The Humor of Armenia
With the news emanating from Armenia often of a negative nature, the question arises as to whether the classic humor of the Armenians is an attempt to forget or cover up the difficult situation prevalent in Armenia, or if this humor is something handed down through the ages. It seems that Armenian humor is so deep and varied, as varied as the countless dialects of Armenia, that it has become an art in itself. People often compete with each other to tell the latest joke or make up one of their own. With great joy, they want to be the first to tell the latest joke about Kyavartsis and their drinking habits and skills, or about Abarantsis and their inability to understand the simplest logic or modern life in general.

On this page, you will find some short bits and pieces that I have written about humor in Armenia, as well as the latest jokes and anecdotes that are going around. Also mixed in are some of the things one sees here that would never happen in the West. The drawings are by my brother, William Michaelian. Please check in often for new material.

Armenian Folk Humor

During his lunchtime in the fields, the villager cracked open a watermelon and started to eat it. First, he ate the reddest, sweetest part of the melon, and put the rest down on the ground. “Let passersby think a king was here, and ate only the best part of the melon.” Getting hungry again, he ate more, now reaching the average part of the melon. “Let people think the king had a servant with him, who ate the rest of the melon.” He then got carried away with himself and started eating the rind. “Let people think the king and his servant were on horses, and the horses finished off the melon.”

During the Sunday sermon, the Der Hayr told about the miracles performed by Christ. But he made a mistake, saying, “Blessed people, our Lord fed five people with 3,000 fish.” The bell ringer, hearing the mistake, said, “Der Hayr, you’re wrong. Christ fed 5,000 people with 3 fish.” “Quiet,” the Der Hayr answered. “The miracle is that Christ fed 3,000 fish to 5 people and they didn’t explode.”

Uncle Barsegh was a simple, Old World villager. He lived in very modest circumstances. His wife was even more simple. They had one milk cow, which provided their living. One day, the villager’s wife got sick and died. He cried for three days, but was then consoled of his loss. A few months later, bad luck struck again, and his cow died. This time, his sadness couldn’t be consoled. He cried day after day, and got thinner as time passed. A relative asked Barsegh, “Uncle Barsegh, you are an amazing person. When your wife died, you were fine in three days, and adjusted to your new life. But after your cow died, six months have passed and you are still in mourning.” Uncle Barsegh answered, “What can I do, brother Magar. When my wife died, the villagers offered twenty different women for me to marry. But no one wanted to give me even one cow.”

The old man Vartkes was on his deathbed. He had only hours to live when he suddenly smelled dolma (stuffed grape leaves). Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh! Vartkes loved dolma more than anything else in the world. Especially his wife’s dolmas. They were known throughout the valley as “the best of the best.” And so, with his last bit of energy, Vartkes pulled himself out of bed, dragged himself across the floor to the stairs, and crawled down to the kitchen. There his wife was rolling grape leaves for a new batch of dolma. As he reached for the ones that were already cooked, his wife smacked him on the back of his hand with her wooden spoon. “Leave them alone,” she said. “They’re for the funeral.”

A man insists there are no women in heaven. “What proof do you have?” people ask him. “Haven’t you read in the Bible that there was a half hour in heaven when there was no noise whatsoever? This is proof that there are no women in heaven, because where there are women, not only for a half hour, but even for one minute, there can be no silence.”

There was a rich, ignorant man, who had never seen or done anything special, who began to wear a flamboyant fur coat, strictly to show off. He began to walk around town, so people could see his coat. Meeting a poor man in the street, he asked, in a very conceited manner, “Do you know how much this coat cost?” The poor man answered, “Rich man, don’t boast about your coat, as that shows you don’t appreciate it.” Amazed, the rich man replied, “Why do you say I don’t appreciate it?” “You probably know,” said the sharp-witted poor man, “that before you were wearing this coat, it was on a fox’s shoulders. It was there for years, but the fox remained an animal. The same fate is yours.”

