The Sehlerai Language

The Sehlerai Language

Author: James R. Russell

MS Date: 01-05-2013

FL Date: 02-01-2013

FL Number: FL-000011-00

Citation: Russell, James R. 2013. «The Sehlerai

Language.» FL-000011-00, Fiat Lingua,
. Web. 01 Feb. 2013.

Copyright: © 2013 James R. Russell. This work is licensed

under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Fiat Lingua is produced and maintained by the Language Creation Society (LCS). For more information
about the LCS, visit



By James R. Russell,
Harvard University.

Day after day,
Alone on a hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he’s just a fool,
And he never gives an answer,

But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning ’round.

Well on the way,
Head in a cloud,
The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him,
or the sound he appears to make,
and he never seems to notice…

— John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1967.

1. A mysterious language and its maker.
2. The Temple of Wisdom and the Masons.
3. Mercurians.
4. An Internet detective story.
5. Ans haïlanzar.
6. An elegy for Smyrna.

List of plates.
List of appendices.


We scholars of Armenian studies have tended to focus generally inward— researching the history, culture,
and language and literature of the nation itself— rather than outward, considering the participation of Armenians in
the wider culture of the world outside their (our) own ethnic sphere. This is reasonable, particularly as the 19th and
20th centuries were the period when the serious groundwork of the discipline had to be done. But now, in the early
years of the 21st century, most of the Classical texts essential to historiography and many literary texts of diverse
periods have been edited to a high scholarly standard and translated satisfactorily into the accessible languages of
international learning. The ancient, medieval, and modern forms of the language, including its dialects, have
received their fair share of attention from Indo-Europeanists. The record of the Genocide of 1915 in the heartland
and the Ottoman periphery is firmly established, wanting only proper international and judicial recognition. And the
chronicle of Soviet rule in the northeastern surviving sliver of the country has by now been meticulously declassified
and documented. So the demons and secrets of modern trauma are now exposed, as it were, to the sun.

The field occupies a small niche, but a secure and respectable one. Now we can allow ourselves, perhaps,
to widen the horizon. For Armenians have also been, and are, participants in world civilization, particularly in the
intermediary zone between Europe and Asia, the bridge between West and East. Interacting with different cultures
and living in other countries, writing in foreign languages and thinking about wider and other ideas than those of
parochial concern, naturally contributing their particular experiences and points of view to what we might call
nowadays the global conversation: this is as much a part of Armenian experience, particularly in the modern era, as
is the indigenous culture. The study of “cosmopolitan Armenia” is not yet central to the field, but it is rich and can
potentially contribute new insights as it develops. This study falls into that relatively new genre. It considers the life
and times, and the work, of an eccentric Armenian savant of 19th-century Smyrna who invented what he hoped


would become a universal, international language. Though his project was in the end doomed to obscurity, it is of
value to the study, for instance, of how progressive thought— of which internationalism is an essential part—
developed in the Near East. Karl Marx in 1888 wrote of a (Western) Armenian translation due to be published at
Constantinople of his Communist Manifesto— though suppressed by a printer wary of police persecution, it would
have been the first in the Near East, in an indigenous language of the region.1 (There were to be many other
translations, mainly into the Eastern literary mode.) Here is another example, then, of Armenian cosmopolitanism.2

I studied recently an invented a priori language and cipher in an Armenian manuscript of the late 18th

century that is housed in the collection of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences
at St. Petersburg (MS A 29). It would appear from such features as the frequency of sounds such as ō and f that the
author, a man of eclectic interests living most likely in Georgia, invented his fanciful language, which he named
Ṙ(u)štuni (after the ancient Armenian district on the southern shore of lake Van and its legendary argot), in such a
way as to make it sound as exotically un-Armenian as possible. Despite his intentions, its morphology and even
features of its lexicon such as the similarity of words for heaven and earth (Arm. erkin(k‘), erkir) betray its birth in
an Armenophone mind. Though the language has some philosophical and theological vocabulary, its maker
evidently created Ṙ(u)štuni for his own amusement, rather than out of some noble impulse to bring the races of man
back together with a single speech, and thereby to begin to repair the damage done by the fall of the tower of Babel.
His cipher uses older Armenian cryptograms, such as one used so widely by guilds that I have called it a
“hetaerogram”, that is, the vehicle of an alphabetic subculture, and combines these with elegantly calligraphic forms
based upon the late-Classical nusxuri script of Georgian. It was meant for the invented language (so he writes) but is
actually employed in the manuscript mainly to enshroud sinister or salacious magical formulae in Armenian,
including one spell for zombification and another employing the wild rue, a plant important in ancient and modern
Iranian religion.3 My research led me to examine other invented tongues, including international, universal
languages and their creators, and to return to a brief, intriguing reference in an article some decades old to one of the
latter— one invented, with a strange script to go with it, by an Armenian.

