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The Armenian alphabet

Until the beginning of the 5th century Armenians didn’t have their own alphabet. They used the Greek, Syriac and Assyrian languages for writing. That was considered natural until the partition of Armenia between Byzantium and Persia. The Armenian people didn’t want to assimilate with the conquerors and hoped for the help of the Church.

For a hundred years after the adoption of Christianity the Armenian Apostolic Church was cosmopolitan and didn’t need the national alphabetic script. However, after the partition of the country the need to create the own system of writing arouse. The invention of the alphabet would become an important step in the development of Armenian early feudal culture and a way to preserve the religious and political identity of the people.

The clergy were also interested in the invention of the own alphabetic script because its lack complicated reading and understanding Christian sermons. In fact, the sermons and sacred rites were inseparably linked with the holy book – the Bible (from Greek “Biblia”), the most important source of Christian teaching. 

The Bible had to be read in churches and homes. The clergy needed to consult special manuals on the sacred rites, read hagiology, study theological literature and the council decrees.

The church was anxious about the inability of the church members to understand the essence of Christian doctrine rather than about preserving the ancient rites and traditions. Since there were not any corresponding books in the native language, the service in monasteries and temples was conducted in Syriac, and ordinary people could hardly understand it. The church members who didn’t know the Greek language (a language of the liturgy) were in the same situation.

The concern about the future of Christianity in Armenia urged the scholar and monk Mesrop Mashtots on the creation of the Armenian alphabet. His intention was supported by Catholicos Sahak Partev. Mashots and Partev had a perfect knowledge of several languages: Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, Persian and Georgian. In cooperation with

 their students they traveled all over Armenia - from Persia to Byzantium in search of a suitable alphabetic script.

Looking at how the Armenian people were talking to each other in Greek or Persian, Mesrop and Sahak understood that they could lose their national identity without their own system of writing. Plus, only monks and some laymen could read the Bible in Syriac and Greek, which made the spread of Christianity more difficult.

Before creating the Armenian alphabet, Mashots studied the alphabets of other languages, their principles of writing, and the forms of the letters. In 405 A.D., after long scientific researches and many travels, he created the alphabetic scrip corresponding to the sounds of the language of that time. According to the legend, the Armenian alphabet was a divine gift from God. Mashots was praying when he saw the hand of God writing the alphabet on stones.

Until the present time the Armenian alphabet hasn’t changed significantly. The first sentence written in Armenian is known by every Armenian. Here it is: “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding”.

After the invention of the Armenian alphabet, Mashtots and two his students translated the Bible into the Armenian language. Since that time, owing to their exact and impressive translation, the church became to conduct services in Armenian - the language that the Armenian people could understand. Accordingly, the church members apprehended Christian doctrine and practices consciously.

In 2005 Armenian alphabet celebrated its 1600th anniversary. In honor of this even on the eastern slope of Mount Aragats 39 stone letters of the Armenian alphabet were installed. There is no such monument anywhere else in the world!



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