The Armenian Character
By John Semerdjian
- Copyright © 2002. All rights reserved.
to pinpoint a nation’s character and/or psyche is very hard, but not impossible.
Many nations are known for their unique character. The way they say, react
and do things with others (foreigners) and with their own. These characteristics
combined with commonly conceived thoughts and practices will give an observer
a good understanding of that nation’s ‘Character and Psyche’.
This article will give the reader
a good understanding of the Armenian character. It’s worth mentioning that
many of the good or bad qualities of this Nations’ character can similarly
be found in other Nations’ character. Therefore, this article should not
be used as a measure of ‘Good’ verses ‘Bad’ in terms of the
Armenian character. Instead it should be a guide to better understanding
ourselves and helping others (foreigners) understand us - The Armenians.
This article has been compiled from
years of cumulative experiences and keen observation. I am not a psychologist
or an expert in human behavioural studies, and by no means pretend to be
one. I am a professional designer and a problem solver. My years of training
and experience in the design field have given me the necessary skills to
observe people and learn a great deal about their character. Combined with
years of cumulative personal experiences of family, friends and of my own,
I was able to deduce the following facts about the Armenian character and
psyche. As in any given group of people you may find individuals to whom
the results of these findings may not apply, whether Armenian or otherwise.
The main characteristics of the
Armenian character and psyche.
Armenians are born survivors. Since
the start of our history over 3000 years ago we have been the subjects
of all kinds of atrocities, foreign domination, natural disasters, hardships
and genocide. But in spite of all those tragedies, Armenians have survived
and we continue to rebuild our lives wherever we find refuge. We value
our freedom and always endeavour to live in peace and harmony with others.
Armenians are proud and honest people.
We have strong family ties and work together to preserve that unity. We
respect our elders and try to learn from their experiences. Thus passing
on this knowledge from one generation to another, and by doing so insuring
the continuity and the preservation of our cumulative intelligence. We
often delude ourselves to being masters of all topics, and in most cases
try to advise others on matters that we know little about.
Armenians are very polite and hospitable
people. We enjoy good food, music and entertainment. We like get-togethers
with family and friends to celebrate special occasions. Armenians spare
no expense during such occasions, especially during weddings, Christenings
and special birthday parties. There’s an abundance of food and drink (in
most cases too much) accompanied by music that is constant and loud!
Armenians excel in many trade and
artistic fields. We are hard working people with sound business and negotiation
skills. Negotiating is in our blood. The intensity of the negotiation varies
depending on whom we are dealing with. In some extreme cases this practice
can result in unnecessary arguments and lead to embarrassing moments.
Because of our inherent business
skills, Armenians tend to treat everything as a business transaction. However,
if the work to be undertaken does not promise to deliver instant outcomes
and/or personal profit, we do not wish to give support or get involved
in it. Even if that work or project may benefit the community in the future.
Armenians are inherently jealous
people. We have a dominant ‘jealousy’ gene in our character. This may sound
bad, but in reality this is one of the main reasons why Armenians are known
to be hard working people. We can not except the idea that someone else
is better or more well off than ourselves, so we work hard to surpass them.
Armenians can be self-centred and
sometimes never satisfied. We seem to think and care only of ourselves
and constantly ask for assistance (free assistance) from others without
even acknowledging and/or giving them credit for their hard work. There
is a very suitable Armenian saying – “You stretch your hand to help,
they want the whole arm”.
In fact, Armenians would like everything
to be for free. I will illustrate this characteristic with a joke I received
by e-mail, which goes like this:
A Florist goes to a Barber
for a haircut. After the haircut, he tries to pay the Barber and the Barber
says - “Sorry, I cannot accept your money, this is a community service”.
The Florist is pleasantly surprised and leaves the shop. The next morning
when the Barber opens his shop, he finds a 'Thank you' card and a dozen
roses waiting at his door.
The Armenian in the above anecdote was
kind enough to let his friends know about the free haircut. In most cases
we like to keep things a secret and not tell others about them, possibly
revealing the secret only after it has no value.
A Few hours later a Policeman
enters for a haircut. After the haircut, he tries to pay the Barber and
the Barber says - “Sorry, I cannot accept your money, this is a community
service”. The Policeman is pleasantly surprised and leaves the shop. The
next morning when the Barber opens his shop, he finds a 'Thank you' card
and a dozen donuts waiting at his door.
The same day an Armenian enters
for a haircut. After the haircut, he tries to pay the Barber and the Barber
says - “Sorry, I cannot accept your money, this is a community service”.
The Armenian is pleasantly surprised and leaves the shop. The next morning
when the Barber opens his shop… Guess what he finds there?
