1287) Marks Of Turkish Literature In An Armenian Myth

Assist. Prof Dr. Mesiha TOSUNOĞLU
Kırıkkale University, Education Fculty, Depatment of Turkish Education, Yahsihan / Kırıkkale

Res. Assist. Deniz MELANLIOĞLU
Kırıkkale University, Education Fculty, Depatment of Turkish Education, Yahsihan / Kırıkkale

Historical events made Turks and Armenians sometimes closer and sometimes further away. The progress in the sequence of history brought out the consequences of these two nations’ influencing each other. One of the most distinctive fields of these influences is literature. When the works of Armenian literature are examined, it can be seen that the results are the same as Turkish literature. Armenian literature had been affected by Turkish literature; Armenian literature had taken its form from the inspiration of Turkish literature. .

It is inevitable that two nations which have lived together in the same place would influence each other in every aspect. Turkish culture had an effect on the Armenian people’s tradition and practices; and this has been reflected in their literature. However, there are people who think “Armenian literature and history are copies of the national folklore of countries where they lived as a minority” (Kaşgarlı, 1986:27). There still exist some people who think this comes from a “deep effect” (Türkmen, 2001:983) of the two nations’ living together.

Türkmen (2001:983), who examined the relationship of Turkish-Armenian folk literature, states that this “deep effect” comes most clearly in folk tales and explains the reasons for the effects of Turkish literature on Armenian literature as follows:

1.The Turkish’s language being a widely spoken language in a broad geography,
2. The two nation’s living in friendly relationships,
3. The opportunity of reaching vast numbers of people with Turkish,
4. Armenian’s not being able to understand the old Armenian language,
5. Armenian poet’s being raised among the Turks (Türkmen, 1982:18).

It should be added that “The works which belong to Turkish literature is perfect to inspire admiration.” As it is known, something inspiring and perfect is imitated. Because of this, many Armenian poets (Bluz Hovannes, Gul Artun, and others) wrote in Turkish and some storytellers (Civanî, Aşug Cemalî, Agek Mhiteryan, and others) translated Turkish folk tales into Armenian.

Türkmen (1976) asserted that most Armenian folk tales have been affected by Turkish folk tales, Armenian poets produced their poems by imitating the Turkish folk poet and from time to time they imitated Turkish poems. Studies (Türkmen, 1976; 1982, 2001) have shown that the number of Turkish poems in Armenian literature is numerous.

This situation is considered to be the result of the social relationships, geographical conditions and historical sequence naturally affecting the Armenians’ culture and thought. “Form” molds thought and affects language where it is spoken and written.

Many works that belong to Armenian literature have been affected by Turkish. The shades of the meaning that are conveyed are brought about by the inspiration taken from the Turkish language. An example of this is Armenian Legends which were gathered by Yelena Çudinov and Roberta Hovhannesyan and re-dictated by Uzlova. In our paper, Armenian Legends is discussed in terms of text, form and content. How it has been affected by Turkish literature is explained. Armenian Legends consist of four separate consecutive texts. Although, Birsen Karaca, who translated the work into Turkish, called all the texts “legends”, the first of these legends has a characteristic of a folk tale.


In the country called Nairi, Lord (Bdesh) Boğa, who is responsible for the border in one of the castles constructed to prevent the attacks of Romans and other invaders, lives happily with his beautiful wife Cangülüm and their people. On a spring day, acrobats come to castle.

During the show the fortune-teller Miriam reads Boğa’s fortune and says that he will be killed by one of his relatives, and the nephew of the lord, Tigran, and the girl near the fortune-teller called Manuşak witness this. Tigran and Manuşak get lost from the castle two years later and meet a priest. The priest takes them to his cave and tells them that he doesn’t worship fire and believes in only God (The Legend about Armenian’s Accepting Christianity). When they return back to the castle they realize that something has gone wrong. At that time, in Boğa’s house a council of war gathers; the preparations of war have started. The next day a tradesman comes to the castle. He shows the gold which he sold to Cangülüm and says, in fact, he is not a tradesman but a loyal slave of their enemy’s king. He points out that his king is desirous of Cangülüm. Cangülüm is confused and does not know what to do. Miriam tells a story to the children who are bored in the surrounded castle (Ahtamar Legend). Boğa organizes entertainment to raise the morale of his anxious soldiers and people. Miriam tells one more story during the preparations (Everburning Fire Legend). Cangülüm decides to cooperate with the enemy forces. She pours sleeping potions in the drinks of the soldiers. After everybody falls in asleep, she opens the big doors so the enemy forces take over the castle.

