I corrected his pronunciation and agreed with him that it was a
"What does it mean?" he asked. I gave him the short version of the
meaning of my long-winded name and spared him the details.
"It's an Armenian last name, but it is Farsi in nature," I said.
"But I'm Armenian."
"Oh, then you know how to speak Iranian?" the stranger asked with
a look of assurance.
"No, I speak Armenian. You must have meant Farsi, which is the
language spoken in Iran," I said.
Clearly the stranger did not know the difference between Iranians
and Armenians or the language spoken by each group. It reminded me of
the time when someone referred to the Spanish language as "Mexican,"
assuming the language spoken in Mexico would be "Mexican."
The conversation with the stranger was nothing new or out of the
Time and again I have encountered people who have had preconceived
notions about the Armenian culture. One thing for sure is there is
still the assumption that all Armenians are migrants from the
Republic of Armenia.
I often find myself explaining to people where my family is from
and why they are not from Armenia. As soon as I mention Iran, which
is the birthplace of both of my parents and other extended family,
people immediately say that I must be Muslim.
Any Armenian, despite his place of birth, will say he is
In order to make things a little more clear for people, I find
myself giving quick mini-lessons about the Armenian Diaspora, which
to a certain extent, tends to make matters a bit easier (if not more
confusing) to understand.
On another note, I remember one time when I encountered someone
who claimed he was well-versed with cultures but was clueless about
the Muslim world.
He spoke of his travels and his love and admiration for the
cultures of the world. He asked where I was from, and before I could
start explaining why Armenians live in different parts of the globe,
he asked, "Is the Muslim religion the one where people bow down and
pray to God?" He then motioned, bowing up and down, attempting to
imitate the prayer technique.
I couldn't help but think that this person was more ignorant than
clueless. Maybe he needed more than a history lesson.
There are a lot of assumptions about the Armenian culture, and the
reasons are many. Familiarity with the culture, I suppose, is
dependent upon how much curiosity and interest people invest in truly
learning about the diverse aspects of the Armenian culture.
But what is most revealing, and perhaps even disturbing, is the
lack of knowledge and misconceptions people have. Let's not forget
that Armenians have called the U.S. their home since the beginning of
the 20th century.
* ANI AMIRKHANIAN is a
news assistant. She may be reached at (818) 637-3230 or by e-mail