The old article, then: in 1984 Vahé Oshagan, a writer, editor, and literary scholar, son of the famous writer,

literary scholar, and educator Hagop Oshagan (Yakob Ōšakan), published in a volume of the Review of National
Literatures dedicated to Armenia an essay on cosmopolitanism among Western Armenian intellectuals of the late
18th-early 20th centuries. He noted that a millennium of experience as international travelers— and of life as a people
in diaspora as well as in the historical homeland— had conditioned Armenians to multi-lingual agility, familiarity
with diversity in culture, and the ability to cope with crises of divided loyalty. In the 19th century much of Armenian
literature remained decidedly parochial in scope and consciousness, preoccupied with schemes of national liberation
and communal politics. But the upper classes of Armenian society, particularly in Constantinople and Smyrna— the
great western coastal cities of the Ottoman Empire— looked outward as well. They hailed very often from families
who had converted from Armenian Orthodoxy to Catholicism, were fluent in French and Italian, and were well-
versed in modern European literature. As examples of men who pursued cosmopolitan careers he cites several
examples, including Murad Tosunian, who under the grand adopted name Ignace Mouradja d’Ohsen served as
Swedish consul at Constantinople in 1795 and authored a history of the Ottoman Empire; and Goghmas Keumurjian
(restyled Cosmas de Carboghnano), interpreter to the Spanish consulate and translator into Italian of a history of
Constantinople in 1798. These elite Armenians resided mainly in the heavily European district of Pera (Beğoğlu,
now Beyoğlu) of the capital. Ottoman Turkey’s great Aegean port in ancient Ionia also contributed to this
burgeoning cosmopolitan culture among Armenians: the press of the Dedeyan Brothers at Smyrna brought out
Armenian translations of Dumas, Chateaubriand, Swift, Samuel Johnson, Jules Verne, Sir Walter Scott, etc. The
Smyrna intellectual Matt‘eos Mamurian, who had translated Voltaire into Armenian, criticized contemporary
Armenian society and morals in his satirical Angliakan namakani (“English Letters”). We will have much more to
say about this extraordinary man presently.

Oshagan also sketches brief portraits of two intellectual eccentrics. Charles Akdjalian founded in 1867 the

French-language journal Politique Morale, revue de poésie, de santé et de morale, which went out of print after only
a year by reason of its editor’s insanity. “Then there is the strange case,” Oshagan continues, “of the lonely,
misogynous and vegetarian eccentric Bedros Tingir,4 who had taught himself nine languages (Armenian, Greek,
Latin, Arabic, Persian, Italian, English, French, and Sanskrit), who lived secluded in a hilltop castle near Smyrna

1 Marx 1968, p. 5.
2 For an example of the early modern Armenian contribution to global commerce— the network of traders and
travelers from New Julfa— and its effect on the development of Armenian society and letters, see Aslanian 2011.
3 See Russell 2014.
4 The name will be found in various forms, with or without the Armenian family suffix –ean(c‘); the pronunciation
would be Tǝngǝr, in modern Turkish orthography Tıngır, with the stress on the final syllable.


and who had devised, around 1865, a new alphabet and an international language which he called ‘Sahlera’. The
purpose of this enormous effort was to ‘promote peace and love among the nations’. He had also prepared a special
text-book for the teaching of his universal language, a grammar, and a dictionary which he gave to rare visitors and
correspondents to enable them to communicate with him. He had also devised a new system of musical notation
based on his alphabet.”5 I wanted to learn more about Sahlera; but all I could find was a biographical sketch on its
creator, Bedros Tingir, in a brief historical monograph by Fr. Ep‘rem Pōłosean (Boghosian) of the Catholic
Mekhitarist order at Vienna of the wealthy, influential Tingirian clan of Constantinople to which he belonged.

The family seems to have originated in central Anatolia— in the region called in ancient times Galatia, near

Angora (modern Ankara). The first notable figure of the clan, Grigor Hoca6 T‘nkṙeanc‘, born in 1701, served as
interpreter to the French consulate at the Ottoman capital, and in 1768 and after was honored with the titles
Chevalier de Guignard and Comte de St. Priest. He married a woman named Hṙip‘simē (we do not hear all that
much about the women of this clan history) and fathered several sons who worked in the prestigious and privileged
profession of the mint and banking (Ar.-in-Tk. sarraf). Grigor died 13 August 1781, and was buried at Pera.
Karapet, Grigor Hoca’s middle son, fathered three boys, Petros (in Western Armenian, Bedros), Anton, and
Astuacatur (Astvadzadur), and a daughter whose name has not reached us. Bedros (let’s call him that: that was the
name he heard) was born at Constantinople on 3 September 1799. On either 21 October 1811 or 8 July 1814
(accounts differ), Fr. Andrēas Šiwk‘iwrean (Shükürian) took Bedros and a number of other boys to Vienna to begin
study for the priesthood at the Mekhitarist (Armenian Catholic) seminary. Bedros was given the religious name
Karapet on 7 September 1813, entered the order on 15 April 1816, and was ordained a priest on 1 November 1818—
at the age of nineteen. Now Fr. Karapet, he returned to Constantinople but was sent away from the city during a
notorious persecution of Armenian Catholics instigated by the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate of the capital in
1827-1830.7 He went first to Bucharest, but on 8 January 1828 returned to his monastery in Vienna, leaving both the
Mekhitarists and the name received at ordination on 11 May— for we next encounter him with his old, secular
name, Petros T‘(ǝ)nkǝr (Tk. Tıngır). He then traveled to Rome, seems not to have found peace there, and went on to
Pesaro, a town on the Adriatic coast of Italy south of Ravenna. We do not know what made him abandon holy
orders, nor is it clear what inner demon pursued him, though presently some suppositions of researchers will be

