The Persian Vernacular of Samarkand and Bukhara: A Primer

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. The goal of this article is to introduce the reader to the history, language and culture of the autochthonous Tajik Persian-speaking population of Uzbekistan.

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The anterior façade of Madrasa-i Mīr-i ‘Arab (c. 1535 A.D.) from the vantage point of the portal to Masjid-i Kalon, together part of the Po-i Kalon complex; Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

اگر آن ترک شيرازى بدست آرد دل ما را، به خال هندويش بخشم سمرقند و بخارارا
“If only that Shirâzian maiden would deign to take my heart within her hand,
I’ll donate Samarkand and Bukhara, for her Hindu beauty mole”
-Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, Ghazaliāt

Background
Northern Tajik, a dialect of Persian, is the mother tongue of the majority of people born in the Samarqand and Bukhara oases located in the modern-day Republic of Uzbekistan. Multiple experts, international commentators, as well as Tajiks within and outside of the republic suggest that there may be between six and seven million Tajiks in Uzbekistan, constituting 30% of the republic’s 22 million population, rather than the government’s official figure of 5%. Mainstream English sources, however, are mute on this matter.

Astonishingly, until quite recently many reputed web-based sources and encyclopedias erroneously reported that Persian had functionally vanished from those oases several centuries ago–the equivalent of disseminating the idea that Catalan and its dialects have not been spoken along the eastern shoreline of the Iberian Peninsula since the reign of House of Aragón. On the contrary, Bahodir, a local 52-year-old Uzbek man from Hokimullomir who learned to speak in Tajik in Bukhara, reports:

In Bukhara you have to speak Tajik. If you want anything to be done, it is far better. Everything gets done quicker if you speak Tajik with them. Like I told you, we lived in Bukhara for many years. Back then, at home, we spoke Uzbek, but outside we spoke Tajik. ( Peter Finke, “Variations on Uzbek Identity”. Pg 82)

Another informant, manager at a popular Samarqandian restaurant in Brooklyn, NY, told this author (translated from Persian):

Samarqand and Bukhara are Tajik-speaking cities. The majority of Uzbeks in New York City hail from Samarqand and Bukhara, and have been labeled as “Uzbeks” in our nationality, but we are in fact Tajiks.

The reasons for this perplexing discrepancy are manifold. On the one hand, official census statistics released by the Uzbek government reflect the continuation of a well-documented Soviet-era effort to trivialize the Tajik population of Central Asia. Indeed, it is hard to deny that there is some truth in this, in light of the rather arbitrary territories assigned respectively to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan S.S.R.’s in the 1920s. Those assigned to the latter were primarily mountainous hinterlands; sparsely inhabited by speakers of various Eastern Iranian languages rather than Persian dialects. Fueled by fears of the more sedentary and more literate Tajik population posing potential resistance to Soviet rule, as well as the possible geopolitical linkage with Iran, in 1929 the areas of modern-day Tajikistan were split off to form the Tajik SSR, but the Uzbek SSR retained the traditionally Tajik-speaking regions of Samarkand, Bukhara, and parts of the Ferghana Valley. In order to make the borders look plausible, authorities forced the majority of Persian speakers in cities such as Bukhara and Samarkand to register as Uzbeks (Allworth 1990; Subtelny 1994). Many Tajik intellectuals continue to assert that the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, which were (and are) predominantly Tajik-speaking, should have been assigned to Tajikistan (Atkin 1994; Foltz 1996). Of note, in 2009, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon reportedly told journalists that he had threatened Uzbek President Islam Karimov that he would “take Samarkand and Bukhara back.”

Second, and closely connected with the ideas about ethnogensis, is the fate of the concept of Uzbekness during the period of national delimitation. The process of creating the Uzbek natsional’nost’ (националъностъ”nationality”) in early Soviet times has been regarded as the most artificial in the region and as a deliberate act on the part of the authorities with little justification in pre-existing patterns of identity (although the name “Uzbek” had existed before to refer to the 16th century Qipchaq-speaking tribal confederation led by Shaybani Khan, it had been used for self-designation by only a fraction of the ancestors of the present day population, who instead used terms such as “Turki” and “Sart”, yet more commonly identified with their city rather than language).

On the other hand, most Tajik-speakers in Uzbekistan do not seek to differentiate themselves from the so-called Uzbeks, and consequently lump themselves together with the them as a distinct entity from the citizens of neighboring Tajikistan who are– secondary to decades of strained relations and economic instability–the subject of negative public opinion. As nearly all Tajik-speakers in Uzbekistan are functionally bilingual in both Tajik Persian and Uzbek, identification with the titular nationality affords Tajik-speaking citizens social prestige and heightened prospects for social and economic mobility. Cases where brothers ended up with different ethnicities have been reported for Bukhara in particular (Naby 1993). Despite their decided indifference in matters of national identity, the Tajik-speakers of Uzbekistan continue to safeguard their distinct language which they often refer to colloquially as Bukhorocha and Samarqandcha, and several informants recall the scorn of their elders imploring them as children “to not speak Turki.” As such, Northern Tajik will likely survive in Uzbekistan, however with governmental pressure its domain of use is becoming increasingly restricted to the domestic sphere. Of note there are, however, a minority of Tajiks in Uzbekistan who identify foremost as Tajiks and tend to be active in local spheres of television broadcast, music, and other cultural activities.


Samarqand-based television program “Shomi Samarqand” is one of several regional programs that are broadcasted in the Tajik-Persian language within Uzbekistan

By law, Uzbek is Uzbekistan’s exclusive nation-wide state language. Government policy requires the use of Uzbek in all dealings with officials, in street signage, and in business and education. Russian is still spoken widely and boasts widespread prestige, however, and as in other post-Soviet states enjoys ambiguous legal status as “the language of interethnic communication.”

Paradoxically, in the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan (Qoraqalpogʻiston Respublikasi) located in ancient Khwarezm, Karakalpak (a Kipchak Turkic language closely related to Kazakh, brought by nomadic migrants to that region in the 18th century) enjoys official status alongside Uzbek, even though numerically there are estimated to be at least twelve times as many Tajiks as there are Karakalpaks within Uzbekistan.

Bukhara Oasis
In linguistic and ethnic terms, the city of Bukhara is still renowned for its Tajikness, and outside the region sometimes everyone originating from there is depicted as Tajik. Foltz believes 90 percent of the population of Bukhara city to be Tajiks (1996:213). According to Finke, the ubiquity of Tajik is obvious to the most casual observer. Even in social situations among strangers, such as on buses or talking on the phone, Tajik is spoken. Many Uzbeks report learning or improving their Tajik after moving to town.  In addition, in contrast to many official reports, Tajik is also spoken in many of the rural areas, particularly in the north and west of the Bukhara oasis. It may also be worth noting that Bukharan Tajik enjoys some prestige in Bukhara province as the language of city dwellers. Not surprisingly, the oft-quoted aphorism associated with the city is a Tajik-language quote originating with the Naqshbandi Sufi order which was founded in Bukhara: “Дил ба ёр у даст ба кор” dil ba yor u dast ba kor “One should devote their heart to God and their hands to the production of crafts.”

