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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Sayat`-Nova: Within the Near Eastern Bardic Tradition and Posthumous

  • Author(s): Yang, Xi
  • Advisor(s): Cowe, Peter S.
  • et al.

AšuƗ/aşık/aşıq (from the Arabic `āshiq, or lover) is a skilled bard's composite performing art-- a unity of prose narrations, songs, instrumental accompaniment, and appropriate gesture. Of sixteenth-century Turkic origin, the art spread over a vast area covering modern Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and further. In the mid-eighteenth century Sayat`-Nova, the best-known Armenian ašuƗ, was active in Tiflis (modern Tbilisi), the capital of Eastern Georgia. His songs were written in at least three languages--Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijani--and won praise for their ardent emotion and artistic perfection. But despite his importance in Near Eastern culture, two issues in Sayat`-Nova studies have rarely been studied. First, fully appreciating Sayat`-Nova requires contextualizing his work within the developing Armenian ašuƗ tradition and the international ašuƗ/aşık/aşıq tradition in the Near East. Second, the history of Sayat`-Nova studies as a field and its growing popularity in relation to twentieth-century Armenian nationalism and Soviet cultural policies demands attention as well.

Focusing on these neglected issues will enable a richer understanding of Sayat`-Nova's place in the history of the ašuƗ/aşık/aşıq tradition as well as his relation to the elevated poetic traditions in South Caucasia, the Armenian ašuƗs’ contribution within the broader matrix of the early modern Turkic aşık/aşıq tradition, and the evolution of a distinct ašuƗ tradition in the Armenian language. At the same time, exploring his posthumous adoption as a cultural icon will provide insight into the history of scholarship and of mass culture both in South Caucasia and for Armenians worldwide.

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