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a minority and a non- territorial language.
Its problems and its chances of survival

by Vartan Ozinian

This paper was presented in French during the plenary session of the inter-nation conerence held at the University of Teramo, Italy on the 21 + 22 May 2008. This English version is translated from the original text by Dr. Art Maranci - member of Pro Edvcatio movement.
Vartan Ozinian has studied structure of materials (Engineering physics , physical chemistry, mathematics) in the Universities of Istanbul and Paris, with research studies in Basle and the Royal institute of Technology- Stockholm, 1951-1965; Economics and Finance at the Institute of Political Studies-IEP, Paris 1959-1964; Linguistics and Languages at the National School of Living oriental Languages-ENLOV, Paris 1962-1964; Doctoral. Degree conferred on him by University of Paris-Sorbonne, 1978, based on his research in Relations Between Languages, Communication and Civilization carried out at Harvard and MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1969-1973); Concurrently with his studies and research he has worked as an engineer (1963-1969);He has led studies and research on the Culture of Armenians and Civilizations . at the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilization (INALCO, Paris 1969-1978), Econometric Advisor and Development of Human resources (international Organizations / part of U.N.), general Director of Gamma Institutes World Network (Econometrics from 1987 to Date); Member of the Pro Edvacatio´ movement (from 2000 to date). Publications in the areas of the above specialties.


The Western Armenian Language has its roots and its history. The speakers of the Western Armenian and all the others of the same culture who survived the First World War became countryless. When these survivors became a worldwide Armenian Diaspora, the Western Armenian language also became countryless and assumed the character of a non-territorial language. This report discusses examples of the Republic of Armenia, Cyprus and France with special reference to the Charter of the Council of Europe dealing with the protection and the development of regional or minority languages. The Armenian language is in decline everywhere, including in Armenia. For Western Armenian it is urgently needed to renew the system of education. This renewal should involve the parents of the students and should be based on a permanent training of teachers’ pool and administrators. However this approach runs against the present state of affairs naturally adopted by the masses of majorities speaking languages of their countries. Therefore it requires a lasting commitment, audacity and determination for change. Such a renaissance can not be brought about by timorous acts of dilettantes no matter what their social and professional status is. Since, this is an endeavor which requires a bold defense of the rights of men and its cultural patrimony.

1. Introduction

One after another, state authorities representing the international word community have declared first 2008 as "The Year of Language", and then annually 21 February as the "World Language Day" and September 26 as the "Language Day in Europe". The official motivation for these proclamations is found in the conviction that, each language of the world, at present or in the past, forms part of the patrimony of humanity. According to the current census estimates about 6000 languages are used in the world. The proclamations of the year and days of language in the world and in Europe have the official goal of protecting and developing these languages. This is an initiative like the desire to protect the ecosystem of the country, the region and the world. In fact, similar to the dangers threatening the Earth, 50 to 90% of the languages are estimated to be in danger of extinction within twenty years.

Whatever the accuracy of these alarming projections, the study of the situation is essential when it concerns the protection and the development of an entity as complex as language which involves many factors. For this reason, Western Armenian as a minority non-territorial language is chosen in this report, and is covered in four parts:(1) Introduction, (2) A Survey of the Armenian Language, (3) The effectiveness of the rights of the training in Western Armenian, (4) A reflection disguised as a conclusion. In fact, the socio-linguistic and jurisdictional investigations carried out in this report are based on a series of questions engendered on the principle of the protection and the development of languages especially of those yet living. (See the References 1- 4, at the end of this report) .

2. A Survey of the Armenian Language: Where does this language come from? Where is it located? Where does it appear to be going?

A little more than 16 centuries ago, at 404 A.D., the Armenian alphabet consisting of 36 letters was created by Mesrob Mashdots, a veteran of the Armenian royal army turned monk. Encouraged and supported by the King Vramshabouh and the Supreme Head of the Armenian Church, Catholicos Sahag, Mesrob pursued his research in the most important centers of Hellenic and Syrian cultures, concluding his work with the creation of the aforesaid alphabet in Edessa in Asia Minor near the present border of Syria. The principal characteristic of this alphabet is the attribution of a single sound to each letter that is the phonetic system of writing. The inventor of the alphabet, after deciding the shape of the letters contacted the calligrapher Rhoubianus in Samousade, who following the instructions of the inventor engraved the alphabet on a tablet. Immediately after, Mesrob Mashdots used these Armenian letters to translate the Book of Proverbs of Solomon in the Bible with the help of two disciples. He dictated to the calligrapher the first words that were translated to Armenian:

