Monday, October 17, 2011

Alphabet follows empire Part V: Armenia and Georgia

A special medallion commemorates 1600 years of the Armenian alphabet.
    The final stop on our guided tour takes us to another corner of the former USSR, where the Cyrillic alphabet tried to follow Soviet empire but met a wall of letters.  Many people are surprised to find that the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Georgia never abandoned their distinctive alphabets.  Probably the Soviets were surprised too.  
    The alphabets of both Armenia and Georgia actually predate Cyrillic.  Armenian emerged around 405 CE; its letters resemble Ethiopic, which also grew from common Greek roots.  The Armenian alphabet, in addition, has been a key element uniting the Armenian diaspora following Turkish atrocities of World War I and in keeping the culture of this minority alive.
A Georgian "L"

Georgian letters have beautiful swashes. 
    Georgian lettering can be traced to around 320 CE, part of the same missionary effort that eventually reached Russia six centuries later.  Unlike the compact Armenian calligraphy, its distinctive lowercase letters have long, decorative ascenders and descenders.

Alphabet monument to Armenian culture, Providence, RI
    Because of their deep roots in history and their strong connection to religion, Georgian letters survived the imposition of Cyrillic during the Soviet era.   

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