The Georgian Alphabet and the Arabic Alphabet

The Arabic alphabet is a script used as the basis for the writing systems of many languages, including Arabic, Persian, and, up until the 1920s, Turkish. Given that peoples speaking these languages have conquered various parts of Georgia many times, it’s somewhat surprising that the Arabic alphabet has never been used systematically to write the Georgian language. I would have thought that at least the Muslim Adjarans would have written Georgian in Arabic letters, but as far as I can tell, this has never been widely done.

So I considered this problem: how would I write Georgian using the Arabic alphabet? Here’s what I came up with:

georgian arabic alphabet transliteration

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A Georgian Catholic Church in Istanbul

Notre Dame de Lourdes (known in Turkish as the Bomonti Gürcü Katolik Kilisesi) is a Georgian Catholic church in the Feriköy neighborhood of Istanbul. Most Georgians being Orthodox Christians, there are not many Georgian Catholic churches in the world. Further, there were never many Georgians in Istanbul, and there are very few today. Thus the very existence of this church is twice surprising. Its continued use is also surprising. Most sources report that the congregation today is largely made up of Turks, though when I went to see the church I found an amicable group of Georgians inside.

The church was built in 1861 and extensively renovated in 1901. For further details on the church, as well as its place within the history of Georgian Catholicism, see this recent paper by Natia Natsvlishvili. It’s a very nice essay, and I don’t have much to add to it, so this post will contain mostly pictures of the church along with some comments.

georgian catholic church istanbul gate

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Turkish Phonology: Vowel Harmony

Turkish — more specifically, the standard Turkish dialect of Istanbulis a very boring-sounding language, at least superficially. What I mean by this is that it has no distinct, uniquely-identifying sounds. For example:

  • even if you don’t know any Russian, you can tell if people are speaking Russian because of its rampant palatalization (that is, its many y sounds, as in nyet);
  • Arabic is easily identifiable by its baffling array of throat sounds; and
  • Georgian (along with other Caucasian languages) is distinguished by its varieties of consonants and its many consonant clusters.

Turkish has nothing like this. It’s a very generic blend of Southern European and Middle Eastern sounds, shorn of anything remarkable. The first time I went to Turkey, I was shocked by how uninteresting the language sounded.

I still feel that way to a great extent, but it turns out that there’s a little more to the sound of Turkish than can be heard by a casual listener, namely vowel harmony, a process whereby the vowels within a word match each other in certain qualities.

turkish vowel harmony

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Mashtots and Me

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.

mesrop mashtots matenadaran statue

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Svan Songs

Svan Songs is the first solo album by Georgian musician Irakli Charkviani. The album, the subtitle of which is Music from Kaukasus, was recorded in Cologne, Germany and released in 1993.That’s pretty much all I know about it in the way of background, since little has been written on it in Georgian and even less in English. Knowing nothing else extrinsic to the music, I’ll settle here for going through the album track by track and giving lyrics, comments, and discussion questions.

charkviani svan songs cover

As far as I can tell, Svan Songs was only ever released (not including best-ofs or other compilations) on cassette tape. That tape is apparently quite rare. I’ve only been able to find pictures of it on this blog, and that blog has added an unpleasant watermark to all of them. I removed it from this picture.

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Return to the South Caucasus (and gsykw’s new header image)

I recently took a trip back to Georgia, and I went to Armenia too. I’m not much for travel writing, so I’ll just give you the itinerary and some photos. Then I’ll point out updates I’ve been able to make to past posts.

Before that, however, I’d like to explain this blog’s new header image. For the past two and a half years I’ve used an image of some old Georgian calligraphy that I pulled from Wikipedia. That was fine for a while, but aside from the fact that it wasn’t my own image, it now strikes me as too limited. For while this blog started out as being only about Georgia, regular readers will have noticed that its scope has expanded somewhat to deal also with the regions and cultures surrounding and influencing Georgia. So this new image is fitting: the decayed ruins, covered in Russian graffiti, of an Armenian church in Tbilisi.

tbilisi armenian church ruins

Now, on to the trip.

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Tangerines (2013 Georgian-Estonian film)

Tangerines (Georgian: მანდარინები; Estonian: Mandariinid; Russian: Мандарины) is a 2013 film co-produced in Georgia and Estonia. Directed by Zaza Urushadze, the film deals with the 1992-1993 War in Abkhazia. It does so, however, from an unusual perspective, namely, that of an Estonian living in Abkhazia. Tangerines was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2015 Academy Awards, but it lost to the Polish film Ida.

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