On “Parskahayeren”, or the Language of Iranian Armenians

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. Part of this narrative stems from the author’s visits to Armenia and the Tehrani Armenian community between 2014-5. The goal of this article is to familiarize the reader with the Christian Armenian community of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with a focus on its culture and language in a historical and modern setting. 

56610_154983217881347_7892037_o
Christmas festivities in an Armenian kindergarten, Isfahan, Iran (1989) | Ձմեռ Պապ, Մանկապարտեզի հանդես, Նոր Ջուղա (1989)

INTRODUCTION

Armenian (self-designated Հայերեն Hayeren) is an eccentric, satem member of Indo-European and occupies its own clade within that family. Of note, it does not belong to Indo-Iranian or Balto-Slavic. Without any immediate sisters, Armenian is joined by Greek and Albanian as an extant isolate within the Indo-European family.

Modern Armenian constitutes a pluricentric language with two standardized forms. The main typological split is between Eastern Armenian (Արևելահայերեն Arevelahayeren)derived from the language of the 18th century Russified Armenian intelligentsia (Հայ մտավորականություն Hay mtavorakanut’yun) centered in Tiflis—and Western Armenian (Արևմտահայերեն Arevmtahayeren), the contemporaneous language of the Ottoman Armenian elite centered in Constantinople. These two standardized forms represent poles in a spectrum comprised of various intergrading dialects that once spanned a putative homeland from Sivas to Baku, disregarding the historical Armenian diaspora (Սփյուռք Sp’yurrk’) which at its height reached as far as London and Java. Until the 19th century, Armenian constituted a diglossia whereby literature was composed in the archaic, otherwise unintelligible Classical Armenian language (Գրաբար Grabar)—now limited to liturgy—while the spoken languages (Աշխարհաբար Ashkharhabar) belonged to the Eastern and Western varieties detailed above. The two spoken varieties are only moderately mutually intelligible without training.

Armenian_dialects,_Adjarian_1909
Distribution of Western (orange hue) and Eastern (green hue) Armenian varieties, prior to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Today Eastern Armenian is the official language of post-Soviet Armenia (green, #1); Western Armenian holds no official status and is classified as a “definitely endangered language.”

The Armenian varieties encountered in Iran belong to the Eastern subgroup, as do the dialects of Georgia, Nagorno-Karabagh, and Russia. However Parskahayeren is unique within the Eastern group in that it rejected the reformed Abeghian orthographical conventions of Soviet Armenia in 1922, and is thus confederate with its distant Western Armenian cousin in retention of the archaic Mashtotsian orthography originally used to write Classical Armenian (Grabar). Following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Western subgroup is now centered in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and abroad, but was once native to the highlands dotting modern-day Turkey.

English Mashtotsian Orthography (Iran) Abeghian Orthography (Armenia, Russia, Georgia, since 1922) Eastern Armenian Pronunciation (Iran & former U.S.S.R.)
“Resurrection” յարութիւն
yarowt’iwn
հարություն
harout’youn
harut’yun
“Hope” յոյս
yoys
հույս
houys
huys
Europe” Եւրոպայ
Ewropay
Եվրոպա
‘Evropa
Yevropa
In the morning” առաւօտեան
arrawōtean
առավոտյան
arravotyan
arravotyan

In 1749-1769 the two volumes of the Barrgirk‘ Haykazian Lezvi, a dictionary of the Armenian language, were published by Mkhit’ar Sebastats’i and his Armenian Catholic congregation in Venice, Italy—making Armenian the sixth world language to have such a complete dictionary (after Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish; the first English dictionary appeared in 1755.)

Armenians refer to themselves as Հայ Hay, and to Iran as Պարսկաստան Parskastan “Persia”, from Պարսիկ Parsik “a Persian”, and hence the root of the terms Պարսկական Parskakan “Persian (non-human adjective)”, Պարսկահայություն Parskahayut’yun “Iranian Armenian community”, Պարսկերեն Parskeren “Persian language”, and Պարսկահայերեն Parskahayeren “Language of the Iranian Armenians”.

Stefan-1
AcloseviewofSt.StephanosMonasteryՍուրբՍտեփանոսվանքJolfaIran
Monastery of St. Stephen the Protomartyr (Սուրբ Ստեփանոս վանք, Մաղարդավանք Surb Step’anos vank’, Maghardavank’; كليساى استفانوس مقدس Kelisā-ye Estefānūs-e Moghaddas) East Azerbaijan province, Iran (1330 A.D.)

ARMENIAN HISTORY IN IRAN

The link between Armenia and Persia is about as old as the foundation of the Persian Empire in the 3rd century B.C., but the modern Armenian-Iranian yoke has its genesis in the late medieval period. It should be noted that no pre-genocide Armenian colony (Գաղութ Gaghut’) has enjoyed the extent of affluence, relevance, and repute in its host society as the Armenian diaspora of Persia. Iran has served as a stage for momentous developments in Armenian matters, in certain contexts even eclipsing the territories considered to be at the core of Historical Armenia (Մեձ Հայք Medz Hayk’) in power and consequence.

petrosvlBid1
Khoja Petros Velijaniants’ (left) financed the St. Bethlehem Church (Սուրբ Բետղեմ Surb Betghem; كليساى بيت اللحم Kelisā-ye Bayt ol-Lahm) in Isfahan, Iran in 1628. His family opposed the rule of the Shafraz family in New Julfa, but they lost and left for Surat, India in 1638. 

In a strategic move against the Ottomans that was meant to evacuate Nakhchivan, in 1604-5 Shah ʿAbbās I transplanted over 60,000 Armenian families (Բռնագաղթ Brrnagaght’), many of whom perished, into the inner regions of Iran. But the Shah had a unique vision for a cohort of exceptionally skilled businessmen from the prosperous Armenian town of Julfa (Ջուղա Jugha; جلفا Jolfā) on the river Araks. Indeed among his most intriguing and rewarding schemes in statecraft was the establishment of a world-class commercial district headed by a semi-autonomous Armenian merchant oligarchy of Julfan extraction in his new capital city, Isfahan, wherefrom Iranian silk was traded for European silver. In this exclusive, custom-built trading colony called New Julfa, the Armenians lived in symbiosis with the Safavid state insofar as they were sanctioned by royal decree (فرمان farmān) to preserve their distinct cultural, linguistic and religious identity (Հայկականություն Haykakanut’yun “Armenianness”), while melding harmoniously with the sovereign Persislamic socio-political infrastructure.

Under the patronage of Shah ʿAbbās I and his successors, who appreciated the Armenians’ talents and expertise, New Julfa soon transformed into a thriving center of craftsmanship and international trade replete with 24 churches. Contemporary French traveler Jean Chardin wrote that, in 1673– just two generations after the Julfan Armenians’ exodus from the Caucasus to Iran– Agha Piri, the head of the Armenian Community of Isfahan and one of its richest merchants, owned a fortune greater than 2,000,000 livres tournois (the equivalent of 1,500 kg of gold). Contrast with the textile merchants Beauvais and Amiens (the wealthiest merchants in France in the same period), the wealth of these two inventoried at their deaths amounted to 60,000 and 163,000 livres tournois respectively—a figure then considered astronomical. Yet these two figures combined amounted to barely a tenth of Agha Piri’s fortune.

For more on the history of New Julfan Armenians by the same author, click here (Part I) and here (Part II)

Armenian Orthodox Church ceiling
Vank-Cathedral-courtyard-by-Thomas
(Top) Interior of Vank Cathedral (Սուրբ Ամենափրկիչ վանք Surb Amenap’rkich’ Vank’; کلیسای وانک Kelisā-ye Vānk) completed 1664 A.D., New Julfa, Isfahan, Iran; (Bottom) New Julfa Armenian district, clocktower and museum (17th century), Isfahan, Iran.

Throughout the Safavid and Qajar periods, Armenian-Iranians served as brokers on behalf of Persia in both commercial and political contexts due to their common faith with Christian Europe and familiarity with the languages and traditions of the peoples of both East and the West. The provost of New Julfa (Persian: كلانتر Kalāntar “Provost”; Armenian: Հայոց Թագավոր Hayots’ T’ak’avor, literally “King of the Armenians”) was chosen to hold official receptions of foreign embassies to Isfahan on the Allahverdi Khan bridge (later renamed Si-o-Se Pol), and the Armenians acted as a welcoming committee often introducing foreign visitors to the Safavid court. Hovhannes Vardapet, a native of New Julfa, introduced the first printing press into Persia from Italy (Գրահրատարակչություն Grahratarakch’ut’yun; چاپخانه Chāpkhāne), and the first book printed in Iran was the Armenian Saghmos (Սաղմոս “Psalms”) in 1638. In 1715, the last Safavid monarch Sultān Husayn sent an embassy consisting almost exclusively of Armenians to King Louis XIV’s court at Versailles, which resulted in the establishment of a permanent Persian consulate at the port of Marseille staffed by the Armenian “Hagopdjan de Deritchan.” Armenians continued to participate in national transformations through the Qajar period, and in 1850, Naser al-Din Shah’s chancellor Amir Kabir dispatched an Armenian, Mirza Davud, to Austria and Prussia to select six instructors in different fields for the modern polytechnic school that the chancellor was constructing, the Dār ul-Funūn (دار الفنون “House of the Arts”).

n00077576-b
Bishop Papken Tcharian, prelate of Isfahan (Սպահանի Հայոց Թեմի Առաջնորդ Spahani Hayots’ T’emi Arrachnord), leads ceremony in Surb Amenap’rkich Cathedral, New Julfa, Isfahan, Iran.

The Armenian contribution to the overall configuration of the 20th-century Iranian society, both culturally and economically, is significant. Armenians were pioneers in photography, theater, and the film industry. The first movie theater to open in Iran (Tabriz, 1916) belonged to Alex Sahinyan, an Armenian who used the hall in the French mission of Tabriz as “Cinéma Soleil,” in which Russian and European films were shown to an enthusiastic audience. They were among the first to introduce Western music and dance to the Iranian public. The popularity of modern fast-food establishments in Iran also owes much of its original success to the daring enterprise and perseverance of the Armenian businessmen who first introduced them in the Muslim society of Iran several decades ago. Armenian athletes have represented Iran in international tournaments, particularly boxing, weightlifting, soccer, and volleyball.

Orumiyeh
St_Thaddeus_Monastery_04
St. Thaddeus Monastery (Սուրբ Թադեոսի վանք Surb T’adevosi Vank’; قره كليسا  Ghara Kelisā), Māku, Iran (1329 A.D.) In the past six centuries, more than 100 Armenian ecclesiastical structures have been commissioned in Iranian Azerbaijan, a few dozen of which are still standing today.

THE ARMENIAN PRESENCE IN MODERN-DAY IRAN

Today Tehran is the center of gravity for Iran’s ~150,000 Armenians, although this is a fairly recent transformation. The traditional centers of Azerbaijan and Isfahan (since the 17th century) have been overshadowed in recent years by the tremendous growth of the Armenian population in Tehran, where more than 60 percent of the entire community resides (meaning approximately 80,000-100,000 souls). Large-scale migration from Azerbaijan, particularly following the Turkish invasion of that province in World War I, and emigration from Armenia proper following the Russian revolution, rapidly turned Tehran into a haven. The Armenians are designated two seats in the Iranian Parliament (مجلس Majles, Խորհրդարան Khorhrdaran), whereas Jews, Zoroastrians, and Assyrian-Chaldeans are each designated only one. Three prelates with jurisdiction over the three district areas of Azerbaijan, Isfahan (including southern Iran and India), and Tehran (including central and eastern Iran) head the community. They were traditionally subject to the catholicos of Echmiadzin in Soviet Armenia, but for political reasons aligned themselves with the catholicos of Cilicia in Lebanon in the 1950’s.

Sarkis-Church-Tehran2
St. Sarkis Cathedral (Սուրբ Սարգիս մայր տաճար Surb Sark’is mayr tachch’ar; كليساى سركيس مقدس Kelisā-ye Sarkis-e Moghaddas), Tehran, Iran.

The privileged status of Armenian is unusual in the context of the Islamic Republic, although Armenians have enjoyed unprecedented favor in a variety of contexts since their arrival to Iran in the 17th century. Quite paradoxically, Persian and Armenian are the only two languages with any official currency in today’s pluralistic Iran. Approximately 53% of Iran identifies Persian as its mother tongue, while only 0.2% speaks Armenian as a first language. The official language of education, media, and legislation is Persian, but Armenians are lawfully entitled to their own private kindergarten-12th grade schools wherein Armenian is a primary language of instruction alongside Persian (before the 20th century reforms under Reza Shah, Persian was taught as a foreign language alongside French and English; and Russian in Azerbaijan). There are approximately fifty Armenian private schools scattered throughout Iran today, whence Armenian students seeking higher education must pass a standardized national competency exam (كنكور Konkūr; Կոնկուրսի քննությունը Konkursi k’nnutyunё)—which includes Persian literature and Islamic theology—in order to integrate into national Islamic universities.

132958_156914257688243_7154694_o
Surb Amenap’rkich Cathedral’s Choire led by Movses Panoian, New Julfa, Isfahan, Iran (1976) |  Նոր Ջուղայի Սուրբ Ամենափրկիչ Վանք-ի Երգչախումբ; Ղեկավար : Մովսես Փանոսյան (1976)

Armenians run their own churches, schools, philanthropic organizations, sports clubs, night clubs, cultural associations and Armenian language publications including a daily newspaper based in Tehran, Alik’ Ōrat’ert’ (Ալիք Օրաթերթ “Wave Daily Newspaper”). In Tehran’s northern Vanak neighborhood, the Ararat Complex (Արարատ Միություն Ararat Miut’yun; باشگاه آرارات Bāshgāh-e Ārārāt) is a barbed-wire walled and gated, 20-acre cultural and sports complex that only Armenians are allowed to enter (by government order), and wherein patrons are exempt from the Islamic guidelines governing inter-gender public interaction, including dress code (hejāb), and alcohol is legally consumed on the premise. Nationalist factions among Iran’s Azeris (16%), Kurds (10%), Arabs (2%), Turkmen (2%) and other ethnolinguistic minorities toil vigorously with the issues of language policy and cultural oppression, but they seem wholeheartedly unaware of the status of Armenian. Perhaps this is due to their geographic location at the periphery of Iran and subsequent disconnect from the happenings of Armenian-inhabited urban centers (except in the case of Azerbaijan), or retained traditionalism in the long-standing belief that Christians can never be truly Iranian and thus constitute a quasi-foreign element in Iranian society.

11951134_10204745331013439_1779847779720680230_n
Private Armenian night club, 2015 New Year’s celebration, Tehran, Iran (Photo by Afsheen Sharifzadeh) | 2015 Ամանորի դիմավորում, Թեհրան, Պարսկաստան


ON THE ISSUE OF IRANIAN BORROWINGS IN ARMENIAN (HISTORICAL LINGUISTICS)


Armenian shares two kinds of linkages with Persian. The first is ancestral, inasmuch as the two share a quite distant common ancestor in the form of the Proto-Indo-European language. Proto-Armenian probably split from the southwestern dialects of Proto-Indo-European around 3000 B.C., while Proto-Indo-Iranian split from the northeastern dialects around 2500-2300 B.C. For more on the Kurgan Hypothesis and PIE linguistics by the same author, click here

SLRD-map
Persian and Armenian are genetically related languages. Pre-Armenian, Pre-Albanian, Pre-Phrygian, and Pre-Greek split off with PIE transhumance into the Balkans (and thence Anatolia, in the case of Armenian), but their origins are conflicting and their affinities with each other are problematic for a number of reasons that are outside the scope of this article (such as incongruities in Satemization and Centum superstrate; see Middle Dnieper multi-ethnic “vortex” culture for more reading).

The second link is cultural, as manifested in the form of several hundred loanwords borrowed from Old Iranian (Old Persian, Median, Avestan), Middle Iranian (Parthian, Middle Persian, Manichaean Parthian) into Classical Armenian, and to a far lesser extent, Modern Persian into Modern Eastern Armenian . The degree of Iranian borrowing throughout all registers of the language is so profuse that in the mid-19th century experts both in Armenian and in Iranian, foremost among whom were Paul de Lagarde and F. Müller, concluded that Armenian belongs to the Iranian group of Indo-European languages. That opinion prevailed until 1875, when H. Hübschmann pioneered a methodological principle whereby Iranian borrowings were separated in chronological layers from an Armenian core. That is to say, Old and Middle Iranian borrowings have effectively entered the ‘core’ of the Armenian language from the ‘periphery’, in that they have long since ceased to be perceived as loanwords and have become nativized phonologically. Analogously, the vast majority of loans are not readily recognizable to speakers of Modern Persian—in essence rendering this second linkage inoperative in the joint social memory of Iranians and Armenians.

Although Zoroastrianism was the predominant religion among Armenians for nearly 800 years before Christianization, conditions favorable to a fruitful cultural interchange between Armenians and Iranians existed almost exclusively during the rule of the Parthian (Iranian) Arsacids over Armenia (Արշակունիների արքայատոհմ Arshakunineri ark’ayatohm; سلسله اشكانيان Selsele-ye Ashkāniān). During that period the culture of the Parthian feudal aristocracy, being superior to that of the Armenians, exerted profound influence on the highlands. Accordingly, most of the linguistic borrowings came into Armenian from the Northwest Iranian language of the Parthians in a way comparable to the overwhelming French influence on English after the Norman conquest, although there are significant contributions from Southwest Iranian during the Sassanian period.

akhtamarcarvings
4371452158_2b14f58a82_o130
The Church of the Holy Cross at Aghtamar (Աղթամարի Սուրբ Խաչ եկեղեցի Aght’amari Surb Khach yekeghets’i), Lake Van, is based on ideas of 7th century Armenian architecture but the sculpture program is novel. The southwest façade (Top) features a sculpted scene of Jonah and the Whale in which the whale looks conspicuously like the Iranian mythological bird Simorgh (Middle Persian: senmurw → Armenian սիրամարգ siramarg “peacock”). The cross-legged figure on cushions draws from Islamic tradition. On the western façade (bottom right), Prince Gagik, commissioner of the Church, is depicted presenting a 3-dimensional model of the Aghtamar Church to Christ; Gagik is depicted taller than Christ and wearing a silk cloak with birds in randles—reminiscent of Sassanian silks (bottom left). As late as the 11th century, Aghtamar draws on Iranian signs of kingship and authority.

Nevertheless, the breadth of Iranian contributions to the Armenian stock has not been paid adequate attention in Armenian historiography. The reluctance of Armenians to acknowledge the contributions of the pre-Islamic but still inextricably Iranian world to their language, traditions, and material productions, and subsequent preference for the blanket term “pagan” (հեթանոսություն het’anosut’yun) in dealing with pre-Christian matters, has three causes. First, traditionalist and secular but still Armenochristian intelligentsia remain sensitive to the long standing history of massacre and subjugation, often but not always in the context of being a Christian minority in a Muslim society. The popularization of the term “pagan” in place of “Zoroastrian”, “Parthian”, “Persian”, “Iranian” or “Mithraist” accomplishes the goal of distancing the Republic of Armenia’s national heritage from the cultural property claimed by the neighboring Persislamic political apparatus. Second, the term “pagan” is reinforced by its currency in Christian doctrine and clerical texts; notwithstanding, the Iranianisms in the Armenian stock seem to be selectively trivialized, even vis-à-vis the more remote Urartian or Ancient Greek contributions. Finally, there exists a pervasive essentialist attitude among intellectuals and laypeople alike that any non-Christian agent in the Armenian national narrative cannot be truly “Armenian”—as according to prevalent social ideals—and thus constitutes a quasi-foreign element in the otherwise continuous chronicle of a supposedly homogeneous people.

Gregory_Illuminator Tiridates_III_illustration
 1911360238963
According to Armenia’s folk conversion story, Gregory the Illuminator (top left; Գրիգոր Լուսավորիչ Grigor Lusavorich) was a Parthian (Iranian) Christian priest responsible for converting the Parthian (Iranian) king of Armenia, Tiridates III (top right; Տրդատ Արշակունի Trdat Arshakuni), to Christianity. Khor Virap monastery (bottom) in Ararat province, Armenia, marks the setting of these developments.

Despite an appreciable Iranian imprint, Armenian should not be viewed as a derivative language, but can be valued academically as a window to the historical linguistics of the Old and Middle Iranian worlds. Moreover the study of the Armenian loans from Iranian is of vital importance for solving problems of Old, Middle, and New Iranian linguistics, in that they:

1. Help determine the exact phonetic shape of the (Middle) Iranian words, which in the Iranian texts is often obscured by the consonantal writing systems. The Armenian alphabet, however, is fully vocalized, though it does not show the original vowel quantity.
2. Enable us to establish the exact meaning of the Iranian words.
3. Shed light on the phonetic developments that took place in the Iranian languages and thus aid in reconstructing linguistic stages not known or not sufficiently known from the Iranian evidence itself.
4. Provide evidence relating to Iranian, and especially Middle Iranian dialectological problems.
5. Finally, the Armenian language is also an important source for Iranian lexicology and lexicography as it contains many words, some of which survive right down to the present day, not attested in the Iranian languages themselves. Thus Armenian serves as a sort of fossil record to linguists for exploring Iranian paradigms that are often abstract and even innovative.

769077
Dzordzor Chapel (Ծոր Ծորի Սուրբ Աստվածածնի մատուռ Dzor Dzori Surb Astvatsatsin maturr), the only standing remnant of a 9th century monastic complex, West Azerbaijan Province, Iran

Iranian borrowings span all registers of the language. It should be emphasized that these borrowings were not limited to the vocabulary but also involve derivational suffixes, phraseology, and all kinds of names, and that they are from the beginning of the Armenian literary tradition inextricably mixed with the inherited vocabulary of Proto-Armenian stock. A few are detailed in the table below (composed by Afsheen Sharifzadeh):

Modern Armenian

Iranian root

English

օրինակ

ōrinak

from Parthian *awδēnak.

“Example”

շնորք, շնորհակալություն,
շնորհավորել
shnork’, shnorhakalut’yun, shnorhavorel

from Middle Persian šnwhl ‎(šnōhr, “gratitude, contentment”). Compare Manichaean Parthian ʿšnwhr ‎(išnōhr, “grace; gratitude”), Avestan ‎(xšnaoϑra-, “satisfaction”).

“Gratitude, thanks, to congratulate”

կատակ

katak

from early Parthian *kātak; compare Middle Persian kʾtk’‎(*kāyag, “game; joke”)

“Joke”

ժամանակ, ժամ

zhamanak, zham

from Parthian *žamānak ‎(“time”), from jmʾn ‎(žamān). Cognate with Middle Persian ẕmʾnk’ ‎(zamānag)

“Time; hour”

ճանապարհ, ճամփա, ճանապարհորդ

ch’anaparh, ch’amp’a, ch’anaparhord

from Iranian *čarana-parθ, composed of *čarana- ‎(“to go”) and *parθ ‎(“passage”). For the first part compare Avestan ‎(kar-), ‎(čara-), ‎(čaraya-, “to move, to go”)

“Path, road; traveller, wayfarer”

-յան

-ian

from Iranian *-yān, a postvocalic variant of the pluralization suffix *-ān, whence -ան ‎(-an).

(forming adjectives, common in Armenian surnames)

դժվար

dzhvar

from Iranian; Compare Middle Persian dwšʾwl ‎(*dušwār, “difficult, disagreeable”), Persian دشوار ‎(dušvār).

“Hard, difficult”

պատասխան

pataskhan

from Iranian *pati-saxwan-iya, from Proto-Iranian *sanh-“to declare, explain”

“Answer, response”

վտանգավար

vtangavor

from Middle Persian *vitang, from Old Persian *vitanka-‎(“hardship, peril, misfortune”), composed of the preverb *vi- ‎(“down”) and the root *tanč- ‎(“to twist (together), become narrow, dense, constrict”).

“Dangerous, perilous”

հրեշտակ

hreshtak

A Middle Iranian borrowing; Compare Manichaean Parthian fryštg ‎(frēštag, “apostle; angel”), Middle Persian plystk’ ‎(frēstag, “apostle; angel”), Persian فرشته ‎(ferešte, “angel”)

“Angel”

ճաշ
ch’ash

from Middle Iranian *čāš. Compare Middle Persian ‎(čāšt, “breakfast”), Persian چاشت ‎(čāšt, “breakfast, early dinner”)

“dinner, late meal, feast”

պատրաստ

patrast

from Middle Iranian *patrāst, from Old Iranian *patirāsta-, composed of the Proto-Iranian preverb *pati- ‎(“against, towards”) + *rāsta- ‎(“prepared”). Related to Persian پیراستن‎(perāstan, “to adorn”) and آراستن ‎(ārāstan, “to adorn”)

“Ready”

աշխարհ

ashkharh

With metathesis from Middle Median *axšahr, from Proto-Iranian *xšaθra- ‎(“power, authority, dominance”). Compare Old Persian ‎xšaça-, “kingdom, realm”

“World, cosmos”

աշխատանք

ashkhatank’

An Iranian borrowing, probably Middle Median because of the prothetic a-. Compare Middle Persian ʾxšʾd‎(“depressed, troubled”)

“Work, labor” (originally fatigue, toil, trouble)

դպրոց

dprots’

from Middle Persian ‎(dipīr, “secretary, scribe”) +  -ոց ‎(-ocʿ)

“school”

փառք

p’arrk’

from Middle Iranian *farr +‎ -ք ‎(-kʿ). Compare Old Persian ‎(farnā, “glory”), Persian فر ‎(farr), Avestan ‎(xvarənah-)

“Glory, fame, renown, esteem”

–երեն

–eren

from Middle Iranian *āδēn

Forms names of languages when appended to roots denoting names of nations or regions

նկար

nkar

from Iranian *nikar. Compare Manichaean Middle Persian ngʾr ‎(nigār, “painting, picture”), Persian نگار ‎(nigār).

“Picture, image, painting”

ճշմարիտ, ճշմարտություն

ch’shmarit, ch’shmartut’yun

An Iranian borrowing. Compare Middle Persian cšm dyt’‎(čašmdīd, “visible, obvious”, literally “seen with (one’s own) eyes”).

“True, real; truth”

Տիգրան

Tigran

from Old Persian *Tigrāna, derived through haplology from *tigrarāna ‎(“fighting with arrows”), composed of ‎(tigra, “arrow”) (compare Persian تیر ‎(tir)) + *rāna-‎(“fighting”)

A male given name

Վահագն, Վահան, Վահրամ

Vahagn, Vahan, Vahram

from Parthian *Varhraγn; ultimately from Avestan ‎(Vərəθraγna, “Verethragna”, literally “smiting of resistance, breaking of defence; victory”). Related to Avestan (vərəθra, “shield, obstacle, defensive power”). All ultimately stemming from Proto-Indo-Iranian *Hurtra-‎(“cover”).

Male given names

Գովել

govel

Borrowed from a Middle Iranian descendant of Proto-Iranian *gaub-;

“To praise”

օգնություն, օգուտ, օգտակար

ōk’nutyun, ōk’ut, ōk’takar

from Parthian *abigūt, *abi-gūna-.

“Help, helpful, benefit”

-պես

-pes

from Middle Iranian *pēs. Ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *peyḱ-.

“As, like”

-նման

-nman

from Iranian *nimān, composed of the prefix ni- and the root mān-. Compare, Persian مانا ‎(mānā, “alike, equal, resembling”).

