Tuesday, 11 March 2008


That last post was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In this case, I am the blogging camel, and the straws are little fragments of Armenia. I offer them as just that – titbits on a fascinating and surprisingly influential culture and cultural idea. This is not done in the spirit of trivialising (though it is hard for an Englishman not to trivialise the histories and cultures of most of the world, given our false modesty about our own cultural achievements, especially as the eccentric and depreciating tone of the educated English ‘writer’ [the ‘’ are there for my personal disbenefit!] ) but of respectful curiosity…

Armenia were the winners of the 2006 Chess Olympiad (it’s like the World Cup), moving up from a mere (!) bronze in 2004, despite being a country with fewer than 3.5 million inhabitants. They walked all over the mighty Russians and Chinese, and as a team they only suffered defeat in a single game.

Top Armenian Grandmasters include Aronian, Akopian, Lputian, Vaganian, Miniasian, Anastasian, Movsesian… anyone else see a pattern here!?

This plucky group of letters (xxx[consonant]ian) caught my attention, and I kept my eyes out for more Armenians on the world stage. In no particular order…

24, Season 5 featured the patriotic but unwise Miles Papazian, who worked for the US government.

Look out for Demos Shakarian (and family) and their global influence (some pretty positive, even if their excesses are to be deplored) via The Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International, or, slightly less catchily, the FGBMFI.

Gilbert Bilezikian, influential Protestant theologian, Professor Emeritus at Wheaton College.

Yossarian, the (anti)hero of Joseph Heller’s masterpiece Catch 22 is surely Armenian-American.

Rather more spuriously linked to this confederacy is the Telmarine Lord in C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian!)

Rousas Rushdoony, whose name explodes my convenient Armenian surname formula, a powerful figure in some conservative Christian circles in the US.

Alan Hovhannes, who also doesn't fit, was the most prolific composer of the 20th century, writing in a unique, accessible style - almost liturgical in places, often conjuring up the stark landscapes of his Scottish and Armenian parents' homelands.

There’s a war with Azerbijan, a small issue of a ‘genocide’, a history of oppression by bigger people, and lots of present-day agro. See armenipedia for some eccentricity of a Caucasian kind…(actually that's a bit rude, it's just a specialised and slightly more partisan wikipedia spin-off). They have the oldest and possibly crustiest national church in the world, but there have been great revivals in the Armenian Apostolic Church in the last 170 years and there are hundreds of thousands of evangelicals in the diaspora. Lots of gospel rejoicing, and much, much more...

Novelist Julian Barnes seems strangely fascinated by it, too (10½ Chapters, p.236 on Ararat as the centre of the world but not getting any of it because of three empires converging, the third of a chapter about a deranged woman who climbs the mountain in the mid 19th century and discovers the clergy to be as dodgy and backward as prejudice predicted, the chapter entitled project Ararat, the Art coming to rest there… Sometimes one wonders just how darkly witty Barnes is: ‘You might have deduced from a glimpse of the Tigglers’ Expedition Room that Spike and Jimmy were a couple of naked refugees being sent as hired killers to exterminate most of Eastern Turkey’ [269-70], not to mention the ‘year of moody Bible study’ [266] which could just as easily have been capitalised!

“They drove until the road ran out and the two shapes of Great and Little Ararat rose ahead of them

‘Kinda like man and wife, ain’t it?’ Spike remarked.

‘How d’ya mean?’

‘Brother and sister, Adam and Eve. The big one there and the little neat pretty one by his side. See? Male and female created He them.’

‘Do you think the Lord had that in mind at the time?’

‘The Lord has everything in mind,’ said Spike Tiggler, ‘All the time.’ Jimmy Fulgood looked at the twin shapes ahead of them and kept to himself the reflection that Betty Tiggler was an inch or two taller than Spike.” [272-3])

and more!