Pattie’s Book Asks:Who Are the Armenians?


By Nancy Kalajian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Dr. Susan Pattie, author of the newly-released paperback, Who are the Armenians?, has produced a contemporary, colorful and informative guide and accompanying CD to introduce Armenian history and culture. When she recently spoke about the book to a full house at NASSR in Belmont, Mass., nearly 50 copies of the book were sold that evening alone.

Aimed at children aged 5-12, the format and design of the book easily engages readers of all ages; there are 16 sections or mini chapters, and each section makes good use of background color, font color changes, captions and highlighted words, to share and distinguish related information.

Information is usually presented within a few paragraphs on each page, or occasionally on lists, for example, on traditional Armenian instruments or letters of the Armenian alphabet.

The readability level and font size might be a bit challenging for an early elementary age student, though the spacing between lines of print is generous, which can make it easier for younger readers to access.

For those youngsters who may have difficulty reading it on their own, an older sibling or adult could easily read it to a child who could follow along looking at the attractive visual information. Indeed, the wonderful family photographs, illustrations, friendly and simple captions and wealth of information will likely capture the interest of readers of all levels.

Many of the sections include an “activity,” whereupon the reader can reflect on a personal connection and then think of that connection outside the box, for example in a global context. In the diaspora, for instance, the reader is asked to trace their roots, where they have lived and changes that have taken place there. Then it asks the reader to discover “famous” Armenians living in their country or perhaps other diasporan countries. In religion, the activity focuses on the Jashagestzouk prayer said before a meal; not only are the words there in transliteration but can be heard by a group of people, perhaps a family, in the accompanying CD.

In one of the last chapters, Armenian Children around the World, you can meet children of Armenian descent who live throughout the diaspora, like Anush and Felipe in Buenes Aires, Sarine and Garen in Boston (both attend the Armenian Sisters’ Academy), Dzovinar and Chouchane in Paris, Noemi in London, Mikel in Beirut and Eduard, Monika and brothers Vilen and Hakob in Yerevan. Living in the diaspora, many of the featured students seem to attend Armenian, parochial or private schools and it would have been interesting to also include an example of a student who attends a public school in the US and goes to Sunday School and Armenian School on weekends, as I did. But the main focus here is on children in the diaspora and how, through learning the Armenian language and culture, or connecting with their friends, families and especially grandparents, students can learn and keep their unique heritage alive and be proud of who they are and where they have come from. Through their words, photographs and games shared, we learn of their passions and commonality with peers around the world, an effective approach to multicultural understanding.

The Armenian language section describes its connection to the Indo-European language family. You can open the book to the section and use the CD to learn how to say in Armenian the numbers 1-10, the recited alphabet as well as an alphabet song, and most importantly, how to say and respond in both Eastern and Western Armenian to, “Hello. How are you?”

Reading this book took me down memory lane, especially when I read about yadess and the custom of breaking a chicken bone; decades ago, this game was as common an occurrence around our Sunday lunches with our grandparents as was the bulghur pilaf I always looked forward to. Here, the game of yadess was explained along with nardi (tavloo/backgammon), ashik (jan) and Havgitakhagh (cracking colored eggs during Easter).

The section titled Food Customs is one of my favorites; a recipe for Anooshaboor, sweet soup, is included, as well as a description of reading coffee cup grinds. The layout of Dance includes a photo of immigrant families dancing at a picnic in the 1930s in Pennsylvania, contrasting with a contemporary picture of women doing an Armenian line dance in Paris. There’s even a pocket guide with the CD that describes step by step how to do the Tamzara line or circle dance, that “originated in the Gagharkounik region near Lake Sevan in Armenian.” Tamzara music is even included in the CD.

At her talk at NASSR, the audience seemed genuinely interested in the subject matter discussed in the presentation, thanking the author for her careful research and well-written book. When the author discussed writing a second children’s book on a similar theme in the future, she was receptive to audience members’ feedback and some ideas she might consider in the next go-around.

In summary, this book is a grand discovery and can meet the needs of diverse audiences of all ages, whether you are “new” to Armenian culture, need to be refreshed on the somewhat familiar, or simply love to learn and want to experience Who are the Armenians? answered in an uncomplicated, informative and enlightening manner. Who are the Armenians? was published by the Armenian Institute in London and is being sold and distributed in the US through NASSR.

Pattie is the director of the American Institute in London and has a PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her previous book, Faith in History: Armenians Rebuilding Community, was published in 1997.