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Cultural Approaches to Pediatric Palliative Care in Central Massachusetts: Armenian

This subject guide is a collaborative project with the Children's Medical Center Pediatric Palliative Care Team, the Lamar Soutter Library, and Interpreter Services.




Geography: Armenia is located on the modern borders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

General Cultural Information: Armenia, officially the Republic of Armenia is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. It was the first country to formally adopt Christianity. Ethnic Armenians make up 97.9% of the population.  Yazidis make up 1.3%, and Russians 0.5%. Other minorities include Assyrians, Ukrainians, Greeks, Kurds, Georgians, and Belarusians. There are also smaller communities of Vlachs, Mordvins, Ossetians, Udis, and Tats. Minorities of Poles and Caucasus Germans also exist though they are heavily Russified. Armenian is the only official language even though Russian is widely preferred, especially in education.

The first settlements of Armenians were in Boston and New York, drawn to factories and small business. Their multilingual knowledge also played a role in their success in import-export firms. The Armenian communities successfully expanded to other parts of the US. Their culture is similar to the American culture. Education is a very important part of the Armenian culture, and there is a high level of achievements in the Armenian schools in North America.

Holidays include January 6 which is the Armenian Christmas, February 10: St. Vartan's day (Battle for religion against Persians),April 24: Martyr's day. May 28: Independence Day, September 23: Deceleration of Independence. Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundry Thursday, Good Friday, Easter are also celebrated. (Takooshian, H.)

Local Community Information: “The Armenians who came to Worcester between 1894 and 1930 were escaping a devastating genocide that tore their country apart. What they found and how they became an integral part of Worcester culture and history is the story found in Armenians of Worcester. Worcester was a mecca for many Armenians, who had escaped with little more than their lives. There were mills that provided work, and there was a growing number of Armenians who were struggling to make sense of what had happened in their homeland. The first Armenian Apostolic church and the first Armenian Protestant church in America were both in this city, and both helped to build new foundations for a community that was to enrich the city and slowly resurrect the art, theater, music, and food that celebrates the Armenian culture. The Armenian picnics that were an integrating influence in the early years continue even today as a gathering of clans and all who join in on these days of celebration.” (Apkarian-Russell)

Family structure:  The married couple and their children constitute the domestic unit. During Soviet rule, the domestic unit consisted of a multi generational family. Often paternal grandparents, their married children, and unmarried aunts and uncles resided together. In pre-Soviet times, each region had its own preference. The most common domestic unit, however, was a patrilocal multi- generational family. Women are considered to be the bearers and transmitters of culture, customs, and tradition and are seen as responsible for child rearing. Children are highly valued and they occupy the center of attention in households until they reach puberty.  In the US, the families have very close relations.  Most are trying to conserve their disappearing culture.

Religious Practice:  The predominant religion in Armenia is Christianity; practicing Roman Catholics, Protestants or Orthodox. Over 93% of Armenian Christians belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a form of Oriental Orthodoxy, which is a very ritualistic, conservative church, roughly comparable to the Coptic and Syriac churches. Other religious denominations in Armenia are the Baptists and Presbyterians. Catholics also exist in Armenia, both Roman Catholic and Mekhitarist Catholics. he Yazidi Kurds, who live in the western part of the country, practice Yazidism. There are also non-Yazidi Kurds who practice Sunni Islam.

Food in Daily Life: Staple foods are bread and salt. Their meals consists of dairy, oils, and red meat. Harissa, a traditional meal, consists of wheat grain and lamb cooked over low heat. Armenians everywhere love barbecued meats and vegetables. The pomegranate, with its symbolic association with fertility, is the national fruit. Breakfasts on nonworking days are sometimes major get-together events. In huge pots khash is prepared, cattle legs are boiled and served with spices and garlic and consumed with Armenian brandy.

Communication: The language is of Indo-European origin. A unique alphabet is used for Armenian. Currently, there are two dialects, the eastern and the western Armenian. Armenian is taught in many American Universities, but few newer Armenian generations actually speak it.  Touching is not involved in conversation unless someone is closely associated with whom they are communicating.  Direct eye contact is perferred.

Concepts of Health and Wellness: Common western medical practices are followed. There is a higher rate of heart disease patients. For men and women, there is a 50% death rate from heart disease after age 65.

Death and Afterlife: The traditional Christian vision is consented by most. It is very important to honor and to remember their loved ones. There are memorial services for the dead. The cemetery is a means for communication between the living and the dead.  Food and brandy is served to the dead.  Death anniversaries are also celebrated.


Apkarian-Russell, P. (2000). Armenians of Worcester.  Charleston, SC:  Arcadia.

Encyclopedia of Nations: Armenia. Retrieved from

Countries and their cultures: Armenian Americans.  Retrieved from