Khorezmian-Uzbek pop artist Feruza Jumaniyozova performs a folk medley in the local Bukharian Tajik language in Bukhara. Many Uzbek national singers perform songs in Tajik Persian which they devote to their fans in Samarqand and Bukhara regions

Virtually every Bukharan Tajik speaker is bilingual in Bukharan Tajik and Uzbek, the heavily Persianized Turkic language with which Tajik has been in intensive contact for centuries. Within Bukhara, the Uzbek language is spoken with a decidedly Tajik character (i.e. pronunciation of man, san instead of standard men, sen for the 1st and 2nd person singular pronouns). Language mixing, i.e. code switching and code mixing, takes place even in households where every member is a native speaker of Bukharan Tajik. However, Tajik–Uzbek bilingualism is not limited to those who have Bukharan Tajik as their first language – native Uzbek speakers who grow up in the city of Bukhara usually acquire some command of Bukharan Tajik, which they utilize either passively or actively. Among Uzbeks, Tajik (Persian) is often idealized as shirin or “sweet”, and proficiency in Tajik language, music and literature remains, much like centuries in the past, a desirable skill.

The autochthonous people of the Bukhara oasis are Tajik-speaking, including the once sizable Jewish community that still boasts several hundred souls within the city today. Despite popularization of Bukhoric as a distinctively “Jewish language” by migrants to the West, there exist few tangible differences between the Tajik vernacular of the Jews and Muslims in Uzbekistan, save terminology for Jewish religious concepts and rites which are borrowed from Hebrew and Aramaic. The language of Bukharian Jews therefore does not constitute a true sociolect, and is better understood simply as Northern Tajik.


Performance of “Mavrigi” in Bukhara, part of the local musical traditions of Bukhara and designated by UNESCO as part of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Uzbekistan.” Mavrigi is a cycle of local  Bukharian folk songs in couplet form in the Tajik Persian language, alternating between the songful-lyrical and improvisatory-recitative nature, often with doira accompaniment


Interview with local Bukharian musician Nishon Otamurodov, broadcasted locally on “Payomi Ruz” program on Bukhara TV, Uzbekistan


Local Bukharian artist San’at Shohbaratov performs pop song “Do’stat Doram” in Bukharian Tajik language on Uzbek television

The city of Bukhara is renowned as a historic center of silk and cotton textile production (atlas and adras), a craft that has its origin in the material culture of the autochthonous Tajik population. Known in the West as “ikat”, abrabandi is the art of resist-dying warped silk into bold, abstract motifs used in garments and upholstery. In abrabandi (literally “binding of clouds” in Persian, referring to the fuzzy, gossamer appearance of the patterns), the master pattern of the atlas textile is determined by the nishonzan (“one who sets the marks” in Persian), and the silkworms cocoons are carefully processed in the pillakashkhona (Persian for “workshop where cocoon is pulled”). Following the charcoal marks of nishonzan, the abraband (“binder of clouds”) carefully prepares the warps for the next skillful master, the rangrēz, or “dyer.” In Bukhara, the blue and indigo rangrēz were traditionally Jews. The warps are then carefully placed on a wooden loom and hand-woven into a finished textile. Evidently, despite becoming popularized throughout the country and the world as a quintessentially “Uzbek” craft, this complex art and its technical terminology has its roots in the indigenous Tajik-speaking Muslim and Jewish urban population of Bukhara rather than the more recent Turkic migrants.

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Abrabandi, or “binding of clouds” in Persian, is a magnificent resist-dyed silk textile produced in Bukhara. 

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A traditional abrabandi kaftan from Bukhara, early 20th century. 

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“Bukharan Bureaucrat” (c. 1905) by the Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, who used a special color photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. The bureaucrat is pictured vested in a splendid abrabandi kaftan of local production.

Samarqand Oasis
The prominence of Tajik in Samarqand, located just 30 kilometers from the border of the neighboring post-Soviet Republic of Tajikistan, is not dissimilar to the situation in Bukhara. According to Richard Foltz, Tajiks account for perhaps 70 percent of the population of Samarqand. Much like in Bukhara, Northern Tajik (Persian) is the primary vernacular heard in the streets, markets, and domestic sphere, and the city is home to many renowned local Tajik-language singers such as Sherzod Uzoqov, Rohila Olmasova, Ruslan Raxmonov, and Baxtiyor Mavlonov, among others. Local crafts for which Samarkand is famed, such as the Samarqand style of zarduzi or golden-thread embroidery, take their technical terminology from Tajik Persian. As a famous epithet uttered by locals goes,

Tajik Persian: Самарқанд сайқали рўйи замин аст, Бухоро қуввати ислом дин аст
Persian (Iran): سمرقند صیقل روی زمین است، بخارا قوت اسلام و دین است
English: “Samarkand is the gem of the earth, Bukhara is the powerhouse of faith”

There exist a number of local radio and television broadcasts in Tajik Persian, such as the Shomi Samarqand television program which covers local festivals, arts, crafts and other civil activities. Traditional Tajik maqom ensemble pieces abound in the local music culture, including the renowned Ushoqi Samarqand:


Performance of the famous Ushoqi Samarqand (refrain lyrics below), part of the local Tajik-language maqom repertoire, by Samarqandian vocalist Bakhtiyor Mavlonov

Tajik Persian: Биё ки зулфи каҷу, чашми сурмасо инҷост; Нигоҳи гарм у адоҳои дилрабо инҷост (biyo ki zulfi kaj u čašmi surmaso injost; nigohi garm u adohoi dilrabo injost)
English:Come! The lover’s curly locks of hair and kohl adorned-eyes are here; her warm gaze and her enchanting coquetry is here.”


Local Samarqandian pop singer Rohila Olmasova performs “Samarqand” in Tajik (Persian)

While Tajik remained the language of choice for many Samarqand residents during the Soviet era, migration and state policy are steadily changing the city’s linguistic landscape. These days, there are hardly any signs written in Tajik, and there are limited opportunities for residents to educate their children or access media in their mother tongue, local Tajiks complain. Official figures for Tajik-language education in Samarqand and the surrounding region are not available, but an overall countrywide trend shows that the number of schools in minority languages is declining: There were 282 Tajik and mixed Tajik-Uzbek schools in Uzbekistan in 2004, down from 318 in 2001, according to the Moscow-based Federal Center for Educational Legislation.

