The Armenian alphabet, legend has it, was invented by a monk named Mesrop Mashtots (Մեսրոպ Մաշտոց, მესროპ მაშტოც). Legend also has it that Mesrop Mashtots invented the Georgian alphabet and the Caucasian Albanian alphabet as well. I don’t believe that second part of the legend, and even the details of the first part are iffy. But regardless of the particulars, the Caucasus is a grammatological wonder, and Mesrop Mashtots stands as an avatar for its diversity of scripts. So if you love different alphabets — and I do — you have to love Mesrop Mashtots. With this in mind, I made it a goal on my recent trip to Armenia to take pictures with as many statues of Mesrop Mashtots as I could. I didn’t get all of them, but I got a few. Here they are. [Note: Not long ago I started using an image-editing program. I may have gone past the bounds of good taste in some places.]
The most dramatic of all Mesrop Mashtots statues is the one in front of the Matenadaran, a.k.a. the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan. Around five meters tall (15-20 ft.), it shows Mesrop sitting stately with Koriun, his loving student and biographer, kneeling by his side.
The Matenadaran, not coincidentally, sits at the top of a major street in Yerevan called Mashtots Avenue.
In contrast to the enormous statue at the Matenadaran, the smallest Mesrop Mashtots monument is a little statuette on the steps of some building inside the Echmiadzin Cathedral complex. It’s easy to miss.
The Armenian Alphabet Statue Park near Aparan is, obviously, best-known for its statues of the letters of the Armenian alphabet, but it also features statues of famous Armenian literary figures. This statue depicts Mesrop Mashtots presenting his new alphabet to Catholicos Sahak Partev.
Outside of Armenia, I’ve also seen the trilingual Mesrop Mashtots monument in Akhalkalaki, Javakheti, Georgia.
So much for the statues I have seen. There are also several statues I haven’t seen (either because I haven’t had the opportunity or because I overlooked them when I did).
The most important of these is the statue at the Saint Mesrop Mashtots Cathedral in Oshakan. I guess the statue per se isn’t especially important, but the cathedral contains Mashtots’s tomb, as well as a garden decorated with another set of Armenian alphabet statues. I would have loved to go there, but I didn’t get a chance.
I probably could have seen the statue of Mashtots and Sahak at Yerevan State University, but I didn’t think to look it up.
I’ve heard that there’s another, larger Mashtots statue at Echmiadzin, but I haven’t been able to find much information about it. Nobody I talked to when I was there knew of it.
After the “Events of 1915” (a Turkish euphemism), many of the surviving Armenians settled in Syria. Thus there is a Mashtots statue in the courtyard of the Saint Sarkis Chuch in Damascus. [Or at least it was there recently; I don’t know how the statue has made out through the Syrian Civil War.]
In Beirut there is an Armenian school called Mesrobian High School. In 2007 the school grandly unveiled a Mashtots statue. I can’t find a good picture of it, but from what I can see, it looks ugly.
Those are all the Mesrop Mashtots statues I have been able to find. If you know of any others, let me know.
Now, savvy readers will note that Mesrop Mashtots is not the only person said to have created the Georgian alphabet. According to another legend, the Georgian alphabet was created by the pre-Christian king Parnavaz (ფარნავაზი). I don’t believe that story either (the legend itself is quite vague as to what exactly he is supposed to have created), but hey, a grammatological icon is a grammatological icon, right? If I had considered Parnavaz when I was in Tbilisi last, I would have taken a picture with his statue too (though I actually don’t know where it is in the city).