Armenian Language Corner

The Albania That Was Not in Europe

Many readers may have been puzzled these days to hear the name “Albania” in connection with the Azerbaijani ongoing perversion of history, which has been a decade-long process starting in Soviet times. Azerbaijanis try to invent a past for themselves, claiming to be descendants of the Caucasian Albanians.

Of course, the medieval land of Albania (Aghuank, pronounced Aghvank) in the Caucasus, usually known as “Caucasian Albania,” has nothing to do with the European country, which was called Illyria at the time. Modern Albanian is an Indo-European language, while the many dialects spoken in Caucasian Albania more than a millennium ago belonged to the family of Caucasian languages.

Aghvank was located between the Kura River and the Caucasian mountains and limited with Armenia Major on the west. It became a Christian state in the late fourth century, and in the fifth century Mesrop Mashtots created an alphabet for the Aghvans (Caucasian Albanians). After the Arab conquest in the seventh century, the Aghvans were gradually Islamized, and between the seventh and the eleventh century, their interaction with Christian Armenians and Islamic Arabs and Persians, and later Turkic tribes, led to their assimilation and disappearance from history, along with their language.

According to Armenian tradition, transmitted by historian Movses Khorenatsi, the name Aghvank derived from the surname of Sisak, one of the descendants of Patriarch Haik, who was called aghu (աղու “sweet”) because of his gentle and soft character. The word aghu derives, interestingly, from Armenian աղ (agh “salt”), which at its turn is a word of Indo-European origin (*sald, which lost the initial s over time), with the addition of the old suffix -u. The fact that sweet comes from salt should not sound strange: other Indo-European languages have such words meaning “sweet,” like Lithuanian (saldus) and Latvian (salds). Incidentally, from aghu we have today the familiar word աղուոր (aghvor “good, beautiful”).

In a scholarly study published in 1990, linguist Melada Aghabekian of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia showed that the name Aghvank was not derived from the Greco-Latin Albania, despite their phonetic resemblance. Incidentally, there was a village called Aghvank in Mush and another called Aghvanis in Akn (Western Armenia), among other placenames, which of course bear no relation to Albania.

Therefore, it is likely that the adjective aghu was applied to such places like the historical Armenian provinces of Utik and Artsakh, as well as those places in Western Armenia, due to their mild weather, soft nature, and fertile soil, becoming the basis for the toponym Aghuank (aghu-an-k, the last two being geographical suffixes). The name of the Armenian region on the right bank of the Kura River (the eastern border of Armenia Major) was extended to the region of the left bank, becoming the basis for the Greco-Latin denomination Alb-an-ia.

As it is well known to those who some of the developments of Azerbaijani “historiography,” when you need to prove something, the best way is to go from the conclusion to the premise. If the conclusion is that Artsakh is Azerbaijani, you go and fabricate the proofs. The history of Caucasian Albania is entangled due to the lack of documentation, and as you know, it is good fishing in troubled waters. It is even better to call out the “fishermen.”