Fr. Pōłosean’s narrative continues: “It would appear that somewhat later Petros T‘ngǝrean returned to

secular life, moved to Izmir [the author uses the Turkish form of the city’s name interchangeably with Gk. Smyrna
and Arm. Zmiwṙnia], and took up residence in Buca,8 where also he died. (Abraham Y.) Ayvazean in his Series (Šar
hay kensagrut‘eanc‘ [“Series of Armenian Biographies”], II, Constantinople, 1893, pp. 91-93; cf. also Arewelk‘
1899, no. 3946) writes on all this in detail under the entry ‘Petros-T‘nkǝr’, which we here abbreviate: ‘Petros-
T‘nkǝr, who was once a clergyman of the Vienna Mekhitarist order, was a scion of one of the most notable and
honored Armenian Catholic families of the capital, the T‘nkǝreans. He began his schooling at Constantinople and
completed his education at the Vienna Mekhitarist seminary and another school of higher learning. Petros-T‘nkǝr
was deeply learned in various branches of knowledge, and one might also say he was a considerable linguist; for in
addition to a good knowledge of Armenian, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian, Italian, English, and French, he was
familiar with Sanskrit… Petros-T‘nkǝr lived nearly forty years in the village of Buca, at Smyrna. With financial help
from his family he purchased, a few years before his death, a lovely hill in the locale near Buca called [Gk.] Aspra
Khōmata, that is, White Lands, on the summit of which he caused to be erected a square stone house, which might
more suitably be called a small castle… It was in that house where, secluded from humankind… Petros-T‘nkǝr
pondered the betterment of humanity anew [the contrastive irony seems intentional in the style of the Armenian
text— JRR] and labored every day… For his newly-invented speech [noragiwt barbaṙoyn] he constructed an
alphabet primer [aybbenaran], a grammar, and a pocket [aṙjeṙn] dictionary, which he caused to be printed, and
which he presented as gifts to visitors to his home. He named the language [lezu] Sahleray, which means worldwide
language [hamašxarhayin lezu]. In this language he wrote poems and composed verses that his visitors
[yačaxordnerǝ] read in French translation… but nobody except their author could read, grasp, and understand their
original text. Again, in the special letters of his language Petros-T‘nkǝr placed a plaque over the door to his house,
upon which he caused to be engraved the word Ayzeratand [probably intended to be pronounced Ayzeradant in

5 See Oshagan 1984.
6 The Turkish honorific, from Persian xwāja.
7 The English traveler William John Hamilton, in a narrative of 1842, states, “it is impossible to feel respect for men
who had recourse to the vilest intrigues, in order to procure the banishment of their Catholic countrymen from
Constantinople in 1829 and 1830” (Ghazarian 1997, p. 320). Perhaps the trauma of this event of internecine
viciousness contributed to T‘nkǝr’s dislike in later life of sectarianism and nationalism.
8 Thus the modern Turkish spelling; in the Ottoman period it was rendered into European tongues as Boudja or the


accordance with the orthography of Western Armenian— JRR], which meant Temple of Wisdom [tačar
imastut‘ean]. Inside the Ayzeratand was a library which was greatly adorned by books on linguistics… Petros-
T‘nkǝr never ate any food such as meat, fish, or the like… although he held these strange convictions, Petros-T‘nkǝr
won the affections of all his acquaintances by reason of his modest and noble demeanor and entrancing conversation
[iwr parkešt ew azniw varmunk‘ovn ew hrapurič‘ xōsakc‘ut‘eamb]. For Petros-T‘nkǝr was endowed with the ability
to speak fluently all the languages he knew. By the final days of his life, that is to say, after having lived his life, one
evening Petros-T‘nkǝr, who had become weakened to an extreme degree, went to a grave he had long ago dug and
made ready in the middle of his temple, there to go to repose in a conscious death [gitakic‘ mahuamb gnac‘
hangč‘elu]. The following day when his customary visitors arrived they discovered him dead in that grave.’” He
died in 1881.9

Petros’ brother Astuacatur (or Asatur, for short) studied at the Mekhitarist academy in Trieste; his brother

