The Question of the Etymology of Several Georgian Anthroponyms and Toponyms

During the 12th-13th centuries the house of the Orbeli (the Orbeliani) possessed Orbeti castle in Kvemo Kartli, the place of origin of their surname [Ivane…2002]. Orbeti is a transparent word usually naming a place of eagles. In this word  - et can be regarded as a derivational suffix of geographical names, which is removed, when the suffix – el is added to the toponym, for example: Kakheti and Kakhelebi, Imereti and Imereli, Bandza (a village) and Bandzeladze (a surname). Moreover, the greatest Armenian historian Stepanoz Orbeliani wrote: “The castle of Orbeti built by Georgians was strong and given to them for living there… They inhabited Orbeti and were called Orbeliani in accordance to the name of the castle. They are Orbetelni … for the local habit requires naming in accordance to the dwelling-place, for example: Mteulta-Mteulni, Mrachvelta-Mrachvelni, Herelta-Herostoni, Javakhta-Javakhni, Kakhta-Kakhni, Likhelta-Likhelni and others” [Stepanoz…1978: 28-29]. 

  The distortion of toponyms is a regrettable tendency[1]. Tendentiousness can be stipulated by the exaggerated evaluation of the history of the native country and underestimation of its past, the neighboring nations and the current situation. Some scholars often find themselves in an awkward situation when the etymology of toponyms is misinterpreted. I want to point to the fact how the representatives of neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia try to “place” the name of Georgian village Atskuri into linguistic and cultural areas of their countries. The Azerbaijani scholar writes: Также с гурами связаны названия сел Азгур (по-груз. Ацкури) в Месхетии (Ахалцихский район) и Ацкури около г.Телави. Именно в этом регионе в IV-VI вв. действовали и проживали упоминавшиеся сабиры  [А. Юнусов, 1999].

        For this scholar the base of the word, word-forming elements and linguistic morphemes have no importance. As soon as he “finds” an acceptable group of sounds in any part of the word, he begins speaking about a desired etymology.  A. Iunusov does not write about the origin of the form Азгури (Azguri) (maybe, it was created by him). He simply singles out –гур (gur) and connects it with the Turkish tribes Sabirs which lived in Atskuri in the 4th - 6th centuries (according to the scholar’s point of view). They gave the name to Atskuri. A. Iunusov singles out – гур (gur) and accordingly, divides a desired form into two parts. Hence, he says nothing about – Аз (Az). It seems, that the scholar considers –Аз (Az) as a contracted form of Азербаиджан (Azerbaijan).

       According to his point of view, the Georgian variant of Азгур (Azgur) is Ацкури (Atskuri). Hence, he does not mention why Georgians changed Азгур (Azgur) into Ацкури (Atskuri). The Georgian language (in contrast to the Azerbaijani language which cannot pronounce Atskuri) can “pronounce” Azguri as well as Ackuri. Hence, it does not need the given secondary forms, because one of them is fabricated, while another is a product of the Russian transcription and is not related to the Georgian language.

         According to Armenian scholar’s point of view: Топоним Ацкур, несомненно, армянского происхождения. Как мы полагаем, это сложное слово состояшее из корней Ац и Кур.“ [Саносян, 2006: 35]. The respected scholar also mentions, that Ацкури has its Georgianized versions   Аскурет(и) and Сокурет(и) which are used in the Georgian historical sources. This is a distortion of real facts, because in the Georgian reality Atskuri has had several phonetic variants (Atskuri, Atskveri, Atskueri) during the period of its existence.

       According to A. Sanosian’s point of view, only Armenians inhabited Atskuri and gave the name to this place. The incorrect etymologies suggested by Iunusov and Sanosian distort history leaving nothing for Georgians. For both scholars the main phonetic problem is a consonant - (k), which occupies quite important position in the base of the word. This consonant does not exist as a phoneme in Armenian, Azerbaijani and other Turkic languages. Therefore, the main problem of the scholar’s etymology is that кур never existed in the base of Atskuri. Even Claudius Ptolemy could not write the name აწყურ (Atskuri) on his map, because there was no -(k) in his language. Therefore, he wrote Аcкur. Otherwise, the Georgian language could use ასკურ (Ascur) as a corresponding word of Аcкur.

