San Lazzaro

How to Learn Western Armenian in Three Weeks – in Venice!


VENICE — For more than 30 years, the Padus-Araxes Cultural Association has organized an intensive summer course of Armenian in Venice, Italy. This program is open to individuals who are over 18 and interested in learning or improving in Western Armenian. Every year, around 30 Armenians from the diaspora (and non-Armenians) gather in this European city with Armenian roots. It is a journey of encounter and discovery, where all the cultures of the Armenian diaspora collide.

Classes usually start around 9 a.m., near the church of Santa Maria de la Salute, in the ancient building called the Seminario Patriarcale of Venice. To learn Western Armenian, four levels are established, from beginning to fluency. On the program are grammar, vocabulary, conjugation, declinations, and, for the most advanced participants, some classes of Armenian journalism and literature.

Rosine Tachdjian comes from France. She’s a professional singer and works in an Armenian school in Paris. She has been teaching her course for 18 years now. “In three weeks, we tackle a one-year schedule of basic Western Armenian classes. It’s really intense and complete,” Rosine explained.

Zonobio Palace

From Monday to Saturday mornings, the students also attend some classes in English to learn the history of the Armenians, with Raffi Setian from the United States, or on the old Classical Armenian language, or Grabar, taught by Benedetta Contin from Italy. These classes are offered in English so that everyone can understand both of these important topics.

Tamar Mangasar comes from Istanbul to take her place among the professors and teaches the second level of Armenian “I came here many times as a student, but this summer I came for the first time as a teacher and it was great,” Tamar exclaimed. In the afternoon, some activities such as Armenian dance and duduk classes are offered, as well as lectures, movie projections or touristic visits. At the end of the stay, the participants must take an examination to determine their level and the increase of their Armenian skills.

Discovering a Worldwide Diaspora  

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In this huge group of students of all ages and professions, the number of languages one hears each day is impressive. This summer, Emre, a 27-year-old German speaker, came from Austria with a scholarship to fulfill his college work and to grow closer to his Armenian roots. Veronica was from Mexico and wanted to learn the language of her grandfather. Aris, a student from Greece, just wanted to improve his Armenian, already learned through his family.

And what about Giovanni, from Italy? He’s not even Armenian, but he has a major interest in the culture, and now that he has retired, he found time to learn another language. There is also Liz, from England, keen on learning the duduk. She was so proud of her performance after three weeks, thanks to the music teacher Aram Ipekdjian from Armenia.

San Lazzaro

Greg is from the United States (Detroit). He came with a good level of mastery of Armenian, which he wanted to perfect in order to speak with his children and future grandchildren. According to him, doing this course is a real opportunity to discover the diaspora. “I met people from France, Belgium, Germany and Hungary. It was a very international group. Coming from America, I don’t have the opportunity to meet or talk with Armenians from different areas like that,” he confessed.

Hearing different accents and languages is an essential part of these courses and a unique opportunity to exchange ideas with people you would never meet otherwise. During the three weeks, some evening meetings are scheduled to learn more about each culture and to share a meal, in the sweet Venetian twilight.

Venice Rich with Armenian History

Throughout the Venetian streets and islands, you can find many Armenian traces. The most famous example is the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni (Sourp Ghazar). In the middle of the lagune, this small island has been home to the monastery of the Mekhitarists (Armenian Catholics) since 1717. Over time, it grew into one of the world’s most important centers of Armenian culture and studies. The very first book printed in Armenian was published by the monks of the island in 1512.

In its huge library, the monastery also harbors numerous Armenian paintings and more than 3,000 Armenian manuscripts, artifacts, and journals. Nowadays, this destination is becoming more popular with tourists, seduced by the history and tranquility of the place.

Seminario Patriacale

Venice also has its Armenian church, Santa Croce degli Armeni, near San Marco Place, which dates from the 13th century. Several Venetian historical buildings have belonged to Armenian families, such as the Zenobio Palace (also called the Palacio degli Armeni) in the Dorsoduro quarter. This palace was bought by the Armenian community at the end of the 19th century. In its old garden, some pomegranates are still growing, and the overall mood reminds us of Armenia’s countryside. It was established as an Armenian college by the Mekhitarist fathers and continued as such until 1997.

This history is one of the reasons that pushed Archbishop Levon Zekiyan to found and direct the Padus-Arax Association in Venice 36 years ago. Another reason is because Venice is in the middle of Europe and therefore easy to travel to for most students. According to Archbishop Zekiyan and the members of Padus-Araxes, the Western Armenian language is in real danger of disappearance. Thus, not a year has passed without the summer program being taught, with the exception of the start of the recent pandemic. According to Zekiyan, this program is not ready to stop and will continue to gather together the Armenian diaspora.

View from Seminario Patriarcale

For more information, here is the website of the Padus-Araxes Association:  You can also follow it on Facebook at

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