“Like, resembling”

Գույն: սև, սպիտակ, կապույտ, կարմիր, մանուշակ

Guyn: sev, spitak, kapuyt, karmir, manushak

from Middle Persian gwn’ ‎(gōn, “colour; kind, sort”); From Parthian syʾw ‎(syāw, “black”); From Middle Iranian *kapōt“grey-blue, pigeon”; From Middle Persian klmyr ‎(*karmīr, “red, crimson”); from Middle Persian *manafšak, a by-form of wnpšk’ ‎(wanafšag);

“Color, black, white, blue, red, purple”

11889649_10204679849016430_3082852093934450558_n
The Temple of Garni (Գառնիի հեթանոսական տաճար Garrni het’anosakan tachch’ar), Kotayk Province, Armenia. Commissioned by the Parthian (Iranian) king of Armenia, Tiridates I, some scholars ascribe this Greco-Roman colonnaded structure to the Iranian deity Mithra (Միհր Mihr), who was a member of the Irano-Zoroastrian pantheon of pre-Christian Armenia (the Trinity: 1. Aramazd < from Ahura Mazda; 2. Mihr < from Mithra; 3. Anahit < from Anahita). (August 2015, Photo by Afsheen Sharifzadeh).

IRANIAN-ARMENIAN LANGUAGE

As in the case of Québécois French in Montreal, Armenian-Iranians within a single city seem to speak a variety of dialects that differ appreciably from each other in lexicon, pronunciation and sometimes morphology. This can be attributed to the diverse provenance of Armenians inhabiting Iran’s major urban centers—some tracing their roots to Iranian Azerbaijan (Ատրպատական Atrpatakan) particularly Tabriz (Դավրեժ Davrezh or Թավրիզ T’avriz), Urmia, Salmas, Khoy, and Maragha and its surroundings; Kermanshah and Hamedan; Ardebil and Rasht; New Julfa (Նոր Ջուղա Nor Jugha) in Isfahan (Սպահան Spahan) and Arak; Shiraz; Abadan and Ahwaz; or to a number of Armenian villages scattered throughout central Iran, including Fereydan region (Փերիա P’eria) and Bourvari. Yet wholesale emigration of some Iranian Armenian villages to Russia in the late 1940s after the catholicos of Soviet Armenia pleaded to all the faithful to repopulate the ancestral homeland devastated by World War II, famine, and the post-revolutionary atrocities in Russia, still greatly reduced their diversity and numbers. Dialect in Tehran is also delineated along socio-economic lines—although this might be a residual geographic feature—as well as the extent of an individual’s exposure to the post-Soviet Republic of Armenia. Nonetheless, there are a few overarching features of Parskahayeren as encountered in Tehran that have been selected for discussion below.


An Armenian delegation visits the Armenian diaspora community of New Julfa, Isfahan, Iran.

Due to bilingualism and areal features, Iranian Armenian dialects bare typological resemblances to modern Persian, but still markedly less so than other languages spoken in the country (except perhaps the Georgian dialect of Fereydan). Pronunciation is a highly distinguishing feature of Iranian Armenian vis-à-vis the Eastern Armenian dialects encountered in the former U.S.S.R. In general, intonation, rhythm and cadence tend to echo Modern Persian—in turn constituting a major deviation from the Caucasian variety, which parallels those features of Russian. For example, the final syllable of interrogative clauses are elongated in the exaggerated manner of Persian and Azeri. The vowel ա “a is pronounced like Persian آ “â”, whereas in Yerevan the same vowel is rounded in the manner of Russian “ä. In general, prosody is used to convey emotions according to the Persian canons; a phenomenon which accounts for the alleged “sing-songy” feel of Parskahayeren according to Caucasian speakers. However, there are still a number of distinct prosodic paradigms in Persian and Parskahayeren that in turn afford the languages quite unique aesthetic qualities. Notably, speakers of Parkshayeren tend to employ creaky voice

Additionally, Iranian Armenian has preserved the Classical alveolar approximant pronunciation of Ր “r”, (which corresponds to the Standard American English pronunciation of “r”); whereas other Eastern and Western Armenian dialects have shifted to alveolar flap [ɾ] (corresponding to the Scottish English pronunciation of “r”). In perfective constructions wherein the verb is not followed by a modifier, the infinitive final -լ -l is dropped: Tehran Vortegh es tsnvé? for Yerevan Ur es tsnvel? “Where were you born?” When the verb is followed by a modifier, Tehran often has -r- final: Tehran eker er for Yerevan yekel er “S/he had come.” In this sense Parskahayeren pronunciation is both archaic and innovative.

E9B92103-0386-4624-91C7-142DAC2F5208_mw1024_s_n
The “Father of Iranian pop music”, Vigen Derderian (Վիգեն Դերդերյան, ويگن دردريان), and his daughter, singer and songwriter Jaklin. Vigen was born into the Armenian community of Hamedan; Jaklin was born and raised in the Armenian community of Tehran. 

The Iranian-Armenians are bilingual, although the Tabriz and Urmia communities (Թավրիզ ու Ուրմիայի Հայ համայնքը T’avriz u Urmiayi Hay hamaynk’ёseem to be operationally trilingual in Armenian, Azeri, and Persian. Bilingualism in the case of fast-paced, trendy Tehran has paved the way for a great deal of language-mixing—primarily whereby an Armenian-speaking informant substitutes Persian words in place of their Armenian equivalents. However, the degree of this phenomenon is dependent on the informant and by no means approaches the threshold of creolization. Wholesale substitution takes precedence over calques in the case of Tehrani Persian slang and in registers for which Armenian has no equivalent. Wholesale substitution of Armenian words is present in the vernaculars of both Tehran and Yerevan, however markedly more so in the latter.

English Standard Eastern Armenian Colloquial Yerevan (from Russian) Colloquial Tehran (from Persian)
“Generally” ёndhanrapes
ընդհանրապես
voobshe
вообше
kollan
كلا
 “OK; here you go” hamets’ek’
համեցեք
davai
давай
“Just; just because” ughghaki
ուղղակի
prosto
просто
“Because” vorovhetev
որովհետև
tak kak
так как
chon
چون
“OK; That’s it” vsyo
всё
For example; like…” ōrinak
օրինակ
masalan –> “masan”
مثلا
“So; that is to say; it means; like…; [filter]” uremn, aysink’n
ուրեմն, այսինքն
to, est’
то есть
yani
يعنى
“Already” arden
արդեն
uzhe
уже

Otherwise, the Tehran vernacular is more conservative in her lexicon compared to the Yerevan vernacular, save a few idiosyncrasies: Tehran esi and eti, etikё for Standard սա sa “this” դա da “that”; Tehran sté, stegh and ёndé, ёndegh for Standard այստեղ aystegh “here” and այնտեղ ayntegh “there”; Tehran bidi for Standard պետք ե petk’e “must, should”; Tehran esents‘ for Yerevan stents’, nents’ and Standard այսպես ayspes “this way, like this”; Tehran որտեղ vortegh for Yerevan ուր ur “where”; Tehran ira, iran, irank’, irants’ for Yerevan nra, nran, nrank’, nrants’ “his/her, to him/her, they, their”. The issue of Parskahayeren mähät/mät “one; a piece; a little; a moment; a bit; etc.” is discussed below.

For some lexemes, parallel native forms are in use in a manner similar to American English vs. British English, i.e. Tehran: լվացարան lvats’aran for Yerevan լողարան logharan “restroom, washroom”; Tehran: կներեք knerek’ for Yerevan ներողություն neroghut’yun “Pardon me; I’m sorry.”


Iranian-Armenian artist Helen (née Matevosian) sings Garun Yekav (Գարուն Եկավ “Spring Came”), a winner at the 2007 Armenian Golden Star Awards.

Calques from Persian are also pervasive: i.e. վերջացավ գնաց verchats’av gnats’, from تمام شد و رفت  tamām shod o raft “It’s over; done for”; կարմրացնել karmrats’nel “to fry” (literally: “to redden”) from سرخ كردن sorkh kardan “to fry (redden)”; պատճառ ելնել patch’arr elnel from باعث شدن bāes shodan “to result in; to cause”; նեղություն քաշել neghut’yun k’ashel from  زحمت كشيدن zahmat keshidan “to bare a burden; perform an act of generosity or civility according to local ideals”; Թագավորի ժամանակ T’ak’avori zhamanak from زمان شاه zamāne Shāh “the Pahlavi period; reign of the 20th century Pahlavi monarchs”; մեձ մամ medz-mam and մեձ պապ medz-pap from مامان بزرگ māmān bozorg “grandmother” and بابا بزرگ bābā bozorg “grandfather.”  A few calques from Persian phraseology are listed below:

English Parskahayeren (colloquial) Persian (colloquial)
“What’s up?/What’s new?” Inch khabar?
Ինչ խաբար?
Che khabar?
چه خبر؟
“Thank you for your service” (literally: “may your hand not hurt”) Dzerrk’ёt ch’ts’ava
Ձեռքտ չցավա
Dastet dard nakone
دستت درد نكنه
“Thank you for your exertion” (literally: “may you not be tired”) Hok’nats chelnes
Հոգնած չելնես
Khaste nabāshi
خسته نباشى

“I wouldn’t be so sure” (literally: “my eye doesn’t drink water”)

Achkёs jur chi khmum
Աչքս ջուր չի խմում
Cheshmam āb nemikhore
چشمم آب نمیخوره

One morphological innovation is addition of a pronominal suffix at the end of the verbal construction to indicate either the object or indirect object of the verb, and this likely developed under the influence of Persian. This is unusual for Armenian, which employs a stringent case system. Nonetheless it is prevalent in generation Y’s vernacular and is only used when the 2nd person is the object or direct object of a clause:

English Tehran (contracted form) Yerevan (invariable)
“I’ve missed you” karotelemët karotel em k’ez
“I am waiting for you” spasumemët spasum em k’ez
“Let me tell you something…” me ban asemët mi ban k’ez asem…

Sometimes parallels are encountered to Persian compound verb construction: i.e. [Persian/Armenian gerund] + [Armenian helping verb]; the latter is usually անել anel (for كردن kardan) “to do”, խփել khp’el (for زدن zadan) “to hit”, վերցնել verts’nel (for گرفتن gereftan) “to get”, բռնել brrnel (for گرفتن gereftan “to hold”). Such as chort khp’el (from چرت زدن chort zadan) for Yerevan նիրհել nirhel “to take a nap”; pakhsh anel (from پخش كردن pakhsh kardanfor Yerevan հաղորդել haghordel “to broadcast”; պտույտ խփել ptuyt khp’el (from چرخ زدن charkh zadan) for զբոսնել zbosnel “to take a stroll”; դուշ բռնել dush brrnel (from دوش گرفتن dush gereftan) for Yerevan լողանալ loghanal “to take a shower.”

Tehran կարողանալ karoghanalconj. subjunctive verb (parallel to Western Persian construction) for Yerevan karoghanal + infinite verb “to be able to do [something]”; Չեմ կարող ասեմ Chem karogh asem for Yerevan Չեմ կարող ասել Chem karogh asel “I cannot say”, among many other examples.


Armenian-Iranian Bible study talk show, “Good News” (Բարի Լուր), produced by the Armenian-Iranian diaspora in California

Parskahayeren shares a number of core lexical paradigms with Western Armenian, her distant cousin, vis-à-vis the Eastern varieties found in the former U.S.S.R. Most notably, Tehran has երթալ ertal for Yerevan գնալ gnal “to go”; իմանալ imanal for Yerevan գիտել gitel “to know”; ելնել elnel for Yerevan լինել linel “to be”; հէր her for Yerevan խի khi/ինչու inchu “why”. Parskahayeren sometimes also shares the added -ի -i ending encountered in the Western Armenian pronomial dative construction: Tehran ինձի indzi, քեզի k’ezi, etc. for Yerevan ինձ indz քեզ k’ez “to me, to you”. Some of these lexical differences are illustrated below:

English Tehran Yerevan
“I don’t know” չեմ իմանում
Chem imanum
չգիտեմ
Ch’gitem
“What’s happened?” Ինչ ա ելե?
Inch a elé?
Ինչ ե եղել?
Inch e yeghel?
“Why didn’t he give you an apple?” Հեր քեզի խնձոր չտվավ?
Her k’ezi khndzor ch’tvav?
Ինչու քեզ խնձոր չտվեց?
Inchu k’ez khndzor ch’tvets’?

A multitude of -եց ets’-class verbs are -ավ av-class in Tehran, which resembles the pattern in Western Armenian. In this paradigm, Tehran has -ամ -am for the 1st person register, which likely developed under influence of Persian, whereas Yerevan has -ա –a; i.e. Tehran տեսամ tesam for Yerevan տեսա tesa “I saw.” Sometimes -ել –el infinitives are ալ –al in the perfective future construction, i.e. khosâlu en “they will speak” for Yerevan խոսելու են khoselu (y)en. For example, ասել asel “to say” and տալ tal “to give”:

English Tehran (spoken) Yerevan
I said, gave asam, tvam
ասամ, տվամ
asets’i, tvets’i
ասեցի, տվեցի
You said, gave asar, tvar
ասար, տվար
asests’ir, tvets’ir
ասեցիր, տվեցիր
S/he said, gave asav, tvav
ասավ, տվավ
asests’, tvets’
ասեց, տվեց
We said, gave asank’, tvank’
ասանք, տվանք
asests’ink’, tvets’ink’
ասեցինք, տվեցինք
You (pl.) said, gave asak’, tvak’
ասաք, տվաք
asests’ik’, tvets’ik’
ասեցիք, տվեցիք
They said, gave asan, tvan
ասան, տվան
asests’in, tvets’in
ասեցին, տվեցին

The 1st person -մ -m ending is also encountered in the past imperfective construction composed of [elnel (to be) + present participle]. This is also distinct to Parskahayeren in the Eastern group:

English Tehran (spoken) Yerevan
“I couldn’t understand it” Chim karogh haskanam  Chei karogh haskanal
“I was walking in the street, when suddenly someone called out to me from afar and approached” K’aylum im p’oghots’um erb hankarts mekё herrvits’ indzi kanchav u motets’av Kaylum ei p’oghots’um yerb hankarts mekё indz herrvits’  kanchets’ u motets’av

The issue of “mähät” or “mät” (from մի հատ mi hat one piece) in Parskahayeren is particularly unusual in that this lexeme has introduced a new vowel phoneme to the Iranian Armenian system (namely, ä). The contexts for its use are ambiguous and abstract:

Iranian Armenian English
Mät ari ste “Come here for a moment
Mät hangstats’ru senyakumët “Rest for a while in your room
Mät indzi tur “Give me one [piece]
Vaghë kertam khanut’its’ mät khaghalik’ verts’nem ira zavakneri hamar “Tomorrow I’m going to go pick up a toy for his children from the store”
Mät mtats’ir myusi zgats’munk’neri masin “Think a little bit about the other person’s feelings”

Peering at the Tocharians through Language: A Window to the Ancient Europoid Folk of Western China

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. The goal of this article is to present the Tocharian narrative in a broad linguistic framework, with a focus on affinities to earlier Proto-Indo-European. 

beauty
Europoid-type “Tarim Mummies” found in XInjiang, China, dating back to around 1800 BC. The Tocharians are described as having full beards, red or blond hair, deep-set blue or green eyes and high noses and with no sign of decline as attested in Chinese sources for nearly a millennium. The mummies, particularly the early ones, are frequently associated with the presence of the Indo-European Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin, although Mallory and Mair attribute the later mummies to the Iranian Saka (Scythian) people who settled later in the western part of the basin.

Introduction

What do Englishmen, Sicilians, Spaniards, Bengalis, Kurds, Russians, Welshmen, Germans, Pashtuns, Lithuanians, Armenians, Australians, Persians, Irish, Greeks, Swedes, Punjabis, Albanians, Brazilians, Icelandics, Romani, Ossetians, and many other peoples all have in common? Astonishingly enough, we all speak languages derived from a single Mother Tongue. This is a humorously underappreciated fact amidst the clutter of our daily social interactions, and more broadly, in our latent perpetuation of decidedly irreconcilable ethnic consciousnesses.

But this Mother Tongue was not a monolith. And neither was it ever recorded or attested to, to the modern linguist’s dismay. Variations of it were spoken for a span of roughly two thousand years between 4500 BC and 2500 BC, as it underwent drastic regional transformations and passed through defining bottleneck events. All the while, its daughters were splitting and differentiating via mass migrations of peoples throughout Eurasia, sometimes losing and regaining contact with each other after centuries or millennia. In the absence of written attestation to any of these highly dynamic prehistoric vernaculars, linguists have used the comparative method of language reconstruction to produce a long, fragmentary list of words used in daily speech. These registers have been applied in synergy with archaeological evidence to paint a compelling narrative for one of the most appreciable ethno-linguistic progenitors of modern human civilization.

800px-Khost_children_in_2010
Pashtun children in the village of Khost, Afghanistan. Pashto is an Eastern Iranian branch language, and shares a common ancestor with languages such as English, Russian, Italian, Welsh and Hindi, in the form of the Proto-Indo-European language, spoken between ~4,500-2,500 B.C.

The Mother Tongue is known to linguists as Proto-Indo-European. But where did the progenitors of all these modern languages, the Proto-Indo-Europeans, live? After all, they were not some obscure race of language-speaking humanoids roaming aimlessly on a primitive Earth, but rather, a pluralistic people who lived fairly recently with families, communal responsibilities, ambitions and concerns like you and I, speaking an adaptive language with which they sang, joked, loved, lamented and prayed, in a world populated by many different language families but theirs came to include roughly half the world’s population by the modern era.

The Tocharians as Indo-Europeans

The answer to that question has been the subject of heated debate among archaeologists and linguists for over a century. In the opinion of this author, the preponderance of archaeological, philological, and chronological evidence points to a Pontic-Caspian Urheimat (homeland)  for the speakers of Proto-Indo-European. This so-called “Kurgan Hypothesis” posits that in the riverine steppe lands darting from southern Ukraine deep into the Ural Mountains of Russia lived a semi-nomadic, mortuary mound-building (called kurgans, from Turkic), animal-sacrificing, cannabis-smoking, pastoralist, glory-inspired people whose commitment to ceremony and client-host tradition coupled with their militaristic ingenuity served as a franchising incentive for the widespread adoption of their languages by subject peoples. In archaeology, our conjectured Proto-Indo-Europeans are said to have composed the early mesolithic Yamna culture. This phenomenon, wherein language shift occurs due to emulation of an intruding but more powerful minority, is called Elite Dominance; a postulation that also explains the later extinction of Iranian languages in Central Asia and Azerbaijan beginning in the in the 11th century AD upon the arrival of a minority of Turkic-speaking peoples.

Kurgan_expansion
The Kurgan hypothesis postulates a Pontic-Caspian steppe homeland for the speakers of Proto-Indo-European (pink). The black arrows represent the various branch splittings of neolithic PIE-speaking peoples between ~4,500-2,500 B.C.

The Yamna culture (early Proto-Indo-Europeans) was in a turn a collection of semi-nomadic, pastoral tribes which more or less could understand each other, probably pulled to the Russian steppe (Samara and Khvalynsk) from the northeast Black Sea basin by adverse climatic changes. As such, we might better conceive of Pre-Proto-Indo-European (the stage of linguistic development before the Yamna horizon) as a group of related dialects which evolved from one group, Indo-Uralic (connecting Indo-European to Uralic languages like Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, and Mari), of another [Uralo-Siberian] group of an earlier [Eurasiatic] group of the proposed primitive Nostratic language macrofamily. Vladislav Illich-Svetych suggested that the Nostratic language was an incredibly remote, primitive but expressive ancestral language to Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Semitic, Kartvelian, and disputably other families, spoken by bands of foragers near the end of the last glacial period some 13,000 years ago. If such a conjecture were to have any baring in reality, then Indo-European languages would have remote genetic affinities to modern languages like Mongolian, Arabic, Ainu, Turkish, Somali, Nivkh, Georgian, and Korean. The implications of such a theory are earth-shaking for modern social constructs of “ethnicity” throughout the world.

Centum_Satem_map
Centum-Satem isogloss between Indo-European branches descended from splitting events of neolithic pastoralists migrating out of the Pontic-Caspian Indo-European homeland. Centum languages (blue) departed first and share a number of archaic phonological features that were later innovated in the Satem (red) languages that stayed behind (Indo-Iranian, Baltic, Slavic, Armenian; Albanian has incongruities). The hypothetical area of origin of satemization happens to also be in the range of the Sintasha/Abachevo/Srubna cultures (dark red). Tocharian, the easternmost Indo-European language spoken in the Silk Road caravan cities of the Tarim Basin in northwestern China, also lacked the Satem and Ruki innovations, so it likewise seems to have departed prior to the Satemization phenomenon.

When the first wheel-driven wagons rolled into the Pontic-Caspian steppe via the Caucasus piedmont from the ancient urban civilizations in the Near East around 4,500 BCE, the new invention spurred what archaeologists refer to as the Yamnaya horizon. This horizon transformed the Yamna culture (Proto-Indo-Europeans) into a mobile, expansive economy. Many migrations (especially the Corded Ware cultural horizon that stretched from the Netherlands to the Volga) coincide, as reflected in their Indo-European lexicons, with the new revolutionary technology of the wheeled wagon. Over the millennia, the combination of push and pull factors—perhaps a combination of tribal conflicts, climatic changes, and economic incentives—spread the speakers of PIE throughout Europe and Asia, and gave raise to a number of distinct and innovative cultural horizons (TRB/Globular Amphora culture, Funnel Beaker, Pit-Grave/Poltavka, Catacomb-Grave, Abashevo-Fatyanovo-Balanovo, Andronovo, Timber-grave, Usatovo, etc.) that interacted with and often displaced many Proto-Uralic and Paleo-European speaking cultures (prehistoric European languages of unknown provenance, such as the language of the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture. A modern survivor is Basque). The speakers of Proto-Indo-European then pioneered the chariot using a technology from the Fertile Crescent, and it wasn’t until a millenium later that wagon chariots appear in China. The Beijing Chinese word for wheel is KuLu, which bares an interesting resemblance to the nearby Repin Centum derived Tocharian Kokale (from PIE *kwel-/ *kwol).

Andronovochariotsm
The Proto-Indo-Europeans were the first to domesticate the horse and develop chariotry. The Mitanni dynasty ruled over a Hurrian-speaking (non-Indo-European; likely related to Urartian and to modern Northeast Caucasian languages) population in what is today northern Syria between 1500 and 1350 BC, but likely was founded by Old Indic-speaking mercenaries, perhaps charioteers, who usurped the throne–a common pattern in Near Eastern and Iranian dynastic histories. The Mitanni rulers regularly made references to the hymns and deities of the Rig Veda to the east, including Indra, Varuna, and the Nasatyas or Divine Twins. The Mitanni military aristocracy was headed by the “maryanna” (from Indic “marya”: “young man”, employed in the Rig Veda to refer to the heavenly war-band assembled around Indra.) All Mitanni Kings, first to last, took Old Indic throne names, such as Tvesa-ratha (“having an attacking chariot”), and in the oldest surviving horse-training manual in the world, a Mitanni horse trainer used many Old Indic terms for technical details, including horse color and number of laps.

At some point around 3,700-3500 BCE, a mass migration took place from the central zone of the Yamna culture, around a site called Repin between the Don and Volga. The push factors for this Trans-Ural exodus are unknown, but it may have been encouraged by the new opportunities for social and economic expansion offered by the novel mobile economy discussed above, or perhaps it was due to a conflict event. The migrants settled on virgin land on the contact zone with Siberian foragers (hunters and gatherers; perhaps Proto-Altaic-speaking) a startling 2000 km to the east of their starting point, and this area developed into the Early Bronze Age Afanasievo culture. It is to the Afanasievo cultural horizon that supporters of the Kurgan Hypothesis ascribe a Pre-Tocharian pedigree.

Tracking Tarim Mummies - books - archeaology.org - Map
The projected Pre-Tocharian migration from the Eastern dialects of PIE accross the Ural Moutain range and into the Altai region around 3,700-3,500 B.C., where the migrants likely interacted with speakers of Proto-Uralic and Proto-Altaic before migrating southward into the Tarim Basin.

At the time of this hypothetical Pre-Tocharian split from the eastern dialects, Proto-Indo-European was still in an early stage of its development. Pre-Germanic and Pre-Italo-Celtic would split several centuries later into the Danube valley, around 3,300-3,000 BCE, but from the western and central dialects respectively. Pre-Armenian, Pre-Albanian, Pre-Phrygian, and Pre-Greek split later yet with PIE transhumance into the Balkans, but their origins are conflicting and their affinities with each other are problematic for a number of reasons that are outside the scope of this article (such as incongruities in Satemization and Centum superstrate; see Middle Dnieper multi-ethnic “vortex” culture for more reading). Even later, Pre-Baltic and Pre-Slavic split off probably from the northwestern dialects of PIE probably around 2,800 BCE, and finally Pre-Indo-Iranian between 2,500-2,300 BCE from the northeastern group. Tocharian was probably closest of kin to the PIE dialects that were ancestral to the later Thraco-Phrygian and Armenian, but similarities with Italo-Celtic suggest an extended period of contact following an initial separation event.

Pre-Anatolian had split first of all daughters, perhaps half a millennium before Pre-Tocharian around 4200 BCE from archaic Proto-Indo-European, which lacked grammatical gender, complex verbal tenses (Anatolian only has present and perfect), the dual case for nouns, and major phonemic and lexical shifts that would be passed down to the rest of her daughters. As such, for some Indo-Europeanists these traits suggest that the Anatolian branch did not develop from Proto-Indo-European at all but rather that the two evolved from different geographic dialects of a Pre-Proto-Indo-European ancestral dialect continuum, termed “Indo-Hittite” by William Sturtevant. For example, whereas almost all modern Indo-European languages have inherited PIE *do- “to give”, this root originally meant “to take” in archaic PIE around the time of the Pre-Anatolian branch splitting. It later underwent a semantic shift probably in the context of the mesolithic Proto-Indo-European client-host gift-offering tradition in the steppe, so Hittite (Anatolian branch) has instead the archaic *Pai- “to give”. Pre-Anatolian then differentiated into Lycian, Hittite, Luwian, and the poorly attested Palaic, among other languages, in the coming millennia, all of which are now long-extinct but were once spoken for thousands of years in modern-day Turkey.

Picture of The Lion Gate - Hittite Capital Hattusa 6
The Lion Gates at the ruins of Hattusha, Turkey. Hattusha was once the capital city of the Hattians, who are now believed to have been remote relatives of the Proto-Northwest Caucasian-speaking peoples. Beginning in the 4th millennium BCE the Hattic language was gradually displaced by archaic Indo-European languages, most likely archaic Anatolian branch languages Luwian and Hittite, and the Hattians were ultimately absorbed and assimilated into Indo-European-speaking society after nearly two thousand years of coexistence by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. However, the latter adopted the former’s self-designation (<Hatti; which in the opinion of this author, is likely also the root of the Armenian self-designation Հայ Hay).

The Tocharian Language

Despite her early separation from PIE, Tocharian still shares a striking number of cognates with her sisters in her core vocabulary. If we indulge ourselves for moment, we can imagine there was once a young Tocharian girl on a farm in western China who called out the ñem (Swedish namn, Kurmanji Kurdish nav, French nom) of her older procer (Dutch broeder, Persian barâdar, Russian brat) to käm (English: come, Kurmanji Kurdish: gav, Afrikaans: kom) help her mälka (German melken, Albanian mjel, Latin mulgere) the tri (Spanish tres, Lithuanian trýs, Pashto dre) kews(English cow, Armenian kov, Persian gâv) in the pen at nighttime under the lyuks (English light, Latin lux, Armenian luys) of the beautiful stars and meñe (Danish måne, Sorani Kurdish mang, Ukrainian misjac’), while her macer (Armenian mayr, Phrygian matar, German Mutter)  and pacer(Italian pater, Hindi pitr, Persian pedar)  were preparing the misa (English meat, Gothic mats, Armenian mis) of a yekwe (Latin equus, Hittite ekuus, Irish Gaelic each) for dinner and fetching fresh war (Hittite wa-a-tar, Belorussian vadá, West Frisian wetter) to wash it down.