Anton, a pillar of the Armenian Catholic community, in 1831 read out the ferman, or imperial decree, to the
assembled amiras (Armenian aristocrats) and lay community concerning the construction of the Church of the Holy
Savior (Surb P‘rkič‘). Anton had two children, who in turn reared children of their own— one, Karapet, was a writer
who took the nom de plume Tigran Erkat‘ [“Tigran the (man of) Iron”]. Scores of other sons and daughters of this
famed amira clan are recorded through the 19th century and into the 20th: Dr. Raffi Tingir, a graduate of Robert
College (now Boğazıcı), Istanbul, is a prominent physician on Long Island, New York, with a daughter studying in
college here in Boston as I write. The American-Armenian writer William Saroyan was a friend of the Tingirs, and
appended to this study is a group portrait of the great master and the family in their Istanbul home, half a century

And what of the ellipses in Fr. Pōłosean’s citation of Ayvazean’s book? Heeding the stern Victorian

admonition to verify one’s references, I sought and found a photocopy of the rare volume in the Widener stacks.
Opening it to the chapter quoted, I now restore the portions omitted in the Vienna book. We find there a fuller, more
interesting, and perhaps more troubling narrative in which delicate subjects are alluded to and a richer emotional
portrait of the brilliant and eccentric linguist is attempted. I translate Ayvazean’s biographical entry now in full. I
have not altered its style.

“In 1881 the Smyrna newspaper Aršaloys [“The Dawn”]10 reported the grievous tidings of the decease of a
philosopher of all our nation; then the local national papers echoed the same sad news. I had already in my ‘Letter’
to the people in the Ułegrut‘iwnk‘ [“Itineraries”] of 1878 offered a little taste, a brief notice; but the life and the
circumstances of the passing of the deceased— which a friend from Smyrna had relayed to me— provoke such
interest that I consider it indispensable today to expand upon his ideas and the manner of his life, so that it may be
possible for readers to make their own judgments about what manner of eccentric exceptions human life

“Petros-T‘nkǝr, who was once a member of the Vienna Mekhitarist clergy, was a scion of one of the most

notable and honored Armenian Catholic families of the capital— the T‘nkǝrean clan.

“He began his schooling in Constantinople and then completed his education at the Vienna Mekhitarist

seminary and at another school of higher learning.

“Petros-T‘nkǝr was deeply learned in various branches of knowledge, and one might also say he was a

considerable linguist; for in addition to a good knowledge of Armenian, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian, Italian,
English, and French, he was familiar with the Sanskrit language, which according to the new scientific dogma is
singled out as the root of languages.

“Petros-T‘nkǝr, by reason of some unfortunate circumstances at the time of his adolescence, shunned

human society. With unshakable conviction he was ever unable to believe that the calling of being a member of the
human race could ever forgive him for diverging from the path of benevolence and turning to evil.

“These noble sentiments became so elementary to his heart that he shunned all manner of evil. The hatred

of evil things guided him to misanthropy, and it is just because of this that civil life became unbearable to him.

9 Pōłosean 1951, pp. 36-38.
10 That is, Aršaloys Araratean, “The Ararat Dawn”, founded 1840. Arewelean Mamul, “The Eastern Press”, was the
other major Armenian newspaper of the city. There were numerous Smyrniote Armenian other periodicals.


“Belonging to a wealthy clan facilitated his disposition to lead a solitary life; and his bachelorhood further

strengthened that inclination in him.

“For over forty years Petros-T‘nkǝr resided in the village of Buca near Smyrna. Thanks to financial
assistance sent by his family he purchased, a few years before his death, a beautiful hill in the place near Buca called
[in Greek] Aspra Khōmata, that is ‘White Lands’, on whose summit he caused to be built a square stone house, that
one might more appropriately call a small castle.

“This building was so firm and solid that even the most ferocious brigands despaired of (pillaging) it.

“It was in this house that Petros-T‘nkǝr, the recluse from the human race and hater of human society,

pondered the betterment of humanity and worked from dawn to dusk.

“He supposed thus: the diversity of religions and languages subjected mankind, which is of a single origin

[hamaseṙ], to division. And he believed that together with a composite [miajoyl] religion a universal single language
[tiezerakan miōrinak lezu] would integrate the nations with each other and would even put a stop to all individual
strife, all fighting and disputation. And thereby general peace and concord would follow.

“For a long time he worked at contriving this sort of worldwide [hamašxarhayin] language. He imagined

that this language would be accepted with love and without resistance by all nations.

“The language’s structure being of no lesser interest, our abovementioned friend, who had the honor to

meet the deceased, related to us that this newly-invented tongue, being comprised of the various sounds of several
languages but especially of Sanskrit, had letters that were an amalgam shaped of the parts of various characters.
Since it was not yet accepted and used by any nation it could not yet, generally speaking, be termed a language.

“He named the language Sahleray, which means ‘worldwide language’. In this language he wrote poems

and composed verses that his visitors read in French translation and found sufficiently interesting. For his newly
invented speech he constructed an alphabet primer, a grammar, and a pocket [aṙjeṙn, “handy”] dictionary, which he
caused to be printed, and which he presented as gifts to visitors to his home.

“But nobody except their author could read, grasp, and understand their original text.