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Zarduzi or gold-thread embroidery is a delicate craft passed down from masters to apprentices in guilds throughout Samarkand.

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According to local lore, Masjid-i Bibi Khanym (c. 1404 A.D.) in Samarqand was commissioned by Timur’s favorite wife, Bibi Khanym, in honor of his return from a campaign in India. The two lateral sanctuaries flanking the main iwan each feature an elegant melon-shaped, longitudinally ribbed cupola whose outer shell is adorned with polychrome glazed ceramic tiles. Stalactite cornices form the articulation between each dome and a high cylindrical drum ornamented with belts of thuluth inscriptions 

LANGUAGE

Today, mutual intelligibility between the Persian (Tajik) vernaculars spoken in Uzbekistan and those in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan is limited without explicit training. Beyond obvious differences in core lexicon and phonology which would otherwise constitute surmountable dialectical variation, easy intelligibility is hindered by pervasive Uzbekisms that are otherwise alien to Persian grammatical canons. These influences include a greater tendency towards agglutination, such as in the form of prepositional suffixes, as well as a complex system of conjunct auxiliary verbs which furnish participles with metaphorical ‘modes of action’, among others. Some of the salient features of the Samarqand and Bukhara dialects vis-à-vis Western Persian are outlined here.

*note: The future of the official orthography for the Uzbek language–that is, Cyrillic vs. Latin script–is currently the subject of heated debate. The Latin script (Lotini) will be used in this article. In contrast, the Standard Tajik language is written in a modified Cyrillic script, and official Tajik-language newspapers published in Uzbekistan also use this orthography.

GRAMMAR AND MORPHOLOGY
The Persian directional preposition به /be/ “to, towards” is a suffix in Samarkand Tajik (-ба /ba/), and its function is more versatile, occupying a variety of semantic fields corresponding to the diversified Uzbek use of -da, -ga. This constitutes a radical departure from both Standard Tajik and Western Persian vernaculars–wherein prepositional suffixes are absent–and a convergence with Uzbek Turkic agglutinative structure:

Uzbek Samarkand Tajik Western Persian English
Qozonda tuz tushdilar Дегба намак рехтан
Degba namak reḵtan
 نمک توى ديگ ريختن
Namak tūye dīg ritan
They poured salt into the pot
Bizlarga non beringlar Моҳонба нон детон
Mohon
ba non deton
به ما نان بديد
Be
mâ nân bedid
Give us bread (“to us”)
Bolalar uchun yangi maktab ochdilar Бачаҳонба мактаби нав гушодан
Bačahon
ba maktabi nav gušodan
مدرسه جديدى براى بچهها باز كردن
Madreseye jadidi barâye baččehâ bâz kardan
They opened a new school for the children
Shunga ҳаминба
Hamin
ba
به خاطر همين
Be âtere
hamin
For this reason
Toshkentga kelganimda Тошкентба омадамба
Toškent
ba omadamba
وقتى كه به تاشكند آمدم
Vaghti ke
be Tâškand âmadam…
When I came to Tashkent…
Onam bu mavzu haqida gapirib qoldi Модарам ин мавзуба суҳбат карда монд
Modaram in mavzuba suhbat karda mond
مادرم شروع كرد راجع به اين موضوع صحبت كردن
Mâdaram shoru’ kard
râje’ be in mowzu’ sohbat kardan
My mother suddenly began to talk about this subject
Tepada turgan Таппаба истода
Tappa
ba istoda
روى تپه ايستاده
Rūye
tappe istâde
Standing on top of the hill

As such, the prepositional suffix -ба /-ba/ is very powerful in that it is encountered in a remarkable number of semantic fields corresponding to Western Persian توى tūye “in, into”, به be “to”, براى barâye “for”, به خاطر be ḵâtere “for [a reason], وقتى كه vaghti ke “when”, راجع به râje’ be “about”, بر روى bar, rūye “on, atop.” In formal speech, the more specified prepositions are used. Finally in the ablative and locative constructions, /-ba/ may occur in fields in which it would be considered redundant in Western Persian: haminjaba “right here” (literally “in right here”), a feature which is shared with dialects in northern Afghanistan (da inja).

Note: The dialect of Bukhara uses a unique ablative case suffix -бан /-ban/ “from”: Наманганбан Фаргонаба рафтем Namanganban Farġonaba raftē“We went from Namangan to Ferghana.”

Northern Tajik has developed numerous prepositional suffixes such as кати -kati “with” (also found in Afghan dialects, as a prepositional prefix قت qat-e), барин -barīn “like”, and баъд /-ba’d/, пас /-pas/, апушта a’ pušta “after”. For example, dadem-kati Khuqandba raftēm (Uzbek: otam bilan Qo’qonga ketdik) “I went to Kokand together with my father”; man ham kalon šavam bobom-barīn tariḵčī šudanī (Uzbek: men ham katta bo’lganimda, otam kabi tarikhchi bo’laylik) “When I grow up, I want to become a historian like my father”; in suruda navistan-ba’d (Uzbek: bu qoshiqni yozishdan keyin) “after writing this song…”, whereas enclitics are absent in Western Persian: ba’d az neveštan-e in âhang. These examples are represented in table form below:

Uzbek Samarkand Tajik English
otam bilan Qo’qonga ketdik дадем кати Хуқандба рафтем
dadem
-kati Khuqandba raftēm
I went to Kokand together with my father
men ham katta bo’lganimda, otam kabi tarikhchi bo’laylik ман ҳам калон шавам бобом барин тарихчӣ шуданӣ
man ham kalon šavam bobom-
barīn tariḵčī šudanī
When I grow up, I want to become a historian like my father
bu qo’shiqni yozishdan keyin ин суруда навистан баъд
in suruda navistan
-ba’d
After writing this song

The superlative construction uses an Uzbek loan eng in place of Standard Persian ترين –tarīn: eng baland “the tallest” (Western Persian: بلندترين boland-tarīn).

In addition, a number of verbal constructions have also evolved which mirror Uzbek. These include:
1) anī construction, which is based on Uzbek –moqchi signifying will or intent (discussed below)
2) da construction, which is based on Uzbek -moqda signifying a continuous action, used in the most informal registers.