"To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding"

Thus, the intention of the inventor of the alphabet is announced beforehand. The key word there is: EDUCATION. Catholicos Sahag and Mesrob, the inventor, after this contribution to Christian education in Armenia as well as in various provinces of Georgia and in the land of Allans/Albans (currently Azerbaijian), and undertook the enrichment of Armenian literature. In accord with the controlling idea of their time, they targeted the spiritual and religious education of the population. Consequently, it became necessary first of all to translate the Bible, the best source for religious and doctrinal rites, and also the works inherited from the notable church fathers.

2.1 The golden age
The Catholicos, situated at the Holy See of the Armenian Church, began quickly the translation of the books of the Bible to a language comprehensible to the population, while Mashdots with the same urgency began a mission of education in various places in Armenia. Both knew the Bible in depth, therefore it was easy for them to realize their translation in the vernacular. Nonetheless, they wished to come up later with a more perfect Armenian translation improving the first version rushed through for the necessity of educating the masses. Various hypotheses and analysis of historians and linguists concerning this final version are beyond the scope of this report. What is important is the quality of this second translation. Hellenists and Orientalists of Western Europe are unanimous on the accuracy and the voice of the second version compared to the Greek, which is the basis of all versions, and to the Hebrew. These experts have called this version, realized after a delay of thirty years following the invention of the Armenian alphabet The Queen of Translations.

It is not possible after a short delay of thirty years to create a new language of such refinement, characterized by a power of communication, displaying an elegant sober style with logical accuracy and clarity devoid of negative redundancies. This language, called Classical Armenian, belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. During the centuries of Middle Age and beyond the alphabet had 38 letters. (See the table at the end of the references). In fact during this period in Armenia, there existed various languages. Among them that of the Ayrarat region was privileged because of political and intellectual reasons. Few relics remain of the pagan period that escaped sacking during the Christianization of the country in the previous century, to determine how much was inherited from the pagan language. The group of participants in the educational movement that came about from the invention of the new system of alphabet are called The Holy Translators. They translated above all religious, spiritual and philosophical works, amongst which the works of ancient Greek thinkers. For the affairs of the state the use of the Greek and the Aramaic languages remained. The work of the Saint Translators bears witness to a brilliant period of progress in the fifth century which was called the golden age of the Armenian language.

A slow decline began thereafter due in part to political events and partly due to the scarcity of resources for Armenian culture. This decline continued its course until the advent of the political and social reorganization in the 11th century in Cilicia (1080) which had the Mediterranean coast to the south, the Asia Minor to south-east and the Taurus Mountains to the north. Soon after this kingdom became the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. Civic, military and religious officials used the popular Armenian language, while the classical language was used primarily in the religious sphere. But as opposed to the ancient period, in all external and internal affairs of the country, namely in political, economic, military and cultural matters the Armenian language was used in every level. Although the use of the classical language declined, it continued to live as the language of the church and in some common expressions among the Armenians of Cilicia.

This situation continued until the annihilation of the kingdom by Mamelouks in 1375. With the change of the structure and the political regime the Armenian language continued to survive in several countries, namely in part in Armenia and in part in countries of emigration. In this "survival" the decline of the language continued, despite efforts by some groups and people living in the great metropolises in this epoch to defend it. Credit for the first initiative for a renaissance goes to the Mekhitarist Congregation founded in Constantinople in 1701. Who after searching for a secure base in a European location, settled in Venice and later also in Vienna in 1811, the Capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Subsequently, cultural and social activities were established in Constantinople/Istanbul (Capital of the Ottoman Empire), in Smyrna/Izmir, in Calcutta (India), In St. Petersburg (Capital of the Russian Empire), in Moscow,and in Tbilissi (the seat of the Viceroy of Russia in Transcaucasia) making them active centers for the cultural renaissance of Armenians.

