Armenian National Identity and the Distortion of Armenian Names

The first question that logically arises for a researcher of Armenian history is how, in what way, and by what incredible means the Armenian nation rises from the ashes like the proverbial Phoenix, elevating itself to a new, more developed level of existence time and time again?

Of course, factors like millennia-old wisdom, a rich gene pool, and the national consciousness of the first Christian people play a role, among other things. But where did these qualities come from and how were they formed?

The answer lies (perhaps unusually at first glance) in the map of the Armenian Highlands. The secret to Armenian longevity resides in the powerful triad of Nation-Land-Faith, in the strength of a bond between the aboriginal people and their country that originated in the times of the forefather Hayk, and in the profound (in the best sense, I would even call it animalistic) sense of ownership of their homeland, possessed by very few nations.

In this regard (as well as in the sphere of spirituality), Armenians resemble Russians. It’s not mere banal patriotism but a much deeper and stronger feeling of homeland that led to victories at Stalingrad and Sardarapat, Kursk and Shushi. This feeling drives the elderly to cling to their flooded homes during the construction of another reservoir or continue living without electricity and water in an abandoned village, despite the availability of well-furnished new housing.

Naturally, such a mindset and behavior have always met with opposition, and now they face the powerful challenges of mass acculturation and politically correct psychosis. However, the fact remains that the Armenian nation is still alive, strong, mostly attached to its own country, and capable of regeneration!

So, Nation-Land-Faith. Armenia, the Armenian Highlands, geographical names dating back to Hayk Nahapet and the Van Kings; land nourished by the sweat and blood of its owners; history imprinted in toponyms; faith retained in the purity of human infancy…

One of the most dreadful blows in human history is the deprivation of a people of nine-tenths of their homeland and the land of its owners. But we are alive, we are victorious, we have forgotten nothing, and we are planning for the future. It is all the more important to maintain our unity, the powerful alliance of all (I emphasize – all) of our nation with our Homeland and Faith.

And in this regard, our attitude towards our toponyms throughout (again, I repeat and emphasize – all) the territory of Historical Armenia is extraordinarily important. This is, of course, difficult to an impossible extent, but it is necessary for the preservation of national memory, self-awareness, and future self-identification.

Let politicians and diplomats seek ways and options for such activity, but a sense of ownership towards our names in Western Armenia, Javakheti, Nakhichevan, Northern Artsakh, and Utik is an imperative for the further development of the Armenian nation, the imperative of Hay Dati. To remind the whole world, and primarily to us, Armenians, – this is our country and our names!

There is not, and cannot be – even if only and at least on the geographical map – any Eastern Turkey or Eastern Anatolia (the latter “name” is nonsense and tautology – Eastern East!) – there is only Western Armenia, named as such in the 4th-3rd millennia B.C. after its aboriginal Armenian owners.

There is not, and cannot be (neither on the geographical map nor on the Armenian Highlands), a mountain with a terrible, alien “name” Büyük Ağrı-dağ – there has been, is, and will only be Masis-Ararat, named in the 3rd millennium B.C. in honor of Hayk’s descendant Amasia, and later becoming a symbol of humanity’s salvation.

A few years ago, there could not have been an earthquake in the non-existent city of Erzincan in non-existent “southeastern” provinces of Turkey – the earthquake occurred in the ancient Armenian Archesh in Western Armenia.

And when the church of Surb Khach (only one of many buildings of the once-great city of Akhtamar) was restored as a small gesture, only one of the Armenian channels reported from Akhtamar in Western Armenia. I would even include the weather forecast for our cities and regions of Western Armenia on all channels – at least for education and repetition.

For many years, there was a Soviet ideologized (and senseless, as it turned out) distorted presentation of the most ancient Armenian toponyms of Eastern Armenia. The profoundly meaningful first settlement of Noah’s Nakhichevan somehow turned into Nakhichevan, along with Erivan – such Molokan villages with vague names.

The name of the first Christian Cathedral, the throne residence of the Catholicos of All Armenians, meaning “the descent of the only-begotten” – Surb Echmiadzin, was distorted into Etchmiadzin and somehow spread to the entire city, built several centuries before that – Vagharshapat.

Speaking of the transcriptional form of distortions of Armenian names of Artsakh, Utik, Nakhichevan, and Western Armenia is not necessary – we ourselves sometimes, without thinking about our monstrous mistakes, use versions like Gyandzha, Shusha, Ordubad, Erzrum – instead of Gandzak, Shushi, Vordovar, Arzn-Rum.