A rich estate owner, on a big, national holiday, told his servant to fill his largest cart with horses and chickens, and to pass them out to his workers in the villages. He was to give them as gifts, but with one condition, that if the head of the household was a man, to give a horse, and if it was a woman, to give a chicken. The servant, after visiting many houses, saw that most of the chickens had been passed out, but the horses were all still there. Entering the last house, he asked, “Who is the head of this household?” “I am,” answered the man, proudly. “Finally,” the rich man’s servant thought to himself, “I have found a man who is the head of the household.” He invited the man outside to receive his horse. His wife followed him outside. “Here, choose the horse you want,” the servant said to the villager. “The red one, the black one, or brown…choose the color you want.” The villager chose the red horse. His wife then demanded he take a white horse, but the husband insisted on the red one. The wife angrily kicked her husband, saying, “Feeble one, do you know horses better than me?” The rich man’s servant, seeing this, took the horse from the man’s hand, saying, “Behold, a chicken for you.”

A man was taken to court for not paying his debt. The judge asked the man who was owed the money if he had any witnesses. “Yes,” he said. “God is my witness.” Hearing this, the man who owed the debt told the judge, “Let him produce a witness you are acquainted with, and I will pay my debt.”

A village priest goes to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, and is accepted warmly by the bishops of the Armenian monastery. To honor the priest, a bishop asks him to read the Gospel during Morning Service. As the priest, now dressed in the finest robes, stood ready to read the Gospel, a deacon lit candles and placed them at each side of the priest. The candles burned out, yet the priest didn’t say a word. So they lit the candles again, which again burned out without the priest reading the Gospel. After the third try, the priest said, “Even if you burn all of Jerusalem, it won’t help, because I can’t read.”

A thief decided to rob the church in his village, so he attended the Evening Service and then afterwards hid in a corner where he wasn’t noticed. After the priest closed the church to go home, the thief put all of the valuable treasures of the church into a large bag, but became sleepy, sat in a corner, and fell asleep. In the morning, the bell ringer opened the church and saw the thief there with his bag full of stolen goods, and proceeded to beat the thief. The thief said, “When God wrote the commandments, besides Thou Shalt Not Steal, He should have written, if you steal, make sure and not fall asleep.”

A man who is dying tells his beautiful wife to dress in her finest clothes and wear her best jewelry. She says, “How can I have the spirit to dress like that when you’re about to die?” And the husband says, “If the angel Gabriel sees you like that, he may take you instead of me.”

A man had four wives who were always arguing. The wives decided the reason they were always arguing was the husband, so they beat him and dragged him down the stairs, each wife holding him by an arm or a leg. As they dragged him, his head bounced on each stair. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, the man warned, “When I get better, I’m going to get another wife.” One of the wives responded, “You can’t handle four wives, what will you do with a fifth?” And he said, “That way when you drag me down the stairs, one can hold my head so it won’t bounce on the stairs.”

A villager loses his donkey and asks the priest to help him find it by announcing the lost donkey during Morning Service. After the service, the Der Hayr says, “Who among you doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t go to bars, has no girlfriends, and doesn’t read worldly books?” A man stands up and says, “I am that man.” The Der Hayr tells the man who lost his donkey, “There, I’ve found your donkey.”

A man asks an Armenian priest if it is good luck to walk in front of a casket, or behind one, on the way to the cemetery. “My son,” the priest says, “as long as you’re not the one in the casket, you’re lucky no matter where you’re walking.”

A new bride is so lazy that her husband has to make the bed every morning. The husband and his mother try to figure out a way to embarrass the bride. Finally, they have an idea. “When she comes from the bedroom,” the mother says, “we’ll argue about which one of us should make the bed. Then she’ll be embarrassed and make it herself.” So when the lazy bride comes into the room, the husband and his mother start arguing about who will make the bed. Then the bride says to her husband, “Don’t argue, one day you can make the bed, and the next day your mother can make the bed.”

A man is dying and asks his wife if she will grant him one last wish. She says yes, and asks what he wants. He says, “I want you to get married to Ghazaros.” “Why Ghazaros of all people?” she replies. “All you’ve ever done is argue with him and ask God to send His strongest punishment to him.” “There you are,” said the dying husband.

A man wants to find out if his wife loves him, so he decides to fake his death and see what she does. As he is lying in the house, the wife and relatives gather, crying, saying how much they already miss him. The wife says, “My husband had one wish, that if he died, I should marry Avak.” On hearing this, the man sits up, saying, “I never said such a thing.” Then he gets up and kicks her and beats her. All that are gathered run away in fear. Some time passes, and the man actually dies. But this time the wife and others sit far from the body, the wife saying, “This dead man might still be dangerous, it’s smart to sit at a distance.”

