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When I was a child, my father told me that his grandfather (an Armenian from the Ottoman Empire) spoke only in Turkish and wrote only in Armenian, meaning he wrote Turkish in Armenian script. It turns out that this was pretty common in the Ottoman Empire, and not only among Armenians. The Greeks had a word for Greco-Turkish – karamanlidika (from the Karamanlis, who were Turkish-speaking Orthodox Greeks).

There is a considerable literature written in these writings, including one of the first novels of Armenian and Ottoman litearture—Akabi Hikayesi (The Story of Akabi) by Hovsep Vartanian, (Vartan Pasha) published in 1851. The earliest Armeno-Turkish publication would dates at least to the 17th century—a 1630 treatise on food and health from Constantinople—now at the British Library (Or. 16001). Even the Ottoman Imperial Mint, which was run by Armenians for a time contained record keeping in Armeno-Turkish.

(Photo credit: Alex Dally McFarlane)

Greco-Armenian and Garshuni

In his excellent book, AnatolicaRichard Clogg mentions the presence of 19th century Armenian-speaking Ottoman Greeks, who used the Greek alphabet to write Armenian.

At the same time, the Assyrians had been using a system called Garshuni to write not only Armenian—but also Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, and Malayalam (southern Indian)—in Syriac script since the early middle ages.

Adding to this, Nicholas Al-Jeloo informs us that “The Assyrians of KharpertAyvosMalatyaPaluBitlis, 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 émigré 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 containing segments that are fully in Armenian:

We know, too, that Armenian was written in Syriac script before the dawn of the Armenian alphabet, and that some Armenian clergy performed the liturgy in Syriac.

Al-Jeloo adds:

“[This 17th century manuscript, now at the Harvard Library] was 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.”

He also mentions an 18th century manuscript, now in the Library of the Vatican, which contains several pages of Armenian in Syriac script, with some pages containing marginal notes in Armenian.

Persian in Armenian Script

Finally, the Mashtots Matenadaran contains several codices of Persian written in Armenian script, among which are contained Gospels from the 18th century (about which, more here).


(Matenadaran collection, Ms 8492, f. 187r)