Չորրորդ Հայքի Գրադարան . ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ . Չորրորդ Հայքի Գրադարան . ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ . Չորրորդ Հայքի Գրադարան . ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ

Syriac in “What” Script?

In response to our posts on Turkish in Armenian script and Armenian in Greek script, Nicholas Al-Jeloo writes:

The Assyrians had been using a system called Garshuni to write Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Malayalam (southern Indian) and Armenian in Syriac script since the early middle ages.”

Garshuni in Syriac refers to writing one language in the script of another. It is similar to the Greek word karamanlidika, which refers specifically to Turkish in Greek script. Al-Jeloo points us to some examples of Garshuni in the form of Arabic in Syriac script, and to this book of essays on Garshuni in the Mediterranean.

This reminds me loosely of a segment in David Bellos’ book on translation, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, about how the lingua franca of Columbus’ time, used by Mediterranean sailors from about the middle ages to the 19th century, combined Arabic syntax with Italian and Spanish vocabulary. Apparently Columbus wrote in Italian, Portuguese, Castilian, Latin and Greek, and perhaps also Hebrew. Bellos argues accordingly, and based on the observation that Columbus’ writings contained mishmashes of words from these various languages, that Columbus may not have conceptualized all of these languages as being distinct.

Al-Jeloo continues:

The Assyrians of Kharpert, Ayvos, Malatya, Palu, Bitlis, and other cities and towns were native speakers of Armenian rather than Assyrian. Those of Diyarbakir and Urfa knew Arabic, but were more proficient in Turkish. In the USA during the early 20th century, Assyrian emigres from Kharpert maintained a magazine titled “Babylon”, which was published largely in Ottoman Turkish (but in the Armenian and Syriac scripts).”

Here is an image of one of the issues of Babylon that has segments that are fully in Armenian, suggesting that at least some members of the community of Assyrian emigrants in the US could speak and write Armenian:

Issue of the U.S.-based daily Assyrian newspaper Babylon
(Thursday, October 16, 1919)

We know, too, that Armenian was written in Syriac script before the dawn of the Armenian alphabet, and that the Armenian clergy performed liturgies in Syriac. And there are various other instances in the interim, as the following two examples show:

In Al-Jeloo’s words, the first is a 17th century manuscript, now at the Harvard Library, “completed on 20 August 1661 by the Monk Ephrem, son of Ohanes and Gulistan of Vank (Yeşilyurt, near Gerger in Adıyaman province) at St. Abhay’s Monastery “of the Ladders” near the village of Ulbish (Köklüce, in the same area as Vank), in the days of Patriarch Ignatius Yeshu‘ II Bar-Qamsha (1659-1662), Maphrain Abdul-Masih of Urfa (1655-1662, patriarch from 1662-1686), and Metropolitan Gregorius Bar-Sawmo of St. Abhay’s Monastery and Gerger. It was copied for the Monk Habib of Urfa, who later became Metropolitan of that city. After his death, it was sold by Bishop ‘Atallah (probably his successor) on 15 January 1706 to the Archdeacon Allahverdi (probably also of Urfa). The manuscript also bears the signature of Maphrain Baselios Isaac II Azar of Mosul (1687-1709), who was patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church between 1709 and 1722.”

The second is a more recent 18th century manuscript, now in the Library of the Vatican, which contains several pages of Armenian in Syriac script, as well as some pages containing marginal notes in Armenian.

It appears that the Armenian-Assyrian connection is much larger than we initially learned.

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