Religion in Istanbul: Mosques, Churches, Cemeteries, Cats

In the comments section of my post on the Georgian Catholic church in Istanbul, a reader requested “a series of posts on some of the odder churches of Istanbul“. As far as I know, the Georgian church I wrote about is the only one in Istanbul, and so a whole series of posts about Istanbul churches would be too far afield from the main focus of this blog. But one post about churches in Istanbul is still somewhat related to Georgia, and so that’s what this post is. Of course, a post about churches in Istanbul would not be even remotely similar to a post about religion in Istanbul, since the modern city is overwhelmingly Islamic. So in the interest of comprehensiveness, this post will also cover some mosques of interest.  Religious life also deals with cemeteries, so I’ve included those too.

Still, as a post dealing with the general topic of “Religion in Istanbul”, this discussion will be woefully incomplete. For one thing, I won’t talk about big, flashy tourist spots like the Hagia Sophia or the New Mosque. There’s plenty of information and pictures of that stuff out there already, and the world really doesn’t need any more. For another thing, in several cases I wasn’t able to enter the church or cemetery or whatever, and even if I could, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. So this post will be more uneven than I would have liked. On the other hand, there will be a lot of nice pictures (all taken by me).

This post is really long, so for your convenience, here’s a clickable table of contents (seriously, click the links to go straight to what interests you the most!):

Again, this is a long post. But the photos really are cool, so I recommend taking some time to look at them. Maybe look at the different sections over the course of a few days.

And as a special treat for my loyal readers…cat pictures!

istanbul mosque cat

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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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The Armenian Alphabet: Pictures and Miscellanea

The Armenian alphabet is an alphabet used mostly for writing the Armenian language, though it has occasionally been used for other languages. It looks strange to me, like a cross between the Georgian alphabet and the Arabic alphabet. I don’t know if there’s any objective sense in which individual Armenian letters are actually harder to read than Georgian ones, but because of its distinct upper and lower cases, Armenian writing as a whole is probably objectively harder to learn than Georgian.

armenian alphabet transliteration

The Armenian alphabet with Eastern and Western transliterations (I think “fort” indicates aspiration rather than ejectivity)

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Four Grades of Language Borrowing

Since the nineteenth century, the Georgian language has been significantly influenced by Russian. More recently, Georgian has begun to import words from English. Consequently, some Georgians are concerned about the “purity” of their language, and prescribe the use of “Georgian” words instead of “foreign” words. But some foreignisms offend the linguistic purist more than others. In this post I’ll give four categories of foreign words and phrases which are “foreign” and “native” to different degrees, with examples in both Georgian and English.

IMPORTANT UPDATE 4/20/14: New example added to Category III!

georgian russian street sign

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Azeri (Turkish)

Azeri is a language spoken in Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, and Georgia. It is closely related to Turkish, and Turks and Azeris can generally understand each other without special accommodation. Indeed, there are dialects of Turkish spoken in eastern Anatolia that are closer to Azeri than they are to standard Istanbul Turkish. So it would not be amiss to say that Azeri is a dialect of Turkish. We might even go so far as to simply identify Azeri with Turkish. This is done in Iran, the northern part of which is home to more than half of the world’s Azeri speakers.

azeri iran

Iranian Azeris protesting for language rights (I think)

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The Northeast Caucasian Language Family

The Northeast Caucasian language family is a family of languages spoken by four to five million people in ChechnyaIngushetiaDagestan, and northern Azerbaijan, as well as in a few villages in Georgia. It is also known as the Nakh-Dagestanian family after its two main branches (originally thought to be distinct families unto themselves).

northeast caucasian languages

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The Names of Georgia

[For an updated and expanded version of this post, see The Names of Georgia (Reprise)]

Georgians do not call their country Georgia. They call it Sakartvelo (საქართველო), which is based on their name for their ethnic group, Kart.

So why do we call them Georgians? One theory is that the name was given to them because of their reverence for Saint George. This makes some sense — after all, their flag features the cross of Saint George, and many boys in my village are named George (Giorgi). Another theory is that the name comes straight from the Greek word for farmer, georgos (literally, earth-worker). This makes sense, since Georgians are now and always have been farmers, as opposed to the pastoral peoples of the Caucasus.

But these theories are both bullshit. Continue reading