Communal commands follow the Uzbek pattern using the past tense of the 1st person pl.: рафтем raftēm “let’s go” (literally: “we went”, often preceded by набошад nabošad; compare Uzbek ketdik bo’lmasa) as opposed to Western Persian which uses the subjunctive prefix /be-/: برويم beravīm. The second person plural enclitic is -етон -eton (Western Persian: يد-īd):

Northern Tajik

Western Persian

English

дастатонба гиретон
dastatonba gireton

تو دستتان بگيريد
tu dastetân begirīd

“Hold [it] in your hands”

гуетон
gūyeton

بگويد
begūīd

“Say!” (pl., command)

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Masjid-i Bolo Hauz (c. 1712 A.D.) Bukhara, Uzbekistan. The most striking feature of this mosque are the twenty slender wooden columns, each comprised of two trunks bound together by metal rings, and with painted stalactite capitals. The mosque takes inspiration from Safavid pavilion forms, such as the Chehel Sotun Palace in Isfahan, Persia.


Tajik-Uzbek artist Munira Mukhammedova, a native of Bukhara, performs the Persian song “Ey Nigori Nozanin” in the Khan’s palace in Bukhara

The Uzbek emphatic/intensifying modal particle -ku is used when there is doubt whether the interlocutor is aware/sure about the information, or in order to intensify the sentiment: мешудаст-ку mešudast-ku! “Bravo!” (calqued from Uzbek bo’lardi-ku; note alternative expressions are also used: Standard Tajik офарин ofarin and Russian молодец/молодцы molodets’/molodts’y.)

Another peculiarity of Northern Tajik is the present continuous tense of the verb. In contrast to Western Persian, the formal register of the language employs a construction consisting of the past participle followed by a conjugated form of the desemanticized verb истодан istodan (originally meaning “to stand”) in lieu of Western Persian داشتن dâštan (“to have”). This feature is shared with Standard Tajik. However, the informal register of the language employs a contracted reflex of this past participle + istodan form, whereby “-[i]ss-”:

Samarqand Tajik (colloquial) Standard Tajik  Western Persian
(colloquial)
English
mehnat kaissem меҳнат карда истодам
mehnat karda istodam
دارم زحمت مى كشم
dâram zahmat mikešam
I am working hard [currently]
davom daissem давом дода истодам
davom doda istodam
دارم ادامه ميدم
dâram edâme midam
I am continuing
omaissad  омада истода
omada istoda
داره مياد
dâre miyâd
S/he/it is coming
varaq zaissem варақ зада истодам
varaq zada istodam
دارم ورق ميزنم
dâram varaġ mizanam
I am turning the page
kalon šussen калон шуда истодан
kalon šuda istodan
دارن بزرگ ميشن
dâran bozorg mišan
They are getting bigger
chi puxsseton? чӣ пухта истодаед?
chi puḵta istodaed?
چي داريد ميپزيد؟
chi dârid mipazid?
What are you(pl.) cooking?

An alternate use of desemanticized гаштан gaštan (originally meaning “to roam, wander”) for the auxiliary usually gives a perfect progressive sense: kor karda gašta-ast “he has been working.”

Characteristic of Northern Tajik spoken in Uzbekistan are conjunct (or serial) verbs, of which the progressive tenses (see above) are grammaticalized instances. There are some eighteen lexically established conjunct auxiliaries corresponding to models in Uzbek, which in regularly conjugated tenses furnish adverbial ‘modes of action’ for the non-finite participle—which is, semantically speaking, the main verb. Some are fairly literal in sense:  kitob-mitob ḵarida mebarad “he buys (up) books and stationery (and takes them away with him),” to highly metaphorical: in adrasa pūšida bin “try on this resist-dyed tunic” (дидан/бин didan/bin- ‘to see,’ tentative mode; cf. Eng. “see if it fits”). Other typical conjunct auxiliaries are гирифтан giriftan ‘to take’ (self-benefactive): dars-i nav-ro navišta giriftem “we copied down the new lesson”; додан dodan “to give” (other-benefactive): nom-i ḵud-ro navišta mediham “I shall jot down my name (for you)”; партофтан partoftan “to throw (away)” (complete or thorough action): berunho-ya toza karda rūfta parto! “sweep all the outside nice and clean!” This last illustrates a double conjunct construction, the auxiliary governing both of the non-finite forms of руфтан rūftan “to sweep” and тоза кардан toza kardan “to clean” (a typical Persian-type composite verb).

Colloquially, the copula is omitted: шумо озмойш карданӣми? šumo ozmoiš kardani-mi? “Are you going to give it a try?”; ин маҳаллаба моҳон чил у панҷ сол яша кадагӣ; In mahallaba mohon chil u panj sol yaša kadagi “We have lived in this neighborhood for forty-five years”; ман дар бораи чашмаҳо китоб навистагӣ man dar borayi čašmaho kitob navistagi “I have written a book about fresh water springs”; вай номашон Дилбар vay nomashon Dilbar “Her name is Dilbar.”

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Remains of the entrance portal to Timur’s royal palace “Oq Saroy” at Shahrisabz, Uzbekistan. The Spanish ambassador, Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, who passed through Shahrisabz in 1404, was astounded by the structure’s enormous scale and elaborate ornamentation using dark blue- and turquoise-colored glazed ceramic tiles. Brick mosaic work, forming large geometrical and epigraphic designs on a background of polished building brick, affords the portal a special softness of color and an air of grand mystery. Calculation of the proportions of the surviving elements of the site makes it fairly certain that the height of the main portal reached 70 m (230 ft). It was topped by arched pinnacles (ko’ngra), while corner towers on a multifaceted pedestal were at least 80 m high. Today, only the lower segment of the pillars and part of the arch remain.

Occasionally the contracted enclitic form of the 1st person copula is substituted wholesale from Uzbek. This occurs particularly at the end of the -anī construction, which is based on Uzbek –moqchi signifying will or intent, whereby -man instead of Persian -[hast]am: Man bukhorocha usluba yod giftaniman “I intend to learn the Bukharian style [of embroidery]”; man unjaba raftaniman “I want to/will go there” (Uzbek: men uyerga ketmoqchiman).

*Note: in the first example above, the Uzbek construction bukhorocha uslub is used instead of Persian uslūbi bukhoroi, which is considered canonical.

Northern Tajik makes extensive use of the verbs баромадан baromadan (coll. buromdan) “to come out” and баровардан barovardan (coll. burovardan) “to bring out”, which are parallel to the versatile Uzbek verbs chiqmoq and chiqarmoq, respectively. For example: Зўр буромадаст zōr buromdast “It came out great/wonderfully” (cf. Uzbek zo’r chiqibdi). Notably, these verbs are conjugated with the affix bar- treated as part of the verb stem. Баровардан barovardan is sometimes used in lieu of the Western Persian verbs بردن، آوردن bordan, âvardan “to take”, “to bring.” For example: писар хиёнат кунад агар, духтар кечири мукунад лекин ҳеч вақт а есаш намубурорад pisar iyonat kunad agar, dutar kečiri mukunad lekin heč vaġt a’ esaš namuburorad “If a guy cheats, the girl will forgive him but she will never forget it” (cf. Western Persian: از یادش نمى برد az yâdaš nemibarad; cf. Uzbek: yigit xiyonat qilsa agar, qiz kechiradi lekin hech qachon esidan chiqarmaydi.)