The Legend about Armenian’s Accepting Christianity

Armenians used to believe in gods that were not real before Christ. When Grigor Lusavoriç came to enlighten the Armenians, there were many people against him. Despite this, Grigor trained many people and established a monastery on the edge of the Mountain Aragats. He showed a lot of miracles to the people who didn’t believe him. Bad-intentioned people complained about Grigor to Tiridat. Upon that event, Tiridat had his men throw Grigor into a well which was full of snakes and scorpions.

Thinking that Grigor was dead, Tiridat organized entertainment. During the feast he turned into a boar. Grigor lived in the well for fifteen years. Tiridat’s sister, Queen Hosrovoduth, saw in her dream that only Grigor could rescue Tiridat and asked for his help. Grigor came to see the King and prayed to God for him. Tiridat turned into his normal appearance again and wanted Grigor to bless him and his people. Near the river Aras, in the place of the well where Grigor was imprisoned, a church was constructed called Hor-Virab which means “blind well”.

Ahtamar Legend

In ancient times King Arteşes had a beautiful daughter called Tamar. She was very beautiful and most of the kings wanted to marry her. King Artaşes began worrying that his daughter would be kidnapped by a dragon before deciding to whom his daughter would marry. Because of this fear he built a palace made of gold which was located on an island in the middle of Lake Van. He gave only women and girls to her service. Tamar loved a poor man who had nothing except beauty and bravery. But the cold water of Lake Van came between the lovers. Her lover managed to reach the island, swimming with the help of the light on the island to see Tamar. After this, they began to meet every night. A servant who realized this told everything to the king. King Artaşes got very angry. One night, the young lover, took the light as a guide and began swimming again to see his love. Suddenly the light disappeared.

King Artaşes put out the fire that Tamar set. In the dark water of Lake Van, the young lover drowned saying “Ah Tamar!” After that day the name of the island was called “Ahtamar”.

Everburning Fire Legend

A long time ago there was a king who was the king of the mountains. The only thing that made him upset was not having any child from his three wives. One day the last wife of the king gave birth to a girl. The princess, whose beauty was known by everyone, grew up without knowing what refusal was. The princess liked everything in the world but mostly liked playing with fire. Eventually, she became mature enough to marry. To find a candidate who deserved his daughter, the king sent announcements to every part of the country and invited candidates to the palace. The princess said that she would marry the young man who would bring her everburning fire. The handsome young men set off to find the everburning fire. One year passed, two years passed, three years passed, but no one came back. The princess said “If it is true that all of you died, it is the best for me to become stone!” Suddenly she turned into stone. The king also turned into stone after seeing his daughter. She went on crying even though she turned into stone. Her tears became a lake. The souls of the young men who died while looking for the everburning fire turned into night moths.

Three of the examined texts carry the properties of legends in terms of genre. The reality of the legends was accepted by the narrator and the listener. It happened in a time which was not very different from today’s world. The subjects of Armenian Legends are daily events like other legends. There is also the use of saints as the subject, too. “Local narrations” are used. Local narration is the change in the use of the language because of the geographical aspects.

Parts of verses are in the form of prose. As in Turkish legends, Armenian Legends also begin with a quatrain:

And the wind is singing, memorizing the wind in the mountains Disappeared heroes and czars.
Sleeping are the mountains and memorizing the old poor days,
Heavy impacts of elephant armies. (Karaca, 2001: 119)
There is one more quatrain in the legend: The fortune-teller tells these while preparing a potion with roots next to a boiler:
Grass that is gathered at night,
Grass that is gathered at day time,
Wants to repel you, the illness
Run illness, burn in fire. (Karaca, 2001: 122)

Apart from these, there are couplets in the text in the forms of riddles:
A fox sits
Long tail surrounds his neck. (wooden spindle)
(Karaca, 2001: 123)
Eating grass while living
Began to drink wine after death. (leather waterbag
(Karaca, 2001: 123)
No hand, no foot
But rubs in the sky. (smoke)
(Karaca, 2001: 123)
Golden sword fell on the ground
Nobody heard its sound. (sunlight)
(Karaca, 2001: 123)

These riddles, what Armenians call “hanegül”, carry the traces of
Turkish literature. The riddles are considered as the “exam” motif in
our folk literature (Alptekin, 2002:288). In Turkish literature the same
discourse pattern can be given as an example below:

No hand, no foot
Builds bridge. (ice)

(Eyüboğlu, www.türkleronline.com)

In the following couplet, the lover who looks at the island of Ahtamar expresses his emotions while thinking of his love for Tamar in this couplet.

The remote fire, sending your light to me?
Are you the salutation of my beautiful woman?
(Karaca, 2001: 152)

As can be seen, the text is written with pieces of verse and prose. With this property it can be said that it shares similar forms of Dede Korkut. (Dede Korkut is the narrator of the stories in Dede Korkut Tales. He tells the stories in the book.)