A young man named Khngianos gets engaged, and is anxiously waiting to be married. In the meantime, he finds out that his future mother-in-law is very demanding. For instance, she claims that Khngianos has no manners. Trying to help, the groom’s mother tells Khngianos to give nothing but compliments to his mother-in-law, and all will be well. She says, “If she serves tea but forgets to put sugar on the table, just say, Everything you say is as sweet as sugar, we don’t need sugar for the tea.” Khngianos agrees. The next day they go to the future in-laws to eat khash, but the mother-in-law forgets to put garlic and vinegar on the table. Khngianos, with his new knowledge, says to her, “That’s all right, your face is like garlic and vinegar.”

A Der Hayr is taking his donkey to the market to sell when two thieves sneak up from behind and steal the donkey. One thief runs off with the donkey, and the other slips the rope over his head and stands where the donkey was. The Der Hayr turns around and sees the man with the rope over his head and says, “What has happened to you?” The man says, “I was an evil man, so God had turned me into a donkey. Now the curse has been broken.” The priest shakes his head and goes home. The next day he returns to the market to buy a new donkey. The thieves are there selling the Der Hayr’s donkey that they had stolen the day before. The Der Hayr sees his donkey, which starts braying loudly. “I see you have turned into a donkey again,” he says to the animal. “But no matter how much you bray, I won’t buy you, since someday you’ll turn into a man again and I will still be without a donkey.”

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

In Armenia, it is said that one can communicate without speaking a single word of Armenian. For example, if someone asks how you are, you can simply say “Eh...,” meaning something like “As you see,” or, “What you see is what you get.” When someone agrees with another, instead of saying “Ayo” (Yes), he says “Ha,” or “Ha!” depending on the enthusiasm required. If someone is disgusted with a certain remark or behavior, he says “Eeeya!” or “Eee!” for short. If one is carrying on or bragging, the response is usually “Bah, bah, bah, bah...,” the number of “bahs” depending on the level of disbelief or disgust. Or, when someone says something that mildly surprises you, you can answer with “Bah?” meaning, “Oh, really?” Finally, there is the simple, straightforward “Bah,” as when a cannibal goes to Abaran and states he is going to eat someone, and the Abarantsi, who is used to all forms of ridicule, says, “Bah, when it comes to eating someone, I am suddenly thought of as a man.”

Comedy skits seen on Armenian TV

A man goes into a tailor shop with material to make pants. The owner tells him to come back in five days, then sends him on his way. In five days, the customer comes back, but the owner tells him, “Come back in five days.” When the customer says, “But you said five days,” the owner gets angry and shouts, “I’m busy — come back in five days.” This same thing happens several more times, the customer coming in every five days, and the owner saying he’s busy and that the customer should come back in five days. Finally, the owner gets so mad he throws the customer out into the street, so the customer gives up. Then, one day, the customer happens to be walking by the shop and the owner comes outside and says, “Where have you been, your pants are ready.” The customer can’t believe it. After they go inside and he sees the pants, he says, “How is it God created the world in seven days, but it took you a month to make these pants?” To which the owner replies, “Yes, but look how the world turned out, and look at these fine pants.”

In another skit featuring the same actors, the man who was the customer in the first skit goes into a house with a gun and a stocking over his head and starts threatening the people inside. The father, played by the tailor in the first skit, starts laughing. Then the thief shoots the son-in-law, and the father laughs some more. Then the thief shoots the mother-in-law, and the father laughs even harder, and says, “Good, you shot my mother-in-law.” Then the thief shoots the daughter, and the father laughs some more. After that, the thief says, “Can’t you see, I’m shooting these people, why are you laughing?” And the father laughs again and says, “I know your face, you do the Candid Camera here, none of this is real.” Then the thief takes off his mask and says, “I never get any respect. Why did I have to end up looking like the Candid Camera guy?”