For three centuries to date the Mekhitarists continue to coordinate their mission without interruption from their centers in Venice and Vienna. In such a political geography, the frontiers of the states hinder the normalization and harmonization of culture because of interstate conflicts. This situation led the Armenian language to an evolution that transformed it into multiple dialects. Thus began the differentiation of the Eastern and Western Armenian languages ; the first in the Russian and Iranian territories, based notably on the dialect of the plain of Ararat initiated at Kanakare, presently in the Republic of Armenia. On the other hand the evolution of the Western Armenian is based on the Armenian dialects of Asia Minor and of Theodossia in Crimea from which a population of 40,000 was moved in 1475 to Constantinople by the Ottomans, who had become the ruler of these northern lands and the Black Sea.

In summary, after the disappearance of the Cilician Kingdom at the 14th Century (1375), the Armenian language became a mixture of Armenian dialects all over Asia Minor. This situation lasted until 1850’s, when a dozen periodical publications appeared in Western Armenian. Beginning with the year 1850, the spoken Armenian became more and more like the written one and systematically distanced itself from the syntax of the Classical Armenian. This movement of the Western Armenian was brought about by intellectuals living in Constantinople, Smyrna, Venice, and Vienna and sporadically in Paris. Only after 1890 Western Armenian entered its true crystallization phase, allowing it to put in order its lexicology and grammar without a break from its Classical Armenian roots. Consequently, a continuity of an intrinsic relationship exists between the two languages. The standardization of Western Armenian was achieved primarily by the periodical press, aided by the publication of grammar books and dictionaries. The readers of this press were educated by a chain of Armenian schools subsidized by non-governmental organizations and a host of teachers of admirable quality.

2.2. From an apogee to an apocalypse or the Odyssey of a language
At the start of the First World War, there existed about 2000 schools teaching Western Armenian in the territories of the Ottoman Empire in addition to the schools of the Mekhitarist Congregation. Most of these institutions were in Asia Minor, where the majority of the Armenian population had lived for several millenia. During this period, the western Armenian presses published hundreds of books, magazines and daily news papers which assured the protection and the development of the language so that the functioning of social, economic, political and spiritual, i.e. the cultural, communication could take place. But, the Great War was fatal to the population of western Armenian culture. The major part of that population, which had lived on its ancestral land in Asia Minor and more recently in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, was annihilated.

This disastrous history is known by the whole world, details of which are beyond the scope of this report. What is considered here is the resulting change in the status and the evolution of the language of the western Armenians. After the annihilation of the majority of the population and the scattering of the rest in the entire world, their language became countryless and in actual terms non-territorial, yet preserving its place in the patrimony of humanity like all other languages of the human society. For the protection and the development of this patrimony it is necessary to consider some jurisdictional and organic rules where questions of another character arise as will be shown later. (References:5-17).

3. Effectiveness of the training rights
Are the rights of training in Western Armenian effective? Do they take into account national legislations and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages? Some examples may help explain the case in regard to Western Armenian.

3.1 First Case: The European Charter and The Republic of Armenia
It is a fact that Western Armenian is a minority language and non-territorial even in the Republic of Armenia. To be sure the Constitutional Law declares the Armenian Language to be the national language of the country, but the practical reality is the following: The Republic understands by Armenian language, solely a language that uses the Armenian alphabet completely removed from the semantic content of the Armenian Language, whether classical, western or oriental. The language of Armenia departed from the elementary etymological rules of the Armenian proper since 1922 and its geography extended to the territories of the former Soviet Union and the territories under its jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the language of the Republic of Armenia is not a regional or a minority language for it to be an object of concern within the frame of the European Charter. In contrast, the protection and the development of Western Armenian, which in no way depends on the Republic of Armenia, is incontestably covered by the Charter of the Council of Europe for Regional or Minority Languages. Meanwhile, on the experts’ committee list figures the name of a person who uses the language of the Republic of Armenia. Also, the said charter is translated into the language of Armenian Republic using the letters of the Armenian language. Objections to the use of the Armenian alphabet in another language has no foundation. On the contrary it demonstrates the adaptability of that alphabet as in the case of the Latin alphabet whose letters are used by the French, the Italian, the Turkish, etc. However they are not the same language, moreover not at all the Latin language. Under these circumstances, as the European Charter stipulates, is it not proper to give priority to those elements that are contributing to the preservation and the development of Western Armenian to be in charge? Isn't it indispensable that the original text be translated to Western Armenian? Also, isn't it indispensable, indeed urgent, to recruit experts from the Diaspora of the Armenians in the West? At any case, in this regard, the recruiting of experts from the Republic of Armenia is counter- productive. Similarly, it is also counter-productive to recruit experts from disciplines other than in Western Armenian language. Certainly, the Armenian Republic deserves the goodwill and the attention of all who strive for or wish its development and rapid progress in all aspects, so that it may become a modern country, secure and enviable. Nevertheless, this goodwill should not degenerate to harm Western Armenian, in league with certain so called Armenophiles and patriots who persevere in its cannibalization. These, by their action, taken in the context of state politics, do not take into account the fact that Western Armenian, even as countryless, is a most distinguished and effective component of the Armenian culture, and at the same time, it is part of the immaterial patrimony of the countries where it exists. Despite the intense desire of some, it is clear that the Armenian Diaspora is not, either legally or quasi legally a colony of the Republic of Armenia, notwithstanding the planned installation of a Ministry of Diaspora. Despite the precarious state of human resources among the Armenians in the West, there still exist experts in the Armenian Diaspora to satisfy the Charter requirements for oversight. (References: 18-21).