“Again, in the special letters of his language Petros-T‘nkǝr placed a plaque over the door to his house, upon
which he caused to be engraved the word Ayzeratand, which meant Temple of Wisdom. Inside the Ayzeratand was a
library that was greatly adorned by books on linguistics. And on the tables one found to one side sponges, mineral
samples, and various other objects, all covered in dust.

“The haphazard state of these objects made it plain to the visitor that the Ayzeratand had never benefited

from the care of a woman.

“It is a point worthy of attention that when we say woman here we understand not only a spouse— for

Petros-T‘nkǝr, aside from never marrying, so detested the fairer sex that he never suffered a member of it to cross
the threshold of the Ayzeratand.11 And if without his knowledge a matron or maiden slipped in by stealth, he would
instantly show them the door, no matter who the lady in question might be.

“Petros-T‘nkǝr never ate any food such as meat, fish, or the like, but sustained himself solely on vegetables,

milk, and eggs. He considered carnivorousness the province of beasts, and consequently considered men who ate
meat little better than scavenging animals.

11 Ayvazean inserts here the following footnote (p. 95 n. 1): “It is said that Petros-T‘nkǝr had a powerful reason for
that hatred of his. That feeling can perhaps be considered pardonable for him when one considers that others in the
same circumstance have even resorted to suicide, as a young Armenian of genius did in early 1881 at Yeni-Kapu.”
This seems to be most likely a delicate reference— astonishing still for its candor, given the time and place— to the
forbidden topic of homosexuality. But gay people often have women friends; so it is just as likely that Bedros was a
person of no realized predilection at all, a recluse with a horror of the flesh, somewhat like the visionary American
writer of fantastic and horror fiction H.P. Lovecraft (d. 1937), also a lover of arcane scripts and tongues, who
detested bodily contact and animal food in equal measure.


“In this respect his opinions were very like those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with the difference that Petros-
T‘nkǝr put the latter’s thoughts into practice upon himself. But the remarkable thing is that Petros-T‘nkǝr carried his
hatred of meat to fanatical extremes— he never wore leather shoes, only elastic rubber ones. For he maintained that
wearing footwear of leather comes in the wake of the murder of animals and is therefore contrary to natural law
[bnakan ōrinac‘].

“He saw to his own work, cleaning, and shopping, and felt no need of a staff of servants.

“Although he held these strange convictions, Petros-T‘nkǝr won the affections of all his acquaintances by

reason of his modest and noble demeanor and entrancing conversation. For Petros-T‘nkǝr was endowed with the
ability to speak fluently all the languages he knew. By the final days of his life, that is to say, after having lived his
life, one evening Petros-T‘nkǝr, who had become weakened to an extreme degree, went to a grave he had long ago
dug and made ready in the middle of his temple and lay down to rest in conscious death after enjoying over sixty
winters, much as once St. John the Evangelist went to his rest in a grave he himself had made.

“On the following day, when his customary visitors arrived, they found him dead in that grave.

“So that is how Petros-T‘nkǝr met his end, he whose breadth of knowledge was comprehensive; his vision,

broad; and whose life, albeit outside the normal round, can be an occasion for the pondering of contemplative

“Go, then, o weary and desolate soul, who wast born of poesy, rocked by the lullaby of linguistics, who

lived by philosophy and who died in spiritual converse [hogexōsut‘eamb].

“Go to that place where all is poetry, all is soul, where there is no Babel of the tongue, where there is no

international frontier, where there is no issue of the pulpit, where there is no political party, where there is no
Hereafter and no Here…

“There the issue of language has been resolved, and the inhabitants are of the same speech…

“There, there is no party, no faction, there is a single flock and but one shepherd…”12

And with that prolix, elegiac evocation of a Heaven in which the Greek, Armenian, and Turk speak the same
language, the Christian, Jew, and Muslim worship at the same altar, and social democrats and revolutionaries are in
accord, the window onto the past (and into the Otherworld) closes. There, there, there… The repetition of that word
in the elegy reminded me of the lament over the death of a friend penned by another Bedros, a poet and
contemporary from Constantinople who died at the tender age of twenty, ten years before the recluse of Smyrna lay
down to his eternal rest in the Temple of Wisdom. This is Bedros Tourian (Petros Durean), the creator of the modern
Western Armenian poetic language. In the final stanzas of “Laments” (Hececmunk‘, 1871), addressed to a dead
classmate, Tourian wonders:13

Are you happy there or sad?
Send me tidings on an angel’s wing.
Ah! This world is ever weary…
This world is a mother of great pain.

O, if the shade of a tree there
May be found, and a rill besides,
If imperishable love is there,
If there are freedoms there, free airs…

O, I toss in the filthy raiment
Of my soul, my whole life until today:
I clothe myself in earth, the mourning soil…

12 Ayvazean 1893, II, pp. 91-97.
13 See Russell 2005, p. 294 (Armenian text, p. 292). The poet’s work was very widely known; and in the same year,
1893, that Ayvazean published his three volumes of biographical sketches, Barseł E. Ēk‘sērčean (Parsegh Ekserjian)
published at Constantinople the volume Petros Durean, Tałk‘ ew t‘atrergut‘iwnk‘ [“Poems and plays”], with both the
poem (pp. 44-46) and the graveside eulogy (dambanakan) to the poet’s friend, Vardan Lut‘fean (pp. 254-256).

