In this blogpost I am going to talk about Trchnakir or in other words, the Armenian bird letters. This is a very unique type of calligraphy that you will hardly see applied with letters other than Armenian.
Just look at the image below – this is the Armenian name Hovik (Յովիկ in Armenian, a local variation of the name John), written in bird letters. Pay attention to how each letter in the word resembles a bird. By the way, if this name sounds weird to you, check out my post about weird Armenian names, where you’ll find a whole list of such names with their respective meanings.
Bird letters are very proudly used on different products by Armenians. So, let’s explore trchnakir in more detail and see where and how it is used nowadays. Let me know what you think about these designs on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips.
The use of Armenian bird letters these days
The art of trchnakir is so compelling, that many Armenian artists design their products with names, words or letters in these bird designs.
Jewelry with someone’s initials in trchnakir, has become very famous in recent years. As you can see in the image below, these are initial necklaces. The first golden necklace is the letter “M” (Մ in Armenian) with bird heads arising on both sides. While the second silver necklace is the letter “T” (Տ in Armenian).
In both of the necklaces, you can also notice grapes. I assure you, grapes are something you will see very often in Armenian ornaments. This is because grapes have been symbolizing fertility since ancient times, plus we have a Christianized holiday Grape Blessing, which is devoted to the assumption of Mary.
By the way, making jewelry with trchnakir designs is not an easy job. Here is why!
The Armenian alphabet consists of 38 letters. And, to be honest, some of them differ from each other with only small bits. Now, imagine turning those similar letters into metals with bird designs. So it’s very important for the jeweler to make the letter recognizable for the eye. It’s very meticulous work! If want to have a deeper intro to the Armenian language, read my post about the Armenian language and maybe try one of these Armenian language apps.
Cakes and sweets
Trchnakir design is also used on cakes for various celebrations. For instance, the cake on the image is specially made for Terendez – a centuries-old tradition that traces back to pre-Christian, pagan times in Armenia. It is celebrated 40 days after Christ’s birth and is about jumping over the fire, symbolizing fertility along with the advent of spring.
This tradition is especially famous among newlyweds who jump together over the fire for luck! The tradition comes with lots of tasty sweet food, an example of which is the cake below. The cake’s design shows two Armenian bird letters G (Գ in Armenian) and Z (Զ in Armenian), which are most probably the initials of the couple.
Crockery with Armenian bird letters
Armenians love having the trchnakir designs on their crockery items. These items are very unique if the bird letters are hand painted, just like in this image. The crockery sets with trchnakir designs are also great gifts, when visiting another household, for example.
Various Armenian fashion brands use trchnakir designs in apparel production these days. And let me tell you – we love them! Scarves with these bird letters in particular became very popular among Armenians in the recent years. If you’re interested in seeing more examples of contemporary designs using Armenian bird letters, just search for this phrase on Etsy, and you can see a lot of beautiful items.
Origins of Armenian bird letters
I’ve already told you about the use of trchnakir designs in the 21st century. But the fact is that it has existed since the middle ages and Armenians have been using trchnakir on a wide range of different occasions. So, let’s discover some of them.
Trchnakir has been present in Armenian manuscripts starting from the 10th century. And most of the time, illuminators were depicting the first letters of the text in bird designs.
There is no doubt that the colors and other elements of trchnakir express the taste of the writer and illustrator. However, the intricate design of the bird letters should also be in alignment with other elements and designs of the manuscript.
Books of spiritual songs
Sharakanots or Sharakans is a book containing spiritual songs. As of this day, the Armenian Apostilic Church uses those books during rituals. Here too, you can notice trchnakir in the songs’ texts.
As you might have guessed already, trchnakir has been very much used in Christian records. So, similar to Sharakanots, some old prayers were written with the first letter in trchnakir, as well.
Nowadays, one often sees trchnakir designs on different items. But I also tried to show you the roots of this unique calligraphy. In fact, the old Armenian calligraphy includes other interesting writing designs and the one to which trchnakir belongs is the ornamental writing. Other than bird letters, ornamental writing includes human letters, dragon letters, flower letters and other types of animal letters.
In case the Armenian alphabet interest you, check out my other blogpost about the Armenian alphabet before Mesrop Mashtots. Why don’t you try to find the initial of your name in it? After finding your letter, try to write it in trchnakir design and then share it with me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips.
Featured image credits: Fæ on Wikimedia Commons (CC)
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