Kendi Kendine Ermenice [Teach Yourself Armenian] by H. SÜKRÜ ILICAK and RACHEL GOSHGARIAN (The Armenian Patriarchate, Istanbul, 2006;
pp. 260; $14).
The publication of Kendi Kendine Ermenice is a major accomplishment for two CMES students, H. Sükrü Ilicak and Rachel Goshgarian.
Sükrü Ilicak, a Turkish graduate student in Harvard's joint degree in History and Middle Eastern Studies, specializes in the Ottoman milel-i selase (the three nations, i.e. the Greeks, Armenians and Jews). When he decided to learn Armenian in 1994 as an MA student in Turkey, he could not find any teachers or resources for learning the language. He studied Armenian for 3 and a half years with Prof. Russell at Harvard’s NELC and on his return to Turkey after 9 years, he noticed that the situation had not changed at all. Despite the fact that the "Armenian issue" has become a most heatedly discussed topic in Turkey in the last couple of years, not a single ethnic Turkish historian or politician is known to be able to read Armenian sources. To this end, in August 2005 Sükrü teamed up with Rachel Goshgarian, a friend and fellow-student of History and Middle Eastern Studies, to work on a Turkish-Armenian language instruction book. Both Sükrü and Rachel recognized the importance of incorporating Armenian sources into the broader historical narrative of mediaeval and modern Anatolia, and with Kendi Kendine Ermenice they hope to make these sources accessible to a broader scholarly community.
This publication is also a considerable source of pride for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, which has always been conscious of the need to broaden the repertoire of languages beyond Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish to include Armenian, Greek and Kurdish. Kendi Kendine Ermenice is the first book of its kind – namely, an Armenian textbook for Turkish speakers – to be published in 114 years. Also, to the best of our knowledge, it is the first joint work of an Armenian and a Turkish author. It will be an invaluable resource for Turkish-speaking graduate students, scholars and historians. Kendi Kendine Ermenice is written in Turkish, and consists of an Armenian grammar, a 5,000 word Armenian-Turkish dictionary, dialogues relating to every day life, and readings drawn from song lyrics and important literature, in addition to exercises with key. Kris Evans and Hannah-Louise Clark spoke to the authors about their book.
Question: For whom did you write Kendi Kendine Ermenice?
Rachel: We had three audiences in mind. The first group is Ottoman and pre-Ottoman historians who are native speakers of Turkish, who want to use sources in Armenian. The Armenian literary tradition is over 1700 years old, and Armenian sources can add a useful dimension to histories of the Middle East. Unfortunately, to date the Armenian sources have not really been used by Turkish scholars; this book attempts to address this by making modern Armenian accessible to Turkish speakers. Turkish scholars interested in reading Armeno-Turkish, that is, Turkish written with the Armenian alphabet, constitute the second group of target users. Kendi Kendine Ermenice includes a key and an easy way to learn to read the alphabet. Finally, the book is aimed at anyone with an interest in the Armenian language – whether they are Turkish, Kurdish, or even Armenian, as many Armenians in Turkey do not know the Armenian language. Initially we wrote the book primarily for historians, but as we felt it was important to give a sense of the 'flavor' of the language we included real-life dialogues, song lyrics from Arto Tuncboyaciyan and passages from Krikor Zohrab’s novels.
Sükrü: Actually, the Armenians in Istanbul are the most enthusiastic buyers of our book. The book appeared three months ago and most of them were purchased by Armenians who forgot or had never learned Armenian. We sold half of the thousand copies we printed, and that is extraordinary for a language book in Turkey.
Q: Could you tell me about the Armenian language?
Rachel: Armenian is an Indo-European language spoken by the Armenian people in the Armenian Republic and also used by the Armenian Diaspora. It constitutes an independent branch of the Indo-European language family, though many Indo-Europeanists believe it forms a subgroup with the Greek and Indo-Iranian families. Currently, modern Armenian is divided into two literary dialects: Eastern and Western. The different dialects emerged due to the split between Armenian communities in the Safavid (Eastern) and Ottoman (Western) empires. The differences are not huge; they are similar to the differences between Turkish and Azeri Turkish. The modern language is quite different from Grabar, the Classical language. Any real scholar interested in using Armenian sources will have to face another challenge: that of mastering Classical Armenian.
Eastern Armenian is the official language of the Republic of Armenia, whereas Western Armenian is spoken in the diaspora. There is some concern that Western Armenian, the dialect taught in Kendi Kendine Ermenice, may die out. The Armenian Apostolic Church and other Armenian institutions are dedicated to keeping it alive.
Q: Did this influence your choice of publisher?
Rachel: The Armenian Patriarchate chose us. When Sükrü met the Patriarch he was very excited and enthusiastic about this project. A book like this hasn't been published in 114 years, when an Armenian-Ottoman Turkish reader – that would be of little use now – was published.
Q: How has the book been received?
Rachel: There has been great enthusiasm for the book. Turkey is going through a lot of changes at the moment – this may be one of the first book collaborations between a Turk and an Armenian – and we feel that it is a good sign that Kendi Kendine Ermenice has been published. The book was well reviewed in the Saturday magazine section of Hürriyet [a Turkish mass-circulation daily].
Sükrü: Also, the Istanbul Armenian weekly Agos devoted a full page to our book. There were two reviews in Radikal Book Review, which is a very popular magazine among the intellectual circles in Turkey.
Q: How can I obtain this book?
Sükrü: In Istanbul and Ankara the book is available in many bookstores; especially in those specializing in history. Also, in Istanbul the book is sold at the Armenian Patriarchate and Armenian churches. It is also available on ebay and idefix.com.
Author's note: The book can now also be purchased at http://www.eren.com.tr/goster/kitap/kitap.asp?kitap=228223&SID=116162249360
H. Sükrü Ilicak and Rachel Goshgarian are PhD candidates in the joint degree program History and
Middle Eastern Studies at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University.