Department of Communications
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Jake Goshert, Coordinator of Information Services
Tel: (212) 686-0710 Ext. 160; Fax: (212) 779-3558
E-mail: [email protected]

November 8, 2006


By Jake Goshert

As designs, they're intricate and nuanced. In the hands of artists, each
one is a masterpiece.

On November 1, 2006, the Diocesan Center in New York City hosted a lecture
by three experts who spoke about the evolution of the Armenian alphabet and
the enduring beauty of those centuries-old characters. It was part of the
on-going celebration of the 1,600th anniversary of the creation of the
alphabet by Mesrob Mashdots.


"There is sufficient mythology making us believe the letters appeared in a
vision and were literally outlined by the hand of God," said Dr. Abraham
Terian, professor of Armenian patristics and academic dean of St. Nersess
Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, NY, one of the evening's three speakers.
"But this is pure myth."

Dr. Terian outlined the story of Mashdots as told by Koriun, a historian
writing shortly after the invention of the alphabet. Dr. Terian recently
completed a new English translation of Koriun's biography.

He said Mashdots did in fact have a leading part in the creation of the
alphabet. But the letters came about through study of letter design and
hard work, rather than a grand vision from God, according to Koriun's
history, Dr. Terian said.

"In the history it says that 'as he begot the Armenian alphabet we called
him father,'" Dr. Terian said, relaying the story from his recent
translation. "So it was not a divine hand but it was Mesrob Mashdots' own
hand writing, begetting, the letters."

The story relates that to create the alphabet, Mashdots traveled to a
Greek-speaking region and once he came up with his draft letters he worked
with a Greek calligrapher to fine-tune the designs. Terian outlined some of
the similarities between the Greek and Armenian script. The finished
alphabet, he said, was a culmination of a decade of work and several design

"He must have been working very hard to come up with an Armenian alphabet,
perhaps to fulfill an evangelical endeavor," he said, noting that the goal
of the project was to create an alphabet to allow for the spread of
Christianity to the masses.

"When Mesrob Mashdots was thinking about evangelizing his people, he was
following in the footsteps of St. Gregory," Dr. Terian added. "Mashdots was
realizing the people of the Caucasus were in darkness. He was persuaded
these people could not be fully Christianized unless they received the
message in their own language."

Along with working on the Armenian alphabet, Dr. Terian pointed out that he
is also credited with creating the Georgian script and the alphabet of the
Caucasian Albanians, who lived in present day Azerbaijan. All three
alphabets were an attempt to evangelize.

The Armenian alphabet also served to unite a fragmented people, Dr. Terian
said, giving diverse communities a stronger centralized connection.

Mashdot's designs have withstood time, Dr. Terian said. They have changed
little over the centuries and remain very similar today to the original


Along with providing an outlet for language, the letters are also beautiful
designs. Speaking at the lecture, which was organized by the Krikor and
Zohrab Information Center of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
(Eastern), was an English designer, Carolyn Puzzovio, who has been inspired
by the Armenian alphabet.

A lecturer at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, Puzzovio's
background is in graphic design and her major interest within the subject
has been lettering and type design. She has been studying the Armenian
alphabet, creating Armenian fonts, and using the letters in her artistic

"This is a culturally important alphabet," she told the 45 people gathered
at the Diocesan Center for the lecture. "The alphabet was vitally important
as it is really culturally specific to the Armenian people that allowed them
to grow and flourish."

The Armenian Ministry of Culture invited Puzzovio to hold a one-woman
exhibition of her work at the Armenian National Gallery in October 2005.
She returned to Armenia this fall as part of a British government-funded
research project to design/revive traditional Armenian typefaces for digital
settings which also have Latin characters for dual-alphabet use.

"The idea is to design characters that harmonize well. It is not an easy
task," she said, as she shared historic and modern examples of Armenian
lettering with the audience.

Examples of her work were showcased throughout the week at the Diocese and
in her talk she used photos from her trip to Armenia to illuminate her
discussion on the forms used in the alphabet. She especially noted the
expansive use of carved letters in stone in Armenia.

"I wonder if the permanent rendition of letters carved in stone is a
deep-rooted effort to leave a lasing legacy of the Armenian language," said
Puzzovio, who traveled to New York at her own expense specifically for the
lecture at the Diocese. "This is a fascinating alphabet which has left an
amazing legacy for all of us."

Rounding out the trio of speakers that evening was Peter Bain, a designer
who spoke about the use of typography in design and how various Armenian
fonts achieved different design goals.

Bain, principal of Incipit, a Brooklyn-based design studio, spoke about the
connection between lettering, layout, and page design and how they all tie
together to tell a cohesive story.

"Typeface design is taking a series of letters and creating a cohesive set,"
he said, outlining ways the Armenian letters were designed to make them
appealing and readable.

-- 11/08/06

E-mail photos available on request. Photos also viewable in the News and
Events section of the Eastern Diocese's website,

PHOTO CAPTION (1): Dr. Abraham Terian, professor of Armenian patristics and
academic dean of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, NY, outlines
the similarities between Greek and Armenian during a lecture on the creation
of the Armenian alphabet, organized by the Diocese's Zohrab Information
Center on November 1, 2006.