Sunday, 31 May 2015

Armenian Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals, I began looking elsewhere. This time to Eastern Europe and the nation of Armenia, where the capital contains around a third of the total population of 3 million, and there is only one other settlement with more than one hundred thousand inhabitants. Note that while figures are difficult to prove, it is thought there are more than 5 million Armenians living outside the boundaries of the present nation. We begin with the largest and, as is often the case, the capital city.

Yerevan is not only the capital but can lay claim to one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities on the planet, although it has only been the capital city since 1918 when it became the thirteenth to be nominated as such. Traditionally the city was named after King Yervand IV, the last of his name to rule Armenia and also the last leader of the Orontid Dynasty, which died out around 200BC, and known founder of the city of Yervandashat. More likely is this was named from the Urartian fort of Erebuni, built on the same site as the modern city in 782 BC. This evolved from Erebuni, through Erevani, Erewan, Ervan, Arevan, Revan, Ayravan and Erevan to modern Yerevan. This is recognised in the name of the modern national anthem, Erebuni - Yerevan adopted on September 27th 2004. Little is known about the origin of Erebuni, although writers from the early Christian era in Armenia maintained it came from Noah, whose exclamation meant "It's appeared!" when the ark landed on Mount Ararat. This famed mountain not only dominates the city but is also the symbol of the Armenian nation.

Gyumri has been renamed several times. Founded as Kumaryi it became Alexabdropol under Russian rule from 1837 to 1924, then through Soviet influence the Armenian Leninakan until 1990, when the modern name was adopted. The original name is thought to be a local pronunciation of the Cimmerians who conquered this region around 720 BC. The Cimmerians were of Iranian extraction, possibly known as the Gimirri and hailing from the city of Gamir. The origin of their name is even more uncertain than the history of these people, although the modern Georgian word Gimirri has been used to mean 'hero'. As already stated this is the only other city with a population exceeding six figures and yet that may not be true for much longer if current trends persist. Figures from the 2011 census give this a population of 121,976, a significant reduction from 10 years previously when it numbered 150,917, almost 20%.

Vanadzor is another having several names, Gharakilisa (the Turkic for 'the black church' and a reference to the black stone of the 13th-century church of the Holy Mother of God) under Russian rule, the Soviets knew the place as Kirovakan (after the Bolshevik leader Sergey Kirov), and as the modern name from 1992. The present name comes from the Vanadzor River, itself of unknown origin.

Vagharsapat has evidence of human habitation for at least five thousand years. The first written evidence of the settlement comes from 685 BC when it was known as Kuarlini, although later writings suggest it had been known as Artimed, from the Ancient Greek god Artemis, and later Avan Vardegesi or 'town of Vardges', and got this name from Valashabad and named after King Valash during the Byzantine rule of the 1st century AD. The minor change to the modern form reflects changes in the Armenian language.

Kapan comes directly from the Armenian kapel meaning 'to lock' and describes the topographical feature where the valley is surrounded by mountain chains.

Artashat is of Iranian origin and speaks of 'the joy of Arta', an Iranian religious ideal.

Ijevan was formerly known as Karavansara, each meaning 'inn' in Armenian and Persian, respectively. This is an indication this place was on an important trade route and continues to be so to this day.

Goris was formerly known as Kores and Gorayk, both simply variations of the present name. Several explanations have been offered as to its origins, most often attributed to the Indo-European gor es or 'the rocky place'.

Charentsavan is of recent origins, named in 1967 after Yeghishe Charents, an Armenian poet, writer and activist.

Ararat is a town and province of Armenia, all clearly named after one of the world's most famous peaks. It is also known as Masis, derived from the Armenian King Amasya; as Agri Dagi, the Ottoman Turkish name meaning 'heavy mountain'; as Ciyaye Agiri or 'fiery mountain', a reminder this is a dormant volcano which last erupted in 1840; and as Kuh-e-Nuh, the Persian for 'Noah's mountain' and named from the Islamic viewpoint. The most common of Ararat comes from the ancient kingdom of Urartu, itself of Assyrian origin and thought to refer to a region where several kingdoms or tribes were resident for it means simply 'lands'. The Urartians themselves, first records date from some 3,300 years ago, called the place Khaldini after their god Khaldi.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

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