The time and place in the text of the Armenian Legends entirely carries properties of today’s world and real time which is different from myths. The word “Roma” in the work reveals the reality of time. Because Roma is a real place from real world, still existing in Europe. The place of the work is described as “It is on the high mountains and between lakes of Van and Sevan.”

When we look up Armenian Legends in terms of content, it is clear that they carry traces of Turkish literature in terms of hero, events, beliefs, traditions and motifs of folk tales.

In Terms of Hero: In the first text of Armenians Legends, the hero is Bdesh (responsible for borders) (Bdesh is hero’s name in the legend) called Boğa. In the work, this person is described as: “His name was forgotten: He was called Boğa for his unreliable strength. He could overturn the bull by hitting between the horns” (Karaca, 2001:121). This description is the same as the properties of “Boğa” in the story “Boğaç Khan, son of Dirse Khan” in a book by Dede Korkut. The son of Dirse Khan and three other children were playing a game in the square. Then a bull was freed. Everybody told the children to run away. Three children ran away.

The son of Dirse Khan didn’t run away. He stopped in the middle of the white square. The bull began to come towards the child and wanted to kill him. He hit the forehead of the bull, pulled it the beginning of the square. The bull and the son fought some more. The bull stretched its fore-foot. Neither the son would win nor the bull. The son thought and said to himself, ’They put a column on a roof, and then it becomes a beating.’ He said, ’Why am I beating its forehead.’ He removed his fist from the bull’s forehead and went away. The bull couldn’t stand on its feet and fell upside down.

(Gökyay, 1995:34)

As it is understood from the excerpt, the influence of Dede Korkut is great. Türkmen (2001:983) gave this explanation: “Turkish folk tales have had deep effect on Armenians. It is also accepted by Armenians researchers. Turkish folk tales, from the stories of Dede Korkut until the end of the 19th century, were spread among Armenians in terms of form and content. Most of the folk tales were either told with the original language and content or by adapting it. Armenian stories were produced in forms and traditions of Turkish folk tales.”

In Terms of Events and Motifs: Another aspect that is seen to be a trace of Turkish literature in Armenian Legends is young men who have the intention of marrying being tested. In the last of our four legends which are the subject of our study, the beautiful daughter of the king wants to test the men who want to marry to her. She states that she will marry the young man who gets the everburning fire:

Then, decide yourself, how can you examine the young men who deserve you? For which work do you love a brave man?

Tell, princess, why will you love someone from us? The cavalry ask.
I will love the one who gets the everburning fire forever! The young girl answers.
(Karaca, 2001:175)

The test of love is one of the important motifs of folk tales in Turkish literature. This motif often occurs in Turkish epics and Dede Korkut stories. For example, in Dede Korkut’s The Tribe of the Bloody Husband’s Son Kanturalı, Kanturalı passes the test by killing the three monsters called dragons. There are other tales with the motif of “tests of love.” In the epic of Köroğlu, “The only sister of forty brothers Mrs. Dana (Mrs. Dana is a hero of the legend and not married.) will marry someone who beats her in wrestling” (Alptekin, 2002:68-76). We see the test motif in Armenian works in the story of “Sasonlu David,” too. Handudu examined David with struggles and competitions before getting engaged (Türkmen, 1976:19).

In terms of events, another similarity between the two literatures is the use of elephants in war. In Manas, one of the most important epics in Turkish literature, the Kalmuk army, which begins the attack on the elephants against the Kyrgyz that surrounded the Kalmuk castle, loses the war since Manas cuts the trunks of the elephants. The elephants whose trunks are cut by Manas’s sword, attack the Kalmuk army and each other; Manas takes advantage of this, enters the castle and takes the control of castle.

The similarity of this event is told in Armenian legends. The enemy who surrounded the castle came with elephants. While the commander of the castle Bdesh is trying to find a way to repel the invaders and the elephants, he uses a young warrior, called David:

Listen to me, my warrior.” Bdesh said “The enemy thinks it is a trick. I don’t know what it is. But only a stupid man waits for an attack; I want to attack first. Tell me, what can I do to make the elephants crazy?” The young warrior thinks a few minutes, and then answers: “I can do that Bdesh. The elephants that are in fear and pain are more dangerous then all wraths. Someone who knows the elephants can cut the veins on the insensible feet while in sleep. (Karaca, 2001:156-157)

The young warrior, David carried out his duty in the legend: “The elephants are lying down motionless in the middle of the headquarters. It turned out to be why the elephants went mad and killed most of the people. The enemy had to kill their own elephants to get rid of the danger” (Karaca, 2001:160).

As can be seen in both texts the enemy comes with the elephants, the young warrior cuts an organ of the elephants and gives them great pain. The mad elephants attack their own army. In both literatures, these events are very similar.