Shopping Armenian-style

A trip to the markets of Yerevan is always an adventure. In a local teghadoon (pharmacy), I asked for three meters of gauze. A package they found of five meters seemed to be the wrong thing, besides being more than I asked for. A package of three meters was found, and while being shown to me the gauze slipped from the package and landed on the floor. The clerk blew on the gauze and wiped it with her hand, as if that would make it cleaner. I bought the gauze. What could I do?

I then went to the Anastasavan Shooga and asked for cilantro and godem, a spicy-hot type of green enjoyed by Armenians. “Don’t you want tarkhoon?” the seller asked. I said, “You don’t have tarkhoon.” He answered, “Here is some tarkhoon.” Knowing it was tarkhoon he was pointing at, I said, “This isn’t tarkhoon. Tarkhoon grows in the spring, and this isn’t spring.” “You must be Abarantsi,” he said, referring to the people of Abaran, who are known for their particular brand of stubbornness. Then I asked the price of a kilo of potatoes. “One hundred and seventy drams a kilo” was the answer. I said that I had seen potatoes that morning at another market for one hundred and fifty drams a kilo. “Nayadz gardofil,” he said, meaning, it depends on the potatoes. “Nayadz or,” I answered, meaning, it depends on the day, or, I may or may not buy the potatoes.

Outside the market an old man was sitting on a slab of cement selling parsley, cabbage, carrots, and beets. A man who may or may not have been an acquaintance was shouting at the old man, saying, “Don’t sit on that cement — it’s cold and you’ll get sick.” As if the old man didn’t know that every illness in Armenia comes from the cold, or, “mrseloots.” In Armenia, no one seems worried about being surrounded by forty or so million Turks, but everyone is afraid of “mrseloots,” known in America as “catching a chill.”

Things you see in Armenia but not in the West

A nurse working reception in a hospital, leisurely cracking sunflower seeds with her teeth and eating them.

A manhole uncovered on a main boulevard with a tall tree branch stuck in the hole so motorists won’t drive into the hole.

An old man carrying homemade brooms walking through a winding street in a residential area of old Yerevan, calling out, “Avel, avel,” meaning “brooms for sale.”

Hanging your pants on the line to dry, only to have them end up smelling like khorovadz.

Or this: When one of our neighbors returned from the village recently, she complained about feeling terrible because it had been so cold. (Once again, “mrseloots.”) Then she asked us for an egg, because she had brought home some cheese and was putting it in water for the winter. She needed the egg to check that the amount of salt in the water was right. How does it work? The egg not only has to float, it must do so with a certain amount of the egg above the water. That’s how you know.

The Operators

In an apparently true story, Catholicos Garegin I was visiting the Vatican, and asked the Pope about the unique, golden telephone on his desk. The Pope answered that it was a direct line to God. The Catholicos asked if he use the phone to call God, to which the Pope agreed. After the phone call, the Pope told Garegin I the call would cost $50,000. When asked why the call was so expensive, the Pope said, “You know, it’s a long distance call, and that’s the way it is.” The Catholicos paid the Pope, and left. In 2001, when in Armenia, while the Pope was visiting the Veharan, he saw a phone on the Catholicos’ desk, and asked if it was perchance a direct line to God, and if he could make a call, to which the Catholicos said yes. After talking with God, the Pope asked how much the call would cost, and the Catholicos said it was only fifty cents. When the Pope asked why the call was so inexpensive, the Catholicos answered, “Here, it is a local call.”

Education pays

I am reminded of a film clip I saw on television recently of a doctor in a hospital walking into a room where several doctors are singing and dancing and drinking beer. An unopened beer bottle and an opener are on the table. The doctors ask their colleague how to open the last bottle of beer, explaining that the other bottles have been opened by prying off the lids with other still-attached lids. The doctor says, “It’s clear, this bottle should have been opened first.” “That’s why you’re the head doctor,” they happily exclaimed.

Abaran . . .

An Abarantsi and his friend were walking inside a hotel lobby, and while passing a large mirror, the Abarantsi looked into the mirror and said, “Hello.” In a few minutes, again passing the mirror, the Abarantsi said, “Hello.” The Abarantsi then said to his friend, “You know, I’ve seen that face somewhere, I just can’t say where.” A minute later he says, “I remember. It was a few days ago in the barbershop, when I was getting my hair cut.”