3.2 Second Case: Cyprus and Western Armenian
Republic of Cyprus is a signatory to the Charter and its legislators have ratified the law for the protection and the development of the Western Armenian language used by the Armenian minority in the country. The expected beneficial result of this action can be realized if tuition is carried out entirely in Armenian or in a truly bilingual fashion. Certainly, this initiative assumes the existence of a school of the necessary quality.

3.2.1 A curious reverse contribution
The only establishment capable of effectively accomplishing this task of protecting and developing Western Armenian through the creation of human resources, amongst them teachers, the Melkonian Educational Institution based in Nicosia, is closed by an Armenian organization charged with its management, under various pretexts, among which the funding of a project to establish a meeting place for young people in the Republic of Armenia. MEI, since its founding (1926) has functioned without interaption for nearly 80 years creating human resources based on Armenian culture and the Western Armenian language, preparing teachers for the entire world in its Department of Education (unique in the Armenian Diaspora). Whereas in the territories of the Republic of Armenia, the teaching of Western Armenian is merely an elective subject.

Besides it can not be said that this benevolent management organization, intending the destruction of MEI, is the owner of the school and its patrimony. Consequently, is it not incumbent on the judicial authorities of the Republic of Cyprus to verify the competence, the duties and the responsibilities of aforesaid managers on this issue? At any rate, so long as there exist in the world a population of Armenian culture they become the legitimate owner of MEI of last resort. They have the will to serve by creating human resources based on Western Armenian, a non-territorial language which nevertheless covers the entire world and is open to all.

3.2.2 Effective protection and the Republic of Cyprus
Thus, a jurisdictional problem is faced by the state authorities of the Republic of Cyprus to effectively implement the protection and the development of Western Armenian, a charge stipulated by its laws derived from its international agreement to the Charter of the Council of Europe in this matter.

3.3 Third Case: France
To date the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is not ratified in France. This is due to the intervention of the Constitutional Council of the country. Nonetheless, Wester Armenian is considered to be one of the languages included in the linguistic policies of the country, which correspond to the constitutive aspects of the European Charter.

3.3.1. A legitimacy waiting for legalization.
In France the place of languages in culture, education and in the media is determined by several legal and regulatory rules. For example: the law of August 4, 1994 related to the use of French stipulates “ the terms of this legislation and regulations apply without prejudice to the legislation and the rules related to regional languages of France and do not oppose their utilization ” article 21. The utilization of the regional languages is authorized in all spheres, including public services such as translation to French. Later on, in October 2001, by the creation of the Delegation to the French Language and the to the Languages of France (DLFLF) in which the state recognizes a particular place to the latter in the cultural life of the Nation. Only the Western Armenian has an official place among these languages, not the Eastern Armenian or even the language called the language of the Republic of Armenia. It is to be noted that 400,000 people in France are involved in the protection and the development of Western Armenian and the culture it entails.

3 3.2 Bilingual School: paradox or misunderstanding
Besides the legislative situation mentioned above, there exists a paradoxical situation. There is a definition for “bilingual school” in France; for a school to be considered a bilingual institution its programme of instruction in all subjects should be carried out 50% in French and 50% in the chosen language. Yet, certain educational establishments, under simple contract or through contracts of association with the state are presented to the public as “Franco-Armenian Bilingual Schools”, while carrying out essentially all their instructions in French and only a subordinate part in Armenian often in variant forms. The question is then: how there can exist in France establishments called Bilingual School, while they do not satisfy the criteria required by its customary definition? In the meantime, it should be noted that in France in the frame of the legal definition of the bilingual school there are three categories of institutions:
1. Institutions wholly owned by the State,
2. Institutions owned by a corporation subsidized by public and state funds.
3. Institutions owned by persons subsidized by public and state funds.
In all the cases above tuition is carried out 50% in French and 50% in the language chosen by the institution for it to be considered bilingual.

