Armenian Toponymic Roots – History and Contemporary Distortions

Continuing the topic of Armenian toponyms, it’s time to talk about the main ancient roots of the Armenian language present in the names of Armenia and the Armenian Highlands. Unfortunately, 9/10 of our country remains under the yoke of foreign conquerors, who excel only at distorting other people’s history and geography.

That’s why it’s so important to know the Armenian etymology of our toponyms and to distinguish between the ways it’s distorted.

The most common and, at the same time, the most ancient roots of Armenian toponymy are those that contain either a characteristic of the area or features of a particular settlement.

Among the first, the most frequently encountered, for example, are roots like “dzor” (gorge, ravine), “sar” or “ler” (mountain), “kar” (same mountain, rock), “get” (river), “dan” (river, water flow) subsequently reinterpreted as “tun”, “tan” – home, native (first settlements were mainly established along the rivers, closer to life-giving moisture), “lich” – lake, “mor” – swamp (hence the sea, mar – water space), “antar” – forest, and many others.

There’s no point in listing thousands of names that involve all these roots, it’s enough to name the most resonant and historically significant ones – Erashadzor (Erasha-Araxes gorge), Ayots Dzor (Armenian Gorge), Dzoraget (river in the gorge), Razdan (water, born of fire), Metsamor (big swamp)…

The name Razdan is worth discussing in more detail. Its etymology was recently proposed by young researchers, linguists, and geologists. According to this version (which, in my opinion, is the most likely), this hydronym consists of the roots “hur”, “azn” and “dan”, which mean fire, heir, and water, river (with subsequent “tun” – home).

Considering the fact that Lake Sevan had no outflow in the past, and the Razdan River became one after breaking through the merging ridges of Ardjanots and Gegama due to the tectonic activity of the latter, we get the meaning of the hydronym – water (home, hearth), born of fire, heir of fire.

But the most important thing – the last tectonic activity of this kind happened here… in the 8-7 millennium BC! This means that Armenians, or if you prefer, proto-Armenians, already lived in the Armenian Highlands at that time, thinking and speaking in our language, and they named their river in it! By the way, the rises and falls of the Sevan level took place later, in the 2nd millennium BC, as evidenced by finds in Lchashen and other coastal places.

Speaking about the distortion of Armenian names in the occupied territories of Armenia, several undeniable facts should be considered first. Firstly, it has already been proven by Armenian and non-Armenian scientists, historically, genetically, linguistically, etc., that Armenians in the Armenian Highlands, that is, in the country of Armenia, are an indigenous people, at least from the 6-5 thousand BC.

Being indigenous to the country, it was the Armenians who first named its physio-geographical elements, such as mountains, rivers, gorges, fields, valleys, etc., and all the settlements they themselves established.

In addition to Armenian, there are Assyrian, Hittite, Urartian and similar settlements in Armenia, although in insignificant numbers. Kurds appeared in the Armenian Highlands a little later. Being a nomadic people by their lifestyle, they only began to settle in the villages from which they themselves (or with the help of the Turks) expelled and eradicated the original owners – the Armenians, only in the last two or three centuries.

In all of Western Armenia, in all of Utik and Plain Artsakh, the Turks and Kurds did not establish a single own settlement – all the villages considered as such were originally Armenian.

Naturally, occupying the place of Armenians in one or another settlement, the conquerors began with distorting its name, as well as all the surrounding minor and major toponyms. After all, a geographical name is an extremely conservative thing, and if you take into account the so-called “genetic memory” of the country – it’s unchangeable.

Especially when the newcomers are immeasurably lower than the indigenous people by their civilizational criteria. Neither the Kurds nor, even more so, the Turks had a tradition of naming settlements, that strongest connection between people and country, which ultimately gives birth to the concepts of Homeland, Nation, and Patriotism.

Thus, all those toponyms, which even we, Armenians, consider Kurdish and Turkic, in fact, have ancient Armenian roots! So, “key” is a distorted “gyuh” with the same meaning of settlement, “dere” is a distorted “dzor” with the same meaning of gorge, “kilisa” is our distorted “ekeheci” with the same meaning of church, etc. There are more sophisticated distortions with an invented different meaning.