A dozen Armenians waiting for
a free haircut!
Armenians appreciate art and music.
But unfortunately know or understand very little about the true value of
an artistic work. We always tend to measure the value of a work-of-art
by its material cost instead of its true artistic merit.
Often Armenians like to exaggerate
or let’s say “extend” reality a bit. We like to make things look harder,
bigger or more complicated than they really are. We like to boast about
our achievements regardless of the outcome or the quality of the final
Punctuality is not one of our strong
characteristics. We never manage to start a function or a gathering on
time. On such occasions it’s common to hear the Armenian phrase “Haygagan
Jamatrootuon”, which means ‘Armenian Timing’ (uttered in a critical
Gossiping is one of the common activities
and the most efficient means of spreading news (especially amongst the
female sex). There is a funny saying – “If someone passes wind, people
will immediately smell it on the other side of the planet”.
Armenians are known to be more of
a serious nation than a humorous one. Not that we don’t have a sense of
humour, we do, but unlike others we find it hard to laugh at our own faults.
Because the history of the Armenian nation is full of tragedies and hardships,
our capability to relax and look at the funny side of life has been dramatically
effected or diminished.
The two main facets of the Armenian
Armenians in general have what I
call ‘Two Faces’. No! We are not two faced. It’s just that for some reason
our character changes when interacting with foreigners as opposed to one
of our own.
Lets have a look at “Face one”
– ‘Armenians interacting with Armenians’.
In general, Armenians are polite
and hospitable people who live in close knit communities. We treat each
other with respect and courtesy, as long as both parties act in a humble
manner and stay within their social and intellectual boundaries. Basically,
not to say or do things that might upset the other person.
Unfortunately, we may fall victim
to unfounded gossip circulating amidst the community. When this happens
we tend to loose our manners and change our attitude towards each other.
We start to look for faults in each other’s personality and lifestyle and
use that information to criticise. We may even say things that we know
will result in hurting the other person’s feelings. I believe the ‘jealousy’
gene plays a big roll in these situations. It tends to cloud our judgement
and makes us act in an unethical way towards our fellow countrymen.
Armenians have a very well known
saying when doing business with one another -“You can’t do business
with an Armenian”. This attitude is one of the biggest downfalls of
our nation. We find it very difficult to work with each other. As a mater
of fact, we prefer to give work to foreigners than to one of our own. The
reasons for this attitude are complex, but never the less worth examining.
As a ‘client’ an Armenian will always
expect to pay less for more. We always negotiate, even after we have received
a special discount. We expect that we can make changes to the job specification
without having to pay any extra for them.
So, as seen above, Armenians find it
very hard to work together. Invariably this can be attributed to jealousy,
lack of respect for each other’s financial needs and a selfish expectation
of immediate personal gain. We refuse to help or support one another and
in some extreme cases we may even stoop to circulating unfounded rumours
to sabotage each other’s hard work.
The Armenian ‘tradesman’ on the other
hand, may adopt the unethical attitude of “They are Armenians, what
do they know?” As a result he may do a substandard job or exaggerate
the true value of the project at hand.
When undertaking any dealings with Armenian
institutions, there are even more factors that come into consideration
regardless of your Armenian descent or whether the work you intend to do
will benefit the Armenian community as whole. The first question inevitably
will be, will it cost them any money? Secondly, which political, social
or religious denomination do you belong to? Thirdly, what are the immediate
benefits to the ‘Institution’ if they decide to support you? Etc. etc.
etc… Well, I think you get the picture.
Alternately when the Armenian business
owner is approached by an Armenian institution, their first expectation
is that they receive the job/merchandise for free or for a generously discounted
price. Since most Armenian institutions consider themselves non-profit
organisations they somehow believe that the business owner (most probably
a hard working parent of two children, who has all kinds of business and
family expenses) can afford to do the job for free or give it to them at
less than cost price.
When Armenian institutions work together…
well no need to continue this, because they never manage to agree to do
anything ‘together’ and in those very unique situation when they do so,
it always ends up in controversy, unnecessary arguments and final break
It really doesn’t take a genius to
figure it out - If each and every one of us supported each other then Armenian
businesses and individuals would become better off and in return would
have the financial capability to help our institutions to grow and prosper.
Thereby benefiting the whole community, especially the future generations.
Armenians develop a superiority complex
when assigned positions of leadership. This is very apparent when interacting
with Armenian community representatives. The fact is that most of our community
leaders/representatives do not have the necessary skills or the qualifications
to lead or even represent us as a nation. Lack of true leadership skills
combined with old fashioned/outdated ideas, pompous and selfish attitudes,
secrecy and lack of transparency, and an unwillingness to take responsibility
for their actions, encourages many individuals and families to distance
themselves from our institutions, in particular the younger generation.