English Tocharian B Ancient Greek Middle Persian Portuguese Proto-Indo-European
name ñem ónoma nâm nome *h₃néh₃-m̥n
eight okt oktṓ hašt oito *h₃eḱtéh₃(u)
mother macer mḗtēr mâdar mãe *méh₂tēr
foot paiye poús pây *pṓds
wolf walkwe lúkos gurg lobo *wĺ̥kʷos
new ñuwe néos nōg novo *néwos
star śre astḗr stâr estrela *h₂stḗr

Language comparison chart prepared by the author illustrating a few readily recognizable cognates between Tocharian and a few extant/extinct Centum and Satem members of the Indo-European family, including English (Germanic), Ancient Greek (Hellenic), Middle Persian (Iranian; Satemization and Ruki rule reflected in the register for “eight” = “hašt”; labial to velar shift and *r/*l merger reflected in “wolf” = “gurg”) and Portuguese (Italic).

As the second major branching-off event of PIE, Tocharian maintains a number of archaisms that are absent in later branches. For example, Tocharian is the only geographically “eastern” Centum language, as it split before the Satem shift occurred in PIE (the Satem group merged Proto-Indo-European palatovelars *ḱ, *ḱʰ, *ǵ, *ǵʰ. and plain velars *k, *kʰ, *g, *gʰ, yielding plain velars only, but retained the labiovelars as a distinct set. For example, *ḱ became Sanskrit ś [ɕ], Latvian, Avestan, Russian and Armenian s, Lithuanian š [ʃ], and Albanian th [θ] but k before a resonant.) As such, it does not feature the subsequent innovation of Ruki sound law (*s >  / {*r, *w, *K, *y}). However, some Indo-European tribes (dialects) maintained tribal-linguistic contact—often via assimilated substrate—prior to their various distinct Proto-stages, including Pre-Greek Catacomb and Pre-Tocharian Don-Repin. The Volga Uralic Mordvin languages (Erzya/Moskha) have loanwords from early Indo-Iranian, East Baltic, and a Tocharian-like Ural-Volga area Repin Centum language, inferring another contact period probably whilst en route to Afanasievo.

Documents from the 6th to 8th centuries identify two Tocharian languages which probably split in the first millennium B.C. Tocharian A (Turfanian) is distributed along the eastern part of the Silk Road, while Tocharian B (Kuchean) is centered in the northern part. Tocharian A and Tocharian B were strikingly different languages with radical divergence in their plural markers, case system and verbal system, although it is unclear whether they were mutually intelligible. Tocharian A was more archaic and used solely as a Buddhist liturgical language, while the Tocharian B corpus includes documents that are both secular and religious in nature, suggesting that it may have been the spoken language of the entire area (discussed below). Alternatively, the lack of a secular corpus in Tocharian A could simply be an accident; the result of a fragmentary preservation of texts. Lastly, Tocharian C is only attested to in about 100 words in Prakrit documents, conceptualized by linguists who reconstructed these loanwords and attributed their origin to some unknown sister of Tocharian A and B.Moksha_girls
The Mordvin people centered in the middle Volga region of Russia speak languages belonging to the Uralic macrofamily (includes Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian, Saami, Mari etc.), whose proto-language homeland was probably in the birch-pine forest zone on the southern flanks of the Ural Mountains. Linguistic evidence suggests that Proto-Uralic and Proto-Indo-European likely shared two kinds of linkages; one kind, revealed in the similarity of pronouns, noun endings, and shared basic vocabulary, could be ancestral: the proto-languages probably shared some quite ancient common ancestor, perhaps a broadly related set of intergrading dialects spoken by hunters roaming between the Carpathians and the Urals at the end of the last Ice Age (Joseph Greenberg calls this language stock “Eurasiatic”, perhaps ultimately descended from Nostratic). The second link is cultural; proto-Uralic foragers interacted through trade with the neolithic Proto-Indo-European tribes migrating out of the homeland who introduced them to agriculture and the wheel, and again much later with Indo-Iranian and Tocharian migrants trekking eastward out of the PIE homeland.

On the relationship of Tocharians A and B, George Lane, an authority on Tocharian, concludes: “at the time when the extant materials in dialect A were written it was purely a liturgical language in the monasteries of the east, and had been so preserved for several centuries at least…. it had long since ceased to be a vernacular [as a result of Turkic immigration into the area]… whereas Tocharian B was clearly the vernacular of a comparatively rich and flourishing culture [to the west and better protected by the mountains and the desert from the influence of the Turks].”  It is very likely that B was also the language of everyday monastery life in the east, existing side by side with the liturgical form of A. Lane concludes: “the two Tocharian dialects A and B have gone through a long period of independent development… anywhere from five hundred to a thousand years…they are, in my estimation, no longer mutually intelligible.”

800px-Tocharian
Wooden tablet with an inscription showing Tocharian B in its Brahmic form. Kucha, China, 5th-8th century (Tokyo National Museum)

The Decline of the Tocharians
Following their Trans-Ural exodus by over a millennium, the Tocharians interacted with and borrowed extensively from the Indo-Iranians, their distant Indo-European cousins unbeknownst to them at the time. The most recent linguistic influences upon Tocharian were Iranian and Sanskrit, as a result of extensive missionary activity from Iran and India which coincides with the Tocharian’ adoption of Buddhism. The primary effect of these languages upon Tocharian was in loanwords into the lexicon, especially in religious terminology. There was also a notable Manichaean minority, again of Iranian provenance. The Europoid-type residents of Turfan and Kucha were first noted by the Chinese in the Han-shu in the first century BC. as one of the barbarian kingdoms in their western region which had been involved in many wars with the Chinese, along with the Hsiung-nu (Mongolian nomads), Turks, and Tibetans. The Chinese sources refer to the fair, red-haired inhabitants of the Tarim basin as Yuezhi. Ultimately, the Tocharians appear to have emerged as a devoutly Buddhist and mercantile people, serving as middle-men between the more advanced civilizations of early Imperial China, Southwest Asia, and the various Iranian peoples to the west.

Central_Asian_Buddhist_Monks
Painting of Buddhist monks from the Eastern Tarim Basin, Belezek, c. 8th century AD, with a Tocharian on the left. As a result of Iranian Buddhist proselytic activity, the Tocharians adopted Mahayana Buddhism and served as an important conduit for the spread of Buddhism into China and the East.

As such the footprint of the speakers of Tocharian languages remains blurred, as we can only observe them through the lens of Buddhism. Tocharians are represented iconographically, wherein they present themselves as Buddhists dressed in north Indian clothes, or as warriors dressed is Sassanian Iranian dress. Together with East Iranian peoples, such as the Bactrians, Kushans and Khotanese, the Tocharians seem to have played a role in the Silk Road transmission of Buddhism to China. Exactly when Buddhism was introduced to Tocharia from India by Middle Iranian-speaking peoples is unknown since there are no historical records describing such a transmission. Nevertheless it is likely to have been around the beginning of the Common Era, as there were already Kuchean missionary Buddhist monks in China beginning the third century AD.

Although details surrounding the social and political undertakings of the Tocharians remains shrouded in mystery due to lack of attestation, it seems that their culture lasted up until the end of the first millenium of the Common Era, after which time they were either assimilated into the growing Turkic-speaking population in the area or simply died out. This means that the Tocharians composed a distinct ethno-linguistic grouping within Indo-European for nearly three millennia–in turn providing quite a considerable window for study–but their own scant literary productions (mostly monastic and mercantile in nature) coupled with those of their neighbors fail to provide us with any substantive account regarding their existence. In general, therefore, the Tocharian evidence, due to the rather late date of the extant documents, its geographic isolation from other IE languages, and the influence of non-IE languages, has not been as helpful in reconstructing PIE as, for instance Sanskrit, Greek, or Hittite have been. However, we can learn from Tocharian about the effect that a long migration and contacts with members of other language families can have on an IE language and, as Winter says, “below the rather forbidding surface of our Tocharian data there are some real treasures to be found.”

Sources

Anthony, David W. “The Horse, The Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.” Princeton Review Press: 2007.

Dickens, Mark. “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Tocharian.” http://www.oxuscom.com/eyawtkat.htm

Excerpt from Virdainas: a Jatvingian-Sudovian Dictionary. Jos. Paskha 2012.
http://suduva.com/virdainas/proto.htm

Longing for Circassia–A Land Without Her People

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. The goal of this article is to familiarize the reader with the looks and feels of Circassia, its people and language in a historical and modern setting. 

Çerkez_sürgününün_anılması_1
Descendants of Circassian deportees in Istanbul, Turkey (2011) commemorate the banishment of their ancestors from their homeland in the Northwest Caucasus by Imperial Russia in 1864.


Introduction
By an irony of history, the 2014 Olympic games marked the 150th anniversary of the Russian defeat of the Circassians in 1864, and therein the annihilation of a civilization whose last independent capital, Sochi, rested at the center of a polity stretching from the Sea of Azov to the gates of North Ossetia-Alania. After the Georgians and the Armenians, the Circassians came closest of all the Caucasian peoples to developing the prerequisites for nationhood. But their efforts were cut short by the Russian Empire’s merciless onslaught and translocation of ninety percent of their population to Anatolia and the Near East in the early 1800s—nearly half a century before the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. As a share of total population, the Circassian diaspora is the largest in the world, a fact that is underscored by nearly seven centuries of foreign slaving expeditions which kept the Circassian core volatile and precluded the establishment of large permanent settlements around which an urban society could evolve. In addition to the psychological and economic repercussions of en masse deportation, forced population translocation on this scale can have dire consequences for the continuity of a people and culture. This article aims to better characterize the Circassians and promote understanding of their culture and language, in an effort, however modest, to keep this vibrant chapter of humanity alive and prolific.

Circassian4
A Circassian holding a sign at the 2014 Olympics games in Sochi, which reads in Russian: “Why have you killed and obliterated my beautiful, noble people?”

Circassian as a Northwest Caucasian Language

Circassian does not refer to a single language inasmuch as it refers to an overarching sprachbund of dialects associated with pastoralist tribes inhabiting the riverbeds of the northwestern Caucasian piedmont, which together exhibit varying degrees of mutual intelligibility (although this remains poorly characterized). The main typological split is between two literary standards that were first written in a modified Perso-Arabic script, followed by Latin and later Cyrillic: Adyghe (Western Circassian, Lower Circassian) and Kabardian (Eastern Circassian, Upper Circassian), which, taken with the Middle Eastern diaspora, compose a speaking community of around 2 million individuals today. Each tribe and clan has its own distinct dialect—the Shapsug, Natukhai, Besleney, Cherkess, Abadzekh, Zhane, among others—but all invariably refer to themselves as Адыгэ (Adyghe) and to their language as Адыгэбзэ (Adyghäbze).


A Circassian dance group performing a tale from the Nart Saga according to the “Qafe” dance repertoire. The Nart saga is shared among the folklore of the Adygheans, Cherkess, Kabardians, Abkhaz, Abaza, Chechens, Ingush, and Ossetians in the North Caucasus.

2048
A glacier and valley in Karachay-Cherkessia, Russian Federation. The alpine terrain of historical Circassia impeded contact between the various Northwest Caucasian languages and dialectically distinct groups for thousands of years. It remains unclear when and wherefrom the speakers of Proto-Northwest-Caucasian arrived in historical Circassia, as this language family cannot be linked genetically to any other attested macrofamily on the Eurasian landmass even at the magnitude of 15,000 years (save a few moderately convincing attempts at a remote link with Northeast Caucasian, but remains by no means clear).

Together with Abkhazian, Abaza, and Ubykh (extinct in 1992), Circassian belongs to a rare linguistic macrofamily, Northwest Caucasian (NWC), to which there are no known relatives elsewhere on Earth. These unique languages share a common ancestor, the hypothesized Proto-Northwest-Caucasian language, whose speaking community underwent splitting events some six thousand years ago, after which the daughter languages differentiated in close geographic proximity but remarkable isolation from each other for many thousands of years to the present. It is not difficult to suppose a paradigm in which contact between NWC languages and other groups was impeded by the difficulty of communication and travel from one canyon to the next (the main passes through the Caucasus are located at the central and eastern part, explaining why Circassian is comparatively free from foreign influences), as well as the mere toils of life in the valleys of the North Caucasus. Any genetic link between NWC and other macrofamilies in Eurasia remains excruciatingly dubious if not outright nonexistent, such that the family is never included in the Nostratic Hypothesis, which postulates an exquisitely remote common ancestral tongue to Indo-European, Uralic, Afroasiatic, Altaic, Kartvelian and Dravidian spoken by bands of foragers near the end of the last glacial period nearly 15,000 years ago. In general the NWC languages feature rich consonantal systems and a paucity of vowel phonemes. Notably, with around 80 consonants and only two phonemically distinct vowels, the Ubykh language featured one of the largest inventories of consonants in the world.

Un court documentaire sur Tevfik Esenc, l’ultime locuteur natif de Ubykh, une langue qu’il a appris à maîtriser de ses grand-parents—eux-mêmes déportés du Caucase pendant le Génocide Circassien. Il est mort en Turquie en 1992, et avec lui, la langue Ubykh. Ubykh comme une langue Abkhazo-Adygienne était liée à la langue Abkhazienne et plus lointainement à la langue Circassienne, bien que les deux proto-langues ont divergées il y a environ 5 mil ans. 

The Pre-Hittite, non-Indo-European language of Anatolia, known as Hattic, is now widely believed to be a remote relative of Proto-Northwest-Caucasian, perhaps becoming established there as a result of migration from Transcaucasia some time predating six thousand years ago. Beginning in the 4th millennium BCE the Hattic language was gradually displaced by archaic Indo-European languages, most likely Luwian and Hittite, and the Hattians were ultimately absorbed and assimilated into Indo-European-speaking society after nearly two thousand years of coexistence by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. However, the latter adopted the former’s self-designation (<Hatti; which in the opinion of this author, is likely also the root of the Armenian self-designation Հայ Hay).

Picture of The Lion Gate - Hittite Capital Hattusa 6
The Lion Gates at the ruins of Hattusha, Turkey. Hattusha was once the capital city of the Hattians, who are now believed to be remote relatives of Northwest Caucasian peoples. Their language was probably a cousin of Proto-NWC, but was eventually displaced by the advent of archaic Proto-Indo-European speakers and the diffusion of the Luwian, Palaic and Hittite languages.  

 Circassian Culture, Religion and Society

Due to the sheer frequency of foreign invasions, raids, slaving expeditions, and internecine warfare, the Circassians emerged as a semi-nomadic pastoralist people whose primary administrative unit, the hamlet (aul), was necessarily constructed hastily and with little care only to be abandoned at a moment’s notice. Nevertheless, individuals auls generally maintained a stable and fairly sizable population in spite of their mobile nature. Circassians rarely built fortified villages with stone towers in the style of the Eastern Caucasians (Chechens, Ingush, and Daghestani peoples), as defensive structures were considered signs of weakness according to the age-old code of chivalry. Instead, they lived in isolated farmsteads surrounded by orchards and groves of walnut trees. In periods of external danger, clusters of forty to sixty houses were constructed in the form of a circle or square with only one gate for ingress and egress.

10945578_1536764006595749_5844776974728547165_n10698686_1491317864473697_4472339229763669607_n
The Circassian dance repertoire is sizable and viewed as a core social custom, even in light of the arrival of Islam in the 19th century (except for the Middle Eastern diaspora, which is currently trying to revive this custom). Initially a pagan religious rite, the custom transformed from a kind of spirited prayer into a form of festive ceremony (“Zhegw”) and display of martial fitness and grace devoid of religious meaning. The “Wij” and “Zef’ak’we” dances are performed by couples going through ancient ritual motions. “Qafe” is a stately slow dance, probably of princely provenance, performed with pride touching on aloofness and with a great measure of self-control, while “Yislhemey” is energetic and can feature dizzying footwork.  

Circassians placed enormous value in practicing what were considered dignified customs and style of life, and paid great attention to cultivating their beauty in the form of rigorous training regimens and use of growth-arresting artifices during the formative years. As per custom, Circassians wore elegantly embroidered costumes (tsey) tied at the waist with a belt (s’ch’i’wbgirpx) designed to highlight their slender, V-shaped and symmetrical body physique according to prevalent ideals. The pervasive code of etqiuette, adat, was an unwritten compendium of laws and responsibilities that bound the genders, classes, and tribes together in some form of feudal harmony in the otherwise glaring absence of centralized authority and hard currency. For example, we can imagine that the sacrosanct nature of the guest developed as a means of assuring safe travel in a perilous terrain otherwise devoid of policing or any formal semblance of civil order. The threat of blood revenge, which often escalated into generations-long feuds, was an attempt to deter murder by threat of sure retaliation against the killer’s entire bloodline.

Circassianpro5
Circassians in traditional attire. According to Amjad Jaimoukha, the Circassians were “the fashion trend-setters in the Caucasus”, especially for the Russian Cossacks, Georgians and Ossetians. Men and women’s costumes were designed to accentuate the good form of the body, but also for convenience and comfort. Indeed their historical reputation for beauty and elegance was captured in the famous phrases, “Circassian beauty” and “dressed like a Kabardian.”

The social structure of Circassian society was highly complex and based on hierarchical feudalism, except for a few egalitarian tribes. The coexistence of two opposing tribal paradigms in Circassia—feudal and democratic—is unusual and reflective of a fragmented perception of ethnic continuity among dialectically distinct groups, at least at an early stage. Each feudal tribe was divided into princedoms (Pshi), which were effectively independent, although there was a council of princes (Khase), which met at times of national crises. At the apex of each principality stood the Prince (Pshi-t’khamade) who wielded almost absolute power over his subjects. Land and serfs were owned collectively.

Of note, the Circassian clan was not divided into nuclear families but rather into extended households consisting of a father and his married sons (Winezëxës). Thus, inheritance was not devolved from father to son but rather from brother to brother. Avoidance customs entailed the prohibition of fraternizing of siblings in private and public. If a person approached a group of people and he saw one of his brothers in the group, then, according to seniority of age, he either walked away from the group, or joined it, whilst the junior bid his leave. This custom was sanctioned to lessen sibling rivalry.

Sobranie_cherkesskikh_knyazey
Conference of Circassian Princes (called Khase) in 1839.

Next to the prince came the nobles (tlfoqotl’), who were divided into the proper and lesser nobility, and the vassals who were given a free hand in their fiefdoms in return for their allegiance. A peculiar custom, the atalyk, whereby the children of the princes were entrusted at an early age to the vassals to be raised and trained in a military fashion, played a pivotal role in strengthening the relationship between the prince and his nobles. Below the nobility came the freemen and free peasants, then the bond peasants and finally the slaves and villeins who performed the menial tasks and were mainly war captives in stock.

The behavioral and social norms of adat were regulated by an orally transmitted codex called Adygha Khabze, or “Circassian Etiquette”, which was exceptionally rigid and complex and its contravention was severely punished. It had evolved to ensure that strict militaristic discipline was maintained at all times to defend the region against the many invaders who coveted Circassian lands and human capital.


The Lezginka dance among Circassians in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkar Republic, Russian Federation. This dance repertoire originated with the Lezgin people of Daghestan, but is now shared by the peoples of the North Caucasus.

The Slave Trade

Toward the end of the 11th century, Genoese colonies began to appear in rapid succession along the Black Sea coast in which Italians, Tatars, Circassians, Abkhazians, Armenians, Greeks, Georgians, Jews and Slavs lived and engaged in extensive trade. The center of the Genoese community was Caffa (modern Feodosia, Crimea), which at its height had a library, school, and other municipal services, although it remains unclear which group’s language served as the lingua franca of these settlements. The city-states of Matrega, Mara and Kopa were jointly ruled by Circassian and Genoese sovereigns, and in the mid-fiftheenth century Matrega was ruled by Prince Zakkaria Gizolfi, the son of Vincenzo di Gizolfi and a Circassian princess.

1280px-Circassia_in_1700
Circassia at her greatest extent, from the Sea of Azov to the Caspian Sea (1700 A.D.)

It thus followed that for a period of nearly 700 years, the pressures imposed by the slave trade impeded any prospect for the development of Circassian society. First, the sheer number of able young men and women removed from the local population crippled population growth, and constant raids by the Genoese, Mongol and Tatar slave expeditions created an atmosphere of perpetual warfare in the region. This precluded the establishment of large permanent settlements around which an urban society could evolve. Instead, the Circassians emerged as a mobile, militaristic civilization, which, in contrast to the mercantile societies of the Black Sea coast, isolated themselves in the valleys of Transcaucasia, viewed outsiders with suspicion and equated defeat with slavery.

 tsar-ivan-iv-the-terrible-1897.jpg!Blog0_21880_93070c5f_XL
Tsar Ivan IV “The Terrible” (left) and his Circassian wife, Maria Temryukovna (right; née Kuchenei). In 1557 the Russian-Kabardian treaty was formalized between the Kabarda tribe and the Tsar. The Kabardian Prince Temryuk Indarko sent his sent his son to Moscow, where the latter adopted Christianity and became and influential boyar. Three years later, relations grew closer and Temryuk married his daughter Kuchenei to Tsar Ivan IV. 

The Genoese vigorously traded slaves from the North Caucasus to markets throughout the Middle East and particularly Egypt. When the Egyptian Fatimid dynasty formed a military caste known as the Mamluk Guards around 1200 A.D., the slave trade in Crimea and the Northwest Caucasus accelerated as the Genoese exploited the new demand for young men. Interestingly, in the 14th century a Circassian Mamluk slave named Barquq founded the Mamluk Burji dynasty in Egypt, which remained in power until the Ottoman Empire’s annexation of the realm in 1517. Meanwhile in Persia, the Safavid monarchs institutionalized a scheme whereby young Circassian, Georgian, and Armenian men were kidnapped, converted to Islam, and trained as royal pages (Ghulaman-i Khassa or Qapi Qullari) in an effort to generate a new courtly caste unconditionally bound to the Shah and one therefore capable of undermining the power of the Turkic Qizilbash nobility.

Circassian women were likewise exploited for their renowned beauty (“Circassian beauties”) in the royal harems of both the Ottoman Empire and Persia, where they competed ferociously to promote their own sons to the throne. A notably clever Circassian princess, Pari-Khan Khanum, became an influential figure in the Safavid court in Persia, and she even acted as a king-maker in two instances in the middle of the 16th century. Having detested the Georgian mother of Haydar Mirza, who had been a favorite son of Shah Tahmasp and regarded as heir apparent, she plotted a coup in which she gave the keys of the royal palace to her maternal uncle, who then immediately filled it with 300 Circassians tasked with murdering Haydar Mirza. Shah Abbas II’s Circassian mother, Anna Khanum, received revenue and Christmas gifts from the most opulent sector of Isfahan— the Armenian suburb of New Julfa.

Shah_Abbas_II
Shah Abbas II (1632-1666) was the seventh Shah of the Safavid dynasty in Persia. He was the eldest son of Shah Safi I and a Circassian, Anna Khanum.

Lady_Shirley_by_Anthony_van_Dyck,_c._1622Sir_Robert_Shirley_by_Anthony_Van_Dyck_1622_Rome
(Left) Portrait of Teresia Sampsonia (1589-1668), a Christian Circassian noblewoman born in Isfahan, Persia to Ismail Khan, who was reportedly a relative of one of Shah Abbas I’s Circassian wives. Teresia married the Elizabethan English adventurer Robert Shirley (right) and accompanied him on his embassies throughout Europe. Following their return to Persia and her husband’s death, Lady Shirley retired to a convent in Rome attached to the Santa Maria della Scala church, where she passed the remaining years of her life. Having brought Robert’s remains from Isfahan to Rome, they are buried together beneath an epitaph etched with the Latin inscription: “Teresia Sampsonia, native of the region of the Amazons, daughter of Samphuffus, prince of Circassia.”

The Ethnic Cleansing of the Circassians

Even before their final victory over the Circassians in 1864, the Russian government had decided to deport the majority to the Ottoman Empire and settle their land with Slavic-speaking Cossacks. As Russian General Rostislav Fadeev noted, re-educating the Circassians so that they might “live correctly” was too slow a process, so the Russian chose to eliminate them. The Abadzekhs, Shapsugs and Ubykhs, still naively expecting international assistance after consistent failures on the part of Western European powers to recognize an independent Circassia, desperately petitioned to the Russian general in Tiflis to spare their annihilation in exchange for accepting Russian suzerainty—but to no avail.

Expulsion_map_of_the_Circassians_in_19th_century
The mass deportation of various Northwest Caucasian peoples into the Ottoman Empire, following the defeat of the Circassians by Imperial Russia in 1864.

The actual deportation was conducted with no concern for the welfare of the deportees. According to Fadeev, the needs of the Russian state superseded any humanitarian concerns and necessitated the elimination of the Circassians. Starvation and disease raged among those waiting for transport, and ships were overloaded with 400% of their carrying capacity. Once at sea, many ships sank. The number of Circassians, Abazas and Ubykhs displaced could be as high at 1.2 million, although nearly half of them died en route or shortly after arriving in Turkey. Of note, the entire Ubykh nation was expelled from its homeland, which culminated in the death of the Ubykh language roughly a century thereafter.

 “On the road our eyes were met with a staggering image: corpses of women, children, elderly persons, torn to pieces and half-eaten by dogs; deportees emaciated by hunger and disease, almost too weak to move their legs, collapsing from exhaustion and becoming prey to dogs while still alive….The Turkish skippers, out of greed, overloaded their boats with Circassians they received payment for like cargo to the shores of Asia Minor, and like cargo threw anyone who showed the slightest sign of illness overboard. The waves threw the corpses of these unfortunate souls onto the shores of Anatolia….Scarcely half of those who set out made it to their goal.” –Drozdov, “Posledn’aya Bor’ba s Gorstami na Zapodnom Kavkaze,” Kavkazskii Sbornik, 1877.

1024px-Pyotr_Nikolayevich_Gruzinsky_-_The_mountaineers_leave_the_aul
“The mountaineers leave the aul (village)”, by P.N. Gruzinsky, 1872.

What proves problematic in the United Nation’s definition of genocide is the question of “calculation” of destruction. In the case of the Circassians, Abazas and Ubykhs there is no evidence that the intention of the Russian Empire was to destroy them as an ethnic group but rather to rid the empire of their presence. St. Petersburg was uninterested in the fate of the deported peoples but certainly did not wish to annihilate them, as it had the opportunity to kill all the Circassians outright. Judging from documents of the period, Walter Richmond concludes that the Russians would have been equally content if every deported person made it successfully to Anatolia and proceeded to create a new homeland for themselves. On the other hand, there is a conspicuous absence of details of the horrific conditions faced by the deportees in the reports of 1864, written by Commander Yevdokimov and the military personnel involved in the deportation. At the very least, these officials could be considered guilty of genocide as defined under Point (C) of the United Nations Convention, in that their reports could theoretically have caused the administration in St. Petersburg to take steps to minimize the catastrophe.

Nevertheless, the deportations could still be viewed not as a genocide but as “a case of ethnic cleansing carried out with brutal disregard for human suffering”, as Stephen D. Shenfield suggests in his analysis of the question. General Veliaminov certainly treated the mountaineers as little more than animals; at one point he offered a reward to his soldiers for the heads of the mountaineers, which he sent to the Department of Anthropology of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg for study. While the case of the Ubykhs presents the strongest evidence for the charge of genocide against the Russian administration, if one applies the U.N. definition it could still be argued that since the Russians did not “intend” to destroy the Ubykhs but simply deport them, this action was not “genocidal” either. Ultimately, the Russian actions in the 1860s officially sanctioned by Tsar Alexander II set the precedent for future ethnic cleansings, and thus constituted a unique crime against humanity, regardless of what term one wishes to attach to it.


