Gypsies

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Gypsies in Armenia (calling themselves "Lom", as opposed to Rom in Europe and Dom in Syria and Iran) seem to have appeared in two different phases of their history.The earliest apprearance in historic Armenia is around the seventh century where the Phen Gypsies (one of the two main branches of Gypsies resulting from a parting of ways in the Persian territory, the other being the Ben gypsies) seem to have gone after leaving Persia. While it is not sure how long their sojourn in Armenia was, it can not have been brief for the the European dialects of Romani contain a number of Armenia loan words including:

  • Bov- Oven:
  • Dudum- Melon:
  • Dzolano- Mule:
  • Koco- Button:
  • Mortsi- Hide/Skin:
  • Chovexani - Witch
  • Possibly Grai/Grast - Horse (From the Armenian grast, 'Beast of Burden').

From Ossetic, spoken to the north of Armenia, probably came the word vordon- Waggon- which later became the Gypsies word for the horse drawn caravan.

According to "Bury Me Standing, The Gypsies and Their Journey" by Isabel Fonseca. 1995 Vintage Books/Random House:

The most significant influence of Armenian on Romani was a shift in sound. Words pronounced with a "bh" - that is, an aspirated "b" - came to sound like "ph". So whereas in Middle East or Asiatic Romani the word for sister was, and is, "bhen" (as it is in Hindi), in Armenia, and subsequently in Europe, the word is "phen". It is on the basis of this shift - indeed of this word - that the English linguist and Gypsiologist John Sampson in the 1920s became the first to classify Romani dialects, and thus the Romany migration, into two major groups.

When and why the exodus of this group of Gypsies from Armenia occured is somewhat a matter of speculation, but it was probably the Seljuk invsion of Armenia in the middle of the eleventh century. The invasions proved disclocating to the Armenia people and probably drove out many gypsies into the Western Byzantine territory- Constantinople and Thrace- from where they eventually spread throughout the Balkans and the whole of Europe.

The second group of Gypsies to have appeared in Armenia ( and whose descendants continue to live) are the Bosa Gypsies (they call themselves Lom). They were found wandering Anatolia, Persia and the Southern Caucasus around the 11-13th centuries. Though Lomarven (the dialect of the Bosa gypsies) was pervaded by Armenian influences, the fact that it shares practically no items of Armenian derivation with the European Romani points to their indpendant development and history of the Lom Gypsies and the Eurpean Gypsies.

The Armenization of the Gypsies who settled in Armenia probably occured over the 14- 16th centuries,and while they have retained their identity via their dialect and particular lifestyle, the degree of assimilation into Armenian society by the 19th century was quite impressive in comparison to the Gypsies in Europe. Some Gypsie (Bosha/ Lom) families provided a number of prominent figures of Armenia culture in the 19th Century.The Armenian-Gypsy system of first and second names as well as all personal attributes have Armenian charachterisitcs. Furthermore the traditional endogamy of the Gypsies has not been retained, and mix marriages have been commonplace.

Currently Armenian gypsies live in Yerevan, Gyumri and the Georgian cities of Akhalkalak and Akhaltsikh. There is no reliable figures of the number of Gypsies currently living in Armenia and Georgia, but it is estimated at around a few thousand individuals.




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