Tribute to Armenian Alphabet: Armenian letter art and its cultural expressions were inscribed in 2019 Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during the 14th Session of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee held in Bogota, Colombia on December 9-14, 2019.
The intangible cultural heritage of Armenian letters comes from the centuries-old art of Armenian letters, Armenian scripts, the rich culture of decorating letters and its various uses from ancient times to modern life.
How It All Started?
Roots of Armenian letter art go back to 405 AD when Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet. It was one of the key turn points in Armenian history, as it caused the blossom of Armenian culture and science with renowned philosophers, historians, writers, it promoted the expansion of education and schools and consolidated Armenian people, who were divided into two parts. In the history of Armenian literature, the 5th century is known as The Golden Age. All of that would be impossible without the perfect written system – the alphabet, created by Mashtots.
Perfection in this context is not just a beautiful word, Armenian alphabet complies with the following alphabetic priciples:
- each letter corresponds to one sound, each sound – to one letter;
- the direction of writing is from the left to the right;
- absence of diacritical signs, i.e. signs for specification of pronunciation;
- designation of vowel sounds in writing;
- preservation of the form of a letter, irrespective of its position in a word.
Sacred Meaning of Armenian Letters
The Armenian alphabet remained unchanged for more than sixteen centuries. In its initial version Armenian alphabet was based on Christianity, starting with A – standing for the God (Astvats in Armenian) and ending with Q for Jesus Christ (Qristos in Armenian). Even the shape of letter Q in Armenian Ք symbolizes the crucifix of Jesus Christ with a circle, as if his head, on the top right corner of the cross. Later after the XII century, three additional letters (ԵՎ, Օ and Ֆ) were added.
During all that time the Armenian letters not only served their primary function to create written heritage. They were also used as numbers, cryptographs, riddles, etc.
Armenian Letter Art in Modern Life of Armenians
You would hardly find another culture in the world, that cherishes its way of writing as much as Armenians do. It’s very common for Armenians to have a framed picture, embroidery or other crafted alphabets in their homes. And not a simple way of teaching kids, but appreciated and hang right in the living room. Armenians decorate their alphabet, made alphabet jewelry of gold and silver, or decorate letters with birds, known as trchnagir tradition, thus celebrating the legacy of Mesrop Mashtots in their daily life.
With so much love and respect of Armenians to their alphabet, it’s no surprise that there are monumental works, devoted to the Armenian alphabet. In Armenia there are two ensembles of enormous stone sculptures with engravings carving out the 36 Armenian letters. One of them is located on one of the slopes of Mt. Aragats, the highest peak of Armenia. The other one is in the village of Oshakan, where Mesrop Mashtots is buried.
In Yerevan, there is an amazing modern calligraphic interpretation of the Armenian alphabet, created by designer Vahan Balasanyan. “Eternal Alphabet” Art-Relief is dedicated to 100th anniversary of Armenian Genocide. Notable that it’s installed right on the way to Mesrop Mashtots statue and Matenadaran, the archive and museum of the oldest and rarest Armenian books.
Use of Armenian Ornamental Letters in Art and Crafts
Today, Armenian letter art has penetrated almost all layers of society, particularly folk art. It is practiced across the Armenian territory and is integral to the cultural identity of Armenian people.
Armenian ornamental letters are based on Armenian letters, decorated by a wide variety of ornaments. The latter include knots, birds, animals, trees, people, as well as mythical creatures and religious symbols. These letters are especially loved and practiced by artists, like us ? carpet weavers, embroiderers, sculptors, linguists, calligraphists, jewelers, and other makers.
It’s been five years that we at EVE Leather decorate leather travel wallets and accessories with Armenian ornate initials, long before they were recognized as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
We do believe that Armenian cultural heritage will be kept alive only in the hands, hearts and daily life of Armenians all over the world, thus travel wallets with ornamental initials will remind you of rich Armenian cultural heritage every day, every time you use it.
Eugenia Evoyan eve.am