Aspirantum summer school in Armenia was a great experience! We had many opportunities to improve our skills in my fields including but not limited to Persian language and cross-cultural relationships.
Friendly atmosphere and open-mindedness of participants, professors, organizers and the people of Yerevan made our Persian learning adventure fun and exciting. I have participated in Aspirantum summer school for Persian with quite limited knowledge, however, at the end of the program, thanks to the intensive teaching method which was adopted by Aspirantum, I managed to obtain a decent level of reading, speaking, writing and listening skills of Persian. Besides Persian language training, the program organized many trips to several different places in the Republic of Armenia which enabled us to get more acquainted with the Armenian culture and traditions. Especially, as a historian, I liked the trips to the rural Armenia, which aimed to introduce the Armenian historical heritage in the region. The trip to the Sevanakerd monastery and Sevan Lake area was far and away best in my opinion because first of all, the region was an important place for understanding the interfaith and cross-cultural relationships of the Armenian people with the other people and secondly, the lake itself was a great place for touristic activities and I really enjoyed swimming and doing some sunbathe there.
In the end, I was also amazed by the diversity of age of my classmates; this helped me enrich my knowledge from other people’s experiences. Additionally, besides getting acquainted with Armenian and Persian culture, thanks to the international participant profile in the program, I was able to know more about different cultures and meet plenty of people from different ethnic backgrounds. In brief, I can’t say more about Aspirantum Persian summer school because it is more than what words can describe: fun, love, study and happiness.
At the end of the fourth week, I finally succeeded to have a decent conversation with an Iranian person in Yerevan. As I went to a popular touristic destination, the Cascade, last Thursday, I figured out in short that there is plenty of Iranian tourist around, which would give me an opportunity to talk with a native speaker of Persian. Finally, although I was aware that my Persian speaking skills might not be enough to keep a conversation, I managed to build up my courage to start a conversation in Persian. After a brief introduction in English with an Iranian lady, I started talking in Persian and continued to talk three or four more minutes in this language. At the end of the conversation, she asked me “why do you need to learn Persian” and my answer was precise: “I am working on the thirteenth and fourteenth-century western Anatolian political structure and interfaith relationships between Christianity and Islam. Since the official language of the Seljuks of Rum was Persian, I need to have a decent level of reading in Persian to be able to reach the necessary primary sources from this period of time.” After this question, she asked the second question about my Persian learning process and its necessities. “Why don’t you learn Persian in an Iranian speaking country?” Indeed, this was a really good question and I did not have a ready answer for this. I just stated that because of some political problems, I did not want to go to Iran. In spite of my answer, she suggested me several summer school in Iran if I would decide to go there for a summer school in the future. Also, I am told by her that the official language in the country called Tajikistan is also quite close to Persian. So one would also be able to learn Persian there by attending several summer schools. However, since I need to learn Persian with Arabic Alphabet, and the Tajik language is with Cyrillic alphabet, that option would not probably the best one for me for now.
As I try to improve my Persian reading level to the desired level in order to be able to reach related primary sources, I start figuring out crucial similarities between the Persian and one of the necessary languages, for my research, Ottoman Turkish.
The Ottoman Turkish is a variety of Turkish language that was used in the Ottoman Empire between the 14th and 20th centuries. Although the language structure was indeed Turkish, it borrowed many loanwords, up to eighty-five per cent, especially from Arabic and Persian languages. The modern Turkish that is now spoken in Turkey was originated from “Vulgar Turkish” which was used by relatively unintelligent and less-educated people in the Ottoman Empire.
Although modern Turkish has fewer loanwords from Arabic and Persian languages compared to Ottoman Turkish, a Turkish-speaking person could easily understand many common words between these two languages. Further, as a person who studied Ottoman language before, I realised that being able to read the Ottoman language definitely helps me to learn Persian. First of all, the Ottoman Turkish and Persian has the same alphabet. Even after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the newly established state of Turkey had continued to use the Arabic alphabet up until the 1920s. Therefore, I thought that having full knowledge of the Arabic alphabet would be no doubt helpful in learning Persian. Secondly, beside the Persian loanwords in Turkish, the Persian language also has a considerable number of Turkic loanwords such as “otaq” -اتاق- which is called “oda” in Turkish and means “the room”, which in my opinion, another advantage that an Ottoman Turkish reader would be able to have.