The Turkic interrogative particle -ми –mi is used in final position, or as an enclitic on the component questioned. In Western Persian, a construction using آيا âyâ is optionally used:

Uzbek Bukhara/Samarkand Tajik Western Persian English
Siz Buxoro shahrini yaxshi ko’rasizmi? Шумо шаҳри Бухороя нағз мебинедми?
Šumo šahri Buoroya naġz mebined-
mi?
آيا شما شهر بخارا را دوست داريد؟
Âyâ
šomâ šahre boârâ râ dust dârid?
Do you like the city of Bukhara?
Otasi bilan tanishdingmi? Падараш кати шинос шудими?
Padaraš-kati šinos šudi-mi?
با پدرش آشنا شدى؟
Bâ pedaraš âšenâ šodi?
Did you meet his father?

Occasionally, a construction signifying ownership is calqued from the Uzbek nominal predicate bor, whereby: pronominal enclitic + ҳact hast (“to exist”) instead of the Persian verb داشتن dâštan (“to have”): Tuya eng naġz mididagi aktriset hast-mi? Ha, hast (Uzbek: Senda eng yaxshi ko’radigan aktrising bormi? Ha, bor.) “Do you have a favorite actress? Yes, I do.” The corresponding optional construction for “to not have” is based on Uzbek yo’q, whereby: pronominal enclitic + нест nēst (“to not exist”) instead of the Persian verb نداشتن nadâštan (“to not have”): хабаромо нест abaromo nēst (Uzbek: xabarimiz yo’q) “I don’t have knowledge [of that].”

The Western Persian deontic modality using بايد bâyad is not encountered colloquially, but is used infrequently in the literary register. Instead, the auxiliary даркор darkor is placed following the clause. This construction mirrors the Uzbek form using kerak:

Uzbek Samarqand Tajik Western Persian English
Kelgusida shundan ham ko’proq harakat qilishimiz kerak Ояндаба аз ин ҳам зиёда ҳаракат кардагимон даркор
Oyandaba az in ham ziyoda harakat kadagemon darkor
در آينده بايد از اين هم بيشتر تلاش كنيم
Dar
âyande bâyad az in ham bištar talâš konim
In the future, we have to try even harder than this

In contrast to Western Persian, the reporting of speech centers on гуфта gufta (occasionally гуйон gūyon), a non-finite form of гуфтан guftan “to say” with the speech string preceding, forming a sort of idealized quotation to explain the cause or purpose of the action in the main clause. This form has evolved on the analogy of a typically Turkic construction, using deb/degan “saying” in Uzbek:

Uzbek Bukhara/Samarkand Tajik English
Onamiz doimo yaxshi xizmat qilinglar, hech qachon boshqa odamlarga yomon gaplarni aytmanglar deb bizlarga o’rgatish kelgan Očamon hameša naġz xizmat kuneton, hečvaght hečkasba gapi ganda nazaneton gufta mohonba yod doda omadagi Our mother has always taught us to work hard, and to never speak disrespectfully to others.

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Madrasa-i Sherdor (c. 1636 A.D.) in Registan square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan. “Sherdor” translates to “baring lions” in Persian.

LEXICON

Northern Tajik features numerous archaisms, as well as neologisms and loanwords from Uzbek and Russian. In some instances, alternative native forms vis-à-vis Western Persian have been favored over time: such as –kati for Western Persian “with” (also found in Afghan dialects); ganda for Western Persian bad “bad”; kalon for bozorg “big”; xursand for xošhâl “happy”; pagah for fardâ “tomorrow”; mayda, xurd for kučak “small, little, young”; šifokor for pezešk “doctor”; san’atkor for honarmand “artist; singer”; tayyor for âmâde, hâzer “ready”; hozir for al’ân “now”; iflos for kasīf “dirty”; pēš, soni for qabl, ba’d “before, after”; –barin for mesle “like”; o’īd ba for râje’ be “about, concerning”; harakat kardan for sayy’ kardan, talâš kardan “to try”; monda for xaste “tired”; shishtan for neshastan “to sit”; mondan for gozâshtan “to place, to lie (object onto a surface)”; mazmun for ma’ni “meaning”; mehnat for zahmat “exertion; duty to another according to prevalent Iranian social ideals”; yakjoya for bâ hamdigar “together”; a’ pušta (from az puštaš, literally “from behind it”) for ba’dan “then, after” (ex. vay a’ pušta for ba’d az ân “afterwards”); Tajik naġz, nēk for Western Persian ūb, qašang “good, nice”; ušrū for zibâ “beautiful”, among others.

There are a few verbs which function differently from Western Persian, such as буровардан burovardan for درست كردن dorost kardan “to make, to produce”. In this case, the adjunct bar- is treated as part of the radical: hence, present tense mebarorand instead of bar meyorand “they produce.” Additionally, the verb омадан omadan “to come” in the present tense uses the stem biyo- instead of â-mebiyod instead of miâyad.

Common loanwords from Uzbek include qizig’in for jâleb “interesting”; qiyin for saxt, moškel “difficult”; ovqat for ġazâ “food”; yigit for mard “boy, young man”; yordam for komak “help”; juda for xeyli “very”; yaša kardan for zendegi kardan “to live”; qišloq for deh “village”; turmuš, tōy for ezdevâj, arusi “wedding”; kelin for arus “bride; yošagi for bačegi “childhood”; qiziqi kardan for alâghe dâštan “to take interest in”; es for yâd “memory”; butun for kâmelan “completely”; rivojlani for pišraft “development, progress”; minnatdor for mamnūn “thankful.” As discussed above, the majority of Persian speakers in Uzbekistan are bilingual in both Persian and Uzbek.

In some cases, phraseology has been calqued from Uzbek, such as Tajik naġz didan for Uzbek yaxshi ko’rmoq “to like” (but literally “to see as good”).

Russian loans dating to the Soviet period are more numerous than those found in Standard Tajik, which has replaced most Soviet-era loans with native forms. The lexemes are usually technical terminology pertaining to science, transport, technology and government administration: вокзал vokzal “train station”, аеропорт aeroport “airport”, операция operatsiya “operation”, композитор kompozitor “musical composer”, реконструкция rekonstruktsiya “reconstruction”, ассоциация assotsiatsiya “association”, рестоврация restovratsiya “restoration”. Some Russian loanwords have been assimilated to the native phonology, such as корейс Koreiis “A member of the Soviet Korean community in Uzbekistan” (Russian has корейц Koreiits’).