An Abarantsi was at the seashore when he heard someone calling out for help, saying “I’m drowning, I’m drowning.” The person began calling for help in several languages, until he had asked for help in nearly 100 different languages. The Abarantsi refused to help the drowning man. When someone asked the Abarantsi why he didn’t help the man, he said, “If he had spent time learning how to swim instead of learning so many languages, he wouldn’t have drowned.”

An Abarantsi went to Yerevan to buy a television, walked into a new store and told the clerk he wanted a new television. “I won’t sell you a television,” the clerk said, “because you are an Abarantsi.” The Abarantsi went home, wondering how the clerk knew he was from Abaran. He decided to change his accent and put on new clothes, so the clerk wouldn’t know he was from Abaran. Entering the store in Yerevan, the Abarantsi stated he wanted a new television. “I won’t sell you a television, you are an Abarantsi,” the clerk again stated. The Abarantsi, now infuriated, went home and decided to learn English, thinking he would surely trick the clerk into thinking he wasn’t Abarantsi. This time when he went to the store he said, in English, “I would like to buy this television.” The clerk again said he wouldn’t sell to Abarantsis. The Abarantsi asked how the clerk knew he was from Abaran. “Easy,” the clerk said. “This isn’t a television, it’s an aquarium.”

An Abarantsi was walking down the street with a big smile, carrying his new thermos. “What’s that?” a friend asked. “A thermos,” the Abarantsi said. “What’s it good for?” his friend wanted to know. The Abarantsi said, “It’s a great invention. If you put something hot in it, it stays hot. If you put something cold in it, it stays cold.” “What did you put in it?” the friend asked. “Two ice cream bars and a cup of coffee,” the Abarantsi answered.

There was an Abarantsi who had a business in Yerevan and continually said, there’s nobody in the world as smart as Abarantsis. So his workers said, prove it. The boss arranged a trip to Abaran. On arriving, they saw an Abarantsi in an open field trying to row a small boat. The workers said, if Abarantsis are so smart, why is he trying to row a boat in that field? The boss said, it’s a pity I don’t have my life jacket, I’d swim out there and tell him.

Someone asked an Abarantsi if he could see the forest straight ahead. No, he said, the trees are in the way.

An Abarantsi was trying on shoes. He saw the numbers inside the shoes, 10, 12, 9, but didn’t know what they meant. He asked the shoe salesman, “Are these the speed of the shoes?”

An Abarantsi went to school in Moscow. His parents asked him to send a picture of himself. He sent one of him sitting on a donkey, and wrote on the bottom of the picture, “I’m the one on top.”

Someone asked an Abarantsi how long it took to drive from Yerevan to Abaran. The Abarantsi said, “Two hours to Abaran, and three hours back to Yerevan.” When asked why it took two hours one way and three the other, the Abaransti replied, “Do you think it’s easy to back up that far?”

Have you heard about the Abarantsi twin who killed his brother? When asked why he killed his twin, he said, “I was trying to kill myself and got confused.”

An Abarantsi wanted to marry a girl who made certain demands, such as him having a Mercedes, property, and a large two-story home. The next day, his friends found him sitting in a depressed mood, not talking to anyone. When asked why he was so depressed, he said there was no problem with the girl’s demands about him having a Mercedes, but being his house had three stories, how could he destroy the third floor without destroying the rest of the house?

An Abarantsi wants to go to the market, but finds out a passport is needed to get in. After thinking about it, he asks someone who’s going into the market with a donkey if he can walk under the donkey and get into the market. The donkey’s owner says okay, so he starts walking under the donkey and they go in the door. As soon as they are inside, the guard says, “Who is under the donkey?” “The donkey’s son,” the donkey’s owner says. “What do you think, I’m Abarantsi?” the guard says. “That donkey is male.” “What business is it of yours,” the man under the donkey says, “if I go to the market with my mother or my father?”

Two Abarantsis went to the movies. The ticket seller asked, “Do you want tickets for Romeo and Juliet?” to which the Abarantsis answered, “No, for Vazken and Vartoosh. . . .”

Kyavar . . .