Ah, Vartan, are the things we longed for there?…


The poet’s work was very widely known: the despairing, brilliant, lyrical boy cut down by consumption in his
twentieth year became an instant Romantic hero. And in the same year, 1893, that Ayvazean published his three
volumes of biographical sketches, including that of Petros T‘nkǝr, Barseł E. Ēk‘sērčean (Parsegh Ekserjian)
published at Constantinople the volume Petros Durean, Tałk‘ ew t‘atrergut‘iwnk‘ [“Poems and plays”], with both the
memorial poem quoted (pp. 44-46) and the graveside eulogy (dambanakan) to the poet’s friend, Vardan Lut‘fean
(pp. 254-256). So one thinks it very likely that the words of the young Armenian poet, whose friend predeceased
him by but a few months, echo in Ayvazean’s closing lines.

But the lyrical author of the necrology of the Smyrnaic linguist (and poet, too, though the verses have not

come down to us) Bedros still divulges only one word of Sahleray. And we do not even know yet how the name was
to be pronounced, for Oshagan evidently believed its final –y to be silent, as in the modern pronunciation of all
Armenian polysyllabic words, since he transliterates it as Sahlera, but the name, as we shall see, was to be
pronounced Sehlerai. Only one word is breathed out loud: Ayzeratand. Temple of Wisdom, But what associations
the name of the house of the man standing alone on the hill summons to mind!


Ayzeratand, “Temple of Wisdom”. Although many erudite men at one time or another might in an excess

of self-esteem give their homes some such grand name, the best-known edifice with the title, Weisheitstempel in
German, belongs to a famous work of fiction. That is, to a literary invention in music. That is, to an opera— to the
very greatest opera, the very last work, the most luminous and mysterious, of the greatest composer who ever lived
in all history: Die Zauberflöte, “The Magic Flute”, which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart completed shortly before his
death in 1791. The delightful libretto is the work of a fellow Freemason named Johann Emanuel Schikaneder.
Mozart himself belonged to the Masonic lodge Zur gekrönten Hoffnung, “Crowned Hope”;14 and the opera, an
allegorical attack in the spirit of the Enlightenment on oppression by tyranny and on the obscurantism of dogmatic
religion, is steeped in Masonic allegory and symbolism. The opera and its Temple of Wisdom are so proudly
Masonic that the inevitable conspiracy theorists have suggested, wrongly, that the composer betrayed secrets and
hastened his own death thereby. Echoes, perhaps, of the later Morgan Affair in the young American republic…

Mozart’s lodge met at Vienna, where the very young Petros T‘nkǝr was to come as an acolyte a scant two

decades later— and, as we have seen, to return as a harassed and disillusioned adult, abandoning the established
Church and dedicating himself to a private vision of service to humanity involving a utopian, cosmopolitan
linguistic (and musical!) project and the erection of an edifice of learning with a tomb at its center. Petros T‘nkǝr’s
biographer suggests this remarkable eccentric was driven by a particular predilection too dreadful overtly to name;
but he chose to deal with his inner demon, to turn it to a good purpose, in a manner strikingly consonant with the
arts, philosophy, and imagination of the city of Mozart, the city of his youth, the Vienna that was still a crown of
hope for the brotherhood of man, the city whose orchestral music and opera were attuned to the divine harmonies of
the Erklärung, the Enlightenment.

Freemasonry is an international fraternity (it does not, indeed, admit the fairer sex, and in this regard the

Ayzeratand followed suit) dedicated to the spiritual rebirth, transformation, and growth of the individual human
being. This process of personal alchemy begins with a series of dramatic initiatory rites in Lodge combining vivid
experiences enacted through a drama with the intensive and complex study of an all-embracing cosmological, moral,
and mythopoetic system. The latter is expressed in the symbols of the craft of the builder and geometer, and in a
passion play based upon the story, dimensions, and features of the Temple at Jerusalem ordained by the archetypal
sage, King Solomon and built by his Phoenician architect, the widow’s son Hiram Abiff of Tyre. Masonry is
inherently cosmopolitan, secular, and democratic (if not feminist) in its world outlook (and thereby sympathetic to
the concept and ideal of a universal language)— for it recognizes within its temples no distinction of religion,
nationality, or social class. Brethren (as the members of the Craft are known) meet, work, and part on the level of
equality, and strive to develop their moral character through fraternal effort and charity. The leveler of men is death:
the symbolism of the tomb and of the initiate’s conscious death is figuratively and literally at the center of every
Masonic temple— much as was the grave of Petros T‘nkǝr in the stone Ayzeratand on its hill outside Smyrna.
Through the 18th and 19th centuries Masons such as George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, Simon Bolivar, Jose
Rizal, and many others played leading roles in the revolutions in America, France, and other countries. Freemasonry
was often regarded by the old order and the Catholic Church in particular as a threat and was obliged to operate in

14 See Landon 1982, where a painting of Mozart in his mother Lodge at work is reproduced, and a recently
discovered list of its Brethren is provided.


conditions of secrecy. In order to protect the Craft from its enemies and to preserve its mysteries pristine, Masons
still employ coded language and written ciphers.

