Trdat

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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
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(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 (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.

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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 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”
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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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ani-turkey-armenia-turkish-armenian-city-11ani-turkey-armenia-turkish-armenian-city-3
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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.