Christian

On “Parskahayeren”, or the Language of Iranian Armenians

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. Part of this narrative stems from the author’s visits to Armenia and the Tehrani Armenian community between 2014-5. The goal of this article is to familiarize the reader with the Christian Armenian community of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with a focus on its culture and language in a historical and modern setting. 
56610_154983217881347_7892037_o
Christmas festivities in an Armenian kindergarten, Isfahan, Iran (1989) | Ձմեռ Պապ, Մանկապարտեզի հանդես, Նոր Ջուղա (1989)

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARMENIAN HISTORY IN IRAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE ARMENIAN PRESENCE IN MODERN-DAY IRAN

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Armenian

Iranian root

English

օրինակ

ōrinak

from Parthian *awδēnak.

“Example”

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

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

“Gratitude, thanks, to congratulate”

կատակ

katak

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

“Joke”

ժամանակ, ժամ

zhamanak, zham

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

“Time; hour”

ճանապարհ, ճամփա, ճանապարհորդ

ch’anaparh, ch’amp’a, ch’anaparhord

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

“Path, road; traveller, wayfarer”

-յան

-ian

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

(forming adjectives, common in Armenian surnames)

դժվար

dzhvar

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

“Hard, difficult”

պատասխան

pataskhan

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

“Answer, response”

վտանգավար

vtangavor

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

“Dangerous, perilous”

հրեշտակ

hreshtak

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

“Angel”

ճաշ
ch’ash

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

“dinner, late meal, feast”

պատրաստ

patrast

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

“Ready”

աշխարհ

ashkharh

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

“World, cosmos”

աշխատանք

ashkhatank’

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

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

դպրոց

dprots’

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

“school”

փառք

p’arrk’

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

“Glory, fame, renown, esteem”

–երեն

–eren

from Middle Iranian *āδēn

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

նկար

nkar

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

“Picture, image, painting”

ճշմարիտ, ճշմարտություն

ch’shmarit, ch’shmartut’yun

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

“True, real; truth”

Տիգրան

Tigran

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

A male given name

Վահագն, Վահան, Վահրամ

Vahagn, Vahan, Vahram

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

Male given names

Գովել

govel

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

“To praise”

օգնություն, օգուտ, օգտակար

ōk’nutyun, ōk’ut, ōk’takar

from Parthian *abigūt, *abi-gūna-.

“Help, helpful, benefit”

-պես

-pes

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

“As, like”

-նման

-nman

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

“Like, resembling”

Գույն: սև, սպիտակ, կապույտ, կարմիր, մանուշակ

Guyn: sev, spitak, kapuyt, karmir, manushak

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

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

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

IRANIAN-ARMENIAN LANGUAGE

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.  663px-Museum_für_Indische_Kunst_Dahlem_Berlin_Mai_2006_061

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

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


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

External Links:

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

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

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

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