Georgia and Armenia have a lot in common: they both have weird alphabets; they were both early adopters of Christianity and remained Christian after the spread of Islam; they’ve both been batted around by much larger nations around them; and they’re both kinda Middle Eastern and kinda not.
A striking difference between the two nations, however, is that Armenia has an enormous diaspora and Georgia doesn’t. Due to the Armenian Genocide, large communities of Armenians can be found throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. In contrast, most Georgians living outside of Georgia are in Russia, and there aren’t even all that many there. Consequently, it’s not easy to find Georgian stuff to see when traveling. Remember that Georgian church in Istanbul? That was pretty much the only Georgian thing to see in the whole city, and Turkey is right next to Georgia.
Can you see where this is going? I’d like to see Georgian stuff everywhere I go, but there aren’t any Georgians in most of the world. But Armenians are somewhat similar to Georgians, and they’re very easy to find. This suggests a coping mechanism: I want to see Georgian stuff, but I’ll settle for Armenian stuff.
For the past few months I’ve been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and just as you would expect, there was no Georgian stuff and a good amount of Armenian stuff. So, I settled for the latter. Here are some pictures. They are: 1) a sign for the Armenian archdiocese (arzobispado) of Argentina; 2) an Armenian Genocide memorial; 3) a memorial for the Nagorno-Karabakh war; 4) a Spanish plaque from that memorial (note the name Artsaj); 5) a sign for some kind of church group; 6) a Spanish / Armenian plaque from a tomb in the beautiful Recoleta Cemetery; 7) me at the front door of the church of Gregory the Illuminator (San Gregorio Iluminador); and 8) the front door of the Tadron cafe (notice the Western Armenian transliteration — Tadron rather than Tatron for ԹԱՏՐՈՆ).
TheArmenian 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.
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.
Sergei Parajanov (1924-1990) was a Transcaucasian Soviet film director. He is best known for four weird art films: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964), The Color of Pomegranates (1968), The Legend of the Surami Fortress (1984), and Ashik Kerib (1988). These movies are remarkable for their distinctive tableaux-style cinematography and their controversial use of ethnic and national symbols and imagery. For both of these, as well as for generally being an oddball and troublemaker, Parajanov was persecuted by Soviet officials and spent several years in prison.
Here are some flags from Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and associated places in the South Caucasus. I won’t go into the details of the symbolism because I don’t care — white symbolizes purity or loyalty or something, red symbolizes blood spilled, blah blah blah, whatever. I’ll just list the flags along with historical remarks.
Note to readers: This will be a dry, picture-heavy post, but there will be a couple of decent jokes, so it is recommended that you read the whole thing.
Georgia‘s current flag consists of a red St. George cross on a white background (like the flag of England) with a red Bolnisi cross on each of the four white patches.
The South Caucasus, consisting of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, used to be known as Transcaucasia. The word “Transcaucasia” was coined as a translation of the Russian Zakavkazie (Закавказье), meaning “the far side of the Caucasus”. Far from what, you ask? From Russia, of course. From about 1800 until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the South Caucasus was dominated by Russians, and “Transcaucasia” connotes that time period and that domination.
So if neutrality is desired in nomenclature, then clearly “Transcaucasia” should be abandoned in favor of “South Caucasus”.***But the biased term is not all bad, for it also carries with it the memory of a South Caucasus far more ethnically mixed than it is today. It even recalls a brief time when the South Caucasus was independent and politically united.
Armenian (Armenian: hayeren, հայերեն) is a language historically spoken throughout the South Caucasus and in the eastern part of what is now Turkey. Today, as a result of a century of war and genocide, the native range of Armenian has been restricted to the modern country of Armenia, the semi-country of Nagorno Karabakh, northern Iran, and the Javakheti region of Georgia (or Javakhk; see Notes onTerminology). Many (perhaps most) Armenian speakers are scattered abroad, mostly in Russia, the United States, and various Middle Eastern countries.