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The Kalon Minaret (Минораи Калон “Great minaret”), designed by “Bako” according to the frieze, was commissioned by the Qarakhanid ruler Mohammad Arslan Khan in 1127 A.D. and stands at 48 m (157 ft). Proving the versatility of sun-baked brick, each band is composed of either circular, square or rectangular bricks arranged in differing patterns to give an extraordinary texture. The body of the minaret is topped by a rotunda with 16 arched fenestrations forming a gallery, which is in turn is crowned by a magnificent cornice adorned with muqarnas (stalactites) and a pointed conical stump.

The pronouns are similar to those in Southern Tajik, including вай vay and вайхо vayho for the 3rd person singular and plural. This has been elaborated colloquially to mean “he”, “she”, “it”, and “that”. In Western Persian, its equivalent وى vey is only encountered in the meaning of “he, she” and its use is restricted to the literary register, particularly in media and news broadcast, while it is never encountered colloquially.

The Persian 1st person pl. pronoun ما mâ “we” is used with a plural suffix forming an ‘explicit plural’, which may also refer deprecatingly or deferentially to a singular person: моҳон mo-hon “I/We” (often heard as мон mon); while mo without a plural suffix is heard in compounds: mo-yam gɵsh metemda “we are listening [right now] too“, otherwise its use is restricted to the literary register. Similarly, šumo ‘you’ (sg. or pl.) becomes šumo-yon, šumo-ho ‘you (pl.)’. 

The deferential pronoun ešon for 3rd person plural (“he, she,” lit. “they;” cf. Pers. ايشان išān) evolved into an honorific title for religious notables, and has been replaced in Northern Tajik by ин кас in kas or ун кас un kas (lit. “this person”, “that person”). 

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Tajik-Uzbek artist Munira Mukhammedova (right) at Navruz (Persian New Year) celebration in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.


Tajik artist Sitora Karomatullo performs traditional Samarqandian maqom piece “Ranjidi Az Man” in the local Tajik Persian language in Samarqand (refrain lyrics below, translation by the author)

Tajik Persian: Чи кардам, ин ки ту дил канди аз мано; Зи роҳи ваъдаи худ рафта берун (či kardam inki tu dil kandi az mano, zi rohi va’dai ud rafta berun)
English: What did I do, that you have torn your heart away from me? That you have transgressed from the path of your own promises?

PHONOLOGY
Bukharan Tajik and the dialect of Samarkand belong to the Northern dialects, which share basically the same phoneme inventory.

There are differences in pronunciation between Northern Tajik spoken in Uzbekistan and the dialects of Tajikistan. Colloquially, certain words are transformed rather radically, following a pattern whereby medial consonant clusters are truncated or omitted entirely, such as giftan or gitan for гирифтан giriftan “to take; to get”; kadan for кардан kardan “to do” (the latter also found in Afghan dialects).

Additionally, Northern Tajik–as opposed to Standard Tajik–has the phoneme /ɵ/, but the close-mid central vowel is pronounced /ū/ in Standard Tajik:

Northern Tajik Standard Tajik English
mugut, muguftan mēga, mēguftan S/he says, they were saying
mukunat mēkuna S/he does
namušud namēšud It couldn’t happen
dɵsti dūsti Friendship
gɵšt gūšt Meat
ɵzbeg ūzbak Uzbek

Tajik direct object marker -ra becomes -a after consonants and -ya following vowels

Northern Tajik Standard Tajik English
man tuya naġz mebinam man turo dūst medoram I love you


Sources:

Bhatia, Tej K. “Societal Bilingualism/Multilingualism and Its Effects.” The Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism, 2012, pp. 439–442., doi:10.1002/9781118332382.part3.

Encyclopaedia Iranica

Finke, Peter. Variations on Uzbek Identity: Strategic Choices, Cognitive Schemas and Political Constraints in Identification Processes. 1st ed., Berghahn Books, 2014. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qck24.

Foltz, Richard. “The Tajiks of Uzbekistan.” Central Asian Survey, vol. 15, no. 2, 1996, pp. 213–216., doi:10.1080/02634939608400946.

Ido, Shinji. “Bukharan Tajik.” Journal of the International Phonetic Association, vol. 44, no. 1, 2014, pp. 87–102., doi:10.1017/s002510031300011x.

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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.

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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”).

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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.

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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.

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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 (Արարատի Միությունը Ararati Miut’yunё; 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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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 է 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. 

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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 dominion spanning 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 ultimately routed by the Russian Empire’s massacring and deportation of ninety percent of the Circassian population to Anatolia nearly half a century prior to the Armenian Genocide within the Ottoman Empire. As a share of total population, the Circassian diaspora is currently the largest in the world—a superlative that is underscored by nearly seven centuries of foreign slaving expeditions at the hands of the Crimean Tatars and Genoese, which in turn precluded the establishment of large permanent settlements around which an urban society could evolve. In addition to the economic, social and psychological 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 language and culture, in an effort, however modest, to keep this vibrant chapter of humanity alive and prolific.

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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 singular 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 initially written in a modified Perso-Arabic script, followed by Latin and later Cyrillic in the 20th century: Adyghe (КӀэхабзэ K’ëxabzë or Western Circassian, Lower Circassian) and Kabardian (Къэбэртэябзэ Qëbërtëyabzë or 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, Abadzekh (Abzakh), Zhaney, Kabarda, Besleney, Cherkess, among others—but all invariably refer to themselves as Adygë (Адыгэ) and to their language as Adygäbzë (Адыгэбзэ).


“Nalmës Ensemble” (Ансамбль Налмэс) performs “Pasërey Qafë” (Пасэрей Къaфэ) or “ancient dance”, representing a mythical tale from the Nart Saga according to the “qafë” (къaфэ) dance repertoire. The Nart saga is shared among the folklore of the Circassians, Abkhazian-Abaza, Karachay-Balkar, Chechen-Ingush, and Ossetians in the North Caucasus. The saga originates with the latter group, as it is generally known that all the Nart corpora have an ancient Iranian core, inherited from the Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alans (Proto-Iranian *nar for ‘hero, man’, descended from Proto-Indo-European *h₂nḗr)

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A glacier and valley in Karachay-Cherkessia, Russian Federation. The alpine terrain of historical Circassia impeded contacts 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).

