Graphic Rendition of a Precious Gift: The Armenian Alphabet

Avedis Baghsarian has created a new graphic font of the Armenian alphabet
Avedis Baghsarian has created a new graphic font of the Armenian alphabet

Avedis Baghsarian has created a new graphic font of the Armenian alphabet

BY ARTHUR HAGOPIAN

When Avedis Baghsarian, versatile artist, photographer, sculptor, was seven years old, and living in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem where he was born, he was intrigued, as all the young children were, by the intricate, panoramic threads of the entangled panoply of humanity around him: Jews, Moslems, Greeks, Copts, Syriacs, Ethiopians…

What did it all mean to him, as an Armenian? Was there any point of intersection among these fascinating and confusing threads?

What was the difference between Jews, Moslems and Christians?

He asked his father Arakel, whom he knew to be endowed with wisdom and charity, for he had for some time been enrolled as a seminarian at the Armenian Patriarchate, with the (now abandoned) hope of studying for the priesthood.

Arakel, a strong family man (and avid football fan), had expected such a loaded question, but did not want to make his explanation too complicated.

Avedis will never forget what his father told him:

“We think that religion is a source of communication with God and we will eventually go there,” he said, pointing to the sky.

“But the means to arrive there will be different: some will take the bus, others might take the train. It is not the means of transportation that counts but rather the final destination we are all aiming for,” he added.

He concluded with a Shakespearian dictum: “Do not judge a person from his religious beliefs but rather evaluate a person from his actions.”

That, and a keen pride in his precious Armenian heritage, have guided Avedis through his prolific artistic endeavors, the most recent, a graphic rendition of the Armenian alphabet, a vivid expression of his desire to inspire and encourage young Armenians to keep the faith.

“I am worried that if we do not raise awareness of our children about our language, and alphabet, our poetry and literature, we will lose our culture and our millennia year-old history,” he says.

The avenue he has chosen, with the intention of “empowering our children through education and enriching their life,” is one that leads to the innermost core of the Armenian soul.

Armenians are rightly proud of their unique alphabet invented 1700 years ago by Saints Sahag and Mesrob. It originally consisted of 36 letters, including more than half a dozen duplicate sounds and a double (“yev”), that have created major headaches for children trying to distinguish between the uses of a “tah” and a “toh.” Two more letters were added in the 12th Century.

Is it any wonder then that Armenians will opt for the more easily manageable English alphabet with its 26 letters when communicating via social media, SMS or Facebook?

In a world where unending “text messaging with short symbolic tags” are taking over the means of communication, it is easy to visualize the abandonment of proper language and alphabet, Avedis avers.

His concern is tangible: future generations of Armenians, mainly those in the Diaspora, run a very real risk of losing their ethnic identity through assimilation and acclimatization if they neglect to inculcate in their children the delights and travails of their mother language and its alphabet.

The modest, but bold and innovative, step he has taken towards helping redress the anomaly is embodied in a slim volume, “Armenian Alphabet ” (a companion volume, “Calligraphy in Motion,” rhapsodizes the English alphabet), where he has created his rarified version of the invention of Saints Sahag and Serop, remaining punctiliously faithful to the original, while embellishing each of the 38 letters of our alphabet with ethereal curves and lines that seem to be climbing ever higher, towards a distant Ararat.

The silver sheen and the underlying undulations, underlined by the eddying whorls, dazzle the eye.

He has no plans yet to convert the graphic fonts into a computer software program, but is attracted by the prospect. There already are several Armenian fonts available for word processing, adding one more would be a breeze, IT experts confirm. The fact that like Latin characters, Armenian is written from left to write, unlike Hebrew and Arabic for instance, which move in the opposite direction, right to left, makes the job easier.

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5 Comments

  1. Random Armenian said:

    “Armenians are rightly proud of their unique alphabet invented 1700 years ago by Saints Sahag and Mesrob.”

    Shouldn’t that be 1600 (1611 to be exact), since it was created in 405 AD.

  2. Jacque said:

    This article points out a very important issue in the Armenian alphabet .
    I understand the need for different letters of almost the same sound back in the villages of Armenia who spoke in different dialect,,but all that is unnecessary now and confusing specially in the diaspora .
    I believe to save the Armenian alphabet and letreture it’s time to simplify it and unifie it as one alphabet and language for all Armenians western speaking and eastern.
    No more 2 Ts 2 Ps. 2 Rs 2 Hs or 2 Vs
    It would be much easier to type and wright .
    Then again we Armenians don’t like the easy way out of anything .

    • Random Armenian said:

      I think it’s more about the spelling of the words. Some changed in Armenia because of the Soviet union because some of the letters were changed. I think Western has the more historically correct spelling but not the pronunciation of the letters. I’m ashamed to say I’m not 100% sure about this but that’s what I understand it to be. But if true then I think maybe we should combine the elements which are historically correct.

  3. Christopher said:

    In the article it says: ” It originally consisted of 36 letters, including more than half a dozen duplicate sounds and a double (“yev”)”

    False. The truth is that there was no “yev” in the alphabet, and for Western Armenian, there is still no “yev”. Nor were there duplicate sounds. Each letter represented a different sound. Over the centuries the pronunciation of many letters merged and that’s why today we have 2 T, P, R sounds. It wasn’t so in the beginning.

    • avedis baghsarian said:

      The book is about the graphic design rather than the double letters nor it is about the letter Yev. Ever since it was invented by St. Mesrop Mashtots in 405 AD their has been many different graphic interpretations (some floral and bird like figures) of the Armenian alphabet. However, as a proud Armenian I tried to show the beauty of the letters rather than how they sound.

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