The hero of The Magic Flute is a brave youth, Tamino, who through various ordeals must win his beloved

soul-mate, Pamina: their names are fanciful variants of the Persian Tahmina, known from epic literature; and the
libretto, itself a pastiche of previous orientalizing operas, reminds one strongly of the Hellenistic romances set in the
East, some of which allegorize the rites of the mystery religions. One of these is Mithraism, with its roots in
Armenia, from which elements of Freemasonry probably descend.15 Die Zauberflöte combines Egyptian motifs with
Persian ones, since both those ancient civilizations were believed to have contributed the universal prisca theologia
that Pythagoras and Plato propounded to the world, fusing the wisdom of the East with the philosophy of the West.
The priest of the Weisheitstempel, Sarastro, is the Iranian Zarathustra; but in an aria he invokes the Egyptian divine
pair, Isis and Osiris. The Weisheitstempel in the original stage set for the opera at Vienna was flanked by pyramids;16
and the Masonic symbol of the pyramid surmounted by the all-seeing eye of God on the great seal of the United
States is obviously at once a Pythagorean tetractys, an Egyptian edifice, and an archetypally ancient Temple of
Wisdom. Egypt and its strange written characters, which were regarded as a primordial philosophical language, had
been a source of fascination since the Renaissance and the somewhat fanciful writings of Athanasius Kircher; and
the new discoveries of Egyptian antiquities in the Napoleonic era provoked a kind of aegyptomania in European and
American art and fashion. So it is not surprising that when the New York Mason Robert Folger, born 1803, set out
to invent a ritual cipher in 1826— a few months after his raising in the Third Degree as a Master Mason and just a
year before Jean-François Champollion published his sensational decipherment of the ancient Egyptian script— it
was made to resemble Egyptian. The Folger Manuscript abounds in symbols; and at the center of page 21 stands the
Weisheitstempel, the stone Pyramid (Plates 1-3).17 Many secret societies sprang up in imitation or emulation of the
Masons, and they, too, created codes to protect their teachings and their members from eavesdroppers and
persecutors: the mid-18th-century German fraternity of Oculists, for instance, were a guild of ophthalmologists who
framed their esoteric teachings in the symbolic system of their own craft— instead of swords, cataract needles; and
instead of heraldic lions, cats (who see well in the dark). Their code, in the Copiale manuscript, was deciphered in
2011 by a team using new computer techniques.18

Freemasonry has existed in Smyrna since the 18th century, and endures in modern Izmir. It is not known
whether Petros T‘ngǝr was a Mason, whether Mozart’s opera inspired him at Vienna or in a Lodge, or whether he
simply came up with the Ayzeratand, its odd restrictions, its cabinet of natural curiosities, and its central tomb, all on
his own. But the most prominent Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople and Smyrna in his day were Masons; and
Armenians had been pioneers in the spread of Freemasonry to the East. The first Grand Lodge of England sealed its
charter in 1717; yet already by 1762, we find an Armenian named Dr. Manass appointed one of four Masters of
Lodges in the Near East, Aleppo, and Persia by the Grand Lodge at London. Armenians saw the power and
influence of colonial Britain as a kind of protection, and this attracted many at first to join Lodges under London’s
jurisdiction. But in the 19th century Armenians in the Ottoman Empire with revolutionary, liberationist sentiments
tended to prefer affiliation with the rival Masonic authority, the Grand Orient of France, both because of its more
overt association with liberal and radical ideas and individuals, and in view of Britain’s increasingly troublesome
reputation of siding with Turkish Muslims against Levantine Christians. Some seemed to maintain affiliations with
both jurisdictions, however. At Smyrna in the 1860’s, the prominent writer and public figure Matt‘eos Mamurian,
mentioned above, belonged to the Anglo-Armenian Tigran lodge, which had also Greeks, Turks, and Jews among its
Brethren. (One recalls here the tantalizing name Petros T‘nkǝr took for himself in Sehlerai, Tg(h)ransar, though it
supposedly has nothing to do with Tigran, the Armenian king. But more on that anon.)