Together with the Abkhaz-Abaza branch and Ubykh (extinct in 1992), Circassian belongs to an “isolate” macrofamily, Northwest Caucasian (NW Caucasian), which has 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, and the daughter languages differentiated in close geographic proximity but remarkable isolation from each other for many thousands of years to the present. Note this time-depth is comparable to that of Proto-Indo-European, meaning that the three extant branches are genetically quite distant although they bare remarkable similarities in typology. It is not difficult to imagine a paradigm in which contacts between NW Caucasian languages and other groups were 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. The possibility of any genetic linkage between NW Caucasian and other macrofamilies in Eurasia remains doubtful, such that the family is never included in the Nostratic Hypothesis (and thus does not share a common ancestor with Indo-European, Uralic, Afroasiatic, Altaic, Kartvelian or Dravidian at least at the magnitude of 15,000 years before present). There are however, in the opinion of this author, rare but striking parallels in the core vocabulary of NW Caucasian and NE Caucasian (i.e. Circassian сэ së “I” and Chechen со so “I”) that warrant further investigation.

English Adyghe (West Circassian; Shapsug tribe) Kabardian (East Circassian) Abkhaz
“heart” гу
гу
aгәы
āg°ә
“language” бзэ
bză
бзэ
bză
бызшәа
bəzš°ā́
“I”, “my” сэ(р), си-
să(r), si-
сэ(р), си-
să(r), si-
сара, сы-
sārā, sy-
“fish” пцэжъые
ptsăẑəe
бдзэжьей
bdzăẑej
аԥсыӡ
[ā]-psədz

Northwest Caucasian Cognates. The Circassian (Adyghe and Kabardian) and Abkhaz-Abaza branches split from a common ancestral tongue, Proto-Northwest Caucasian, spoken several millennia ago (Table composed by Afsheen Sharifzadeh)

Circassian, Ubykh and Abkhaz-Abaza are polysynthetic languages with polypersonal verbs, with a simple syllabic structure, with ergative clause alignment and highly complex verbal morphology. In phonology the NW Caucasian languages feature very complex consonant systems, with many labialized and ejective consonants, and a paucity of vowel phonemes (Circassian only has three distinct vowels). 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. The Black Sea dialect of Adyghe (Shapsug tribe) contains a very uncommon sound not encountered in any other language: a bidental fricative [h̪͆], which corresponds to the voiceless velar fricative [x] found in other varieties of Adyghe (i.e. in дахэ daxë “beautiful”). Furthermore, labialized fricatives encountered in Abkhaz and Adyghe dialects (i.e. Bzhedug [ʂʷ]) furnish the languages with soft “whistling” sounds seldom encountered in any other language.

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 déportées 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 cinq 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 B.C. the Hattic language was gradually displaced by archaic Indo-European languages, 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 B.C. However, the latter adopted the former’s endonym (<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 (Eastern Circassian: къуажэ qwazhë, Russian: аул 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.

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The Circassian dance repertoire is varied 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 (Джэгу “Zhegw”), and therein a display of men’s martial fitness alongside feminine grace devoid of religious meaning. The “Widj” (Удж) and “Zef’ak’w” (ЗэфакIу) dances are performed by couples going through ancient ritual motions. “Qafe” (Къафэ) 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” (Исламей) 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 (цей tsey) with a breastplate tied at the waist with a belt (щIыIубгырыпх sch’y’wbgyrypx) designed to highlight their slender, V-shaped and symmetrical body physique according to prevalent ideals. The pervasive code of etiquette, adat (адэт), 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 (Пщы Pschı), which were effectively independent, although there was a council of princes (Хасэ Khasë), which met at times of national crises. At the apex of each principality stood the Prince (Пщы тхьэмадэ Pschı tḥamadë; *note the second term meaning “boss, leader” appears to share a common origin with the Georgian ტამადა t’amada “toastmaster”, perhaps ultimately related to the Circassian Тхьэ Tḥa “God”) 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 (унэзэхэс wnëzëxës). 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 aristocrats (уэркъ wërq), 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 (аталык), 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 (лъхукъуэлI lhxwqwëlh’) and free peasants, then the bond peasants (пщылI pschılh‘; literally “noble’s men”) and finally the slaves and villeins (унэзехьэ wnëzeë) 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 Adygë Khabzë (Адыгэ Хабзэ), 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 originated with the Lezgin people of Daghestan, but is now shared by the peoples of the North Caucasus.

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A local Circassian welder in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria displays a few examples of forged dëmyghë (дэмыгъэ “seal”), or traditional emblems belonging to each Circassian lhëpq (лъэпкъ “clan; tribe”).

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 a lingua franca in 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 undermined any prospect for the development of a sedentary, centralized 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 traded captive 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 Mamlūk Guards (مماليك mamālīk) 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 mamlūk slave named Barqūq founded the mamlūk 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 (Persian: غلامان خاصه Ghulāmān-i Khassa; Turkic: قاپی قوللاری Qapı Qulları) 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 with other ethnic factions to promote their own sons to the throne. A notably clever Circassian princess, Parikhān Khānum (پريخان خانوم), 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 Mirzā, who had been a favorite son of Shāh Tahmāsp 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 Mirzā. Another prominent figure, Shāh Abbās II’s Circassian mother Anna Khānum, received revenue and Christmas gifts from the most opulent sector of Isfahan— the Armenian suburb of New Julfa. Within the Ottoman court, numerous of Valide Sultans (والده سلطان “Queen Mothers”) and Haseki Sultans (خاصگى سلطان “Chief Consorts”) were of Circassian, Ubykh and Abkhazian extraction, including the last Queen Mother of the dynasty, Perestu Sultan (پرستو سلطان) who was born in Sochi to the Ubykh noble family “Gogen.” It would also appear that the Circassian dish Dzhëd shyps (джед шыпс; chicken in walnut gravy) entered the imperial Ottoman cuisine at this time, becoming popularized in Anatolian cuisine as Çerkez tavuğu or Circassian chicken.”

اShah_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: Theresia Sampsonia Amazonites Samphuffi Circassiae Principes Filia “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 act of 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, Abkhazians, Abazas and Ubykhs displaced could be as high at 1.4 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–a devastation which culminated in the death of the Ubykh language among deportees in Anatolia 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 (Хэкужъ Xekwzch “Old Country; homeland”), once deprived of the majority of its indigenous population following 1864, underwent a number of land and legal reforms (районование 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 dual-titled (двухтитульный dvukhtitul’niy) administrative units in which there was not one but two titular nationalities (*note the Karachay and Balkars are Turkic peoples whom the Soviet regime deported en masse to Central Asia and later repatriated themselves via a mass exodus to the North Caucasus. They are unrelated to the autochthonous Northwest Caucasian peoples and likely settled in the region during the Mongol and later Timurid invasions).

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 sow a foundation of discord within each republic 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 within 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 (née Sataney) Kazanova, a Circassian Russian pop star born and raised in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkar Republic (in Russian).