Documentary account of the Circassian ethnic cleansing (in Arabic)

Circassia Today: A Land Divided

Historical Circassia (Xekwzch “Old Country”), once deprived of the majority of its indigenous population following 1864, underwent a number of land and legal reforms (Raionavanie) under Imperial Russia and later the Bolsheviks. The region emerged as a new home for hundreds of thousands of Cossack (Slavic), German, and Greek immigrants who repopulated the desolate foothills and coast. By 1960 Russians were the majority in the region, but the Soviets had established three autonomous, landlocked enclave republics for the Circassians: Adyghea, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Kabardino-Balkar Republic; two of which were dvukhtitul’niy (dual-titled) administrative units in which there was not one but two titular nationalities (*note the Karachay and Balkars are Turkic peoples who were deported en masse to Central Asia by the Soviets and later repatriated themselves via a mass exodus to the North Caucasus. They are unrelated to the autochthonous Northwest Caucasian peoples).

Karachay_patriarchs_in_the_19th_century
Karachay patriarchs in the 19th century. The Karachay are a Turkic people whose language (belonging to the Kipchak branch of Turkic along with Tatar, Nogai, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Bashkir and the Karakalpak language of Uzbekistan) is identical to that of the Balkars of neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria and the Kumyks of Daghestan. The Soviets granted the Karachais and Balkars titulary status alongside the Circassians in two of the three autonomous republics carved out of historical Circassia: Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria. The third republic, Adygea, is only nominally mono-titulary, for Russians and Ukrainians together form a slight majority. 

This policy served a dual purpose: first, to establish Russian as a lingua franca among traditionally noncompliant communities by exploiting the necessity of inter-ethnic communication, and second to hinder nationalistic ambitions by incurring a state of perpetual competition for limited resources among unrelated groups. Moreover, the Bolsheviks sought to foment intraregional unrest in an effort to deter any hope of solidarity for the Circassian separatists. As a result, relations between the various titular nationalities and other smaller minorities such as the Mongolic Nogais, Slavic Cossacks, Armenians and Abazins quickly assumed an antagonistic character. The present situation remains bleak in the three autonomous republics carved out of historical Circassia in the Russian Federation. Distrustful of one another, ethnic groups vote in blocs based upon nationality rather than issues, and the winners spend their time in pointless conflicts over limited resources.


Interview with Sati Kazanova, a Circassian Russian pop star born and raised in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkar Republic (in Russian).

The Circassian diaspora (Sherjes Xexesxer) includes some 4-6 million souls which together display varying degrees of cultural preservation in their host societies. Balkan and Greek Circassians, scattered there at the time of their expulsion from the Caucasus in 1864, have disappeared except for a pocket in Albania. Iranian Circassians were coercively relocated to the Iranian plateau in the Safavid period and have since assimilated; although de Morgan reports a small, tight-knit community of Circassians in the village of Dez-e Kord near Aspas, Fars Province as late as the early 20th century. The Circassians of Iraq are now indistinguishable from other North Caucasian peoples there (Chechens, Ingush, Avars, Abkhazians, Lezgins, Kumyks) as none of these groups have retained their distinct languages or customs. However, Caucasian origins remain operative in the social memory in the form of surnames: al-Shishāni (literally “Chechen”), al-Kurji (“Georgian”), al-Sharkasi (“Circassian”), al-Dāghestāni (“Dagestanian”), etc. Libyan Circassians, primarily centered in Benghazi, have by and large lost their language and traditions, although their numbers could be as high as 100,000.

Circassian youth dance troupes, from the diaspora communities of Jordan (left) and Turkey (right).

In Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Israel, the Circassian community is prolific; the youth participate actively in language and art schools where they are trained in Circassian music and dance. The first wave of Circassians in Jordan were mainly of Shapsug extraction, and took refuge in the old ruins of Amman in 1878; they were followed by Kabardians, Abzakh and Bzhedug, whose numbers today range between 20,000 and 100,000. Prince Hamza Ibn al-Hussein Secondary School, a new Circassian school in Amman established with the support of the late King Hussein of Jordan, enrolls around 750 Jordanian Circassian students with the aim of preserving Circassian traditions while employing the Adyghe language (East Circassian) as a primary language of instruction alongside Arabic. The Syrian community could be as large as 130,000, while Turkey’s community of 130,000-2 million still does not hold the right to education and broadcasting in Circassian, but are currently following the Kurdish lead in these demands.


National Circassian Language day among the descendants of the Russian deportees in Kfar Kama, Israel (in Circassian and Arabic).

Sources

Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Circassians: A Handbook. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London Vol. 65, No. 1 (2002). Published by: Cambridge University Press.

Manz, Beatrice; Haneda, Masashi. Čarkas. Encyclopedia Iranica. 1990.

Richmond, Walter. The Northwest Caucasus: Past, Present, Future. Central Asian Studies. Routledge, 2008.
 

Trdat’s Legacy: The Revival of 7th Century Church Forms in Medieval Armenia

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. This article surveys medieval church forms in historical Armenia and examines the role of Trdat the Architect in appropriating vocabulary from Armenia’s own remote past.

1024px-Akhtamar_Island_on_Lake_Van_with_the_Armenian_Cathedral_of_the_Holy_Cross

The church of the Holy Cross (Sourb Khach Yekeghetsi) on Aghtamar Island, Lake Van, Turkey. Aghtamar was once the capital city of the Armenian Kingdom of Vaspurakan, which was ruled by the Artsruni noble family. This church served as the seat of an Armenian Catholicosate for nearly 800 years, between 1116 and 1895 A.D, before it was dissolved and abandoned in the aftermath of the Hamidian Massacres against the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population. 

Introduction
The Armenian architectural tradition is distinguished by its conservation of a particular visual quality throughout the ages while simultaneously internalizing foreign influences from both East and West. But despite the timeless persistence of a uniquely Armenian aesthetic, the repository is not a monolith. Greek, Roman, Iranian, Muslim, and later Mongol sovereignty over the Armenian Highland left appreciable imprints on the visual vocabulary of both architecture and art. And whilst new, foreign pages were being added to the growing compendium of Armenian forms, indigenous architects were also drawing inspiration from the familiar pages of their own past; particularly, from well-known precedents scattered throughout Anatolia and the Caucasus that presumably remained operative in the social memory of the Armenian people. We can observe this tendency in a slew of 10th and 11th century Armenian churches that were unmistakably inspired by the earlier 7th century repository. That is, Armenian church architecture of the 10th and 11th centuries is marked by revival and appropriation of 7th century forms—the culmination of which took place under the architect Trdat, whose patent style infused centuries-old church plans with refined architectural details, an array of new local elements, as well as foreign borrowings.

1024px-Ani_from_Armeniaani-turkey-armenia-turkish-armenian-city-2ani-turkey-armenia-turkish-armenian-city-6
ani-turkey-armenia-turkish-armenian-city-11ani-turkey-armenia-turkish-armenian-city-3
s_a01_20110419ani turkey armenia turkish armenian city 4
Ruins of the medieval city of Ani, the capital of the Armenian Bagratuni Kingdom, now in modern-day Turkey. Known as “the city of 1001 churches”, Ani once represented the pinnacle of Armenian architectural feats and material art. The city was sacked by Mongols, Turks, Persians, Georgians, and Arabs, and experienced a number of earthquakes before being abandoned by the end of the 16th century. Top: Ruins of Ani; Second row left: Cathedral of Ani and Church of Christ the Redeemer; Second row right: Cathedral of Ani, apse; Third row left: Church of the Apostles, south narthex (added 13th century); Third row right: Chapel of St. Gregory of Shushan Pahlevuni; Fourth row left: Monastery of the Hripsimian Virgins; Fourth row right: Church of St. Gregory of Tigran Honents

Renowned seventh century structures such as Zvartnots Cathedral at Vagharshapat and Mren Church came to inform the 9th and 10th century forms of Ani Cathedral and Gagkashen, as well as a number of other structure including Aghtamar, Haghpat, and Sanahin. Most importantly however, the fundamental forms and layouts of these churches were incorporated into the ever-shifting socio-political landscape of historical Armenia. But these two churches were certainly not alone in the compendium of 7th century churches. For example, the Church of Hripsime at Echmiadzin also served as a “mother church” or archetype of sorts, in turn inspiring an array of the 10th and 11th century replications throughout historical Armenia. The basic interior and exterior themes of Hripsime reappear at several sites throughout historical Armenia centuries after its construction, including at the Monastery of Haghpat and Church of the Holy Cross at Aghtamar, the 10th century capital of the Artrsuni Kingdom of Vaspurakan. Aside from the prominent example of Hripsime, other 7th century church forms were also revived and appropriated, such as the 7th century Church of Irind and the 11th century Church of the Redeemer at Ani.

sanahin-armenia-travel800px-Sanahin_indoor
The monastery of Sanahin (left) and its gavit (right), 10th century, Lori province, Armenia. Gavit (Armenian: zhamatun), the distinctive Armenian style of narthex, came to serve as the entrance, mausoleum, and assembly room of many churches throughout Caucasus. 

Aspects of Armenian Church Architecture
Pre-Christian Armenia stood at the crossroads of the ancient urban civilizations of the Near East and Greece. At the fall of Urartu in the 6th century B.C., Armenia became a satrapy to the Achaemenid Persian Empire under the so-called Yervandid rulers. For a period of nearly eight hundred years, Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion among the Armenian people, who began to incorporate elite visual vocabulary from the fallen Urartu, Persia and the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent into their own material productions. The Armenian pantheon developed around three Irano-Zoroastrian figures: Anahit (Avestan: Anahita), Aramazd (Avestan: Ahura Mazda) and Vahagn (Avestan: Verethragna), with a minority of Mithraists (Avestan: Mithra), and remained operative until the arrival of Christianity. Following Alexander’s conquest and the foundation of the Hellenistic Diadochi empires, the late Yervandids and later Artaxiads turned their gaze to the classical Greek world for artistic inspiration. In the first century A.D., the Artaxiad King Tigran the Great created an Armenian empire that spanned from the Mediterranean to the shores of the Caspian and Black Seas, only to be plundered by the Romans and consummated by Nero’s coronation of a new king, Trdat, in the Roman Forum.

1280px-Armenian_Empire
Tigran the Great’s Empire; the Kingdom of Armenia at its greatest extent in history in the 1st century B.C. Tigran belonged to the Hellenophilic Artaxiad dynasty of Armenia, which had elevated the Greek language to the official language of their court. His capital Tigranakert (Latin: Tigranocerta) was sacked and plundered by the Romans, and the city was desecrated and razed to the ground. 

Armenia was evangelized in the 3rd century A.D. by Thaddeus and Bartholomew, two of Christ’s disciples from Syria, although the national folk conversion story is an anecdote featuring two Roman women Hripsime and Gayane and a certain “Gregory the Illuminator” (Grigor Lusavorich) who saves the King Trdat from his doom as a spell-bound pig. But Christianity was not unanimously accepted by the Armenian nobles (nakharars) at first; many families, including the Artsrunis and the Arshakunis, refused to renounce their Zoroastrian creed and allegiance to Sassanian Persia. But following his father’s major defeat at Avarayr, Vahan Mamikonian signed the Treaty of Nvasarak with the Sassanian King Vologases (Balash) and secured freedom of worship for the newly Christianized Armenia. In 301 A.D., Armenia became the first state apparatus to make Christianity its official religion.

1024px-Kohrvirab
Khor Virap monastery (Armenia) nestled on the foothills of Mount Ararat (Turkey). Khor Virap, literally “deep well,” is the site where, according to the national Christianization anecdote, King Trdat had Gregory the Illuminator imprisoned in a pit. During a hunt, Trdat suddenly turned into a pig, and had to recruit the help of the outcasted Gregory to release him from his affliction. As a token of gratitude, the King converted to Christianity and built churches throughout Armenia. Note the Armenian folk conversion tradition of Gregory, the patron saint of Armenia, bares inextricable parallels to the Georgian conversion tradition of Nino, the patron saint of Georgia.

Early Christian buildings in Armenia were basilicas, such at that at Aghts’k’, which were longitudinal, aisled buildings that were cheap to build and could accommodate a growing Christian population within its walls. The 4th century Tsiranavor Basilica at Artashat is covered by a barrel vault, a sort of 3-D arch, which was distinct from the basilicas of the Roman world that were normally covered by timber vaults. Another distinct feature of Armenian and Georgian churches is the use of rubble masonry, which calls for cleanly cut, polish facing stones filled with fieldstone, rubble, and mortar. This sort of material is not only economical but also lightens the superstructure of the building, allowing for heightened verticality, and smooth curves. Contrarily, the fifth century churches of Syria such as that of Qalb Lozeh are almost exclusively solid stone masonry, or ashlar masonry.

qalb-lozeh_-from-southwest-dsc_0507
Qalb Lozeh Basilica, 5th century, Syria. Early Syrian Churches employed solid stone masonry, or ashlar masonry, while Armenian and Georgian churches almost exclusively employed rubble masonry, which is more affordable, easier to use, and allows for a lighter superstructure and curvature. 

The last and most distinct feature of early Armenian churches are steles and later khachkars that appear on ecclesiastical grounds outside of the main church structure. This suggests outdoor worship, which would have been highly unusual in the early Christian world and may be an appropriation of pre-Christian, Urartian rituals that were still operative in the social memory of the inhabitants of the Armenian highland.

img_5378 Odzun-funerary-monument
Odzun Church, 7th century, Armenia. Outside the church is a raised arch form with stairs leading to two steles sculpted on all four faces, featuring stories from the Old Testament, images of saints, military saints, King Trdat with a pig head (from the folk conversion story), and a relief of the tomb of Hripsime with a ladder. This form suggests some kind of outdoor worship, perhaps an heirloom of Urartian culture, and was nonetheless highly unusual in the early Christian world.  

Trdat the Architect

The Armenian architect Trdat earned unusual celebrity from his high-level projects in the Caucasus and the Byzantine world, and as such he is one of the few medieval architects mentioned by name in contemporary sources. Trdat was entrusted with the construction of cathedrals, chapels, and monasteries at sites such as Ani, Haghpat, and Sanahin at the turn of the 11th century. Here it is important to note the unique identity of medieval Armenia, which was not only linked to the Mediterranean but also to the Islamic world, and possessed a language and form of Christianity distinct from its Byzantine overlords. The architect Trdat thus served as a cultural ambassador of sorts—responsible for both introducing new styles from Byzantium as well as preserving traditional Armenian forms in his buildings. He is also renowned for experimenting with new plans and styles, which is evident at sites such as Haghpat and Sanahin. But Trdat’s work was not limited to Armenia and Armenian patrons—it was the same Trdat who was entrusted with refurbishing the Hagia Sofia church in Constantinople following a devastating earthquake that led to the collapse of its dome in 989 A.D. Although the details surrounding Trdat’s Constantinopolitan commission remain unclear, eminence attained from his high-level projects in the Caucasus must have played a primal role in securing his candidacy.

Guide-to-the-magnificent-Hagia-Sophia-in-Istanbul-Turkey
Interior of Hagia Sophia Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. Originally a Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica constructed by the Byzantines in the 6th century A.D., the dome collapsed at the end of the 10th century and Trdat the Architect (Trdat Chartarapet) from Armenia was entrusted with its refurbishing. According to John Scylitzes, the scaffolding alone costed one thousand pounds of gold. It would be interesting to know how Trdat earned such a prestigious commission, as one can imagine hiring a local architect would have been more practical.

Zvartnots Cathedral and the Church of Gagik

Zvartnots 1
Untitled Zvartnots3
Zvartnots Church, the patriarchal resident of Nerses III (640-661 A.D.). The setting in the landscape of the church must have been deliberately aligned with Mount Ararat. The Ionic capitals of the exedrae are engraved with the framed circular monogram “Narsou” (“of Nerses”) in Greek. 

Perhaps one of the most outspoken examples of the medieval revival can be observed in the comparison between the 7th century Zvartnots Church near Echmiadzin and the 11th century Gagkashen Cathedral at Ani, which was constructed by Trdat. Both of the churches feature aisled tetraconch plans, with four large, W-shaped piers and exedrae comprised of six columns. Both structures feature stylobates and both were built employing rubble masonry, which was typical of Armenian churches as opposed to ashlar masonry in Syrian churches. Zvartnots is the largest aisled tetraconch in the Caucasus, and it lies within an extensive patriarchal or Episcopal palace complex. Most scholars agree on the rotunda plan of Zvartnots, with arched windows and a ring of oculi. What is most important in analyzing Zvartnots is understanding the socio-political context of its founding. The 7th century A.D. witnessed a cosmic confrontation of two age-old foes: the Byzantines and the Sassanid Persians. From a Christological standpoint, the Armenians condemned the doctrine of Monophysitism, but also rejected the Orthodox doctrine of the Byzantines, which professed the duality of Christ’s nature, as proclaimed by the fourth ecumenical council at Chalcedon in 451 AD. But the geographical location of Zvartnots in the Byzantine Empire adjacent to the Sassanian border thus necessitated the development of a sort of “cultural allegiance” to Constantinople, which manifested itself in the form of visual vocabulary in architectural forms. In this vain, the local leader Nerses III had in fact religiously aligned himself with the Byzantines. This motivation in turn allowed for the transmission of a number of architectural innovations from a Byzantine milieu into Armenian Church architecture, as evidenced by the church of Zvartnots. The first is the use of columns and exedrae in the interior of the church, which is evident in Byzantine churches in western Anatolia, a prominent example of which is the Hagia Sofia. The columns composing the exedrae at Zvartnots are of the Ionic order, however they have been “Armenized” by the use of local knot motifs in a fashion similar to the Dvin “Ionic” capital from the 5th-6th centuries. Nerses III’s deliberate choice to affiliate with the Byzantine world is perhaps best evinced by the use of Byzantine cross monograms with a Greek inscription that reads “Of Nerses”. The eagle images are also appropriated from a Byzantine milieu, where the bird is a symbol of power and divinity. While the Greek monograms themselves are symbols associated with an era of Greek dominance in the politics of historical Armenia, the layout and architectural concept of the church itself as a multi-level rotunda with an interior tetraconch design became a timeless standard in the Armenian repository that was actively drawn upon for centuries to come.

Gagkashen 1
Gagkashen 2Gagkashen 3
Gagik’s Church (Gagkashen) at Ani, 1001-6 A.D. The columns of the exedrae at Gagkashen are also of the Ionic order, but do not feature Greek monograms like those at the Zvartnots cathedral four centuries before.

The Church of Gagik (Gagkashen) at Ani, built 1001-6 A.D. by the architect Trdat, appears to be a stylistic imitation of the church of Zvarnots. This observation did not escape the attention of the medieval Armenian chronicler Stepanos of Taron, who most aptly noted: “Gagik, King of Armenia, was taken with the idea of building in the city of Ani a church similar in size and plan to the great church at Vagharshapat, dedicated to St. Gregory, which was then in ruins.” As Stepanos relates, Zvartnots lay in ruins at the time of the construction of Gagkashen, which casts a degree of mystery on Trdat’s ability to produce a strikingly similar plan and layout at Gagkashen. The church follows a rotunda plan with an aisled tetraconch and columnar exedrae. However the diameter of the central shell at Gagkashen is markedly larger than that at Zvartnots, which in turn makes for a more spacious interior and less-pronounced ambulatory surrounding the tetraconch. In addition, Gagkashen only has three entrances, while Zvartnots has five. Both Gagkashen and Zvartnots feature sculpted colonnettes and oculi on the exterior, ground segment of the churches, although Gagkashen is a true rotunda while Zvarnots is comprised of thirty-two sides on the bottom two segments and sixteen on the drum. Gagkashen also employs Ionic columns, however they conspicuously lack the Greek monograms found on the columns at Zvartnots. This of course is relevant to the contemporary socio-political context of Gagkashen’s construction; namely, while Zvartnots was commissioned by a pro-Byzantine (or simply Hellenophilic) patron during the era of Greek dominance in Armenia, Gagkashen was constructed during the Bagratuni suzerainty under the Abbasid Caliphs, when Armenia was a contested territory between the Muslims and Byzantines. The incidence of distinctly Greek visual vocabulary in buildings at Ani is thus less pronounced, as Trdat constructed the church in a period of relative Armenian autonomy in the region between two warring empires. In addition, the colonnettes of the four piers at Gagkashen project more emphatically than at Zvartnots, creating a greater sense of linearity. Trdat also replaced the solid eastern apse at Zvartnots with a fourth exedra at Gagkashen that is open to the ambulatory. Altogether, the Church of Gagik outlines two prominent features of Trdat’s architectural aesthetic: linearity created by profiling of supported arches, and enlarged central spaces. These elements would also be incorporated into other structures built by Trdat in imitation of 7th century forms.

The Church of Mren and the Cathedral of Ani

Mren 1
Mren 2Mren 3
Mren Church, 7th century, located by a river gorge at the border of modern-day Turkey with Armenia. Distinguished by its rose-colored stones, painting in the interior of Mren does not survive due to the smoothness of masonry. Regrettably, there is a large crack at the northwest facade, and the building is collapsing. 

Another prominent example of architectural revival can be observed in the 7th century Church of Mren and the 10th century Cathedral of Ani. Considering the geographical proximity of the two sites, the stylistic resemblance of the two churches is not difficult to surmise. Mren follows a domed basilica plan, which was common among religious structures of the early Christian period throughout the Near East and Europe as for accommodating a growing Christian population. The interior of the church is divided into aisles that lead to two side chambers adjacent to the apse, which is projecting outwards on the exterior of the structure. The centralized dome is supported by piers, and the structure employs rubble masonry featuring a geometric exterior with a faceted drum and conical roof. Of note, the dome is held up by squinches, which was an Iranian innovation and was employed much more commonly in Armenia during the earlier centuries of Christianity before the widespread adoption of European pendentives.

Mren features an exquisite array of exterior sculpture, which is a feature characteristic of Armenian Church architecture in comparison to other styles from around the Christian world. The west façade features an inscription depicting the return of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem from the Sassanian capital, Ctesiphon, by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 630 A.D. The inclusion of this scene is revealing of the strong network of alliances that existed between Byzantium and Armenian princes. The portal under the inscription is also sculpted, including depictions of angels, which demonstrates Byzantine influence at frontier regions such as Mren. Another exterior sculpture is that depicting Christ, Peter, Paul, the appointed imperial official Davit Saharuni, and the local imperial official Nerses Kamsarakan. This inscription seems to be informed by an Iranian milieu, particularly in the style of dress of the local figures Davit and Nerseh, who are wearing Persian riding coats. This observation is consistent with the many centuries of Iranian sovereignty over Armenia preceding the Byzantine conquest of the region, and validates the importation of Iranian styles of raiment and vocabulary of political legitimacy in an architectural context. Altogether, the content and vocabulary of the exterior sculpture at Mren demonstrates the interaction of Armenians with foreign powers at the frontier. And while these depictions vary depending on the contemporary political allegiances of Armenia, the tradition of exterior sculpture would become part of the architectural canon of Armenian churches and would inform the design of churches for many centuries to come.

Ani 1
Ani 2Ani 3
The Mother Cathedral of Ani, 10th century, at Ani in modern day Turkey. Stylistic resemblances between the churches at Ani and Gothic architecture in Europe such as the church abbey of St. Denis have raised questions regarding the origin of that architectural order. In orientalist fashion, the German traveller Karl Schnaase (1884) remarks that the interior of the Cathedral of Ani must have been built by a European master builder, an observation which nonetheless speaks to the uncanny resemblance between the two styles.

The Cathedral of Ani is one such church that seems to have appropriated many components of Mren but in a 10th and 11th century context. Ani Cathedral was constructed by Trdat the Architect, to whom the Church of Gagik in the same city has also been attributed, as discussed above. The cathedral itself was commissioned by another regal patron, King Smbat II, although according to an inscription on the church, construction was interrupted by the the King’s death in 989 and later resumed by Queen Katramide the Georgian. Like the church of Mren, the Cathedral of Ani follows a domed basilica plan, and it once supported a dome with a conical roof held up by pendentives. The whole structure including the apse is inscribed in a rectangle, while the apse is projecting at Mren. Much like Mren, the interior is divided into three aisles by four large, freestanding piers. The church also features exterior niches and a stylobate. However, in contrast to Mren, Ani Cathedral has narrower side aisles caused by closer placement of the piers to the lateral wall, which in turn enlarges the central space. As discussed, this was an innovation Trdat also employed at Gagkashen. Another departure from 7th century architecture was Trdat’s use of pendentives instead of squinches to support the central dome, which was probably imported from a Byzantine milieu from structures such as the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Thus while Ani Cathedral drew heavily from the layout of Mren, it also appropriated many contemporary elements of architectural design that were associated with the ruling class of 10th and 11th century Armenia.

s_a20_20242744
Scale of the Cathedral of Ani, 10th century, west entrance. The dome is supported by pendentives (a European innovation, as opposed to Iranian squinches found at Mren) held up by slightly pointed 3-ribbed arches supported on bundled shafts that spring from profiled piers, in effect giving the interior a strikingly muscular effect and an emphasis on linearity. 

Ani Cathedral is distinguished by its appropriation of exterior sculpture in the contemporary context of the city of Ani. Namely, the entire masonry skin is united by sculpted colonettes and arches, and this became a feature of many Armenian churches in the 10th and 11th centuries. The vaulting of the cathedral is supported by slightly pointed rib-arches that spring from profiled piers, which bear the structural advantage of supporting more load, and adds to the verticality of the structure while affording a greater sense of “linearity” from a stylistic point of view. In addition, the steps of the arches “bind” with the ribbed piers, creating a more integrated interior design. Altogether, the Cathedral of Ani represents a refinement of interior vocabulary used at Mren, in that it takes rudimentary profiling and incorporates it into an aesthetic. These developments are not only telling of continued appropriation of elements from a Byzantine milieu, but also of the masterfulness of Trdat the Architect as a reviser of the simpler forms from the 7th century.

Sources

Maranci, Christina. “Building Churches in Armenia: Art at the Borders of Empire and the Edge of Canon.” The Art Bulletin, Vol. 88, No. 4 (Dec., 2006), pp. 656-675

Maranci, Christina. “Byzantium through Armenian Eyes: Cultural Appropriation and the Church of Zuart’noc’.” Gesta. International Center of Medieval Art: 2001. pp. 105-124.

Maranci, Christina. “The Architect Trdat: Building Practices and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Byzantium and Armenia”. The Journal of the Society of architectural historians, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Sep., 2003), pp. 294-305.

 

The Iranian Presence in Classical Arabic and Medieval Islamic Learning

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. This article surveys the Iranian presence in pre-Islamic Arabia and the medieval Islamic world, addresses Classical Arabic loans in Modern Persian and features an exclusive English-language listing of 200 Middle Iranian loans in Classical Arabic and their etymologies, compiled by the author.

house_of_wisdom_big
A library in present-day Baghdad, named after Bayt al-Hikma; courtyard view, Abbasid-era portion.

On the Prevalence of Classical Arabic Loanwords in Modern Persian

Whereas pre-Islamic Iranian languages are all virtually free of Semitic vocabulary, Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, and Arabic have borrowed a remarkable number of words from Iranian (as did late Babylonian, Achaemenid Elamite, Armenian, Georgian, most Turkic languages, and later, Urdu). Historical linguists have afforded the majority of these languages exhaustive pedigrees of Iranian borrowings, but regrettably few authors have paid attention to the Iranian loans in the Arabic language and literature, and in doing so, have ignored a rich narrative of cultural contact and appropriation.

1024px-Sassanian_Empire_621_A.D
The Sassanid Empire (224 A.D.-651 A.D.) was the last Zoroastrian Iranian polity before the arrival of Islam. Sassanian and Byzantine antecedents formed the creative backbone of early Islamic material and visual culture. 

