Hungary's Armenian minority says language is the key to culture

Central Europe's chaotic history, with empires falling and borders going up and coming down has left many minorities stranded - living in the place where their people have lived for centuries - but in a different state. This is the case for most minorities in Hungary - but not for the Armenians of Hungary. They're an exception to the rule. They're Hungary's smallest minority and as Sandor Laczko reports - they're clinging to their ancient culture.

The "Armenian Autumn Season”, is a cultural event organised for the first time last year by the ‘Armenian People's Cultural Association’. In 1992, the organisation was established with the aim of strengthening social, cultural and scientific relations between Armenia and Hungary and cherishing Armenian identity, culture and language in Hungary. The president of the association, Alex Avanesian, the deputy head of Hungarian Radio’s Minority Programme Department, describes it this way..

"The number of Armenians living in Hungary is small but if you compare to how many things they do, then, the number seems much larger – this is because Armenians are extremely worksome and energetic. The national census in 2001 showed that some 600 people considered themselves Armenians in Hungary – Armenians who speak the language as mother tongue and cherish Armenian culture. We believe that this number is realistic and if you add to that the members of Armenian civilian organisations in this country, who feel they belong to this minority to a certain extent, we could be around a thousand people. Of course, those of Armenian descent could be thousands more. This festival that included events of music and other arts served well the purposes of presenting and preserving our culture, so we are already in the process of preparing the 2008 event.”

Language is one of the basic cultural elements that is not easy to preserve in a foreign environment. Journalist Ingrid Hutterer says she is lucky to have Armenian as a mother tongue as speaking the language is essential in preserving one’s identity.

“Armenian is a very language-dependent culture. The language is very important. I am, for example, very, very grateful to my mother and grandmother that they taught me because I would’ve lost so many things, I could’ve become a wonderful Hungarian, just remembering that I have some Armenian in my blood, but language gives an additional taste and colour, so language is really important in identity, in way of thinking, especially if you take into consideration history. It is interesting, we’re talking today, on the 24th of April, which is the 1915 genocide memorial day. It gives you a different and – I think – richer view of life, view on people, view on happenings.”

Hungary’s laws on minorities ensure Armenians have short but regular weekly and monthly radio and television programmes in their mother tongue and in Hungarian. Also, there is a bilingual weekly magazine. However, many from the Armenian community believe this is not enough. They would like to see a Hungarian language magazine about Armenians that targets the majority of the society in Hungary, providing them with information about the Armenian minority in Hungary as well as Armenia, itself.