       Unfortunately, this geographical name is “read” by many persons in their own way and the corresponding “conclusions” about naming the place by Turks and Armenians are made. It can be said categorically, that Turks have never lived in Atskuri. The Turks mentioned in the Russian census data (1907) are Islamized Georgians. In the 19th century they were called Georgians. Hence, they became “Turks” as a result of the Ottoman-Russian policy.

        АцкурАcкur and Азгур are secondary forms. They derived from Georgian აწყურ (Atskuri), which has several phonetic variants [Beridze, 2008; Beridze, 2010].

        აწყურ (Atskuri) can be divided in the following way  - წყურ -  (A – tskur - i).  (a) is a prefix [Mar, 1935:163], while the base წყურ (tskur) is connected with the word წყალი (water). The essential point is the root -წყwhich is met in the Kartvelian words connected with water: წყალიწყაროწყარ-, წყუ-, წყორ- [Fernich, Sarjveladze, 2000:657; Shengelia, 2006:147]. The same root - წყ (tsk) is seen in ნე-რ-წყ-ვ-ი (ne-r-tsk-v-i) and რ-წყ-ევ-ა (r-tsk-ev-a) [M. Chukhua, 2003:370].

Atskuri means a watery place, a place of water. There are two places called Atskuri in Georgia. Both of them are located on the banks of the river. The results of the recent archaeological researches proved, that Atskuri (of Samckhe) has always occupied both banks of the river Mtkvari. This fact rejects A. Sanosian’s idea about its location, “на правом берегу р. Куры” (on the right bank of the river Mtkvari). Moreover, another Atskuri is situated on the banks of Berkhevi in Akhmeta.

Therefore, it is not accidental that toponyms with similar names are not found in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Moreover, A. Sanosian and A. Iunusov could not find the information about Atskuri in the historical sources of their countries, because there was no information there. The only existed note informed about Armenian Ovanes Atskureli, who was from Atskuri and lived in the 15th century. Relying on this fact, the Armenian scholar concluded:,,И город, и крепость Ацкур всегда были заселены армянами. В дальнейшем здесь обосновались также евреи, грузины и турки“  [Саносян, 2006: 36]. 

       It’s worth mentioning, that Armenians always lived in Georgia. In this country they found shelter after escaping from Armenia. A lot of examples can prove how actively they settled urban areas and conducted trade together with Jews. Today Armenians do not live compactly in Atskuri. According to the historical facts, during the 30s of the 19th century, some Georgian inhabitants of Atskuri died in the war. Some of them went abroad. “In 1830 Atskuri was inhabited by 166 Armenian families from Arzrumi”… they were hosted by 461 households of Georgian Muslims and 31 households of Jews [Lomsadze, 1975: 487]. “The new settlers did not mix up with the local population. The latter mainly settled the right bank of the river Mtkvari, while the new settlers inhabited the left bank” [Lomsadze, 1975: 487].

       “Armenians and Jews conducted trade. They were not engaged in agriculture. They had no cattle except horses and donkeys, which were used in trade…

       Since the 40s of the 19th century (after the replacement of Akhaltsikhe pashat by Akhaltsikhe province) Atskveri became subordinate to Abastumani region. Consequently, its perspective of becoming a bourgeois city “disappeared”. Armenian traders and craftsmen moved to Akhaltsikhe. They were followed by Jewish traders. Afterwards, Atskveri became a typical village of Samtskhe” [Lomsadze, 1975: 487].

        Unfortunately, the above mentioned Azerbaijani and Armenian scholars do not mention the fact, that Atskuri was not only a castle and a church. It was a significant political and spiritual center.  The episcopacy of Atskuri is one of the ancient eparchies of Georgia. The bishop of Atskuri was named Matskvereli. The first bishop (whose name reached us) was Joseph, who lived in the 6th century [Православная ... 2002: 221].  The last one was Gedeon. He was given the pulpit from the sultan [Православная ... 2002: 221]. 