When dealing with Armenian community
representatives the phrase “I don’t know, ask him” is a common response.
Finding someone who will readily assist you with your inquiries is rare.
Unfortunately, it seems nobody knows what is happening. The reality is
that they don’t want to get involved and simply give you the run around
just to keep you out of their hair (so to speak).
Armenians are quick to wrongfully
judge each other. We think we are right even though we haven’t invested
enough thought to the subject at hand. We seem to immediately see the negative
side of things even though the positive side far outweighs it. We tend
to discourage people with good ideas and intensions without allowing them
the benefit of the doubt.
Armenians are self opinionated and
very competitive. We seem to regularly disagree with each other and try
to force our ideas on one another. There is an Armenian saying – “When
two Armenians come together, they create three different Churches (denominations)
and five different political persuasions”.
When socialising amongst ourselves,
we have the tendency of accepting or rejecting people depending on their
social and/or religious background. For some reason just being an Armenian
seems not to be enough. If even one of the religious, social or political
inclinations of a person dose not meet our own criteria, then that person
will not be accepted within our “social circle”. This type of discrimination
is one of the major contributors to “The White Genocide”. This is
the main reason why a great deal of Armenians are distancing themselves
from everything ‘Armenian’. By doing so, they are gradually and unknowingly
being assimilated into other cultures, much to the detriment of our Armenian
Now lets have a look at “Face
Two” – ‘Armenians interacting with Foreigners’.
Armenians go through an amazing character
metamorphosis when interacting with foreigners. Suddenly, we become very
friendly, social and willing to please.
Some Armenians seem to believe that
foreigners, in particular Westerners/Europeans are superior to us. We try
to imitate them, talk like them, act like them and in extreme cases even
try to hide or deny our own unique culture by adopting theirs. Of course,
there are many of us who are very proud of our heritage and try to educate
foreigners about the riches of our culture whenever we get the chance to
Armenians are more tolerant towards
other nations’ so called “bad habits” as opposed to our own. We seem to
think that that is part of their culture and in most cases try not to judge
them for their faults. This ‘tolerance’ sends out the wrong message to
our younger generation. In effect we may be giving them the ‘green light’
to imitate other cultures and to do as they wish.
One of the most noticeable changes
in the character of the Armenian younger generation living in the diaspora
today, is the misguided perception that they need to adopt their host country’s
language and cultural habits as their primary tool for communication and
self-expression. There is nothing wrong with learning other languages.
In fact I encourage every Armenian to learn their host country’s language
and culture to the best they can. After all, we live in a foreign culture
and it’s our duty as good citizens to try our best to interact and contribute
to the well being of the community that we have chosen to be part of. But
let’s do so without compromising our own language and culture. For we are
no longer Armenians if we stop practising our own Mother language amongst
ourselves and dismiss our cultural traditions as being old fashioned and
Armenians find it easy to do business
with foreigners. In fact we prefer to do so, rather than with one of our
own (for the same reasons as mentioned in the previous section). We become
more accommodating and willing to please. Our politeness is at its peak
and we tend to agree on things more often than we normally do. Some of
us think that “Negotiation” is a bad word when dealing with foreigners,
and it is considered “A shame” if you try to bargain when doing
business with Westerners. Of course, anyone with sound and confident business
sense will know that this is not true, and as the saying goes – “There
are no rules when doing business” – as long as you act in an ethical
and professional manner.
This study has looked into many facets
of the Armenian character, some good and some bad. It is very obvious that
we pride ourselves to be honest, hardworking, hospitable and family oriented
nation. We value our freedom and always endeavour to live in peace and
harmony with other nations.
Unfortunately, our faults seem to
be as diverse and colourful as our virtues. Our dominant ‘jealousy’ gene
has contributed to many of our downfalls. We find it very hard to work
with and support one another. We are self opinionated and quick to wrongfully
judge each other. If only we were as accommodating and tolerant with each
other as we are with foreigners (Westerners).
It’s true when they say – “The
fish stinks from its head down”. It is time for us to elect individuals
who possess the right skills and education combined with a positive attitude
to guide and represent this nation (Yes, there are many if we look closely).
Our leaders and community representatives have an obligation to put the
community’s needs before their own personal gains. They should encourage
and support “All” members of our community regardless of their religious,
social or political inclinations. After all, we are all Armenians.
I welcome your thoughts on this topic.
If anyone wishes to comment or add to the above article, you may do so
by writing to ‘Hye Etch’. Please use the “Contact us” form to get
in touch with us. All correspondence to be in language that is civilised