The Miracle of the Armenian Alphabet

KUWAIT, 21 November 2005, Kuwait Times News (, by Garo Kuyumjian

The world has begun to acknowledge not only Armenia's fine culture but also the Armenian celebration of the 1600th anniversary of the creation of the Armenian alphabet. Accordingly, it was announced by the Armenian President Robert Kocharian that the year 2005 must be dedicated to this great occasion. UNESCO has also recognized and adapted this occasion on its agenda. In fact, a citation can be found in the UNESCO program, which says, “Armenia was the first official Christian Kingdom and, because of its very strong cultural and spiritual identity, was able to keep its culture while being strongly influenced by the Byzantine and Persian cultures, particularly in regards to arts and architecture. These celebrations involve also the Armenian Diaspora spread throughout the world.”

Many events have already been launched, particularly those relating to cultural and educational fields, the latest of which was a conference at Harvard University on November 9, 2005.

“To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding,” those were the first words inscribed in the Armenian alphabet once it was completed 1600 years ago, and this is what was wanted to be anchored in the character of the Armenians as a goal.

The highly respected forefathers Mesrob Mashdost and Sahak Bartev, spent their lives on a mission to find a unique alphabet for their people, so that they can write, read and translate from various religious and literature sources. Most of the literary and religious sources abundant at that time in society and ruling circles, particularly the Holy Bible, were read in old Syrian or Greek and conveyed to the Armenian audience through interpreters.

Those who knew old Syrian or Greek were but a few, mainly priests and members of high-class society. As for commoners, they were unable to read the Holy Bible or understand the meanings of the religious texts, prayers, poetry and literature in their mother tongue.

It took 25 years for Mesrob and his collaborators to create an Armenian alphabet by exerting great efforts in linguistics and studying leading alphabets of the time. They compared sounds and speech in the spoken Armenian language, in order to note all the required letters and achieve a correct and integrated transfer of the Armenian language on paper. Information available in Armenia was not enough at the time. Therefore, Mesrob was asked to travel abroad to search and study other cultures and languages outside the region. He roamed remote countries and reached India, Egypt and Ethiopia and brought with him a few additional letters besides what was already prepared.

Legend says that while he was asleep, God appeared to him in his dream and wrote on the wall of his room 36 luminous characters and instructed him to utilize them as Armenian alphabet. He copied them and endorsed them to his disciples, who after setting the grammar, began translating the Bible, then literature and scientific theories as well as Greek, Roman, Persian and Indian master books. They also translated history books available in Armenia at that time. They excelled in creating fine literature, considered among the greats in world literature. The treasures of our language where once desribed by a poet to have the “flavour of the sun”. Regretfully, the foreign reader knows very little about these books, due to the lack of sufficient translations, or distributions in the cultural arenas.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that the phonetics of the 36 Armenian alphabets contains almost all the sounds in the spoken languages of the world, enabling the user to reproduce every word with its original pronunciation, as the number of the characters in the Armenian alphabet is more than most other languages, that usually range from 26-32 letters. This is considered a source of linguistic enrichment of which we are proud and this is what makes the Armenians speak with ease all the languages of the world.

  1. A very interesting article and an informative one. Thanks.

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