By Henrik Bakhchinyan

Recently, I received the new edition of the fifth volume of the Great Russian Encyclopedia (Moscow, 2015). Having spent many years studying the works of Sayat-Nova and medieval literature, I naturally read the article “Sayat-Nova” and discovered the following glaring errors and, worse, intentional distortions about the man and the artist.

The author of the article, A. Bagirov, Doctor in Philology, presents Sayat-Nova to the modern reader as a folk ashugh (minstrel) and poet of Transcaucasia. This is new, a collective Transcaucasian poet!

Sayat-Nova was so talented that he wrote poetry not only in his native Armenian, but also in Georgian and Turkish; in addition, he knew Persian and Baluchi. At the same time, in all previous Russian, Soviet and foreign encyclopedias (including musical), vocabularies and histories of literature without exception it is written that Sayat-Nova is an Armenian poet. It is difficult to suspect the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (as well as Britannica or Brockhaus and Efron) of tendentiousness.

Even more shocking is Bagirov’s next “discovery.” It turns out, Sayat-Nova’s father, Mahtesi Karapet (Mahtesi is a believer who has made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem), was a Syrian Turk from Aleppo with the Armenian name Karapet (!!!), and to tie loose ends, Bagirov ascribes to him the Armenian-Gregorian faith.

It is difficult to imagine a greater misunderstanding than of a Syrian Christian Turkish follower of the Armenian Apostolic Church, originally from the city of Adana (under the conditions of the Ottoman Empire, which included the city since 14th century, it was impossible, as up to the 14th century the territory of historical Armenia and the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia were inhabited predominantly by Armenians until the end of the 19th century). To write something like that, you have to possess evidence, new data. If there are any, we will gladly read them and introduce them into the academic sphere.

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All the information in Armenia we have about Sayat-Nova’s father we draw from manuscripts (Matenadaran, manuscript no 4270, page 100b, 10838a) and from his Davtar (Collection of songs), which is stored in the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Art of Armenia (Sayat-Nova’s files, no 1). In the latter, in one of the Turkish songs the poet mentioned his father being from Adana. Later his father moved to Aleppo and then to Tiflis. And in his other song in Turkish, by the poet’s own hands it is written, as if in advance giving the answer to future Turkish-Azerbaijani “academicians,” that “Sayat-Nova dini Sakhi inkar etmaz – ermanidur” – “Sayat-Nova does not betray the true faith – He is Armenian!” (Davtar, p. 62).

Bagirov’s article states that “Sayat-Nova is a pseudonym, and his real name and surname is Harutiun Sayadyan. He was born, lived and died in Tbilisi. Writing in Azerbaijani, Armenian and Georgian languages … he played a great role in the development of Turkic, Armenian and Georgian verse.”

It is clear that this author is intentionally or unintentionally fooling himself. We can say (in addition to the poet’s own statements) the following: for some reason, the “Turk” Mahtesi Karapet migrated from Adana to Aleppo (where there was a historically large Armenian community, then one of the cultural centers of Armenians in the East), then to Tiflis, settled in Armenian-populated quarter Havlabar and there he married an Armenian woman, Sara. His son, Harutiun (which in Armenian means resurrection, possibly born on Easter week), grew up in the Armenian-speaking environment of Havlabar, learned to read and write in an Armenian parish school, was a poet and musician in the same Armenian environment and mastered various musical instruments. Then he served at the court of Georgian king Heraclius II.

He composed in Georgian, and it was with his arrival that the Persian language used for performances at the royal court was replaced by Georgian. At the same time, he actively participated in ashugh competitions and composed in Turkish, since it was a common language in the ashugh environment; some quatrains in Persian have also survived. Much later, he recorded his works with his own Armenian lettering (some songs in Georgian letters). Sixty-eight of his works have been preserved in Armenian, 35 in Georgian and 121 in Turkish (all of them were published in Armenian letters in the collection Sayat-Nova’s Poetic Heritage, Yerevan, 2016, compiled by Henrik Bakhchinyan).

It should be noted that the Turkish language that the poet and ashugh Sayat-Nova used and recorded in his Davtar in Armenian lettering, was the dialect of the Airumlu tribe and in the 18th century it was not called Azerbaijani.

Let us also emphasize that it is the themes and motives of Armenian poems, reflecting the drama of life, that elevate Sayat-Nova’s works above the flowery, decorative poetry in the Georgian and Turkish languages, with the influence of Persian (Oriental) poetry. As he said: “Not everyone can drink my source: my water is special! Not everyone should honor my writings: my words have a special meaning!”

Topics: Folk Songs, Music
People: Sayat-Nova

Judging by the next paragraph of Bagirov’s article, he is undoubtedly not familiar with either the original of Davtar or the two subsequent facsimile editions, otherwise he would not have written that “the songs recorded in Davtar were published by Sayat-Nova’s son Ogan Seidov in 1842 in St. Petersburg.”

In fact, in 1823, in St. Petersburg, upon the instructions of the Georgian prince Teimuraz, Ohan Sayadyan (being a subject of the Russian Empire, he wrote his name as Seidov) compiled a manuscript collection (in Georgian letters), including 80 Armenian, Georgian and Turkish songs (stored at the Institute of Oriental Studies of St. Petersburg, collection of Georgian manuscripts, number Н-21). But in 1842 not a single collection of Sayat-Nova was published! Only in 1852, through the efforts of Gevorg Akhverdyan, was the first collection of Armenian songs by Sayat-Nova published in Moscow.

In the article, the biography and work of Sayat-Nova are given in fragments and erroneously, and it remains to be wondered why such an authoritative publication as the Great Russian Encyclopedia, assigned the article to such an incompetent author and why a review was not ordered and the data was not verified.

As far as I know, the Great Russian Encyclopedia has a bibliographic department that verifies all its data from available past dictionaries and encyclopedias, or at least one could use the very valuable publication History of World Literature (volume 5, Moscow, 1988), where there is a detailed chapter on Sayat-Nova’s life and work. All these sources rightly and reliably indicate his Armenian origin, the national character of his work as a continuer of the traditions of centuries-old Armenian poetry and musical art (the modal system of Armenian folk music is original, has no analogues, the inclusion of individual rhythmic and poetical oriental elements does not violate its foundations), as well as his role as poet and ashugh for Georgian and Turkic poetry. One should not neglect the highest professional assessment of Sayat-Nova’s creativity, which was given by eminent Russian poet and translator Valery Bryusov in his preface to the anthology Poetry of Armenia (1916, in Russian).

However, this is not the first attempt to Turkicize (Azerbaijanize) the Armenian poet, but in the Great Russian Encyclopedia, where only verified and already recognized facts are given, this seems unacceptable. As we can see, Bagirov’s article is by no means the last and already indisputable word of science.

Bearing in mind all of the above, I would very much like to hope that the Great Russian Encyclopedia will not lower the academic level of past encyclopedic publications and correct the mistake, replace the article (at least in the electronic edition) and give a refutation, not allowing the seeds of falsification to spoil the open field of Russian science and culture.

(Translated from Russian by Artsvi Bakhchinyan)

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