The Circassian diaspora (Шэрджэс Хэхэсхэр Shërjës Xëxësxër) includes some 4-6 million souls which exhibit 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, Avars, Abkhazians, Lezgins, Kumyks) as none of these groups have retained their distinct languages or customs. However, hints of Caucasian origins remain operative in the social memory in the form of surnames: الشيشاني al-Shishāni (literally “Chechen”), الكرجي al-Kurji (“Georgian”), الشركسي al-Sharkasi (“Circassian”), الداغستاني 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 Culture Festival” among the diaspora in Kayseri, Turkey with visiting performing arts and music groups from the Republic of Adygea, August 2019 (in Western Circassian)

 

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

13256085_638524226312994_196156917099516847_nA young Circassian in Maykop, capital of the Republic of Adyghea, Russia. In recent years the republic has experienced a deepening interest in the descendants of Circassian deportees abroad, often pleading to the diaspora to repopulate their historic homeland in light of upheavals in the Near East.

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. The 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 (Western 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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 and addresses Classical Arabic loans in Modern Persian. It features an exclusive English-language appendix of 200 Middle Iranian loans into Classical Arabic and their etymologies, compiled by the author.

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A library in present-day Baghdad in the Persian four-iwan courtyard scheme, 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 neglected a rich narrative of cultural contact and appropriation whereby Persian and Byzantine antecedents formed the creative backbone of early Islamic material and visual culture.

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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 A.D., Iranian languages were shot through, even to the most far-flung dialects, with Arabic loanwords. Yet Arabic never attained currency as a lingua franca in the Iranian world. Instead, knowledge of the Classical 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, attire, court culture, political offices, etc. were systematically appropriated from earlier Persian and Byzantine models.

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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 form 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 (الكتاب), was written by the Persian author Sībūyeh (سيبويه; 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 (بيت الحكمة; 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 this university in 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 on the quintessential Sassanid round city plan (such as at Firuzābād) by a Persian architect and planner, Mashallah ibn Athari, and the astrologically-auspicious location for the imperial city had been chosen by none other than 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 (برمكيان) to oversee crucial matters pertaining to finance and state administration. As such, they adopted the Sassanid postal system and bureaucratic system (ديوان diwān).

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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 (origin of the modern Arabic مهرجان mahrajān “festival, celebration”) 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 roughly 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: الف ليلة و ليلة Alf Leyla wa Leyla, based on an earlier Persian work Hazār Afsāna, literally “1000 Myths”) recovered from Syria and Egypt.

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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)].

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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. Many Middle Persian words were rendered archaic and thence 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 Khorezmian 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 Khanaka (Sufi monastery) of Nadir Divan-Beghi {1620}, Bukhara09-Bukhara-2013raw1640b registan-v-samarkandeshahi-zinda-samarkand022_Klub_puteshestviy_Pavla_Aksenova_Uzbekistan_Samarkand_Registan_Medrese_Sherdor_Foto_efesenko_-_Depositphotos-1024x623
[From top, left-right: 1. Chahār Minār, Bukhara  2. Bukhara, view of old city and wall  3. Nādir Divan-Begi Khānaqāh, a Sufi monastery featuring depictions of Simurgh from Ferdowsi’s Shāhnāmeh on its pishtaq, Bukhara  4. Bālā-Hauz, Bukhara  5. Gūr-i Amīr, Tamerlane’s mausoleum, Samarqand  6. Rēgistān square, Samarqand  7. Shāh-i Zinda, Samarqand  8. Shērdār Madrasa at Rēgistān, Samarqand]
Bukhara and Samarqand are still natively Persian-speaking (Tajik) cities in modern-day Uzbekistan; the former traditionally boasted a sizable Persophone Jewish element as well that has since relocated to Israel. The structures depicted are architectural heirlooms to 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 incoming Turcophone groups interacted with the autochthonous settled Persian-speaking populations in Transoxiana, in turn giving rise to the modern Uzbek yoke, and wherein the Uzbek language (Sart dialect; progenitor of the modern literary language) gradually lost features typical of Turkic—notably the vowels /ü/, /ö/ and vowel harmony—and adopted thousands of Persian words and phrases. (*note the Khorezmian 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 and feature relatively fewer Persianisms in their lexicon and morphology) 

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 Afsheen Sharifzadeh)

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 (تعريب 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 (اوزان awzān). It follows that Iranian lexical borrowings in Classical Arabic (معربات 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 (اللغة العربية الفصحى) 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.

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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. 

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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, hybrid Sunni-Shi’a 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 portion of the historic mudbrick and timber town to rubble and claiming the lives of 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.

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Ruins at Lār-e Ghadīm, 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 Thévenot 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 Bābāi ibn Luṭf. According to him, the persecutions throughout Persia during the reign of Shāh Abbās I began some time before 1613 and originated in the city of Lar, whose rabbi had converted to Islam and taken the name Abul-Hasan Lāri. This renegade Lari rabbi obtained a royal edict whereby every Jew in Persia was required to wear a discriminatory badge and headgear. This in turn 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.

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Persian Jews in Shiraz, early 20th century

One issue that remains problematic in attempting to ascribe a Jewish pedigree to the modern inhabitants of Larestan is that contrary to other 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.

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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 in trade with Arabic-speaking territories across the Persian Gulf. But throughout the medieval period Larestan was nearly always an obscure region, seldom 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 (اهل تسنن ahl-e tasannon), except for the city of Lar itself, which like the rest of Iran is majority Shi’a (اهل تشيع 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.

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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 pervasive. Two uncles worked their careers in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, and in particular are familiar with Iraqi and Gulf folk songs, including Meyhāna (ميحانة) and Bayn el-’asr wel Maghreb (بين العصر و المغرب). 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 (عجايم; sing. ‘ajami عجمي). Laris have inhabited these countries for generations, usually maintaining their language and cuisine. Dubai’s oldest quarter, known as Al Bastakiya (البستكية), is namesake to the well-to-do textile and pearl traders from Bastak, Larestan who settled and developed the area. My oown family has relatives in Bahrain as well as a large branch situated in Qatar, descended from an aunt who married a Lari-Qatari sheikh and bore him eight children about half a century ago.

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Al-Bastakiya is Dubai’s most historic quarter. Established at the end of the 19th century by affluent textile and pearl traders from Bastak, Larestan, its labyrinthine lanes are lined with restored merchant’s houses, art galleries, cafés, and boutique hotels. Pictured here are two prominent bādgirs (بادگير), or “windcatchers”– a quintessentially Iranian architectural form encountered in Lari colonies throughout the Persian Gulf region.

Men from Lar have a long history as merchants engaged in Indian Ocean maritime 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.

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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

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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 true to 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 pancake 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 language television and radio broadcast 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).