the world. Some parts
of the country, such as the language and religion, are completely unique to the
Armenians, others, such as many dishes, have been borrowed by the people from neighbors,
and still other aspects, such as the communist bloc apartment buildings in every
city, have been forced on them, but remain useful. The country also remains outward
looking and always progressive as relations with Russia remain very positive and
the huge diaspora population forever links the country to the United States, another
close ally. This diaspora is actually larger than Armenia's population itself,
but all Armenians share a culture to a great degree.
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