3.3.3. Publicized intense goodwill without an appropriate result
Actually the so-called Armenian or Franco-Armenian schools, despite the proclaimed good will of their leaders do not provide the proper protection and the development of this non-territorial language, that is Western Armenian, in line with the objectives of the European Charter. This lack of effectiveness in the primary and secondary school levels engenders a similar lack at the higher level in the preparation of teachers and professors for teaching their specialty in Western Armenian. While, certification exists in France for the teaching of Western Armenian, financed entirely by the French Ministry of National Education. Nevertheless, if the students are not prepared initially in the primary and secondary schools, the presence of a certifying body for teaching Western Armenian will not succeed in preparing future teachers capable of promoting the language and the culture. (References.28-30).

4. A reflection disguised as conclusion

The legislative examples and the state of affairs cited here in relation to the Council of Europe, the Republic of Armenia, Cyprus and France can be extended to other countries. These examples were chosen here in this present report because of their import in national and international legal relations as well as in having a demographic aspect, the demographic factor being the foundation of human resources. In summary, regarding the stipulations of the European Charter for the Regional or Minority Languages, despite many legal options available to the state, despite the good will and the intentions of the people involved, efforts to protect and to develop Western Armenian does not appear to have produced the desired result. The teaching system needs urgent renewal. This renewal should engage the parents, and it should be based on the establishment of a permanent training of teachers and administrators. This enterprise runs counter to the prevailing dynamic due to the majority masses of the people involved in any countries. Therefore, it requires a lasting effort of audacity and determination. Without this effort, even in the best case, all becomes illusory even with the best laws of the world and the most enviable educational equipment. But, despite all efforts, no matter how clever and whatever their utility in their respective environment, these non-territorial and regional languages are fragile because of their smallness in the dynamic of ensembles. Nonetheless, in these circumstances, it is well to recall the last words in Spinoza's "Ethics":

The realization of good things is difficult, but
they are the most beautiful in existence.

In fact, the birth of Western Armenian is due to the disconcerting motivation and the audacity of men and women of proven determination imbued with liberty and civic courage. They defied the destruction of the culture of a scattered society, notably on the territories of great imperial powers. They succeeded in their wager without the help of the power of the state, in an atmosphere full of hostility and latent animosity. The brutal change in human, political, economic and social, in one word cultural, factors engendered the slow decline of Western Armenian after the First World War. At present, the Armenian society is culturally scattered in territories larger than in the past. The challenge for the protection and the development of Western Armenian requires courage, determination and perseverance. This is an endeavor for men and women in love with the cultural freedom of a people dispersed all over the world. This is a challenge which requires the motivation and the insight of daring people. Such a renaissance can not be brought about by timid people and dilettantes, no matter what their social or professional status is. Because this action is a part of the bold defense of human patrimony and the Human rights. (Reference 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39).



* P R O E D V C A T I O is a Worldwide International movement which deals with educational matters – taking into consideration social, economic and political dimensions of the cultural dynamics – together with geopolitical realities and related strategies for the development of human resources, respectful to legitimacy and legal conditions. The Pro Edvcatio’s G R T A S S E R E is a panel – constituted by ad hoc Armenians of Diaspora and non-Armenians – which deals with Armenian educational issues.

The blazon – here above, denotes “We Shall Endure” – is conceived by the distinguished educator Boghos Kevorkian – one of the principals of The Armenian School of Begnins (Vaud) and Armenian Learning Centre of Champel (Geneva) both in Switzerland, founded and financed by the Swiss Association Le Foyer Armenien.

This blazon was the label of all the publications produced in the printing house, founded by B.lKevorkian and operated together with his students of the Armenian School of Begnins, during the period covering the years between the end of 1920’s to the first quarter of 1930’s.

Grtassere of Pro Edvcatio has adopted this blazon for its publications, with the permission of its conceiver’s legatees who are among the founders of Pro Edvcatio movement.
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