In Terms Of Tradition Beliefs and Practices: Another similarity that draws attention in Armenian texts is the usage of some common tradi tions, beliefs and practices of Turks. The most striking is “the female wolf ”. It is believed by Turks that the wolf is an auspicious animal. “Since there was a female wolf in their heredity and it guided them to come out of the mountains, Turks believe the wolf to be auspicious. This property of the wolf affected the Anatolian people’s beliefs as well. According to a saying in the Afyon region, in the last phases of the independence war, a wolf guided one of the commanders of the army in that region. The different parts of the wolf, teeth, skins, and so on were used for defense and made them gain some extraordinary power” (Boratav, 1973:70). Today it is widely believed among Turks in Anatolia that a female wolf protects people, especially children, from the evil eye.

“The myth of reproduction from a wolf has been told and believed for thousands of years among Turkish people” and exists in Dede Korkut as a belief (Çetin, 2002:31). In Dede Korkut, Salur Kazan wants to communicate with the wolf by saying “the face of wolf is sacred.” Barthold comments that his words reflect the memory of an old totemic period (İnan, 1966-1969:151). The auspicious “wolf that comes from the period of totems to today’s Anatolia and “female wolf ” that is the continuation of “wolf ” among Turks, is seen in Armenian Legends with the same traits. “Bdesh hands his luck to an old woman; a wolf always carries his teeth with him” (Karaca, 2001:125). As a result, wolf is used in both Turkish and Armanian literature as a holy creature.

Another influence of Turkish literature in Armenian Legends is the practice of “throwing into a well” or “imprisoning in a well”. The punishment of being thrown into a well is one of the motifs of Turkish epics and folk tales. In Dede Korkut’s story of “Salur Kazan” in which he is imprisoned and rescued by his son Uruz, Salur is thrown into a well in the Toman castle by the infidels (Miyasoğlu, 1999:186). The same practice is seen in the Manas Legend. Manas is thrown into a well after he was given a poisonous sweet drink (Destanlar, 200:94). The punishment of being thrown in to a well or pit which is a tradition of Turkish folk literature is also found in Armenian legends.

In the legend in which the priest talks of Christianity in Armenian Legends, Grigor Lusavoric, who tells Jesus’ religion to the Armenians and enlightens them, was punished by being thrown into a pit which was full of snakes and scorpions because of not being obedient to the king and shaking up the king’s authority.

The King’s men threw Grigor into a dreadful pit and went away with being sure of his death before coming to the palace themselves…. Grigor sat in the snake pit for fifteen years.” (Karaca, 2001:132-133)

Another Turkish similarity in the texts of Armenian legends is the tradition of “vowing”. In this case, a “vow” is a serious religious promise to God. If the wish comes true the promise of vow is done for God. This practice which has continued from ancient Turkish history to today has become a tradition and even a belief over time. Practices like sacrificing, donating, dressing the poor, and so on (Boratav, 1975:51) are enormously common today among our people as a vow. In the first of the Armenian Legends, the priest, who found the nephews of Bdesh, Tigran and Manuşak, on the hill and took them to his cave, vowed: “It has been the third of the tenth winter since I vowed to live without fire to get rid of our ancestors’ sins.” (Karaca, 2001:130)

The tradition or belief of “vowing” happens in Dede Korkut stories in the way of wishing a son from God in the text of ‘Boğaç Khan son of Dirse Khan’: “I gave vows to the dervishes with black underpants / When I saw hungry persons, I gave them food/ When I saw naked persons I gave them clothes/ I made them milk koumiss like a lake/ I hardly found a son with a wish.” (Gökyay, 1995:36)

As it is seen, the tradition of “vowing” occurred in the works as evidence of Turkish culture shared by Turks and Armenians.

As a result, the traces of Turkish literature in the texts of Armenian Legends that we have found are as follows:

1. Using smilar “subjects” in both literatures Using “the traditions, beliefs and practices” which belong to Turkish culture.
2. Using “story motifs” which belong to Turkish folk literature.
3. Using “the hero” of works which belong to Turkish literature.

The hero and the events that occur in a story with its tradition, beliefs and practices and the properties that form the literary type are criteria to use when deciding whether a work is original or not. From this aspect, the originality of Armenian Legends can be discussed. It would not be wrong to say that the work was inspired by Turkish literature and carries traces of Turkish culture. The reason is that Turks and Armenians lived in the same region, sometimes under the same government, which was reflected in a similar way of thinking and in their literature. It is natural that the traces of a rich culture and influential literature sometimes affect the other. It is necessary to see these effects as positive because the cultural similarities in the stories made the two nations closer.

In today’s world where the globalization is discussed and cultural beliefs are abused, the most important thing is to know the power of Turkish literature and Turkish culture and to protect our identity and Turkish language.


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Source: © Erciyes University 2006


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