      The most well-known from the bishops was Ephrem Didi Matskvereli, who led the pulpit in 855-895. He was a disciple of Grigol Khandzteli. Giorgi Merchule wrote about him:” Ephrem Didi conducted a lot of kindness for our country. At first the chrism was used in Jerusalem by the Catholicos, but under Christ’s order Ephrem introduced consecrating with the chrism in Kartli by the directive of the bishop of Jerusalem [Merchule, 1949:97]. According to A. Iunusov’s point of view, when Gurs founded Azguri, Sabirs lived in Meskheti and therefore, in Atskuri. It’s natural, that the parish of the episcopacy was Christian. Hence, which religion and language had Sabirs in the center of episcopacy?

 Some scholars “make no allowance” for Georgians throughout history. They try to ignore that Ottomans and Russians described not only different parts of Georgia, but its Georgian population as well. It’s regrettable, that A. Sanosian writes about the Georgian scientist and academician S. Jikia the following words: “В 1595 г. здесь была произведена перепись населения и составлен налоговый реестр дымов (семей). В реестре приводится имена представителей семей, в большинстве своем армянские. "Большой давтар (реестр) Гюрджистанского вилайета" перевод с турецкого на грузинский и издал в 1941 г. С. Джикия.  Сей ученый муж не пожалел сил и стараний, дабы извратить армянские имена, сделать их грузинскими , а если не удавалось – непонятными” [Саносян, 2006: 36]. 

Some Armenian, Azerbaijani and Turkish scholars are very tendentious in this question. They do not pay attention to the fact, that Ottomans knew who lived in Georgia. They knew, that the Armenian population of this country was presented by migrants. Nowadays, the descendants of those migrants inhabit Samtskhe-Javakheti, where their ancestor Armenians found shelter and escaped a well-known genocide in the 30s of the 19thcentury.

When Ottomans described Gurjistan Vilayet, they used diacritic signs for denoting incomprehensible Georgian sounds. That fact enabled S. Jikia to read and deliver the names correctly.     

        A.Sanosian notes, that: “Как я уже сказал, большинство имен и топонимов армянские: (1. Купра? 2. Манвел, его брат. 3. Вардзел. 4. Мазман. 5. Егия. 6. Геворк и др.)” [Саносян, 2006: 37].  From the given names (Kupra, Manveli, Vardzeli, Mazmani, Egia, Gevorki) Gevorki can be singled out as the Armenian name. Hence, when Ottomans made a census of Atskuri district in Akhaltsikhe in 1955, there were no persons of this name there [Gurjistani… 1941:89-90]. “Gurjistani Vilayet Grand Defter” makes a mention of only one Armenian family in Atskuri. The name of the head of the family cannot be read (only his father’s name - Ter-Akopa – can be distinguished). The defter also names Termison, who can be regarded as a person of Armenian origin.

       A. Sanosian put a question mark on Kupra, because the meaning of this name was incomprehensible for him. “Kupra” is the Georgian anthroponym. A lot of famous Georgian surnames derived from this name (Kuprava, Kupradze, Kuprashvili, Kupreishvili…). A man called Kupra lived in Meskheti in the 9th century. Giorgi Merchule in his work “The life of Grigol Khandzteli” wrote about this person: “Sent a kind man called Kupra to the Queen and asked about forgiveness” [Merchule, 1949: 108].

       In the 13th century Kupras Dze lived in Meskheti. “Queen Tamar - a wife of David Narin - endowed The Monastery of Gelati with him (1260-1270)” [Annotated…1999 : 540]. During the following centuries different persons had the surname Kupra (Kupradze Bera, Kupradze Datuna, Kupradze Naskida, Kupradze Paata and others). In the 17th century a mention was made about: Kuprashvili Giorgi – “a witness of a deed of purchase of the vineyard given to Gulobudakh Tsereteli by a father of Mtatsminda Monastery Iakinte”; Kuprashvili Gogia – “a peasant from Tsutskhati, a former serf of Kaikhosro Agiashvili. He (his family, brother and estate) was regarded with favour to Vakhtang Agiashvili by King Giorgi” [Annotated… 1999:540] and others. Therefore, “Kupra” is not the Armenian name. In the word “Kupra” – a is a suffix which shows similarity. “Kupra” originated from “Kupri” (tar). A person was called Kupra for the dark color of his(her) skin. The same can be said about Shav-a (Shavadze, Shavishvili, Shavianidze, Shavidze…)[2]. A. Sanosian did not pay attention to the fact, that Kupra was Kakas dze. Obviously, the name Kaka was also incomprehensible for him. Many Georgians were called Kaka or had surnames like Kakashvili, Kakauridze and others. A lot of Georgian toponyms derived from this name. Among them is a well-known Kakas Khidi (Kaka’s bridge), which was located on the way from Meskheti to Imereti. The respected scholar overlooked Kvakila - the name of one of Kaka’s children. If Kaka were Armenian, he would call his child Tsaghika (instead of Kvakila) – a name given to many Armenians.