It is no mystery that following the conquest and Islamization of Sassanid Persia throughout the 7th and 8th centuries AD, Iranian languages were shot through, even to the most far-flung dialects, with Arabic loanwords. But never did Arabic attain a currency of a lingua franca in the Iranian world. Instead, knowledge of the Arabic language in Persia throughout the Islamic period was limited to educated city-dwelling Muslim circles, and it was from this stratum of society that Classical Arabic lexica were gradually and purposefully incorporated—often undergoing abstract semantic shifts—into “erudite speech”, which became the basis of New Persian literature, scholarship, and poetry. These Iranian religious figures, literateurs, linguists, poets, historians, mathematicians, chemists, alchemists, astronomers, physicians, geographers, musicians, and philosophers became preeminent contributors to the canonization of the Arabic language and its transformation from a regional nomadic tongue into a universal vehicle of both doctrinal and secular learning. Acculturation was taking place along the same vector– whereby medieval Islamic architecture, horticulture, cuisine, clothing, court culture, political offices, etc. were systematically emulated from earlier Persian and Byzantine models.

USSR 198355294463
Al-Khwārizmi was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer during the Abbasid Caliphate. The English word “algorithm” is his namesake, and the word “algebra” derives from al-jabr, an operation he used to solve quadratic equations. Here he is pictured on a postal stamp issued by the USSR in 1983 (left) and immortalized in statue at Khiva, Uzbekistan (right).

Knowledge of Classical Arabic was essential and indispensable for religious worship, and the correct reading of the Qur’an was impossible without it. But in the first century of Islamic ascendancy, the Arabs did not produce anything of literary value. If any poetry was composed, it was on the old pagan models and celebrated the poets’ amatory adventures, in stereotyped fashion, rather than the victories of Islam. As Reinhart Dozy notes:

Mais la conversion la plus importante de toute fut celles des Perses. Ce sont eux, et non les Arabes qui ont donné de la fermeté et de la force à l’Islamisme, et en même temps, c’est de leur sein que sont sorties les sectes les plus remarquables. (Dozy, L’Islamisme, p. 156)

It follows that the first grammar of the Arabic language, al-Kitāb, was written by the Persian author Sībūyeh (Arabic: Sībawayh) in the 8th century AD, and many of his Iranian contemporaries with masterful command of Arabic, including Ibn al-Muqaffa’, translated thousands of Indian, Greek, Syriac, and Persian literary works from Middle Persian into Classical Arabic. The epicenter of these intellectual activities was Bayt al-Hikma (literally “House of Wisdom”) in Baghdad, which was the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun’s appropriation of the Sassanid Persian Academy of Gundishāpur, the world’s first center of both religious and secular higher-learning. The Caliph had the contents of Gundishāpur and its world-renowned hospital transported to Bayt al-Hikma, which was staffed by graduates of the Academy of Gundishāpur and wherein the methods of the older Persian academy were to be emulated. The Bukhtishu-Gundishāpuri family were Nestorian Assyrian physicians from Persia who served at the Abbasid court through the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries, spanning six generations. The Caliph al-Mansur’s new capital and crown jewel, Baghdad (“God-Given” in Persian), was no exception to this trend; the city had been modeled off of the quintessential Sassanid round city plan (such as at Firuzābād) by a Persian architect and planner, Mashallah ibn Athari, and the auspicious location had been determined by Nawbakht, a Zoroastrian priest. The Abbasid and Fatimid bourgeoisie were patrons of Persian garments, etiquette, court culture, and cuisine, and relied heavily on Persian viziers such as the Barmakid family to oversee crucial matters pertaining to finance and state administration. As such, they adopted the Sassanid postal system and bureaucratic system (diwān).

c7 c2alhambra
Persian gardens (top) have influenced the design of gardens from Andalusia to India and beyond. The gardens of the Alhambra show the influence of Persian Garden philosophy and style in a Moorish Palace scale, from the era of Al-Andalus in Spain (bottom). 

Persian influence increased at the Court of the Caliphs, and reached its zenith under al-Hadi, Harun al-Rashid, and al-Ma’mun. Most of the ministers of the last were Persians or of Iranian extraction. Afshīn Kheydār b. Kāvūs, the all-powerful favorite of the Caliph al-Mu’tasim and a scion of the Buddhist princes of Osrushana in modern-day Uzbekistan, was appointed Abbasid Supreme General and Governor of Sindh, Jebāl, Libya, Armenia and Azerbaijan. In Baghdad, Persian fashions continued to enjoy an increasing ascendancy, and the old Persian festivals of Nowruz and Mihrigan were celebrated. Persian raiment was the official court dress, and the tall black conical Persian hats (qalansuwa) were already prescribed as official by the second Abbasid caliph in 770 A.D. At the court, the customs of Sassanians were imitated and garments decorated with golden inscription were introduced which it was the exclusive privilege of the ruler to bestow.

The Islamic Golden Age reached its peak during the 10th and 11th centuries, during which Persia was the main theater of academic activity, eclipsing al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) in volume and significance. Persian scholars and polymaths in various fields produced their masterpieces in Arabic—an Arabic whose lexicon they had made applicable to their respective fields in pioneer ways and for which they had popularized phrases, word forms, and grammatical structures through the dissemination of their works. Among the most prominent of these individuals were al-Khwarizmi, Abu Sina (Avicenna), al-Tusi, al-Biruni, Omar Khayyam, al-Haitham, al-Shirazi, and Naser Khusraw. Ironically enough, we can imagine that a rather pure, eloquent spoken form of Classical Arabic was probably in use among Iranian scholarly circles in Khwārezm (a historic Iranian region corresponding to modern day Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan), while the Arabic vernaculars spoken in major Arab-inhabited urban centers around the Islamic realm such as Baghdad, Damascus, and Cordoba were of colloquial provenance and were undergoing gradual deviation from Classical pronunciation, grammar and lexicon under the influence of regional linguistic factors. These colloquial transformations are reflected in contemporary literary productions such as 13th century manuscripts of “Arabian Nights” or “1001 Nights” (Arabic: Elf Leyla wa Leyla, based on an earlier Persian work Hazār Afsāna, literally “1000 Myths”) recovered from Syria and Egypt.

scheherazade
The story of “1001 Nights”, also popularized under an orientalist misnomer “Arabian Nights”, is a series of adapted stories based on a mythical Persian king Shahryār and a storyteller Shahrzādeh. The core characters and structural framework of the Arabic language version are inextricably akin to an earlier Persian work, Hazār Afsāna, with the addition of a few Abbasid-era stories and Arabian motifs such as the Jinn.

This trend did not escape the observation of the 14th century Arab historiographer, Ibn Khaldun, who elaborately explains the primacy of Iranian culture and learning in the nascent Islamic world:

It is a remarkable fact that with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs. Thus the founders of grammar were Sibawayh and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the Prophet becomes apparent, ‘If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven, the Persians would attain it…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture. [Translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; Frye, R.N. (1977). Golden Age of Persia, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p.91)].

taj-mahal-1
Mughal India, like the Ottoman Empire and the Timurid Empire, was a Persianate society (a society that is either based on, or strongly influenced by the Persian language, culture, literature, art, and/or identity.). Emperor Shāh Jahān (literally “King of the World” in Persian), commissioned a Persian architect from Badakshān named Ustād Ahmad Lāhauri to construct the Tāj Mahal (“Crown Place” in Persian) for his Persian wife and lover, Mumtāz Mahal (née Arjumand Banu Begum.) The Taj Mahal is one of the largest Persian Garden interpretations in the world.

It was via this initially exclusive medium of scholarly and artistic expression promulgated by Muslim Iranian intelligentsia that Middle Persian began to assume a new form throughout the medieval Islamic period. Middle Persian words became archaic and even obsolete in favor of abstract Classical Arabic loanwords, a feature that was characteristic of the speech of the Muslim Persian city-dwelling elite. A modified Arabic orthography was applied to this transforming tongue in place of the Aramaic-based alphabet used to write Middle Persian. This new form of the Persian language became a prestige dialect and would later enjoy widespread patronage and even official currency in the royal courts of the Ottomans, the Timurids of Central Asia, and the Mughals in India. What are modern-day Turkey and the Indian subcontinent even became important centers of Persian literary and poetic production. In Persianate societies, Arabic words were indirectly transmitted via Persian influence into languages such as Urdu, Turkish, Uzbek, Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Turkmen, Pashto, Uyghur, as evidenced by the retention of Persian phonological modifications to Classical Arabic pronunciation in these languages. Sarti Uzbek (but not Khwarezmian or Kipchak Uzbek) even lost vowel harmony—a rudimentary feature of Turkic phonology—as a result of Persian substratum and bilingualism.

But this was by no means the first golden age for the Persian language—pre-Islamic Iranian languages likewise exerted a remarkably pervasive influence on neighboring tongues under the aegis of Iranian suzerains and civilized elite in those territories. Classical Armenian contained an impressive sixty percent of its general vocabulary derived from Iranian languages, and most Aramaic languages had been heavily Persified by the time of the Islamic conquest—even serving as media of transmission for Iranian borrowings into Arabic.

486e2d09a6dApaxT 631fc995ad registan-v-samarkande shahi-zinda-samarkand
Bukhara (top) and Samarqand (bottom) are still majority Persian-speaking (Tajik) cities in modern-day Uzbekistan. These architectural relics in the form of mosques, tombs, castles and libraries are open-air museums, painting a colorful mosaic of the region’s robust Persianate past and former economic prosperity under the Samanid, Ghaznavid, and later Timurid empires. From a philological standpoint, we can imagine that it was in urban centers like these that the Uzbek language lost vowel harmony, developed rounded vowels, and adopted thousands of Persian words and phrases (*note the Khwarezmian Uzbek language is of Oghuz provenance but features a heavy admixture of Uyghur-Uzbek elements; the Kipchak Uzbek language is closely related to Kazakh. Both of these languages are vowel-harmonized but nonetheless heavily Persianized.) 

Thus the prevalence of Arabic loanwords in Persian is largely the fruit of a medieval scholarly tendency among Iranian intelligentsia who were composing their works in Classical Arabic to then incorporate Arabic words and phrases into their speech, perhaps in an attempt to “enrich” the non-Islamic Middle Persian tongue and thereby delineate their stratum in society (city-dwelling, educated Muslim families) on the basis of their prestigious vernacular. Iranian scholars and polymaths also played a pivotal role in the standardization and diffusion of Classical Arabic, and Persians, Greeks and Syriacs served as cultural brokers in the Abbasid court.

List of Middle Iranian Loanwords in Classical Arabic (Compiled by the Author)

Ahmad Amin writes “at a glance one can see that the Arabs in every point or every way they turned or for every necessity of life were obliged to use Persian words. Besides the words themselves they adopted the phrase-making ideas and expressions used by the Persians in explaining various matters or in defining things.”

Hundreds of Iranian words and terms began to enter into Arabic language, sometimes via an Aramaic milieu, and were Arabicized (ta’rīb) in eccentric ways according to the phonetic and morphological system of that language. Verb derivatives were even formed from Iranian nouns according to the Arabic patterns (awzān). It follows that Iranian lexical borrowings in Classical Arabic (mu’arrabāt) pertained to all domains of civilized society, including botany, culinary matters, administration, architecture, minerals, philosophy, zoology, musical instruments, and items of luxury and power adopted from Sassanian Persia. The following are some notable and readily-recognizable Eastern Iranian/Parthian, Middle Persian (MP) loans, and Early New Persian (NP) that remain in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) as well as most dialects, although borrowings in Classical Arabic and Mesopotamian/Gulf dialects are far more widespread and numerous.

LIST


abad- eternity (MP: a-pād “without foot, endless”)

‘abqari- genius, highest perfection, unsurpassed (MP: abargar “superior, highest”)

adab– literature; courtesy, civility (constructed from MP: dab)

‘anbar- ambergris (MP: hambar)

anbār– warehouse, depot (MP: hambār)

argīla– waterpipe (NP: nārgīl “coconut”)

‘askar, ‘askari- army, military (constructed from MP: lashkar)

‘atr, ‘attar, mu’attar– perfume, perfumist (constructed from MP: atr)

azraq, zarqā’- yellow (constructed from MP: zargōn “golden”)

Baghdād (MP: baga+data “Given by God”)

bahlawān- clown, gymnast (MP: pahlawān “champion”)

bakht- luck (from MP: bakht)

banafsaj- purple, violet (MP: wanafshag, NP: banafsha)

bandar– port, harbor (MP: bandar)

baqshish- tip, gratuity (MP: bakhshish “gratuity”)

bāriz, baraza– prominent; to elevate (constructed from MP, Parthian: borz “high; elevate”)

barīd– post, mailing (constructed from MP: burida-dum “a docked mule appointed for the conveyance of messengers”)

barnāmaj- program (MP: abarnāmag)

bas- (coll.) but, enough, stop (NP: bas)

bashkīr– hand towel (MP: pēshgir)

bathinjān- eggplant (MP: bādengān)

baTT- duck (MP: bat)

bayān- statement, report, accouncement (MP: payām)

baydaq– a footman [in chess] (constructed from MP: payādag, NP: piyāda)

bulbul- bird (MP: bulbul)

bulūr- crystal (MP: bolur)

bunduq– hazelnut (MP: pondik)

bunj- anaesthetic (MP: pōng)

burj– tower (MP: burg)

burwāz- frame (MP: parwast “enclosure”)

bustān- garden (MP: bostān)

bāmiya- okra (MP: bamiya)

bārija- battleship, flagship (MP: bārūja “flower pot”< “a deep-hulled vessel”)

bāzār– market (Parthian: wahāchār, MP: wāzār, NP: bāzār)

būsa- kiss (MP: bōs)

dabīr, dabbara- manager; to oversee, plot (constructed from MP: dipīr)

daftar- notebook, office (MP: dabtar)

darb- gate (MP: darpân “gatekeeper”, Arabic reflex of this term)

darwīsh- ascetic, particularly Sufi (MP: dreyosh “one who lives in holy indigence”)

dashin, yadshin– dedicate (constructed from MP: dashn “gift”)

dumbek– drum (MP: tumbag)

dukkān– shop (MP: dukan)

dulāb– wheel (MP: dol-ab “water wheel [machine]”)

dunyā- world (MP: dunya)

dustūr- constitution (MP: dastwar, NP: dastūr)

dīn, diāna, tadayyun- religion, piety (constructed from MP: dēn> OP: daēna)

dīnār– unit of currency (MP: denār)

dīwān- high governmental body, council (MP: dēwān “archive”)

falak- orb, sphere (MP: parak “the star Canopus, brightest star”)

Fārsī, Bilād al-Furus– Persian, Persia (MP: Pārsīg)

fattash, taftīsh, mufattish- inspect (constructed from MP: pitakhsh “viceroy”>p-t-kh-sh>f-t-sh)

fayj– courier (MP: payg, NP: payk)

fayrūz- turquoise (MP: pērōzag, NP: firuza)

fihris, fahrasa- index, register (constructed from MP: pahrist)

finjān- cup (MP: pengân)

firdaws- paradise (MP: pardēs)

fiSfiSa- alfalfa (MP: ispist)

fustuq- pistacchio (MP: pistag)

fīl- elephant (MP: pil)

filfil– pepper (MP: pelpel)

fūlādh– steel (MP: polad)

fūTa- towel (MP: pusha)

handasa, muhandis- engineer (constructed from MP: [h]andāzag “measure, quantity”, NP: andāza)

hawā’- air, atmosphere (MP: havā> OP: hvayāv “good current”)

haykal- framework, outline (MP: paykar)

Hind- India (Persian name for Sindh, product of h>s Iranian/Indo-Aryan isogloss)

hindām– symmetry (MP: [h]andām “symmetry, arrangment”)

ibrīq- jug (MP: abrēk)

īwān- a chamber or vault, often at the exterior entrance of a building (MP: aywān)

jāmūs– buffalo (MP: gāwmēsh)

janzīr– chain (MP: zanjīr)

jaSS, jaSSās- gypsum; plasterer (MP: gach)

jawhar- essence, substance (constructed from MP: gōhr)

jawhara, jawahir- jewel (constructed from MP: gōhr)

jawz- walnut (MP: gōz)

jazar– carrot (MP: gazar; descendents Larestani: gazrak, Armenian: gazar))

jund, jundīyya, tajannud, tajnīd- army, military service, enlistment (constructed from MP: gund “army”)

jāsūs, tajassus- spy, espionage (constructed from MP: goshash>g-sh-sh>j-s-s, “hearer, listener”)

julnār- pomegranate blossom (MP: gulnār)

jūrāb- socks (NP: jawrāb)

ka’ak– a type of pastry (MP: kāk)

kabāb, kubba- roasted meat on skewers (MP: kabāb)

kahrabā’- electricity (MP: kāhrubā, “yellow amber”)

kamān, kamānja- a musical instrument (MP: kamān “bow”, kamāncha “little bow”)

kānūn- campfire, furnace (MP: kānun)

kanz- treasure (MP: ganj>OP: ganza)

khām- raw [materials], ore (MP: khām “raw, crude”)

khandaq- moat, pit (MP: kandag)

khanjar- dagger (MP: khōngar)

kharj, kharrāj– tribute, duty, work (constructed from MP: harg)

khiār- cucumber (MP: khyār)

khurda- scraps, fragments (MP: khurdag)

khammana, takhmin- guess, speculate, value (constructed from MP: gumān g-m-n > kh-m-n)

khān- shelter, rest stop (MP: khān “house”)

khashin, khushūna- rough, harsh; severity (constructed from MP: khashen)

khazīna, makhzan- treasury (constructed from MP: ganjēna g-j-n > kh-z-n)

kīmīā’– chemistry (MP: kimiā)

kīs- bag (MP: kisag)

kisra- idol (from MP: Kasra, Khosrow)

kūz- vase, storage vessel (MP: kōz)

laymūn: lemon (MP: lēmōg)

lāzaward: lapis lazuli (MP: lajward)

lubiya- bean (MP: lobiya)

mahara, muhr- stamp, seal (MP: muhr)

mahrajān- festival (MP: Mihrigân, Zoroastrian autumnal equinox celebration)

al-Māristān– premier hospital complex of Abbasid-era Baghdad (from MP: wēmāristān; NP: bimārestān)

marj – field (Parthian: marg, MP: marv)

marjān- pearl, coral (MP: margān)

mās– diamond (MP: almās)

masaka, massaka, amsaka, tamassak– adhere, stick, cling, take hold (constructed from MP: mashk “musk”)

mask– musk (MP: mashk)

mawz– banana (MP: mōz)

maydān- city square, field (MP: mēdān)

mezza– taste, starter (MP: mizag, NP: mazza)

mihrāb- niche in the wall of mosque indicating the qibla or direction of Mecca (MP: Mihrāba “Mithraeum”)

miswāk– toothpick, toothbrush (constructed from MP: sawāk, from MP sūdan “to rub, scrape”)

muzarkash, zarkash- colorful, decorated (constructed from MP: zarkesh “gilded”)

nabāt- sugar crystals, “sugar candy” (MP: nabat)

nabīdh– wine (MP: nabēd)

nadhar, intidhār, munādhir, mandhūr– to look, watch, wait (constructed from MP: negar, negaristan)

nafT- oil, petroleum (MP: naft)

namr- cushion, pillow (Parthian: namr “meek”, NP: narm)

naqsh, munāqasha, niqqāsh, naqqāshi, manqūsh- painter, artist (constructed from MP: nakhsh)

narjis- narcissus flower (MP: nargis)

nasrīn- sweetbriar flower (MP: nasrēn)

nishān- badge (MP: nishan)

numūdhaj- exemplary (MP: namudag)

nākhudhā- ship captain (MP: nāv-khudā)

nāranj: orange, clementine (MP: narang)

nāy: reed flute (MP: nay)

nīlūfar: nenuphar, lotus, water lily (MP: nilōpal)

qabr- grave, coffin (MP: gabr “hollow, cavity”)

qafaS– cage (MP: kafas)

qahramān- champion (MP: kār-framān, “manager, overseer”)

qas’a- serving pot (MP: kāsa)

Qazwīn- Caspian (MP: Kasbīn)

qirmiz– crimson, scarlet (MP: kermest)

qubba- vault, dome, cupola (MP: gunbad)

qumbula- bomb (MP: kumpula)

raSāS- lead, tin (constructed from MP: arziz > Parth: archich)

rizq, razaqa, istarzaqa, rezzāq- daily wage, sustenance; to bestow or endow (constructed from MP: rōzig, Parthian: rōchik “daily bread”)

Saidala, Saidaliyya– pharmacy (constructed from MP: chandal “sandalwood”)

Saqr- hawk (MP: chark)

Salīb- cross (MP: chalipa)

Sandal- sandals, sandalwood (MP: chandal “sandalwood”)

Sandūq– chest, crate; treasurer’s office (MP: sandūk)

Sanj– harp (MP: chang)

sarādiq- pavillion, canopy (MP: srādag)

sardāb- basement (MP: sardāba)

sarīr- throne, bed (MP: sarir)

sawsan– lily (MP: sōsan)

shakush- hammer (MP: chakuch)

shāhīn- falcon (MP: shāhēn)

shatranj- chess (MP: chatrang)

shā’ib, shā’ibа, ashīb – grizzly (constructed from MP: āshub)

shāwīsh– sergeant (MP: chāwush “seargent, herald; the leader of a caravan”)

shāy- tea (MP: chāy)

shibbith– dill (MP: sheved)

shīsha- waterpipe (NP: shīshag “bottle, flask”)

siāl, sayl, musīl– flowing, runny (constructed from MP: sayl, i.e. saylāb)

sifir- zero (MP: zifr)

simsār, samsara- middleman, broker (MP: samsar)

sirāj- lamp, light (MP: chirāgh)

sirāT– path, way, custom (MP: srat, “street”)

sirdāb- tunnel, cellar (MP: sardāb)

sirwāl- pants, trousers (MP: shalwār)

sufra- dining table (MP: supra)

sukkar- sugar (MP: shakar)

Sīn- China (MP Chin, name for China, from the Qin dynasty)

sādej- plain, simple (MP: sādag)

sīkh- skewer (MP: sikh)

Sīnīyya- tray (MP: chini, in reference to imported chinaware from the East)

sīra: juice (MP: shirag)

Tabaq- plate, dish (MP: tābag “frying pan”)

Tābūr- line, queue (MP: tabur)

Tarāz- type, brand (MP: taraz)

Tarbūsha– a type of hat, “red fez” hat (NP: sar “head” + pūsh “wear”)

takht, takhta- platform, bench (MP: takht “throne”)

tanbal- lazy (MP: tanparvar)

tannūr- oven (MP: tanūr)

tannūra- skirt, dress (MP:tanvar)

tarjuma, mutarjim– translation (constructed from MP: targumān)

tarzī- tailor (MP: darzi)

tāj- crown (MP>Parthian: tāg)

tāzej– fresh, new (MP: tāzag)

tūt- mulberry, berry (MP: tut)

ustuwāna- disc, cylinder (NP: ostovāna)

ustādh- teacher, master (NP ostād>MP: avistād “master, skillfull man”)

waqt- time (from Parthian, Eastern M.Irn: bakht)

ward, warda- flower, rose (Parthian: ward, Early MP: varda> OP: varda)

wazīr, wizāra- vizier (MP: vichira “bureaucrat, member of Sassanian court”)

yasmīn- jasmine (MP: yasmēn)

yāqūt- ruby (MP: yākand)

Yūnān- Greece (MP: Yonan, Persian name for Ionia)

za’farān– saffron (MP: zarparōn)

zaman, zamān- time [abstract] (MP: zamān, zamanāg, Parthian: zhamān, zhamānak)

zandīq- heretic (MP: zandik)

zanjabīl- ginger (MP: singibir)

zayt, zaytūn– olive (MP: zayt)

zilzāl- earthquake (MP: zilzilag)

zinzāna- prison, dungeon (MP: zindānag)

zumurrud– emerald (MP: uzumburd)


Persian Factors in pre-Islamic Arabia and the days of the Prophet Muhammad

The contacts between Arabia and the Sassanian Persian Empire were very close in the period immediately preceding Islam. The Arab Kingdom centered at al-Hira on the Euphrates had long been under Persian influence and was a headquarters for the diffusion of Iranian culture among the Arabs. Throughout the titanic struggle between the Sassanids and the Byzantine Empire, where al-Hira had been set against the Kingdom of Ghassan, other Arab tribes became involved in the conflict and naturally came under the cultural influence of Persia. The Court of the Lakhmids at al-Hira was in pre-Islamic times a famous center of literary activity, and Christian poets such as Adi ibn Zaid lived long at this court and produced poems containing extensive Persian loanwords. But the Iranian influence was not merely felt along the Mesopotamian areas; it was an Iranian general and Iranian influence that overthrew the Abyssinian suzerainty in southern Arabia during Muhammad’s lifetime.

640px-Kamal-ud-din_Bihzad_001
A Persian manuscript from the 15th century describing the construction of Al-Khornaq castle In Al-Hira, the Arab Lakhmids’ capital city. The Lakhmids were a Christian Arab tribe of Yemenite stock who established their center in southern Iraq in 266 A.D., near the Sassanid capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon.

In the early days of the Prophet’s mission, there were only seventeen men in the tribe of Quraysh who could read or write. It is said that an Iranian man, known as Hammad ar-Rawiya, seeing how little the Arabs cared for poetry and literature, urged them to study poems. In fact it was Hammad who selected the Mu’allaqāt, the seven Arabic poems written in pre-Mohammedan times and inscribed in gold on rolls of coptic cloth and hung up on the curtains covering the Ka’aba. In this period, Hammad knew more than any one else about the Arabic poetry. According to Edward Browne, before the advent of Islam, the Arabs had a negligible literature and scant poetry. It was the Iranians who after their conversion to Islam, feeling the need to learn the language of the Qur’an, began to use that language for other purposes.

Ph. Gignoux hypothesizes that the Quranic phrase bismi’llahi’l-rahmani’l-rahim was modeled on the Middle Persian pad nam-i yazdan. Although there were antecedent Jewish and Christian parallels, a similar formula was also current among Zoroastrians and Manichaeans.

In The Vocabulary of the Quran, Arthur Jeffrey enumerates over 40 words of Iranian origin in Qur’an, among them the following: ebriq, estabraq, barzakh, burhan, tanur, jizya, junah (from gonah), dirham, din, dinar, rezq, rauza, zabania, zarabi, zakat, zanjabil, zur, sejjil, seraj, soradaq, serbal, sard and zard, sondos, suq, salaba, ‘abqari, efrit, forat, firdaus, fil, kafur, kanz, maeda, al majus, marjan, mask, nuskha, harut and marut, wareda, wazir, yaqut.

In addition, many terms in Classical Arabic literature are transliterations or calques of the Persian: Khamsa Mustaraqa from Panjeh-ye DozdidehMushahira from MahianehNisf an-Nahar from Nim-ruzan-Namal al-fares from Murcheh-SavariMaleeh (origin of Levantine Arabic mniih “good, well”) from NamakinBeyt an-Nar from AteshkadehBalut al-Moluk from Shah-balutSamm al-Himar from Khar-zahrehLisan al-thawr from Gav-zabanReyhan al-Mulk from Shah-Esperam.

Sources: 

Eilers, Wilhelm. Iranisches Lehngut im arabischen Lexikon: Über einige Berufsnamen und Titel. Gravenhage: Mouton, 1962.

Lane, Edward William. An Arabic-English Lexicon.
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2002.02.0021%3Aroot%3Dxmn

Hovannisian, RIchard G.; Sabagh, Georges. The Persian Presence in the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Tafazzoli, A. Arabic Language ii. Iranian loanwords in Arabic.
http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/arabic-ii.

Browne, Edward. A Literary History of Persia, Vol. I. 