At the end of the third week in Persian language summer program in Armenia, I feel that I managed to have a good spell of Persian. I started reading lower intermediate texts and my speaking level is getting better every passing day. I hope that at the end of the sixth week, I will start reading the upper intermediate level Persian text and further improve my speaking skills in the targeted language.
This weekend, Persian summer school, ASPIRANTUM, arranged a trip to Sevan area in central Armenia, allowing me to get acquainted with this popular touristic destination. First, the program took us to a medieval monastery called Sevanavank near Sevan Lake with an aim to introduce us to the history of the area. The monastery was founded in 874 by Princess Mariam, the daughter of Ashot I from one of the prominent Armenian dynasty, Bagratunids, in Medieval Armenia. Although the monastery has managed to survive until now, the Sevan area was a major area of military conflict between the medieval Armenian kingdoms and various factions such as the Timurids, Seljuks and the Abbasids. After all, despite the end of the Armenian rule in the region in the later periods, relatively peaceful rule of the new state organisations seems to allow the flourishing of the Christian monasteries in the region. Today, save its outer walls, the monastery is still welcoming people from different religious backgrounds.
After visiting the monastery, we start heading to one of the beaches near the lake. The beach that we decided to head had a quite traditional restaurant where I could find an opportunity to deepen my knowledge about the Armenian cuisine. At the restaurant, I ordered a kind of fish called Sevan trout without knowing that it is an endemic fish species of Sevan Lake. Later, out of my curiosity about the seafood, I began investigating it. I am told by the owner of the restaurant that, it is a salmonid fish related to brown trout. Further, I learnt that this endemic fish is one of the most popular seafood in Armenia besides the other species such as goldfish and common whitefish.
Currently, Lake Sevan provides more than eighty per cent of the fish catch of Armenia. Besides the historical and economic significance of the region, it also houses plenty of endemic species such as the Armenian gull.
I am planning to go to a city called Gyumri next week, hoping to write about this second biggest city of Armenia in my fourth blog entry.
As our program began arranging several trips deeper into Armenia, I could find an opportunity to get acquainted with the Medieval and Ancient heritage of the region. Our first trip was to Amberd, an ancient settlement located around a strong stonebuilt castle next to a medieval church called Vahramashen. Located approximately one hour drive away from the centre of Yerevan, Amberd fortress is one of the oldest medieval construction in Armenia. The initial fortress was built in the seventh century but, later enlarged considerably by one of the influential dynasties of Medieval Armenia, the Pahlavunids, as a response to the growing political and military threat from the east. Although the local dynasties were able to stand firm against any kind of threats up until the eleventh century, in 1070, the castle finally fell into the hands of the Seljuks who turned the castle into a military base for their further campaigns to the west. Besides the castle, Vahramashen church which was completed in 1026, is still open to visitors. During my visit, I managed to enter the church and witnessed a religious ceremony inside which could be defined as fascinating in terms of reflecting the long-lasting religious and cultural heritage of the region.
The program will arrange the next trip to Sevan lake, Sevanavank, Noratus cemetery of Khachkars, Tsaghkadzor and Kecharis monastery in the following days. In the next blog entry, I am planning to cover several of these places that I would find most interesting and attractive. Also, advancing towards the end of the second week of my stay in Armenia, I will be able to tell more about the Armenian cuisine in my next entry.
As a person who grew up in Turkey, Armenia had always been a distant country to me since the political problems between Turkey and Armenia are abysmal. However, I figure out in short that the cultural and social correspondences between the people of these two countries are quite visible even in daily life. After three hours of delay, I was finally able to land on Zvartnots International Airport in Yerevan on the sixth of July. After a short drive from the airport to the city centre, my landlord welcomed me in the outside of the house and offered me some local drinks as I began settling in the house. At this point, I began understanding how big is the Armenian hospitality even towards the people who were not always supposed as “friendly” by some quarters.
My stay in Armenia during the first week of the Persian summer school was fascinating. The courses had taken place in the centre of Yerevan around the place called “Republican Square”. As I was able to gather some information about the area, the square was designed by an Armenian architecture in 1924 during the Soviet era. Among the main landmarks in the city, I could find an opportunity to visit Yerevan TV Tower, Opera Theatre, Yerevan Cascade. In my opinion, more than twenty years after the independence of the Armenian Republic, one could still feel the strong socio-cultural influence of the Soviet Union.
Our program will arrange several trips outside of Yerevan in the following weeks. Therefore, I will be able to write about rural Armenia soon, focusing on Medieval and Ancient architectural heritage of the Armenian people.