Indeed, the ancient Armenian Karabakh – meaning many forests (a variant of the same Artsakh) turned into Karabakh – a black garden (without any sense and even logic), the resonant Armenian Ktrats Kar and Harakonis – i.e., a cracked stone and many cones (volcanogenic, the word in all languages comes from the Armenian cone), respectively, became Kadyr Askar and Karagyunduz, and so on ad infinitum.

In general, the Turkic “kara” in its color meaning (black) is inapplicable from the point of view of geographical logic to all its toponymic carriers. However, taking into account the etymology of distortion – the ancient Armenian “khara” (with the meaning of multiplicity, or “kar” with the meaning of stone, cliff, mountain), all toponyms become easily understandable.

The same situation has developed around the second large group of topoforming Armenian roots, indicating the characteristics of settlements, that is, the anthropogenic (with your permission – Armenianogenic) component of the country.

Here the most common are “van” – settlement, dwelling; “tun” – house, hearth, the same dwelling; “shen” – built, improved (a well-known Armenian farewell – “shen mnak” – stay in comfort, well-being), as well as used in conjunction with the name of the founders “kert” – founded, created, “pat” – arranged, surrounded by a wall, “stan” – country (yes, this is the Armenian root “z-tan”, “s-tan” with the Grabar prefix and the meaning of a country, a home of some people, hence the camp, the Cossack village, the station). So, Ayastan is an inherently Armenian toponym.

Armenian kings often became the creators and founders of settlements. Thus, Tigran Mets (the Great) founded about a dozen cities, giving them his name in conjunction with various roots. The capital of the Armenian Empire of Tigran, as well as at least three cities in Artsakh, were named Tigranakert – meaning founded by Tigran, created by Tigran.

The capital Tigranakert was located on the site of the ancient Nprkert (remember – Nibirakert), today’s Silvan or Mia-Farkin in the province of Aghdznic. Since most of Aghdznic is now occupied by the province of Diyarbakir, Tigranakert is often confused with the city of Diyarbakir, which is a hundred kilometers away from it.

The latter was originally called Amid or Amedu – from the Armenian dynastic princely name Amatuni. The three Artsakh cities of Tigran are located, respectively, near the village of Barum in Northern Artsakh, at the foot of the mountain Vankasar in the Martakert region of the NKR and not far from the village of Bardutakh in the south of the NKR, not far from the Araks.

The distortions of their names had a dialectal character – Garnakert, Tkrnakert, Tarnagut. The Turkic distortions, on the other hand, turn kert into kyurt, kurd or girt – Vagarshakert-Alashkert became Eleshgirtom, Manavazakert-Manazkert turned into Melazgirt, Kertn or Kertaguh – into Kertenekai. Shen in the Turkic distortion turns into shin, pat – into abad (Arabic-Persian root with the meaning of a city, which makes it difficult to etymologize correctly) and so on.

However, all such distortions are shattered when the basic principles of Armenian studies listed above are correctly applied, and all our toponyms can and should have a clear etymology, traceable for millennia, with a geographical and historically logical semantic load.

And the meaning, as has already been shown in this article, can be hidden under a seemingly natural layer of lies or be lost and changed over time. For example, such a fate befell one of the oldest Armenian roots – “gom”. Initially, it carried the meaning of a temple place, a sanctuary of gods – ditsatun.

Then it also acquired the meaning of buildings away from the main village – in Russian they are denoted by the word “vyselki” (outbuildings). In this meaning, the root “gom” is borrowed from the Armenians by the Kurds, participating in most of the distorted Armenian names of villages. And now it is undeservedly belittled and denotes… a barn.

Meanwhile, it is this root, among others, that underlies the name of the second city of the Republic of Armenia, which was originally named Gom Airots – meaning either Temple of Men, Aryans, or Temple of Caves, – in any case, a holy place, ditsatun, from time immemorial.

Over the centuries, Gom Airots (by the way, there is a mountain with the same name on the Syunik plateau) turned into Gomayri, Kumayri. But instead of returning to the city its original, ancient and proper name, the meaning of which was lost in our self-consciousness, twenty years ago we named it Gyumri – a word which in Arabic means customs. As they say, neither here nor there…

by Grigor Beglaryan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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