MacKenzie, D.N. A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. Psychology Press, 1971.

Shir, Addi. Al-Alfâz Al-Fârsîyya Al-Mu`arraba (A Dictionary of Persian Words in the Arabic Language). Library of Lebanon, 1980.

Gharib, B. Sogdian Language i. Loanwords in Persian.
http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sodgian-language-i-loanwords

Agius, Dionisius A. Classic Ships of Islam: From Mesopotamia to the Indian Ocean. Brill Academic Pub, 2007.

Cheung, Johnny. Etymological Dictionary of the Iranian Verb. Brill Academic Pub, 2007.

علي الثويني. التائه بين التأثيرات اللسانية و عقدة الخواجة 2-9/محمد مندلاوي
http://www.hekar.net/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=8603

تاثیر زبان فارسی بر زبان و ادبیات شبه قاره هند. محمد عجم.
http://www.hozehonari.com/PrintListItem.aspx?id=22896

Notes on a Journey through Lārestān, Iran

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. This narrative stems from a brief trip to Larestan, Iran during the Persian New Year (late March-early April) of 2014. 

10409402_10201983353045716_1983899404812594106_n
The author at Borj-e Nane-ye Nader Shah in Lar, Iran 2014. 

My roots in Larestan
My father is from Larestan, a non-Persian-speaking, Sunni pocket tucked away in the southeastern-most portion of Fars province in Iran, just inland from the Persian Gulf. There in the embraces of rolling foothills dotted with chamomile shrubs and tamarisk trees he passed his childhood and adolescence, before moving to Shiraz to attend what was then the royal Pahlavi University; the premier university of early modern Iran. Today, Lar proper is a bustling regional center of over 50,000 souls, replete with luxury apartments, its own international airport, a multi-purpose sports stadium, foreign language schools and gated orchard communities. But his memories of Lar—which happens to be located atop the seismic fault lines of two tectonic plates—are as bitter as they are sweet. On April 24, 1960, a devastating earthquake struck Lar, reducing a large part of the historic mudbrick and timber town to rubble and killing about 3,500 of its inhabitants (about a fourth of its population at the time). Following this tragedy, Lar’s inhabitants set out to construct a new settlement under government funding slighty north of the ruins, which they called Lār-e Jadīd or “New Lar”, while Lār-e Ghadīm “Old Lar” remained in a state of ruin but was gradually rebuilt and resettled by migrant workers from surrounding villages over the decades. As of 2014 and as per my personal observation, the two settlements are contiguous with each other.

10367714_10201983351165669_309452164818262688_n
Ruins at Lār-e Ghadim, or “Old Lar” (2014). An earthquake in 1960 reduced the historic town to rubble. 

My father’s immediate family was dispersed for days following the 1960 earthquake, and it took countless hours of pursuit to retrieve all 14 of his siblings. For a time following 1960, informants report that Lar was reduced to a pile of rocks inhabited by a dwindling population living in abject misery. Some informants report having eaten locusts in the summertime. The tragedy left an imprint on his childhood and spawned within him a yearning for migration and higher education, first on the well-trodden path to Shiraz and finally to the United States. This article is a compilation of my observations from a brief journey through Lar, focusing on peculiarities in the culture and history of the region and Lari, the language of my father’s boyhood.

LAR-MAP
Larestan (marked in red) consists of a series of settlements, the largest of which is Lar. 

Lar: Jewish origins
Lar was probably originally a Jewish settlement, and one thing we know for certain is that it boasted a prosperous Jewish community as early as the 16th century. The French traveler Jean-Baptiste Thevenot reports that most of the inhabitants of Lar were Jewish silk farmers when he visited Larestan in 1687, and a Spaniard who visited the town earlier in 1607 met there a “messenger from Zion” named Judah. But along with other Persian Jewish communities (excluding the Georgian Jewish deportees employed as silk worm farmers in Māzanderān), the Jews of Lar suffered at the hands of the Safavid rulers during the 17th and early 18th centuries; indeed the pogroms and mass conversions are described by the Judeo-Persian chronicler Babai ibn Luṭf. According to him, the persecutions throughout Persia during the reign of Shah Abbas I began some time before 1613 and originated in the city of Lar, whose rabbi had converted to Islam and took the name Abul-Hasan Lari. This renegade Lari rabbi obtained a royal edict whereby every Jew in Persia was required to wear a discriminatory badge and headgear, which culminated in the abrupt expulsion of hundreds of Jews from the capital city, Isfahan, on account of their conspicuously newfound “impurity”.

Lar was nonetheless historically a center of Judeo-Persian literary activity, and among the notable scribes and translators was Judah of Lar in early 16th century. A Florentine traveler, Giambattista Vecchietti (1552–1619), even collected ancient Judeo-Persian manuscripts from Lar and brought them back to Europe. We know that there existed a Jewish community in Lar through the beginning of the 20th century, and according to BM (1907, p. 51) there were 70 Jews living there in 1907. They were soon thereafter expelled from the city and walked all the way to the northern city of Jahrom and eventually settled in Shiraz and thence Palestine. Regrettaby, there remain no traces of their synagogues or other socio-cultural spaces within Lar proper.

judeo-persian_v_fig3
Persian Jews in Shiraz, early 20th century

One issue that proves problematic in attempting to ascirbe a Jewish pedigree to the modern inhabitants of Larestan is that contrary to Judeo-Iranian languages like Judeo-Shirazi, Bukhori or Judeo-Tat, modern Larestani languages lack any vestige of Hebrew lexicon or phraseology. In my opinion, this indicates that modern Lari-speakers are by-and-large genetically unrelated to the expelled Jews, whose vernacular was most likely a dialect of Judeo-Persian rather than Larestani, at least  based on their literary productions. Perhaps modern Laris were originally a semi-nomadic Sunni pastoralist group who migrated into Larestan from the gulf or the Lur- and Kurdish-dominated highlands to the northwest and gradually displaced the Jews over the course of a few centuries (see discussion below). It is also conceivable that some Jews converted to Islam and became “Larified” in their language and identity following a hypothetical trajectory of Lari-speaking transhumance into the region.

Despite the absence of any material or linguistic evidence of a Jewish past within Lar proper, the non-Muslim heritage of Larestan remains at least nominally operative in the ethnic consciousness of modern Larestanis. One Lari informant mistakenly identified the region’s original inhabitants as Armenians (Christians)—indicating that a general awareness of Lar’s non-Muslim past remains ingrained in the social memory of the people, regardless of academic familiarity with the subject or linguistic competence in a Larestani language.

246571_355017957920478_872749119_n
Ruins at Lār-e Ghadim, or “Old Lar.”

Arabic Bilingualism in Larestan

Because of its location on the caravan route connecting southern Iran to the Persian Gulf ports, Larestan has traditionally held an opportune position for trade with Arabic-speaking territories across the Persian Gulf. But throughout the medieval period Larestan was nearly always an obscure region, never becoming involved in the politics and conflicts of mainstream Persia. Most of the settlements within Larestan including Khür, Khonj, Gerash, Fishvar, Evaz, and Bastak are Sunni Muslim (ahl-e tasannon), except for the city of Lar itself, which like the rest of Iran is majority Shi’a (ahl-e tashayyo’). The Sunni inhabitants of Larestan maintain particularly close cultural and economic ties with their coreligionists across the Persian Gulf, and can be seen sporting conspicuously Qatari- and Emirati-style hijabs and garments in the central bazar of Lar proper. One entrepreneurial family has even opened a shawarma restaurant in Khür that has recently blossomed into a gathering place for eager patrons hailing from far and wide in the region. As such, Gulf Arab fashions and tastes are flourishing in Lar, and there is a high degree of Arabic language proficiency.

10262157_10201993804106986_5293993299363432562_n
The interior of an Emamzadeh in Lar, Iran (2014). Mirrorwork is a common feature of Iranian Islamic architecture. 

Within my own extended family, Arabic proficiency is widespread. Two uncles worked their careers in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, and in particular are familiar with Iraqi and Gulf folk songs, including Meyhāna and Bayn el-’asr wel Maghreb. The performance of these songs together with my uncles, often accompanied by a tombak, served as a common form of entertainment at family gatherings.

Lari families have historically transplanted to Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE– where they are known collectively in Arabic as ‘ajāyem (sing. ‘ajami). Laris have inhabited these countries for generations, usually maintaining their language and cuisine. My own family has relatives in Bahrain as well as a large branch situated in Qatar, descended from an aunt who married a Qatari sheikh and bore him eight children about half a century ago.

Men from Lar have a long history as merchants engaged in Indian Ocean sea trade and in local overland trading between the Persian Gulf and inland Iran. Laris assumed a new role in the trade of the Persian Gulf region with the beginning of oil production in Kuwait and other small states after World War II. At that time, Lari men like my uncles began migrating to Kuwait to open small shops that catered to the huge influx of migrants working in the oil industry and in construction. Typically, Lari men left their families and worked in Kuwait for periods of 18 months to several years before returning home for six month visits.

10314488_10201993804707001_3937274918811635214_n
The Friday Mosque, Lar, Iran (2014)

In contrast to the educated migrants from Egypt and Palestine who staffed the Kuwaiti bureaucracy, and the uneducated migrants from Arab countries, Pakistan and Asia who worked as unskilled laborers, almost all Laris were engaged in retail trade. Typically a man would start out in business with a small shop in partnership with another man, often a relative. The stores ranged from green groceries to import shops. Remittances also raised the standard of living for most Lar families allowing them to buy a variety of consumer goods. In fact, the smuggling of such articles as Japanese TV sets, wrist watches and tape recorders was a lucrative side business for many migrants. Following the betterment of the economic situation in Iran in the 80’s, the tradition of Lari labor export to Kuwait declined significantly and finally ended. Today, Laris look closer across the Gulf–to the Emirates and Qatar, for exporting labor and investments.

Comparison with Sorani Kurdish and Persian

Larestani is an Indo-European language belonging to the southwestern subgroup of the Iranian branch, and is spoken by about ~150,000 people in Iran and abroad. Like Persian, Larestani is Indo-European in its core vocabulary, whereas it also features loans from non-Indo-European languages in its general vocabulary, particularly Classical Arabic (via Persian) and Gulf Arabic (via bilingualism). Other languages in the southwestern subgroup of the Iranian branch include Modern Persian and all of its ancestors and sisters, Luri, Kuhmareyi, and the Kumzari language of northern Oman. All of the Larestani languages and dialects together form a single speech community, despite considerable lexical and morphological variation. For example, whereas Khüri has ē“here”, in Lar proper the same word is heard as ënkë, but these variations are within the bounds of mutual intelligibility to native speakers. Kurdish languages belong to the Northwestern subgroup of Iranian, but there are a number of analogous lexical and morphological paradigms in Kurdish and Larestani that are worthy of noting. I attribute these similarities to areal features, whence the ancestral Proto-Larestani and Proto-Kuhmareyi languages must have been in contact with ancestral Kurdish languages at some point in their development following the Old Iranian stage (Kuhmareyi even features a definite marker –aku, reminiscent of Kurdish -aka):

English Larestani (Lar) Kurdish (Erbil) Literary Persian
“son” pos kurr pesar
“daughter” dot kich dokhtar
“mother” nana dayk mādar
“brother, sister” berosü, khongü bra, khweshk barādar, khwāhar
“I went” chedem chūm raftam
“he said he cannot go today” oshgot ērōz oshnáshā ochü wuti amrro nátwane biche goft emruz nemitavānad beravad
“where are you going?” ako achedoish? akwe dachi? kojā dāri miravi?
“they said [to me]” [mava] shogot [pem] wūtiyan [be man] goftand
“may it be” bet bāshad
“beautiful” ju jwan zibā, ghashang, khoshgel
“big, large” got, gapü gawre bozorg
“mouth” kap dam dahan
“leg” leng laq
“in” tek tēy…(da)
“alone” sevā tanyá tanhā
“he/she comes” det miāyad
“he/she had come” undesse hátibū āmade būd
“yesterday” de dwene dirūz
“tomorrow” sabā sbayne fardā
“I want; I don’t want; I wanted; I didn’t want” mavi, omnóvi; maves, omnáves amawe, námawe; wistim, namwist mikhwāham, nemikhwāham; khwāstam, nakhwāstam
“you slept” khatësh khawit khābidi
“I ate” omkha khwardim khordam
“they fall” akeven dakawin miyoftand

Larestani and Kurdish have together retained a number of phonemic archaisms from the Middle Iranian stage that have disappeared in modern Persian. For example, Lari and Kurdish have a rounded front vowel at the beginning of the word “we” (Lari: amā, Kurdish: emā), while modern Persian has . Rounded long vowels –ō, –ē from Middle Iranian are preserved in Larestani (Lari: gōsh vs. Persian: gūsh “ear”) and Kurdish (Kurdish: rōj, Lari: rōz, Persian: rūz “day”) except for in modern Persian borrowings, which are assimilated (Lari güshi “telephone”). Lexical archaisms are numerous and include Lari gapü “big” and got (from Proto-Indo-European *gʰrewd-, *gʰer-, cognate to English great, Latin grandis, Albanian ngre), whereas Old Persian adopted a Median word, now pronounced bozorg (from Proto-Indo-European*weǵ- Old English: wacan, wacian; English: wake. Originally meaning “endowed with generative power”, from Old Persian vazra- via palatilization and sibiliation, already literary Old Persian vazarka, Middle Persian wuzurg).

Larestani and Kurdish both share a postposed directional complement à “to”, and in Larestani a derivative o- is used to express general possession, “to have”, when complemented with a pronomial enclitic (note immediate possession in Larestani parallel to Arabic is expressed using pronomial clitic + bāi.e. ma qalam omnebā “I don’t have a pen [with me right now]”). Kurdish uses a possessive pronoun + haya/niya. Larestani: chedem à madrasa, Sorani Kurdish: chūà madrasa “I went to school”. Persian does not use a directional complement.

English Larestani
“I have, I don’t have” ome, omnísi
“You have, you don’t have” ote, otnísi
“S/he has, s/he doesn’t have” oshe, oshnísi
“We have, we don’t have” mo’e, monísi
“You (pl.) have, you (pl.) don’t have” to’e, tonísi
“They have, they don’t have” sho’e, shonísi

The dative construction takes two forms in Larestani: one is the postponed directional complement attached to both nouns and pronouns discussed above (Larestani: à ma = “to me’), and the second is a more conservative dative construction that takes the form of a postpositional suffix -va attached to the pronoun it modifies. The latter is highly unusual in the southwestern Iranian group, which includes Persian, although postpositions are found in Caspian languages. The construction is notably parallel to Oghuz Turkic –(y)a/-(y)e, and is encountered elsewhere in northern Tajik Persian dialects, where it developed under the influence of eastern Turkic (Tajik -ba > Uzbek -ga “to”). Perhaps Larestani obtained this exclusively pronomial dative construction from the neighboring Qashqai Turkic, but there is no evidence of widespread bilingualism or substrate as in the case of northern Tajik to explain an eccentric morphological innovation of this kind. Instead, it is likely a vestige of the Middle Iranian stage, inasmuch as a multitude of shared features between Larestani and peripheral Iranian languages are the likely heirlooms of an ancestral dialect continuum that connected genetically distant cousins (for example, lexical and morphological parallels between Larestani and Talyshi).

English Larestani Qashqai (Turkic)
“To me” mava mana
“To you” tava sana
“To him/her” shava ona

Larestani verb inflection is strikingly different from Persian, her Southwestern Iranian-branch sister. The issue of ergativity in Larestani is discussed below. Three features set the Persian and Lari dialect groups in Fars province squarely apart from each other: (1) the ending of the second-person singular, Fars dialects –ē/-ī, Larestan dialects –; (2) the imperfective marker, Fars dialects -/-, Larestan dialects a(t)-; (3) the existence in the Larestan dialects of a present progressive by means of a locative construction based on the verbal noun. Moreover, the particular way of regularizing verb stem formation in the Larestan dialects may suggest input from a non-Iranian system. The pronomial clitics of Larestani are placed in different positions from those of Persian, with a resemblance to the ergative construction of Kurdish. In addition, Larestani has a split proclitic-mesoclitic system of verbal negation: sho’ashā  “they can”→ shoshā “they cannot” but  “S/he comes”→ neS/he does not come”, while Persian has only proclitic: mitavānandnemitavānand “they can; they cannot.”; as does Kurdish: datwanin; twanin “they can; they cannot.”

In Kurdish, the simple past tense of transitive verbs is formed from the past stem of the verb and an agent affix—the ergative construction. Modern Larestani languages, alongside Kurdish, display split-ergativity; ergativity is present both according to the Kurdish paradigm, as well as erratically in transitive and intransitive verbs in both the preterite and perfective aspects (e.g. omgot “I said”, otnāshā “You cannot”; but khatem I slept“, nāfamësh “You do not understand”). The former two constructions have intransitive ergative character, but the latter two illustrate the fact that Larestani also features nominative/accusative morphology. Ergativity is thus more pervasive in Larestani than Kurdish, but only incongruously so. Persian is a non-ergative language.

English Larestani (Lar) Kurdish (Sorani) Literary Persian
“I want; I don’t want” m’avi → omnóvi damawe → -m nawe mikhwāham, nemikhwāham
“You said you don’t have money” otgot pülot nebā wuti parat niya gofti pul nadāri
“We bought” mose krriman-man krri kharidim
“I gave you water” Ma aw’m à to dā Minit pe awem da Man be to āb dādam

Sorani Kurdish (except for the dialect of Suleymaniyah in Iraq) has da- as habitual and progressive verbal prefix, while Larestani has prefix a- for habitual and a- + a medial affix –dā- for the complete progressive construction

English Larestani (Lar) Kurdish (Sorani) Literary Persian
“I am going” achedā’ëm dachim dāram miravam
“you are seeing (witnessing)” adeësh dabini dāri mibini
“S/he is doing” akerdoy dakat mikonad

10341861_10201993802546947_1753330946648945642_n
Kabāb Kenje-ye Lāri, a traditional dish consisting of lamb soaked in yogurt, herbs and shallots for several days, skewered and cooked over an open flame. Here it is served with traditional taptapü bread and fresh Persian basil. Photo taken at the author’s family orchard outside of Lar, 2014. 

The future of Lari

No two people speak the same language exactly alike. As such, languages can evolve insularly among speakers of the same language in the general absence of external pressures (for example, Icelandic). But language change is not random—it flows in the direction of accents and phrases admired and emulated by large numbers of people. Once a target accent is selected, the structure of the sound changes that move a speaker away from his or her own mode of speech is governed by rules. Sound changes follow unspoken and unconscious rules – the sound changes are not idiosyncratic or confined to certain words; rather, they spread systematically to all similar sounds in the language.

Lari is not an exception to this rule. As an oral language, Lari literature is scant and limited exclusively to poetry. Without a standardized, pervasive literary form or a compendium of Lari literature, the language is volatile to assimilative pressures. The various dialects are considerably different from each other and seem to be distinguished primally upon village and secondarily upon Sunni-Shi’a sect affiliation. The language of school education is Persian, and all educated Larestanis speak Persian as their second language. Persian has also become the language of interethnic communication, particularly between Laris and the Turkic Qashqai element in Larestan. Many Larestanis with ties to the Gulf (mainly Sunnis from Khür, Gerash, Bastak, and Evaz) speak Arabic as a second or third language, but historically Arabic was a language of commerce and trade in the region. As such, the Shi’a Lari dialect has been Persianized in its lexicon and phonology and the Sunni dialects have been Arabicized—processes that have accelerated in the past several decades and may ultimately lead to endangerment.

I will only deal with lexical assimilation with Persian, as phonological assimilation is outside the scope of this article. Of note, I was surprised to behold an episode of lexical transformation between my father and his siblings. My father, having left Larestan over 40 years ago, speaks a vernacular reminiscent of the spoken language of that era, while those who have remained within Larestan have been subjected to assimilation pressures as a result of improved school education and communications with the rest of Iran, as well as increased migrant traffic in both directions. As such, my father’s vernacular features lexical archaisms that have since been rendered obsolete in favor of Persian borrowings in the current Lari vernacular.

English Lar (pre-1975) Lar (2014) Persian
“A little, a bit” chondokü kami, ye zara kami, ye zare
“yawn” kapfroghü khamyāza khamyāze
“I speak” kwat aderem harf azanem harf mizanam
“a local food made from oil, wheat flour, egg,
chamomile flower, local greens”
ninanü ninani, regāk (from Arabic)

The future of Lari seems bleak, as generation Y has effectively ceased to employ Lari, even as a mode of family communication. As such, Lari is to be classified as unstable, for the sphere of its use is steadily diminishing. Socio-cultural stigmatization of Larestan by inhabitants of Iran’s major urban centers compounded by new and improved contacts with the rest of Iran via Persian-speaking television and radio have inspired generation Y to emulate Tehrani Persian speech, even in response to their parents speaking in Lari. Moreover, knowledge of and proficiency in Persian is associated with upward social mobility, which in turn has influenced the older generations to incorporate Persian words and phrases into their speech. Of note, one can hear the Persianized khūbësh? instead of Lari khashësh? (“Are you well?”)– a form that had no currency fifty years ago but is now canonical if not preferred.

Sources

Anthony, David W. “The Horse, The Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.” Princeton Review Press: 2007.

Bonine, Michael E.; Nikki R. Keddi. Modern Iranian Dialectics.

Fischel, Walter Joseph; Netzer, Amnon. “Lar.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

Loeb, Laurence D. Outcaste (RLE Iran D): Jewish Life in Southern Iran.

McIntire, Emily Wells. “From Lar to Kuwait.” The Search for Work. Cultural Survival Inc., issue 7.4 (Winter 1983).

Vainakh — A Bridge to the Chechen people, their Language and Culture

banner_chechen
Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. The goal of this article is to familiarize the reader with the looks and feels of Chechnya, its people and language in a historical and modern setting. 


Traditional Chechen dance among youth. Many Chechens in the Russian Federation live outside of the Chechen Republic in other subdivisions of Russia, particularly Daghestan, Ingushetia, Rostov, Moscow and Tyumen in Siberia. Note that the Chechen dance repertoire is typologically Caucasian in style, bearing close resemblances to folk dances found in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and other Russian federal subjects in the North Caucasus. The Chechen repertoire is distinguished by a double-step stride; each dancer taps first with the point of the foot followed in rapid succession by a heel stomp to compose a single stride, in effect creating a gallop-like aesthetic. 

The Chechen Republic in Russia

Forced population movement is a bitter and tantalizingly familiar memory in the Caucasus. For centuries, neighboring superpowers have used the Caucasus as a playground for showcasing grand military gestures and executing socio-strategic gambits vis-à-vis each other, all the while imperiling the condition of the region’s native inhabitants. It is nonetheless a grave misfortune—both socio-economically and psychologically—for any human being to be uprooted from his or her home and forcibly resettled in a far away land, and indeed the act can have dire consequences for the continuity of a people and culture. In the Soviet Union in 1944, the entire Chechen (and Ingush) nationality was deported en masse from their home of 6,000 years in the North Caucasus and dispersed throughout sparsely-populated Siberia and Central Asia. Death estimates range between 20%-50% during removal, which took the form of a month-long exodus packed in cattle cars ridden with disease and starvation. Survivors began returning sporadically after Stalin’s death, especially after 1957 when return was officially permitted although discouraged. This is the setting in which the Chechen-Ingush ASSR was born, and later the Chechen Republic at the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, Chechnya gained de facto independence from Russia after the First Chechen War in 1996, only to have Russian Federal control restored after the Second Chechen War three years later in 1999. This article builds a bridge to the Chechen people and their history, bypassing politics and modern history, and instead relying on culture, language and tradition to serve as the golden diplomats between the reader and the Chechens.

caucasus-mountains-erzi-village-ingushetia-nakh-vainakh-towers-north-caucasus
Defense towers in the village of Erzii in Dzhayrakh, Ingushetia. According to local ethnogenesis myths, the town of Erzii, which is an Urartian loanword meaning “eagle” (also survives in Armenian: արծիվ “artsiv”), is the spawn of the Chechen and Ingush people, who are together self-designated “Vainakh”. 

The Chechens and their Language

It is said that when God created the world, he sprinkled nations over the globe, but clumsily dropped his shaker over what ancient travelers called the “mountain of languages”. Pliny wrote that the ancient Greeks needed 300 interpreters to conduct business in the North Caucasus, while later, “we Romans conducted our affairs there with the aid of 130 interpreters.”

In general, when mountains are inhabited by settled farming and herding people, they harbor unusual diversity of language families and grammatical structures relative to nearby lowlands. It thus follows that the Caucasus is as distinct linguistically as it is geographically and biologically. In fact it is the one of the most ethno-linguistically diverse regions by area on the planet. Packed in the tight valleys and coniferous thickets of the Caucasus mountain system connecting “Europe” to “Asia”, flanked on either side by the Caspian and Black seas, live humans who speak languages and dialects belonging to no less than six (or seven, depending on the informant) unrelated linguistic macrofamilies. In comparison, mainland Europe is inhabited natively by speakers of a total of three. Indo-European, Semitic and Altaic are minorities here, while Northeast Caucasian (Daghestanian), Northwest Caucasian (Abkhazo-Adyghean), North-Central Caucasian (Nakh), and South Caucasian (Kartvelian) are the dominant families and only exist here on Earth. The genetic affinities between these four groups are uncertain and improbable, although some—including this author—posit a remote relationship between Daghestanian and Nakh and postulate a split at the Proto-language stage some 5,000-6,000 years ago. The only Caucasian language with an old literary tradition is Georgian (belonging to the South Caucasian or Kartvelian family) with its own alphabet dating back to the 5th century A.D., while the others have acquired Cyrillic-based alphabets and literature within the past century or so (Note: Armenian, an Indo-European language native to the Caucasus with its own alphabet, also has a literary tradition dating back to the 5th century A.D. alongside Georgian, coinciding with the spread of Christianity to those peoples).

Image

Map of ethno-linguistic groups in the Caucasus region. The Caucasus (Transcaucasia and Ciscaucasia) is one of the most ethno-linguistically diverse regions in the world. 

Chechen belongs to the North-Central Caucasian (Nakh) language family, along with Ingush and Bats (spoken in one small village in the Kakheti plain in Georgia). The Batsbi people, whose language is about as related to Chechen and Ingush as English is related to Dutch and German, do not follow Vainakh customs and law and consider themselves Georgians. The Chechen-speaking Kisti people of northeastern Georgia have also been Georgianized in their surnames and national consciousness and do not identify with the Batsbi or Vainakh.


A Georgian group singing an Ingush (Nakh family; close relative of Chechen) folk song in Georgian (Kartvelian family) about a Kisti maiden. The Kisti descend from Chechen tribes that migrated into eastern Georgia (Pankisi) from the highlands in the middle of the 19th century, and have retained their language. The tune is typical Caucasian ballad repertoire. 

Chechen (Nokhchii muott) and Ingush (Ghalghaa muott), the two main members of the Nakh language family, are mutually unintelligible although inextricably akin to each other. They have 83-84 percent retention of strict cognates on the Swadesh 100-word list, so their date of separation is roughly twelve hundred years ago, around 800 A.D. As such, there is much passive bilingualism between their speakers, so the two languages function as a single speech community (See Table 1). Chechen and Ingush also feature many loanwords and areal features (phonetic and morphological) from surrounding languages– particularly Daghestanian languages, Russian, Arabic, Turkic languages, Georgian, Armenian and Iranian languages.

English Chechen Ingush
“Friend” Dottagh Dottagh
“Mountain” Lom Loam
“Man” Stag Q’uonakh
“Black” ärzh Wearzh
“Scary, terrifying” Inzari Unzari
“Ant” Dzintg Dzungt

Table 1: Language comparison table prepared by the author illustrating relationship between Chechen and Ingush

800px-Batsbi_people
A Late 19th century Batsbur wedding in the village of Zemo Alvani in eastern Georgia. The Batsbi speak a Nakh language about as akin to Chechen and Ingush as English is to German or Dutch.