         A. Sanosian considers Manvel (a name of Kupra’s another child) as the Armenian name. Manvel is a phonetic variant of old Jewish name Emanuel/Emanuil. The following Georgian names derived from it: Manvelashvili, Manvelishvili, Manelishvili, Manvelidze, Manelidze [Chumburidze, 2003:151-152].       

       A. Sanosian considers Georgian “Vardzeli” as the Armenian name. “Vardzia” was not the only name in Meskheti. It had a phonetic variant “Vardza”. “Vardzeli” means “gone from Vardzia”. Georgian surname Vardzelashvili can be regarded as its derivative like Kakhelishvili, Imerlishvili and others, which derived from Kakheli (gone from Kakheti) and Imereli (gone from Imereti).

     “Mazmani” is the Oriental name. It entered the Georgian language as a word denoting the handcraft. Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani wrote, that Mazmani was a spinner of the hair. According to D. Chubinashvili, it denoted a spinner of a rope from hair. Mazmani is a spinner of the rope. Therefore, in “Gurjistani Vilayet Grand Defter” this word denotes a handcraft. The Ottoman official wrote that Mazmani Giorgi lived in Atskuri. It means Giorgi - a spinner of the rope. Obviously, Mazmani could derive into the name. The words denoting a handcraft often produced names or nicknames, which derived into surnames (for example, Mazmanishvili) like Menaghare and its derivative Menagharishvili. Z. Chumburidze wrote: “the surnames given after the handcraft are: Dalakishvili, Durglishvili, Kharati, Kharatishvili, Kharazi, Kharazishvili, Khurodze, Khuroshvili, Zeinklishvili, Kalatozishvili, Menabde, Metivishvili, Metskhvarishvili, Mekhrishvili, Mebaghishvili, Mzareulashvili, Peikrishvili, Khabazishvili, Mesarkishvili, Mesablishvili (Sabeli means a “rope”, Mesable – a “spinner” of the rope), Mazanashvili (Mazmanashvili). According to the definition given by Sulkhan-Saba, Mazmani is a “spinner of the hair”…” [Chumburidze, 2003:87]. Some of the surnames denoting the handcraft were Georgian. Some of them were created after the spread of new terms. The same terms entered the Armenian language and stipulated the creation of the surnames with the similar bases. For example: Kharatishvili and Kharatiani, Mazmanishvili and Mazmaniani, Dalakishvili and Dalakiani and others.

         Georgian surnames are quite productively created by adding the suffix –ian. For that reason, the facts of the coincidence of stems and even whole surnames can be singled out. For example: Davitiani can be Armenian or Georgian. In this case, the origin of the surname is known to the members of family and the representatives of the surname.

        A. Sanosian speaks about Egia - one more name given to the inhabitants of Atskuri.  Probably, the author could not read the name Elia or the spelling was incorrect. In any case, a person called Egia did not live in Atskuri at the end of the 16th century.

         “Grand Defter” presents other Georgian names. For example: it notifies that the vineyard of Dedisimedi and Matskvereli Beri was given to Muslim noblemen [Gurgistan…1941:40]. Dedisimedi is a name, which is spread in Meskheti. Matskvereli is a title of an ecclesiastic, who lived in Atskuri. Therefore, it indicates, that ecclesiastical and secular persons were Georgians.

        It’s worth mentioning, that some Armenian and Azerbaijani scholars lack the knowledge of the Georgian language and the history of Georgia. They easily make desired conclusions. Atskuri with its history and etymology is inseparable from the Georgian language and the history of Georgia.

[1] It happens often. For example, A. Sanosian’s [Саносян, 2006] collection of papers presents Georgian-Armenian relationships in a distorted form.

[2] Compare: Kerisperi > kera, Gvinispri>Gvina (Gvinadze, Gviniashvili), Shvindisperi>Shvinda, Svilisperi>Svila and others.  


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