This Week in Armenian History

Birth of Gevorg Akhverdian (June 5, 1818)

If today troubadour Sayat-Nova (1722-1795) is a household name for Armenians along with his poetry and songs, we owe it to the intellectual interests of an Armenian doctor from Tiflis (Tbilisi) who rescued him from obscurity. 

Gevorg Akhverdian was born on June 5, 1818, to a military family in Tiflis. He graduated from the Lazarian College of Moscow in 1834, and from the medical school of Moscow University in 1839. He earned the golden medal reserved for best students of the senior class thanks to a study he wrote when he was in his second year at the university. 

He started his medical career in the Caucasus (1839-1842) and afterwards he was the personal physician for Prince Alexander Chernyshyov, Russian Minister of War. After 1846 he worked at the office of the viceroy of the Caucasus, and then he was the higher ranking official of quarantine issues at the customs office.  

Akhverdian was a polymath and very interested in literary and public issues. His interests were focused on philology, dialectology, and history. He participated in the preparation of the project for the exploitation of gold in the Caucasus and headed the Armenian language section of the committee that approved textbooks in the Caucasian region. He wrote a study in Russian about the guilds of Tiflis, posthumously published in 1882. 

His interest in Armenian folklore led him to collect the works of medieval troubadours. This is how he discovered Sayat-Nova’s handwritten Davtar, his collection of 46 Armenian songs written in Georgian characters, 114 Turkish (Azerbaijani) songs written in Armenian characters, and a few Georgian songs. Akhverdian deciphered the Armenian songs and established a system of phonetic transliteration to write them down in Armenian letters. He was the publisher of the first collection of Sayat-Nova’s songs in 1852. He included a study on the Armenian dialect of Tiflis, becoming the founder of Armenian dialectology. In the footnotes to the poems, he explained borrowed and unintelligible words, as well as grammar issues. 

Akhdverdian was also the editor and publisher of the journals of Bedros di Sargis Gilanentz, an Armenian merchant and soldier from New Julfa in the early eighteenth century, with a study of the dialect of New Julfa, published in 1863. 

This talented intellectual had already passed away in his birthplace Tiflis on November 17, 1861, at the age of 44. His daughter Mane Akhverdian published the second volume of his compilation of songs of Armenian troubadours in 1903.