To speakers of most modern Eurasian languages, Chechen appears to contain a number of unusual features. Phonologically, the language contains a wealth of sounds similar to Arabic and Swedish–namely 44 vowels and between 40 and 60 consonants depending on the dialect– far more than any European language. Chechen nouns belong to one of six “genders” or “classes” and can be declined using eight cases. The verb “to be” follows a particularly unique pattern: all nouns are assigned a set form: du, vu, yu, bu, (“is”) which must be memorized along with the noun and in turn colors all corresponding adjectives and verbal constructions.

Chechen: Ha byargsh haz bu
English: “Your eyes are beautiful”

Chechen: Ho sun 1elch yoghur yu
English: “You (f.) are coming to me”

Chechen: Sa dog q1andel hozun dog san dats’
English: “My heart is not like that of an old bird”


A traditional wedding in Chechnya, according to a mixture of Chechen and Muslim customs. Brides throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus follow a custom of refraining from smiling or showing joy on the wedding day, so as to keep away others’ envy of their fortunateness.

Origins and Ethnic Identity
The Chechen people call themselves Nokhchii; the ethnonyms “Chechen” and “Ingush” are Russian designations. Together the Chechen and the Ingush (self-designated Ghalghaa) compose Vainakh (literally “our people”), recognizing an overarching ethnic and linguistic kinship despite their longstanding distinct national consciousnesses and self-designations. Clan origins or ethnogenesis myths among the Vainakh all feature immigrant progenitors who traveled northward, married into a preexisting Caucasian ethnic group, and founded a new highland village among prior inhabitants. Most clans claim roots in Arabia, Syria, and Persia, and the Chechen nationality as a whole claims descendance from one such Syrian immigrant.

From a strictly evidential standpoint, the question of when and wherefrom the Nakh people (Chechens, Ingush, Batsbi and Kisti) arrived in the Northeast Caucasus remains shrouded in what seems to be impenetrable uncertainty for linguists and anthropologists. Aside from a few moderately-convincing attempts to pin a remote link with Daghestanian languages at the Proto-language stage, Nakh appears to be unrelated to any other attested primary language family on the Eurasian landmass, even at the magnitude of ~15,000 years. It is nonetheless widely held by some authors such as Amjad Jaimoukha, Johanna Nichols and Bernice Wuethrich that the Nakh peoples represent a periphery group that migrated (or perhaps, returned) out of the Hurro-Urartian-dominated Fertile Crescent and into the Caucasus some time after 10,000 B.C., perhaps displaced there by push factors such as the overuse of land and subsequent creation of vast deserts in Mesopotamia. This in turn places the ancestors of the Nakh peoples before the Sumerians and archaic Semitic-speaking peoples of Akkad and Babylon as the proprietors of Mesopotamia by several thousand years, and corroborates Igor Diakonoff’s suggestion of remote ties between Hurro-Urartian languages and Northeast Caucasian.

Migration_on_Nakh_Peoples
Mounting linguistic evidence suggests that the Proto-Nakh peoples who would later differentiate into the modern Chechens, Ingush, Batsbi and Kisti may have migrated to the slopes of the Caucasus from the Fertile Crescent some time between 10,000 B.C.-8,000 B.C., although the issue of their origins still remains shrouded in mystery. 

Following a supposed trajectory of Nakh transhumance into the Caucasus mountain system after 10,000 B.C., the empirical evidence we have indicates that the historical region inhabited by Nakh tribes was much larger and included areas now dominated by Ossetians (Iranian branch, Indo-European family) and Georgians (Kartvelian family). An isogloss map reveals that the original Nakh-Daghestanian center of gravity probably lies in modern day Georgia, south of the Great Caucasus range, but these peoples were gradually displaced to the highlands by Kartvelian transhumance prior to the late Middle Ages. Historically then, modern Chechen-Ingush descend from nonfrontier languages that show no evidence of contact with exotic languages throughout their prehistory, indicating that they were once surrounded by now-extinct sister languages also belonging to the Nakh-Daghestanian language family (of which Bats in Georgia is the only survivor). Indeed, Nakh language-speaking clans were historically far larger in spread and influence south of the Caucasian piedmont.

Keselo,_Tusheti
Tusheti and Khevsureti, the proposed homeland of Nakh-Daghestanian peoples (including Chechens and Ingush), lies south of the Great Caucasus range in modern-day Georgia.

 Religion and Social Organization

The Chechens are divided into clans, or taips (from Arabic طائفة Tā’ifa) which then belong collectively to a grand alliance of familial clans called tukhkhums (from Armenian տոհմ tōhm, itself a Middle Persian borrowing). At the moment, the Chechens are united in 9 tukhkhums, comprising more than 100 taips.

Chechens are predominantly Sunni Muslim following their recent conversion to Islam between the 16th and 19th centuries, and belong primarily to the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence (fiqh). Of note, Sufism is popular among Chechens, and many Chechens belong to the Qadiri and Naqshbandi orders. Most of the conversion took place in the 19th century during the Russian imperial invasion of the then Persian-controlled Caucasus, with the intent of bringing groups together in anti-colonial resistance movements, in turn giving them state-like forms of organization. In the 19th century, the tribes to the west and east Caucasus became Muslim (Chechens, Ingush, Circassians, Avars, Lezgins, Dargins, etc.), while the millennium-old Eastern Orthodox Christian communities in the central section (Ossetians, Georgians, Abkhazians, Armenians) remained Christian in their majority through the present. The Jewish Lak people of Daghestan and the Judeo-Tats of Azerbaijan retained their religion from prior to the mass conversions.

Prior to their conversion to Islam just two centuries ago, the majority of Chechens and Ingush followed their own polytheistic tree-worshipping religion or were affiliated with Eastern Orthodox churches.  At the center of the indigenous Vainakh religion was the pear tree, and adherents belonged to a mixture of different cults, including animism and polytheism, familial-ancestral and agrarian and funeral cults. Interestingly, in modern Chechen the name of the supreme pagan god, Dela, is still in use alongside Allah as a word to denote the Abrahamic God, not dissimilar to the Turkic and Mongol usage of tenri/tengri.

rebuilt-grozny-city-russia-view-17
The Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque in Grozny, capital of the Chechen Republic, Russia. Modeled off of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, it is the biggest mosque in Russia. 

The Nart Saga
The Nart saga is a series of tales about a mythical race of giants shared among the peoples of the North Caucasus. The term Nart is most likely Iranian (Ossetian) in origin, although some posit a Mongolian etymology. Nonetheless, it is generally known that all the Nart corpora have an Iranian core, inherited from the Scythians, Sarmatians and Alans (ancestor of modern Ossetians)– all of whom were Iranian peoples that once dominated the Eurasian Steppe in modern day Russia, Central Asia and and Eastern Europe. These tales played a vital role in the indigenous religions and cults of the peoples of the North Caucasus, including Circassians, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Chechens, Ingush, Daghestanians, and others, and continue to occupy an important position in the folk traditions of those peoples.


A Kabardian (Circassian; Northwest Caucasian) dance group performing a tale from the Nart Saga. The Nart saga is shared among the folklore of the Adygheans, Cherkess, Kabardians, Abkhaz, Abaza, Chechens, Ingush, and Ossetians in the North Caucasus.

Chechen Diaspora in the Middle East

Within subdivisions of Russia outside of the Chechen Republic, Chechens mainly descend from refugees who were forced to leave Chechnya the 19th century Caucasian War, the annexation of Chechnya by the Russian Empire, and the 1944 Stalinist deportation to Soviet Siberia and Central Asia (discussed above). These peoples are centered in neighboring Daghestan, Moscow Oblast, Ossetia, Kazakhstan, Georgia (excluding the Kisti and Batsbi people), Sweden and the United States.

However, there is a fascinating narrative surrounding Chechen diasporas now located in the Middle East. In the middle of the 19th century, approximately 1 million 400 thousand North Caucasians Muslims–Chechens, Circassians and Daghestanis–were forced to migrate out of the Orthodox Christian Russian territories and settle with their coreligionists in the Ottoman Empire. Only the Chechens of Jordan, particularly a community of 450 souls in al-Suknah, have retained their language, as well as clothing and marriage customs. This is in great part due to royal favoritism on the part of the Hashemite family of Jordan. Chechens in Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Iraq have been assimilated linguistically, but continue to practice a few customs and identify as Chechens. In the 16th-17th centuries, Caucasians (particularly Georgians, Armenians and Circassians) were also forcibly uprooted, oftentimes converted, and resettled throughout Persia and the Ottoman Empire. But any Nakh deportees from that period have completely assimilated, and no traces remain of their language or culture.


Documentary on the tight-knit Chechen community of Jordan (in Russian and Chechen)

Sources

Jaimoukha, Amjad. “The Chechens: A Handbook.” Caucasus World: Peoples of the Caucasus. Taylor & Francis, 2004.

Kailani, Wasfi. “Chechens in the Middle East: Between Original and Host Cultures.” Caspian Studies Program.

Nicols, Johanna. The Origins of the Chechen and Ingush: a Study in Alpine Linguistic and Ethnic Geography. Anthropological Linguistics. Vol. 46, No. 2 (Summer, 2004), pp. 129-33

Wuethrich, Bernice. Peering into the Past, With WordsScience 19 May 2000: 
Vol. 288 no. 5469 p. 1158 

Arabic Dialectics Series: Muslim Baghdadi Arabic

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. This brief survey of Muslim Baghdadi Arabic is intended for intermediate and advanced students of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) who seek a linguistic introduction to the Baghdadi dialect by comparison to MSA and Mashriqī dialects.

1681px-Arabic_Dialects.svg
Arabic dialect families. Dark green denotes Mesopotamian Arabic and yellow denotes North Mesopotamian Arabic. Note Mesopotamian Arabic dialects are also spoken in a few pockets in eastern Iran (Khorasan) and Central Asia (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan). 

The colloquial Arabic varieties of Iraq belong to two main dialect groups: Mesopotamian Arabic also known as the gilit-group (Baghdad, Basra, Central Asian Arabic, Khuzestani and Khorasani Arabic in Iran), and North Mesopotamian Arabic or the qeltugroup (spoken in Mosul, eastern Syria, and by Jewish and Christian Iraqis and Anatolian Arabs). In linguistics, the gilit-qeltu paradigm is based on the different phonological systems characterizing the two dialect groups, which can be observed in the form of the word “I said”—Baghdad: gilit; Mosul: qeltu.

Muslim Baghdadi Arabic, belonging to the gilit-group, is the prestige dialect of the country. In this article, the term “Muslim” is used to distinguish the dialect from Jewish Baghdadi Arabic, a qeltu-group dialect that was spoken by almost one-third of Baghdad’s inhabitants until 1948, and is currently only spoken in Israel and abroad where it faces imminent extinction among the diaspora. Iraq is also home to a number of other languages, including Kurdish languages (Sorani, Kurmanji or Bahdini, Gorani, Zazaki), Neo-Aramaic and Neo-Mandaic, Turkoman (South Azeri), Armenian, and Persian.

iraq_languages_map
Language composition of Iraq

Muslim Baghdadi Arabic is a dialect of Bedouin provenance that features several unique phonetic, lexical, and morphological paradigms vis-à-vis the surrounding Mashriqī sedentary dialects, and is layered with influences from urban Medieval Baghdadi Arabic and foreign languages such as Turkish, Persian, Kurdish, and Aramaic. This dialect, which belongs to the so-called gilit-group, should not be confused with the Iraqi dialects of the qeltu-group (Jewish Baghdadi Arabic, Christian Baghdadi Arabic, and North Mesopotamian Arabic), all of which seem to be direct descendants of Medieval Baghdadi Arabic—a sedentary medieval dialect. The qeltu-group dialects have different sound systems and morphologies from Muslim Baghdadi and also seem to have retained a greater volume of foreign loanwords that have been more vigorously uprooted from the Muslim dialect under the Ba’ath regime.

Figure 1: Mashriqī Dialect Comparison Table prepared by the author; differences between Standard, Maslāwi, Baghdādi, Damascene (Levantine) and Cairene (Egyptian) dialects. Prepared by Afsheen Sharifzadeh

English Standard Arabic (MSA) Mosul, Baghdad (Jewish and Christian) Baghdad (Muslim) Damascus Cairo
“I told you (f.)” Ana qultu laki Ana qeltolki Āni gilitlich Ana ‘eltellik Ana ‘oltilik
“A lot, many, very” Kathīr, Kathīran Ksīɣ Hwāye, Kullish Ktīr ‘Awī, Ktīr
“I want” Urīdu Aɣīd Arīd Biddī ʕāyiz(a)
“She had” Kān ʕandaha Kān ʕanda Chān ʕedha Kān ʕenda Kān ʕandáha
“I didn’t do” Lam afʕal Ma suwwetu Ma sawweyt Ma ʕamelet Ma ʕameltesh
“With them” Maʕhum Maʕhem Wiyyāhum Maʕun Wayyáhum
“How are you (f.)?” Kayfa Hāluki? Ashlōnki? Shlōnich? Kīfik? Izzáyik?
“There exists” Hunāk, Hunālika Akū Akū
“What” Mādha Ashū Shinū Shū Eh
“Here” Honā Hunī Hnāne Hōn Héna
“Now” Al’ān Hessa Hessa Hallā’ Dilwa’tī
“This way, like this” Hākadhā Hēkī Hīchī Hēkē Keda
“They were going” Kānū yadhhabū Kānū yiɣūhū Chānow da-yerhūn Kānu ʕam-birūhū Kānū  birūhū


Phonemic characteristics

1.) Qāf ق is pronounced differently depending on the word. Sometimes this may seem arbitrary, but there is historical and phonemic rationalization for it. For example, in words that denote higher or abstract concepts, the Classical pronunciation of the qāf has been retained, such as the in the words حقيقةHaqīqa “truth”, مستقبل mustaqbil“future”, and اقتصاد IqtiSād “economy”. The archaic uvular pronunciation of qaaf is also retained in borrowings from Medieval Baghdadi Arabic: دقيقة daqīqaminute, moment”, قرأ qira “he read”.

2.) In general in quotidian/mundane words of Arabic origin, there is a Bedouinization of the qāf from “q” –> “g”. For example, “I say” اقول is pronounced agūl, “I arose/began” قمت is pronounced gumit, “heart” قلب is pronounced gaLub (the “L” is emphatic), and “moon” قمر is pronounced gumar. There is also a tendency to retain the “g” phoneme in loanwords and in some instances to evolve in favor of it (i.e. khāshūga“spoon”, from Persian قاشق qāshogh). However as mentioned above, lexical borrowings from Medieval Baghdadi Arabic regardless of usage retain the Classical uvular pronunciation of qāf.

3.) In some very specific instances, the classical qāf sound is realized as “k” (q–>k). This phenomenon is observed in only a handful of words and seems to be rooted in voiced/unvoiced consonant agreement. For example, the word “time” وقت can be pronounced wakit or alternatively waqit. However, in the fixed word شوكت shwakit(“when”), only the former form is used. We also see this sound change in the 3rd person simple past of the verb “to kill” قتل, which can be heard as kital.

These pronunciations are by and large not interchangeable, and in fact switching between the “q” and “g” phonemes can result in change of meaning (i.e. farraq “to divide” and farrag“to distribute”; warga “leaf” and warqa “piece of paper”). Thus the pronunciation of qaaf depends on the word. Also as a note, the Levantine and Egyptian pronunciation of qāfق as hamza ء is not found in any Mesopotamian dialects.

The letter Dādض is always pronounced as Dhā’ظ, and Dhā’ is in turn pronounced as its classical voiced alveolar fricative pronunciation (as in Modern Standard Arabic).


Iraqi Assyrian singer Daly performs song in different languages and dialects of Iraq in this order: Muslim Baghdadi Arabic, Kurmanji (Bahdini) Kurdish, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Muslim Baghdadi Arabic, Muslim Baghdadi Arabic, Basrawi Arabic, Basrawi Arabic.


Lexicon

Muslim Baghdadi Arabic is by no means a creole language, despite its lexical and grammatical distinctions. In fact these differences are not nearly as anomolous as features of other dialects in the Mesopotamian and North Mesopotamian groups, such as Anatolian Arabic and Khorasani Arabic. The core vocabulary of Muslim Baghdadi Arabic derives from Classical Arabic, Medieval Baghdadi Arabic, and Bedouin dialects. For a comparison of Muslim Baghdadi lexicon with other Mashriqī dialects, see Figure 1 above.

There are, however, many loanwords from peripheral languages and other areal features that have made their way into common speech via foreign hegemony, historic trade relations, bilingualism and direct contact between groups living in Baghdad. Many loanwords have become obsolete or consciously uprooted from the language, particularly within the last century. 

English Persian Standard Arabic Muslim Baghdadi Damascene Arabic
“Also, too” Ham, nīz Aydhan Ham, hammena Kamān
“By foot” Piyāde ʕala al-Aqdām Pyāda Mashī
“Wheel” Charkh Dūlāb (from Middle Persian) Charikh Dūlāb
“Manly, Womanly” Mardāne, Zanāne Rujūlī, Niswī Mardāna, Zanāna Rujūlī, Niswī
“Good” Khōsh, Khūb Jayyid Khōsh, Zein, Helū Mnīh, Helū
“Cure, remedy” Chāre ʕilāj Chāra ʕilāj

Figure 2: Language comparison tables prepared by the author; some Persian words in Muslim Baghdadi Arabic. Prepared by Afsheen Sharifzadeh

English Ottoman Turkish Standard Arabic Muslim Baghdadi Damascene Arabic
“Slow” Yavash BaTi’ Yawāsh (borrowed via Persian) Shwayye
“Impolite, mannerless” Edebsiz Gheir mu’addab Adabsizz ‘Alīl adab
“Ice cream” Dondurma Būdha Dondirma Būza
“My lord” (archaic) Agham Sayyidī Āghātī Sayyidī
“Maybe, hopefully” Belki Yumkin Balkī Yimkin

Figure 3: Language comparison tables prepared by the author; some Turkish words in Muslim Baghdadi Arabic. Prepared by Afsheen Sharifzadeh


RT Arabic interview (part 1) with Tamara al-Daghestani, speaking in Muslim Baghdadi Arabic, while the interviewer speaks in Standard Arabic. Tamara’s family descends from warriors who were brought to Iraq from Daghestan in modern-day Russia.

Grammatical Distinctions

1.) The present progressive tense is formed by adding the prefix da- to the conjugated stem of the verb. This is likely a borrowing and adaptation from Persian into the early Abbasid-era Baghdadi vernacular. For example, “I am listening” is pronounced Ani da-asmaʕ, and “I am laughing” is Ani da-adhHak.

2.) The particle of existence as in “there is/there are” is akū and “there is not/there are not” is mā. The origin of this word is believed to be from the southeastern Babylonian Aramaic that was spoken in central Mesopotamia prior to the Arab invasion (for further reading, see author Christa Muller-Kessler).

3.) The existence of an indeterminate indefinite article fad فد (“a, some”) that precedes the noun it describes is highly unusual and unique to Mesopotamian Arabic (i.e. “fad rijjāl, fad imreyye” = “a man, a woman”). This likely developed from the use of the Classical word fardفرد meaning “one, single (thing)” in colloquial Medieval Baghdadi Arabic (although it would have been pronounced with guttural “r” as in French and Modern Hebrew according to the sound system of that dialect, which provides insight to the development of its modern pronunciation), which is itself probably a grammatical influence from Persian or Aramaic via substrate/superstrate or bilingualism.

4.) The use of the proclitic d(i)-to add a note of impatience to an imperative verb. The role of this marker is just to intensify the sense of imperative (duklū= “eat!”, digʕud = “sit!”, digūm= “get up!”). This was originally a feature of Medieval Baghdadi Arabic.

5.) The word gām as an indicator of the future or “to begin to do something”, which is based on the Aramaic word qa’em formerly employed in Mandaic and Talmudic Aramaic.

6.) The Classical feminine 2nd and 3rd person plural pronouns are retained and exist as intan and hinna and their suffix pronouns are -chan and -hin respectively. This marked retention of feminine plurals is highly unusual among Mashriqī sedentray dialects and can be attributed to the dialect’s Bedouin origin.

7.) Sometimes colloquially there is an omission of the future tense altogether (an influence from Persian). For example “I will come with you” can be expressed Āni ajī wiyyāk.

8.) Muslim Baghdadi Arabic has consonant harmony, which is essentially the ability of certain consonants (emphatic consonant, bilabials, and velars) to affect or “color” the quality of the vowel they occur directly next to. For example, gumar <— Classical قمر qamar (“moon”) ; buSal <— Classical بصل baSal (“onion”); sima <— Classical سماء samā(“sky”).

It is important to note that all lexical and syntactical features of Aramaic origin have reached Muslim Baghdadi Arabic through the medium of Medieval Baghdadi Arabic, rather than direct contact, because that would be inconsistent with the historical development of Muslim Baghdadi Arabic both chronologically and socio-culturally and would not align correctly with the “life span” of those Aramaic dialects.


Another point of interest is the affrication of Kāك to “ch” (k–>ch), which is a Bedouin feature. This occurs again mostly in quotidian words or lexical borrowings from Persian and Turkish. For example, the past tense of the verb “to be” كان kāna is conjugated as follows:

English Modern Standard Arabic Muslim Baghdadi
“I was” Ana kuntu Āni chinit
“You (m.) were” Anta kunta Inta chinit
“You (f.) were” Anti kunti Inti chinti
“He was” Huwa kān Huwwa chān
“She was” Hiya kānat Hiyya chānat
“We were” Nahnū kunna Ehna chinna
“You (pl.) were” Antum kuntum Intū chintū
“They were” Hum kānū Humma chānōw

Figure 4: past tense of  كان kāna in Muslim Baghdadi

In quotidian words of Arabic origin, the “ch” pronunciation is favored over “k”, although there is incidence of both:

kalbكلب —-> chalib (“dog”)

shubbākشباك —-> shubbāch (“window”)

kabīrكبير —-> chibīr(“big, large”)

bakāبكاء —-> bachī(“cry, weep”)

sikkīnسكّين —-> sichchīna(“knife”)

kidhdhābكذاب —-> chedhdhāb (“lier”)


In lexical borrowings:

chakūch = “hammer” (from Persian via Turkish)

-chī= archaic occupational suffix, as in qundarchī“shoemaker” (from Persian via Turkish)

charpāya= “bed, stand” (from Persian)

chakmak = “boots” (from Persian)

chāi = “tea” (from Persian)

pācha = a traditional dish consisting of sheep’s head and hooves (from Persian)

In some instances, foreign lexical borrowings have adopted the “ch” sound when they originally lacked it: chafchīr = “spatula, large pouring spoon” (from Persian kafgīr)

The k–>ch sound change also serves an important morphological purpose–namely, to distinguish between masculine and feminine personal suffixes. The masculine form is -k while the feminine form is -ch. Ex:

Akhūk= Your (m.) brother

Akhūch= Your (f.) brother

Wiyyāk = with you (m.)

Wiyyāch = with you (f.)


“Good Morning Arabs” interview with Iraqi poet, Shahad Shammari, speaking Muslim Baghdadi Arabic while the interviewer speaks Emirati.

The non-Arabic phoneme “p” also exists in Muslim Baghdadi Arabic, but only in loanwords, and can often be used interchangeably with “b“.

parda = “curtains” (from Persian)

pālTo= “overcoat” (from French via Persian)

pāsha= “high ranking official” (from Persian via Turkish)

Salmān Pāk= a town north of Baghdad near the Sassanid-era ruins of Ctesiphon (المدائن), named after a Persian companion of the prophet Muhammad

pūlādh= “steel” (from Mongolian via Persian)


However, some words have been irreversibly adapted to the standard Arabic sound system and have undergone the resulting sound change “p” –> “b”. Curiously enough, the resulting “b” sound is often emphatic:

toBa=”ball, cannonball” (from Turkish top)

guBBa = “room, vault” (from Persian qoppeh)


 

Al-Maqām al-‘Irāqi in the Baghdadi Jewish Tradition

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus.
This article examines the maqām in the Baghdadi tradition, first paying attention to the origin of the repertoire and then focusing on the role of Baghdadi Jews in its evolution and propagation. In doing so, the authors proposes that Iraqi Jewish musicians played a capital role in the development of the standard Iraqi maqām style, and later served as “international agents” of the Iraqi repertoire–that is, as exponents of their host country’s musical heritage–in a fashion not dissimilar to the Sephardic Jewish financiers of Ottoman Istanbul and the Armenian silk merchants of Safavid Isfahan. They disseminated their tradition through contact with foreign musicians and absorbed foreign aspects into the Iraqi repertoire. Indeed this bi-directional model of musical appropriation carried into the Israeli and Indian diaspora communities.

436px-Ezekial's-Tomb-at-Kifel
Iraqi Jews by Ezekiel’s tomb, Baghdad, 1932. Before 1948, Jews made up a burgeoning one-third of Baghdad’s population and had lived in Iraq for over 2,000 years. Today, there are less than 10 Jews left in the country. 

Al-maqām al-‘Irāqi

Except in Iraq, maqām has three levels of meaning: a degree of sound, a theoretical scale, and the modal organization of the Arab-Islamic area. In Iraq, the former three are known as nagham, while maqām is the main urban vocal repertoire. Currently the origin of the Iraqi maqām remains poorly characterized—while some contemporary Iraqi specialists posit that the repertoire dates back to the Abbasid era, (750-1258 A.D.), others believe that it may be a relatively new phenomenon dating back only four to six centuries. Nonetheless, I propose a development in an Iranian environment that may have reached its present state through cultural contact between Persian and Baghdadi Jews.


Farida performing a Baghdadi pesteh, “Yumm al-‘Oyoun al-Soud”, with chālghī Baghdādī accompaniment in Amsterdam 

In enumerating the underlying Iranian elements of the Iraqi maqām, we can count the following: the seven main modes or maqāmāt of the Iraqi Maqām are identical to those of the Persian āvāz or dastgāh repertoire; most of the maqāmāt have Persian names; and instruments such as the santūr and joza further suggest appropriation from an Iranian milieu. Many of the Iraqi maqāmāt sung with Classical verses are found in the Persian tradition as well, particularly the Mukhālif, Mansūrī, Dashtī, Awshār, Bakhtiyār, and Mathnawī. Another distinguishing trait of the Iraqi maqām among Arab musical repertoire is that each maqām has a distinct vocal introduction (badwa or tahrīr), the lyrics of which are usually in Persian: Sigāh has “Lilay, lilay…”; Rāst has “Yār, yār…”; Humāyūn and Dashtī have “Amān, amān…”; whereas Bayāt and Hijāz have “Faryād-e man…” (“Oh my wails” in Persian.) Thus conceivably, Iraqi musicians absorbed elements of Persian style through the performance of what Iraqi musicians have called “Persians songs”—although not the classical Persian repertoire.

While one cannot ascribe these cultural transformations to a single musician or host throughout the centuries, it is important to note that Persia lost control of Baghdad in the 16th century and sporadically regained control up through the 19th century. And while there has existed a minority Muslim Persian population within Baghdad for many centuries, traditionally the vast majority of Persian-speakers in that city have been Jews of Persian extraction with surnames such as Shīrāzī, Shahrabānī, Irānī, Bābāyī, Āghāsī, Lārī, ‘Ajamī, Āghā-Bābā and the like. Thus the role of Jews—many of whom lived intermittently between Iran and Iraq as traders, artisans and merchants—as agents in the propagation of these influences is probable if not imperative, as Jews were also traditionally disposed to musical professions in Iran. Indeed, contact between Iraqi Jewish musicians and a Persian professional musician even resulted in Iran’s adoption of the qānūn repertoire. Thus communication between Baghdadi Jewish musicians and their Persian coreligionists is a reasonable medium of musical acculturation between the two lands that still remains to be studied definitively.