We do not think (and in most cases – do not know) about the fact that many so-called “Turkish” and/or “Kurdish” toponyms are actually only transcriptional distortions of our most ancient Armenian names.

And often we change them to artificial names in our state, and in Western Armenia and the like – we use the pronunciation of the conquerors. Thus, starting from the 4th-3rd millennia B.C., in Armenian toponymy, the tradition of forming names with endings “gu,” “kh’u,” “tu” was born – it was so during the times of the Kingdom of Van, so it has reached us in many cases – Amakhu, Achakhu, Tblkh’u, Nibiru, Naveru, Dovekhu, etc.

In Artsakh, the Turks simply rearranged two letters – and Tblkh’u became Tbxhl’u. And the most ancient Achakhu near Kapan we ourselves renamed to Andokavan.

The inhabitants of Alapars near Charentsavan stubbornly resist the obvious fact that Alapars is not a Turkic name, but a transcribed ancient Armenian Aylakhberk – on the banks of Hrazdan there were villages Akhberk, that is Springs, and Aylakhberk – Other Springs.

In the early 90s, in one of the villages of Chambarak region to the northeast of Lake Sevan, a sign hung for a long time with the mind-boggling, pseudo-patriotic naive name – Marshalbagramyanavan (exactly together!)

And the former inhabitants of the famous Chardakhlu do not know that the name of their village does not come from the Persian “char (chhar) tagh” – four paddocks, but from the most ancient Armenian “jra tagh” – paddocks by the water, later, as a result of the cult of water, turning into Chrakan, Chrag – lamp, an uncreated light. I hope that in the future the inhabitants of the liberated Chardakhlu will restore the many-thousand-year-old name of their village.

Regarding the supposedly Turkic toponymic suffix “lu” (variant – “ly”) – it is the same ancient Armenian particle “kh’u” with the well-known alternation of “kh”-“l” (Gazar-Lazar). As for the name Karabakh itself, we have already talked about it in one of our conversations – it comes from the ancient Armenian “khar” – many and “bakh”, “bag” – gods, temples, sacred groves, meaning essentially the same as Artsakh.

All of us, Armenians – political scientists, journalists, geographers, and everyone else, need to know, as well as remember and use in our everyday speech – both professional and colloquial, the geographical names of our country, constantly reminding them to the whole world, so as not to lose them irrevocably.

There is no Erzindjan, Erzerum, Ganja, Barda, Belokan, Istanbul or Mount Erdzhiyas – there are Yerzenka, Karin – Arzn-Rum, Gandzak, Partav, Baylakan, Constantinople, Argeos. There are no imposed, artificial, and illogical administrative units – such as the Erzurum or Diyarbakir vilayets.

On the northern shore of Lake Van lies the city of Arches. Two cuneiform monuments have been preserved here, where there is mention of the construction of the city, an artificial lake, and a canal.

They can be talked about only to clarify the statistics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are deeply motivated ancient Armenian ashkhars or nahangis-regions, gavars-provinces, and gavarakis-districts of Greater and Lesser Armenia and Cilicia from physical-geographical, historical, and even everyday life perspectives.

So, the city of Van is located in the gavar of Van-Tosp ashkhar of Vaspurakan in Greater Armenia, the city of Gandzak – in the gavar of Shakashen ashkhar of Utik in Greater Armenia, the city of Yerzenka – in the gavar of Ekegheats ashkhar of Bardzr Hayk in Greater Armenia…

Behind each of the names – thousands and thousands of years of history, events, victories and defeats, joy and bitterness – all that is called home, homeland, thinking. And to the semi-rhetorical question from the song of a famous movie – “Where does the Motherland begin?” – I would answer unequivocally:

The Motherland, like a person, begins with its name. Remember it – and you won’t forget kinship, you won’t become a slave or a mythical “citizen of the planet.” The great Nzhdeh repeated that a person who does not love his nation cannot love humanity as a whole. But to love, you need to know…

by Grigor Beglaryan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

P.S. Comment from Gagik Sargsyan: Additionally, the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh are located in the north and northeast of the Armenian Highlands. Not in Transcaucasia or the South Caucasus.

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2 thoughts on “Armenian National Identity and the Distortion of Armenian Names”

  1. Viken Doumanian

    Hello Mr. Avetisyan,
    It’s been a few years that I read your blog and I would like to thank you for your great effort and work.
    I would like to make a comment concerning the translation of the armenian names to english.
    For example the river Hraztan is not Razdan. Dzrakan is meaningless in english it should be Chrakan.
    Tere is no Erzenka, there is Yerzenka.
    I wish that the translator rectifies such mistakes.

    Best regards

    Viken Doumanian

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