A Kyavartsi father and son went to New York. While walking past a tall building, the son asked his father if someone fell from the top of the building, how long it would take to hit the ground. “Three or four days,” the father said. “Would the person die?” the son asked. “Of course,” the father said. “If someone doesn’t have a drink in three or four days, how could he stay alive?”

The other day, I heard about a machine in Kyavar that was so fast at peeling potatoes, the Americans came to find out how it worked. The owner stated proudly that his machine worked only with vodka. He turned it on, poured in some vodka, and it started peeling potatoes at an unbelievable rate. When the American opened the machine to look inside, he saw a Kyavartsi sitting in it, peeling the potatoes. The Kyavartsi smiled and said, “You think I’d do this for whiskey?”

A Kyavartsi lined up ten shots of vodka on a table and started drinking them one after the other, but skipped drinking the first shot. When asked why he didn’t drink the first shot of vodka, he said, the first shot is always the hardest.

At a graveyard in Kyavar, the tombstones read, “Drank and died, Drank and died, Drank and died . . .” except for one, which said, “Didn’t drink two days, died . . .”

Three friends went to a graveyard in Kyavar to visit their recently deceased friend. One of them started frantically digging at the friend’s grave. When asked why, he said he wanted to have a drink with his friend. “But he just died,” the others replied. And the friend answered, “Is he so dead that he can’t have at least one drink?”

Lori . . .

Two Loretsis meet each other. One asks the other, “Did you know, Tatos’ son Matos has died?” The other says, “Vye, no wonder they were taking him to the cemetery.”

One Loretsi tells the other it’s very cold outside, and that he should wear a jacket. The other one answers, “Why? Will that make it warmer?”

Signs of spring

In Armenia, the first signs of spring aren’t green trees or meadows or singing birds. When the cold winter days have eased a bit, nardi (backgammon) games begin taking place along the streets and sidewalks of Yerevan. Nardi boards are opened up onto trunks of cars or small tables as men gather to enjoy this national pastime. One gathering I saw was so large, I thought it might have been a political demonstration. Three games were in progress — nardi, chess, and cards. Each game had both players and observers. As I watched, one man was wandering from group to group when finally one of the chess players angrily said, “You’re disturbing me, can’t you stay in one place?” The wandering man said, “Your bad playing also disturbs me, that’s why I can’t bear to watch your game,” and he walked away.

Getting Around

Yertooghayin (vans used for public transportation) drivers seem to be of two breeds, either angry or with great senses of humor. One day, a woman who may have been a bit “touched” got into the van I was riding in, and began talking incessantly. Once, she signaled for the driver to stop.It turned out she hadn’t reached her destination, but opened the door and told someone walking along the sidewalk that their relative would be arriving from Ashtarak by bus later that afternoon. The driver laughed his head off.

Another day, after finishing my business at the National Radio building, I walked to a waiting van, which I knew would go directly to my home. I opened the front door and sat in the passenger side next to the driver. The driver said, “A passenger is coming and will sit in that seat.” So I politely went to the main part of the van and took a seat. When the van left, I saw that no one was sitting in the front passenger seat. I asked the driver, “Is your friend tapantsig (transparent)?” Apparently he didn’t appreciate my humor and told me I didn’t have to ride in his van if I didn’t want to.

The van continued on its way and passed a new church that was being constructed in the heart of Yerevan. An older woman who had struck up a conversation asked if I liked the new church. My one-word answer of “vye” got my point across without a lengthy and unneeded description of my feelings about the matter.

Comfortable seating in the van would have been around twelve persons. One by one, the number increased to eighteen, including two small children. When someone sitting in the back row had reached his destination and needed to exit the van, seven or eight people had to get up and step outside the van so the person could make his way to the sidewalk. And wouldn’t you know, this same unfriendly driver was also without patience, ordering the person, “Arakatsroo (hurry up)!”

For the birds

Let me tell you what happened when I was visiting St. Gayane the other day. I was talking with a worker I know behind the vank when an unbelievably large flock of crows began circling overhead. I said, “What a bird, black, sleek,” and he said, “What a dirty bird, noisy,” and I said, “What a smart bird,” and he said, “They eat anything, dead, rotting animals,” and I said, “Other birds do the same thing.” Then, all of a sudden, a bird dropping of immense proportions landed right next to us, and the worker said, “See?”

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