Interview (in Iraqi Arabic) with Farida, a renowned Iraqi maqām vocalist based in the Netherlands 

Nonetheless, the chālghī Baghdādī ensemble has traditionally performed at secular and religious occasions for Muslims, Jews, Christians, Mandaeans, and Yezidis in Iraq. The central instruments of the ensemble or al-chālghī al-baghdādī are the santūr, the al-kamāna [al-baghdādīyya], the joza, the daff, and the dumbag, while the ‘ūd, santūr, and nāy as well as Western Classical instruments such as the violin and cello are popularly considered to be later additions that were appropriated from either an Egyptian or Maslāwi Christian milieu. There exist some fifty individual maqāmāt and three regional traditions: namely, those of Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk. While the Baghdadi repertoire is typically performed in Arabic, Persian, or Hebrew, the traditions of northern Iraq are most often in the regional Turkoman (South Azerbaijani), Neo-Aramaic, and Kurdish languages and are distinguished by incorporation of a number of regional instruments in addition to the standard chālghī Baghdādī ensemble. When performed in the Arabic language, the poem at the center of the lyric can take the form of mawwāl or zhayrī, which is colloquial or hybrid, or the qasīda which is strictly a monorhyme ode based on Classical Arabic prosidy. The former type of maqāmāt amounts to twenty-five, according to al-Wardī, while the latter includes forty-one.


A maqām preformed in the Turkoman (South Azerbaijani) language of northern Iraq, particularly Kirkuk and Erbil. 

A standard Iraqi maqām begins with the badwa or tahrīr, which is the opening melody/main theme that is repeated throughout the maqām; qitā ‘ (sing. qita‘a) and awsal (sing. wusla), or secondary melodies, which form the building blocks of the composition; the meyāna, or climax, which is usually a qita‘a or a wusla sung in the high register; a small cadence known as a jelsa, which precedes the meyāna; a qarār, or a descent into the lower register; and the taslīm, which is the final, closing cadence that signals the end of the maqām and the coming pesteh (from Persian “baste” via Ottoman Turkish “beste”). Pestāt are in turn rhythmic songs with repetitive melodies that often contain simple, humorous, texts dealing with cotidian matters and various aspects of society. These, while not a part of the maqām repertoire, are popular, light-hearted urban songs typically in Arabic and Persian.


Iraqi female vocalist Zuhuur Hussein performing the pesteh “Ya ‘Aziz al-Ruh” in Arabic and Persian

Jews in al-Chālghī al-Baghdādī Ensemble

As in most mashriqī Arab musical traditions, maqām singers (mughannīn or even mutribūn) have traditionally been Muslims, and many are reciters or chanters of the Qur’ān for Islamic rituals and ceremonies. They are rarely professionals. In Iraq, the singers have traditionally belonged to the Arab, Kurdish, and Turkoman ethnic communities and most often belong to the lower urban social classes of merchants and craftsmen. However, central to our discussion here is the curious fact that until 1950, almost all the instrumentalists of the Iraqi maqām (daggagāt, ālātīyya) were Jews.

In explaining this phenomenon, a number of ethnomusicologists propose a class-based theory. Of course Islam has traditionally been unfavorably disposed towards music, so professional musicians have necessarily held low rank in society. Yet music has been an indispensable component of Muslim social life, so naturally a reasonable resolution was to regulate musical functions to ethnic minorities in order to preserve the cultural tradition in the face of opposing social and religious attitudes. Moreover, in explanation of this trend, scholars suggest that it is precisely musicians’ low rank that allows them to be enjoyed. As low-ranking persons they are a negligible element of society; they simply are not to be taken seriously as social beings deserving of interaction. As providers of a social service, their rank is assumed; therefore they can be admired solely for their musical product.

Consistent with these societal attitudes, many musicians were blind or handicapped and were recruited by the Jewish vocational institute in Baghdad in the 20th century. However it should be noted that the majority of mughannīyūn or vocal performers of the maqām have been Muslims. Jews in turn attribute this to the Muslims’ “superior” pronunciation of Arabic, or at least concede that the Muslim dialect is the highbrow, prestige dialect of that city. A brief survey of the two dialects reveals considerable phonological, lexical, and morphological differences, even impairing mutual intelligibility in some instances. The outspoken differences between the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian dialects of Baghdad arise from conflicting origins: while the Muslim dialect is of Bedouin provenance, the latter two descend from Medieval Baghdadi Arabic which was a sedentary dialect with considerable Aramaic and Persian substrate. Furthermore, the Jewish dialect includes a sizeable inventory of Hebrew vocabulary that further distinguishes this mode of speech to linguists as “Judeo-Baghdadi”. Resultantly, Jewish maqām readers (qurrā’) were not appreciated due to their outspoken “Jewishness” which manifested itself in their peculiar mode of speech. It was only in the form of vocalists such as Salīma Murād–a Jewish qāri’a who converted to Islam and displayed a marked attempt in her songs to imitate the Muslim Baghdadi dialect—that Jews could be universally appreciated and she in turn became one of the most famous mughannīyūn of the 20th century.


A sample of the Jewish Baghdadi dialect of Arabic, now only spoken by the diaspora in Israel and abroad

As the preferred musical performers of Baghdad, Jews served as domestic and international flag-bearers of the Baghdadi maqām repertoire. Jews had to become familiar with widespread musical systems— the chālghī baghdādī, rīfī folk songs, abūdhiyya poetry with rabāb accompaniment as well as synagogue repertoire in the maqām system. Due to their knowledge and mastery of Muslim repertoire, Jewish instrumentalists and qāris were hired to sing for Muslim holiday services, such as Ramadan evening parties and radio-broadcasts during the holy month. As a result of Jewish hegemony in the Iraqi music industry by the early-mid 20th century, many Muslims were not satisfied as there was virtually no music to be enjoyed during Jewish holidays. An attempt was even made in 1936 to close down the broadcasting station’s music program that was directed by Jews until Muslims learned to play Iraqi music, although after several months the Iraqi officials ceded control back to Jewish musicians in defeat. As agents of the a diverse range of repertoires, the Jews were successful in soliciting acclaimed Muslim vocalists such as Rashīd al-Qundarchī and ‘Abdallah Fāris to sing in the Judeo-Baghdadi Arabic as an ode of appreciation to the Jewish pioneers of the Iraqi maqām. In sum, Jewish masters of the maqām became highly-regarded musicians in Baghdad and exerted their influence over their Muslim counterparts.

However the influence of Baghdadi Jewish musicians was not limited to the urban centers of Iraq. Indeed, Iraqi Jewish musicians as members of a diaspora served as “international agents” in a similar fashion to the Sephardic Jews of Ottoman Istanbul and the Armenian community of Safavid Isfahan by disseminating their tradition through contact with foreign musicians and absorbing foreign aspects into Iraqi repertoire throughout the 20th century. They were responsible for introducing foreign elements unfamiliar to their society due to close ties with foreign musicians, primarily Egyptian. For example, the violin was probably adopted from Egypt under the influence of Ezra Aharon, a Baghdadi Jew who was an outspoken proponent of Egyptian musical trends. This very Ezra Aharon traveled with Iraqi Jewish music delegation, which was led by the acclaimed Iraqi musician Muhammad al-Gubbānchī, to the Congress of Arab Music held in Cairo in 1932. After emigrating to Israel following the Farhūd persecutions of 1950, he is known for fashioning his Iraqi radio ensemble to follow the Egyptian mainstream style.

Unknown
Ezra Aharon and Muhammad al-Gubbānchī with the Iraqi Jewish music delegation to the Congress of Arab Music, Cairo, 1932

But the influence felt between Iraqi and other Arab musicians was reciprocal, as Iraqi musicians were acclaimed masters of their art and thus served as points of reference for their Arab counterparts. For example the Jewish composer Salah al-Kuwaytī taught Umm Kulthūm a composition and taught Abd al-Wahhāb the maqām lāmi, which he later utilized in a composition. Within in Iraq itself, it so happened that Arabs unknowingly sang many traditional Jewish melodies whose Hebrew text had been changed to Arabic by Jews. Additionally, at least one maqām was recorded in Hebrew in 1920 and sporadically after that, indicating that there must have been some demand for Hebrew renditions of maqāmāt. But perhaps the most conspicuous vestige of Jewish hegemony in Iraqi maqām is observed in the badwa of maqām al-țāhir, which begins with the Hebrew word “Hallelujah.” Evidently Jewish Baghdadi musicians were able to exert their influence on their Muslim counterparts both inside and outside of Iraq, and they left a distinct Jewish imprint on the Iraqi maqām repertoire alongside loans from Egypt and the West.

In conclusion, Iraqi Jewish musicians have played a capital role in the development of the standard Iraqi maqām style, and later served as “international agents” of the Iraqi repertoire–that is, as beneficiaries of their host country’s musical heritage–in a fashion not dissimilar to the Sephardic Jewish financiers of Ottoman Istanbul and the Armenian silk merchants of Safavid Isfahan. They disseminated their tradition through contact with foreign musicians and absorbed foreign aspects into Iraqi repertoire. While the Baghdadi Jewish diaspora in Israel has remained markedly more operative and prolific in the continuation of the Iraqi maqām tradition than its Indian and Javanese counterparts, it too struggles to define its identity in the face of an ever-homogenizing host society. With the emigration of all of the Jews of Iraq out of the country in the mid twentieth century and pressures towards assimilation in their host countries, the Iraqi maqām faces a difficult and defining future.

Sources

Eli Timan. “Menashi Somekh Recollections on Iraqi Maqams.” 4 April 2013. Youtube. April 15th. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcXsCgS_YQ8&feature=player_embedded> 

Esther Warkov. “Revitalization of Iraqi-Jewish Instrumental Traditions in Israel: The Persistent Centrality of an Outsider Tradition.” Asian Music. University of Texas Press: Vol. 17, No. 2, Music in the Ethnic Communities of Israel (Spring – Summer, 1986), pp. 9-31.

Gen’ichi Tsuge. “A note on the Iraqi Maqam.” Asian Music. University of Texas Press: Vol. 4, No. 1, Near East-Turkestan Issue (1972), pp. 59-66.

“Jews of Iraq in Recent Generations.” Journal of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center. Nehardea: No.14, Autumn 2003. <http://www.babylonjewry.org.il/new/english/nehardea/14/7.htm&gt;

Scheherazade Qassim Hassan. “Iraq.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 10 April. 2013. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/13899&gt;

Virginia Danielson; Scott Marcus; Dwight Reynolds. “The Iraqi Maqām and Its Transmission.” Garland Encyclopedia of Music. Routledge: Vol. 6 (Aug 2001) 1200 pp.

 

 

 

The Nestorian Legacy: Aramaic, Mongolian Christians, and the Persian Church of the East

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. This is the story of the modern Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac people, and the legacy of their ancient language and faith in the pre-modern world. 

Assyrian_New_Year_Syria1
Modern Assyrians celebrating ancient Akitu (New Years), al-Hasakah, Syria (2002)

The Nestorian Creed
The year is 431 A.D., and cataclysmic events are afoot in Constantinople. As the Byzantine emperor frantically prepares for a cosmic confrontation with the Sassanian Persians to the East, the Church finds itself in a threatening predicament of its own. The 3rd ecumenical council has convened for over a month now in the Aegean port of Ephesus, where 150 of the Christian World’s most prominent theologians and ecclesiastical dignitaries have been feuding over pressing issues of church and doctrine. The Archbishop of Constantinople, a man by the name of Nestorius, is the main topic of discussion here. Nestorius had daringly argued in his sermons that Christ’s human and divine natures were distinct—a doctrine known as dyophysitism, literally “two natures;” as opposed to mono- or miaphysitism, “one nature.” As a result, Nestorius declared that the Virgin Mary must be referred to by the Greek title Christokos “Christ-bearer,” in place of the suggestively monophysite Theotokos, or “God-bearer.” Perhaps all of this seems like much fuss over a technicality to the 21st century reader, but indeed these very assertions were fighting words in the early Christian world.

After a series of tempestuous deliberations, the synod makes its decision. Nestorius is officially condemned in five separate canons produced at the council, declared a heretic, excommunicated from Christianity, and exiled from the realm. The deposed Patriarch gathers his followers and embarks on an exodus to the East, all the time insisting his ideals were in fact “orthodox.” But Nestorius was not alone–the Council’s findings were rejected by many of the attendees from the fringes of the Byzantine Empire, including the Syriacs, the Egyptians, the Ethiopians and the Armenians, all of whom heretoforth became alienated from Western Christendom. These dramatic events in the 5th century AD amounted to the “Nestorian Schism,” which gave birth to the Persian Church (the Church of the East) and resulted in the dissemination of Nestorius’ creed from Egypt in the west to China in the east. Within a short period, the Nestorians would reach the T’ang court at Chang’an (Xi’an), and would enjoy evangelical success among Mongol tribesmen, Sogdian merchants, Chinese sailors, and South Indian farmers along the way.  

800px-Church_of_the_East_in_the_Middle_Ages.svg
Extent of the Nestorian Church (Church of the East) based in Persia in the Middle Ages

1273px-Syriac_Christianity.svg
The extent of Syriac Christianity in Asia and the Aramaic language in the Near East. Green represents Mongol tribes that adopted Christianity

.  5235640545_805db3c6bb Nestorian-Stele-Budge-plate-III
Daqin Pagoda, a 7th century Nestorian Church near Xi’an, China  

Consecration2
St. Gregorios Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church, Kerala, India. Historically the Christians of India were affiliated with the Persian Church (the Church of the East), until local Patriarchs forged relationships with the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 19th century (which, like Nestorianism, is a Non-Chalcedonian creed).

Now let us shift our lens from Constantinople to the Persian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in Mesopotamia. Here on the Tigris, the Sassanians had established a world-class urban center comprised of a series of sprawling “settlements”–a spectacle that inspired the Arab Muslim invaders of the 7th century to call the city Al-Madā’in, or “The Cities.” But most important to our story here is the ethno-linguistic dichotomy of Sassanid Mesopotamia—namely, a Zoroastrian Iranian elite and a Christian, Jewish, and Sabian Aramaic-speaking bourgeois (there were also minorities of Greeks, Armenians, Arab Christians, etc.). In an attempt to deter the Christians of Persia from succumbing to Byzantine sympathies, the Iranian elite actively pursued a policy of aligning the Aramaic-speaking Christians of the Sassanian realm with the new heretical Nestorian creed from Byzantium. The goal was to anathematize the Persian Christian population from the Patriarch in Constantinople, and thereby prevent defection and collaboration with their coreligionists.  ctesiphon
Ruins of Tâq-i Kasrâ Palace at the Sassanian Persian capital, Ctesiphon (located on east shore of the Tigris, Seleucia was across from it on the west shore) in modern-day Iraq

Thus under the support of Sassanian monarchs and noblemen (nakhwadârân), Nestorian refugees were welcomed from the Byzantine Empire into the Sassanid realm and were soon given authority of the Diocese of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in the capital, headed by a Catholicos later deemed the “Patriarch of the East” or the “Patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon”. This was the genesis of the Persian Church, which had jurisdiction over all Nestorian Christian communities throughout the world. Of course Christian Europe would forever view the Nestorians as “false Christians”; as oriental bumpkins whose knowledge of Christ and doctrine was tantamount to paganism, and would even dispatch missionaries with the sole purpose of “converting” them to Christianity. But these ecclesiastical attitudes should not undermine our understanding of the role that Nestorianism has played in historical developments in Eurasia. For example following the conquest of Jerusalem, the Nestorian wife of Shahanshah Khosrow II, Queen Shirin, brought the holiest relic of Christendom, the Holy Cross, back to her palace in Ctesiphon. The sacred object remained at Shâhigân-i Spêd Palace until it was repatriated to the Holy Sepulchre by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 628 A.D.

 Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Arezzo
Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Piero della Francesca at Arezzo, Italy. The Byzantine Emperor Heraclius returns the relic of the True Cross to Jerusalem from Ctesiphon in 628, following its capture by the Sassanian Persian King Khosrow II and his Nestorian wife Shirin fourteen years earlier.

Aramaic Languages
But who exactly were these Aramaic-speakers, soon-to-become-Nestorians? Here we have to deal briefly with some terminology. Of course prior to the Muslim invasion of the Near East and the subsequent Arab migration into that region from the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century AD, the Near East boasted a very different ethno-linguistic landscape from that of today. Mesopotamia and Greater Syria were primarily populated by a group of people known collectively as Aramaeans or Nabataeans (from Arabic nabai, pl. anbā). The Aramaeans spoke languages of the Aramaic group, which is a Semitic language family related to Hebrew, Arabic, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Akkadian, and Amharic. The ancient Neo-Assyrian empire witnessed the spread of the Old Aramaic language which eventually displaced Akkadian, and thus Aramaeans throughout history have come to refer to themselves (somewhat nostalgically) as “Assyrians” as descendents of that people. Among Aramaeans there were Jews, Sabians (Mandaeans), Samaritans, and Christians. These non-Zoroastrians were the commoners and working class of Parthian and Sassanian Mesopotamia. The Nestorian Church or Persian Church eventually developed into the “Assyrian Church of the East”, which later underwent pro-Catholic (Chaldean) and pro-Jacobite (Syriac) schisms. In sum, the terms Aramaeans, Nabataeans, Sabians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Mandaeans, all refer to ancient and modern speakers of Aramaic languages.

NENA (Iraqi Koinē) Ṭuroyo Neo-Mandaic (Khorramshahr) Standard Arabic Modern Hebrew English
āna ewin/ewan* -(a)no, -(o)no* -(a)na ana aní I [am]
shlāma shlōmo shlomā salām shalóm peace
khayūta ħaye heyyi ħayāt khayím life
shimsha shemsho shāmesh shams shamásh sun
malka malko malkā malik mélekh king
kikhwa kukwo kakuā kawkab kokháv star/planet
nāshe nōshe barnashānā nās anashím people
libba lebo lebbā lubb<(qalb) lev heart, core
lishāna lishōno leshānā lisān lashón tongue/language
resha risho rishā ra’s rosh head
khulma ħulmo ħulm khalóm dream
ida idho idā yad yad hand
brōna, bnūne abro, abne ebra, ebri ibn, abnā’;banūn ben, baním a son, sons
brāta, bnāte bartho, bnōtho berāt, benāthā ibna;bint, banāt bat, banót daughter, daughters

Language comparison table prepared by the author of modern Semitic languages showing some common cognates: Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA), Ṭuroyo (Neo-Aramaic from Ṭur ‘Abdin), Neo-Mandaic, Standard Arabic, and Modern Hebrew. *NENA and Ṭuroyo distinguish between gender in the 1st person copula.

i_sas_shapI_23_rs_4
Coin (drachma) of Shapur I with Aramaic inscription, Sassanian period. Aramaic was the official administrative language of pre-Islamic Iranian dynasties, and typically numismatic inscriptions were in Aramaic. i.e Bagi Papaki Malka “Divine King Babak”; Mazdisn Bagi Artahshatr Malkan Malka Airan Minuchitri min Yazdan “The Ahura Mazda-worshipping Divine Artaxerxes, King of the Kings of Iran, heaven-descended of the Gods”.

Aramaic languages have enjoyed a great deal of political, literary, and religious patronage in the Iranian world, reaching Greece and even India. After all, Old Aramaic displaced Hebrew as the language of Israel by the 6th century BC, and was the language spoken by Jesus Christ himself. Aramaic became the lingua franca of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, and “Imperial Aramaic” became the official administrative language of pre-Islamic Iranian polities through the Sassanid period. It might come as a surprise that instead of the Iranian term Shahanshah, Parthian and Sassanian coins usually feature the Aramaic calque Malkan Malka. Before the arrival of Islam and Arabic script, many Middle Iranian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian, Sogdian, Chorasmian, with the exception of Bactrian and Khotanese) and even Avestan were written in modified Aramaic scripts, and inscriptions in these language even contain Aramaic heterograms called huzwârish. What’s more, Middle Aramaic languages like Syriac, Mandaic, and Babylonian Aramaic (the language of the Talmud) became important liturgical and scholarly languages in the pre-Islamic Near East. The School of Nisibis was a 4th century Syriac-language university, and like the Academy of Gondeshapur in Persia, is sometimes referred to as the world’s first university. With the advent of Islam in the 7th century AD, the inhabitants of the Near East soon relinquished Aramaic for Arabic, except for small pockets of Christians, Jews, and Sabians who retained their language and enjoyed dhimmi status under the Caliphate.  

new-avestan
Yasna 45.1 from the Gathas in Avestan script. Avestan is the liturgical language of Zoroastrianism; this script was developed in the 3rd or 4th century based on Aramaic script (with Greek influences).  

Today, Northeastern Neo-Aramaic languages (NENA)–which are not derived from any classical literary Aramaic language but rather from a rural periphery group–are still spoken by Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Kurdistani Jews residing in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Armenia, Georgia, and abroad. The standard literary version of NENA was developed in 1836 by Justin Perkins, an American Presbyterian missionary to Iran, and is based on the Urmia dialect of Iran (Urmežnaya). However the modern spoken varieties of NENA continue to exhibit a great deal of morphological, phonetic, and lexical variability resulting in strained intelligibility among groups. This situation has been in part ameliorated by the Iraqi Koinē phenomenon, but dialects remain drastically distinct along lines of religious affiliation, region, and even village. Aside from the NENA dialect continuum, the other Neo-Aramaic languages are Ṭuroyo spoken in Ṭur ‘Abdin in southeastern Turkey (also called Central Neo-Aramaic), Neo-Mandaic spoken by Mandaeans in Iraq and Iran, and Western Neo-Aramaic, spoken in a set of three small villages in the Anti-Lebanon mountains northwest of Damascus. None of these languages are mutually intelligible.

 assyrianiraq
Assyrian men in traditional garb in ‘Ankawa, Erbil, Iraq

While the impact of Iranian languages (Parthian Pahlavi, Sassanian Pahlavi, New Persian, Sorani, Kurmanji) has historically been paramount on Aramaic languages, there are at least a few examples of lexical borrowing in the opposite direction. Perhaps some of us are familiar with a few Persian words of Aramaic (Syriac) origin. For example,

1.) Sumac or Somâgh in Persian (>Arabic sumāq >Syriac summāq “red”, from root s-m-q, akin to NENA smuqa, smiqta “red” and Ṭuroyo semoqo, semaqto “red”)

2.) Yaldâ (>Syriac yaldā “birth” from the radicals y-l-d, cognate to Arabic root w-l-d via Northwest Semitic isogloss w- > y-; ArabicForm I gerund: wilāda, milād “childbirth”; Form V gerund: tawallud, “generation, engendering” → N.Persian tavallod “birth”). Thus the holiday Shab-e Yaldâ is “The Night of Birth”, celebrating the birth of the Iranian God Mithra, and the name was probably coined in the Sassanid period.

3.) Kiânâ (>Syriac kyānā “nature, Innate essence [of Christ]”, also NENA kyana, cognate to Arabic kayān “entity”, from root k-w-n). Note a false Persian etymology: “Queen”, from kiân “royal”+â (“-â” is not a Persian feminine suffix; Middle Persian had already lost grammatical gender, which only existed vestigially from Old Persian, such as in nouns of the feminine -ka declension as –əg → N.Pers –ə, which has shifted to –ê in Western Persian. i.e. O.Pers fra-zāna-ka → M.Pers Frəzânəg → N.Pers Farzâ “intelligence”; O.Pers Spaita-ka, M.Pers Spêdəg, N.Pers Sêpidê “white, clean”).  

Hormuzd.Rassam.reclined
Hormuzd Rassam (1826-1910), a native Assyrian Assyriologist from Mosul who discovered the clay tablets that contained the Epic of Gilgamesh as well as the Cyrus Cylinder at the ruins of Babylon. The name “Hormuzd” was a Sassanian-era corruption of Avestan “Ahura Mazda”, a popular name among Kings, and is still used among Aramaic-speakers today.  

Nestorian Christianity in East Asia
In the 12th century AD, a legend developed among European Christians about a righteous King who ruled over a true Christian nation somewhere among the pagans of the Orient. His name was Prester John, and he became the subject of ecclesiastical missions, military expeditions, and exploration by Europeans up through the 17th century. One school of speculation ascribed the identity of Prester John to the Mongolian Kereyid chief, Ong Khan. Indeed Ong Khan’s tribe, the Kereyids, had converted to Nestorian Christianity, but that did not stop Genghis Khan from marrying his son Tolui to one of Ong Khan’s nieces, Sorkhakhtani Beki. This Nestorian matriarch was mother to the four great inheritors of the Mongol realm: Kublai Khan, Hulagu Khan, Möngke Khan, and Ariq Böke. She is regarded very highly in the Secret History of the Mongols, where it is related that the Great Khan Ögedei consulted her on various matters. In 1310, she was regarded as “Empress” in a ceremony that included a Nestorian mass, and her body was enshrined in a Christian church in Ganzhou in 1335, where sacrifices were to be offered.

.  775px-TuluiWithQueenSorgaqtani
Tolui Khaqan and his queen consort, Sorkhokhtani Beki, a Mongolian Nestorian Christian and mother to the four partitioners of the Mongol Empire: Kublai Khan, Hulagu Khan, Möngke Khan, and Ariq Böke.  

Sorkhakhtani’s son Hulagu Khan, who founded the Ilkhanate in Persia, also married a Mongolian Nestorian princess by the name of Doquz Khatun. She is said to have accompanied her husband during his campaigns, and during the Siege of Baghdad in 1258, she even ordered him to spare the Christian inhabitants of that city from the bloodbath that ensued. Hulagu offered the royal palace to the Nestorian Catholicos Mar Makkikha II, and ordered a cathedral to be built for him. In this remarkable episode, the far-flung geographical extent of the Nestorian faith facilitated an unseemly alliance between peoples from Mesopotamia and Mongolia.

.  663px-Museum_für_Indische_Kunst_Dahlem_Berlin_Mai_2006_061

Wall painting from a Nestorian Christian Church in Qocho, China (683-770 AD)

But within centuries, Nestorianism too would succumb to the test of time. Sporadic persecution of Nestorians as well as neglect by their European coreligionists would weigh down on this already declining creed. Today Neo-Aramaic speakers are small in number, in great part due to the mass-killings of Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire and later the Assyrian Genocide committed by the Young Turks during WWI and then the Ba’athist regime in Iraq. The Assyrian Church of the East moved its Patriarchal See from Baghdad to Chicago, Illinois in 1989, where assimilation has become an imminent threat among the diaspora. But despite these calamities,  the Nestorian legacy and the Aramaic language still provides us with a kaleidoscopic view of connections between peoples and cultures; as the timeless diplomats between East and West, between our past and our present. Indeed we can make use of the texts, art, and architectural ruins to put together the pieces of this undying chapter of the human story.


Contemporary Assyrian singer Juliana Jendo singing Burbaslan Go Mdinate “We have dried up in our [own] cities”, about the dwindling Assyrian population in historic homeland, migration, assimilation abroad. 

External Links:

Juliana Jendo- Lishana Aramaya “Aramaic Language”, with George Homeh

Juliana Jendo- Lele Kul Watan Yimma  “No Country is our Motherland”, filmed at the Chaldean Nestorian Church in Kerala, India in 1994.

Juliana Jendo- Beth Yaldakh Hawe Brikha “Happy Birthday”, part of campaign to preserve Neo-Aramaic language among children of the diaspora in the Unites States.

Jualiana Jendo- Barboslan Go Mdinate “We have dried up in our [own] cities”, speaks about the dwindling Assyrian population in historic homeland, migration, assimilation abroad.