On 7 May 1866 the first Lodge working exclusively in Armenian was inaugurated at 21 Yazıcı street, Kule

Kapu district, Constantinople: Sēr (“Love”) was chartered by the Grand Orient of France, and Mamurian became
one of its most active members. The Lodge met at seven PM on the first and third Sunday of each month at its tačar
(i.e., temple!). Work opened with a hymn heavily flavored by the grabar (Classical Armenian) forms generally
encountered in the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church: I mēǰ mt‘ut‘ean darer xarxap‘ac,/ Aysōr zart‘ec‘ank‘ ew
zloys gtank‘;/ Erkiwłacut‘eamb Ōt‘eakǝ mtac./ Zirar p‘ntṙec‘ink‘, zirar mek‘ gtank‘:/ Zays šēmk‘ǝ koxac— t‘oł oč‘
ok‘ mezmē/ Berē kanxakal mtk‘er u xoher:/ Hamerašxut‘ean t‘oł zšunč‘ c‘anē…/ Azat hogu tēr, zloysǝ p‘ntṙē,/ Zi
mek‘ Tiezerk‘i bari ełbark‘ emk‘ “Having groped for centuries in darkness,/ Today we awoke and found the light;/
Entering the Lodge in awe/ We sought and found each other./ Crossing this threshold let no one of us/ Bring

15 See Russell 1989 and 1995.
16 See Nettl 1957, pp. 89-91.
17 See Morris 1992; on aegyptomania, Erwin 1980; on Champollion, Robinson 2012. On the use of cryptograms in
Armenia, including a “hetaerogram” used by large sodalities within Armenian society, see Russell 2010.
18 See Schachtman 2012.


thoughts and opinions previously held./ Let him sow spirit of concord…/ Master of a free spirit, seek the light,/ For
we are the good brothers of the Universe.”

Following the Ritual governed by the gerapatiw varpet (Worshipful Master), the Brethren of Sēr Lodge

repaired to a standard hamkeroyt‘ (Collation, the meal after the meeting, or Communication), with toasts and
convivial fellowship. The printed notice of a Communication of Mar. 1867, which included the conferring of the A
astičan (1st Degree), has at its head the letters I.P‘.M.Č.T., which I recognized with pleasure as the abbreviation of a
formula I could reconstruct in grabar containing some familiar terms: I p‘aṙs meci čartarapeti tiezerac‘ “To the
glory of the Great Architect of the Universe”. Brethren were entertained at a meeting of the Lodge in February 1867
with a performance of songs by none other than ełbayr Mozart‘, “Bro. Mozart” (who, of course, had written
specifically Masonic music as well as “profane” music imbued with the Masonic spirit). Most of the Brethren were
intellectuals who came from well-to-do families, so the meeting often featured a learned lecture: in June 1866 Bro.
Mamurian gave an impassioned oration on the life and recent death in Siberian exile of the Eastern Armenian
revolutionary activist Mik‘ayēl Nalbandian (1829-1866), declaiming the latter’s famous poem Erg azatut‘ean,
“Song of Freedom”.19 The young poet Bedros Tourian also wrote of Nalbandian’s martyrdom in distant Russia; and
freedom, azatut‘iwn, was a watchword and slogan of Ottoman Armenian Masonry. (Bro. Garibaldi and the
Carbonari were front-page news in those years; and one recalls that the Armenian national anthem, Mer Hayrenik‘
[“Our Fatherland”], was originally a poem about the Italian liberation struggle against Austrian and Papal tyranny.)
We have seen that Petros T‘nkǝr did a lot of traveling; and this seems to have been typical of members of Sēr Lodge,
some of whom lived for most of the year at Paris, Rome, Manchester, London, and Smyrna— all places where
Western Armenians studied or did business. The Lodge must have been, even with its work in Armenian, a
gathering place of impressive polyglots, even if T‘nkǝr, with his Sanskrit, would have stood out among them.

In his illuminating series of articles on Sēr Lodge published in 1937 Ṙubēn Berberean seeks to place the

growth of Freemasonry among Armenians in the political context of the time. By the mid-1860s, he argues, the
hopes for reform and national liberation excited by the Constitution (Sahmanadrut‘iwn) had been dashed. The
community was rent by fractious and corrupt behavior: “In the ’60s there were in Armenian life not only purely
Armenian national ideological currents, but also moral and philosophical ones embracing all humanity
[hamamardkayin]. The age is typified by the attempt by the Turkish Armenian intellectual strata, for a brief time, to
found and strengthen the structure of ‘the benefit of the nation’ and ‘national unity’ by fusing it with sentiments of
‘universal brotherhood’ and ‘the harmony of mankind.’”20 Though in his booklet describing Sehlerai, Petros T‘nkǝr
uses Armenian script constantly to explain the phonology of his language, the manual itself is in French and its
precursor was in Greek: we do not know what view he took of Armenian communal and national activism. And
although Masonry is tailor-made for a man of T‘nkǝr’s humanist and universalist convictions, it is somewhat
difficult to imagine the ascetic denizen of the Ayzeratand as a gregarious Lodge Brother firing glasses of strong
drink at Collation, though he did have constant friends— and even, perhaps, followers. However Masonry has
always had room for eccentric thinkers whose life trajectory turns to late isolation; and Berberean cites the example
of a member of Sēr Lodge whose linguistic interests, even, are akin to those of T‘nkǝr. Bro. Serovbē T‘agworean
(Takvorian) left Constantinople and settled in Paris, where, in Berberean’s words, he “withdrew into his shell”
(k‘ašuec‘ ir pateanin mēǰ). There, in 1881 (the year of T‘nkǝr’s death), he published an Essai d’un systhème de
linguistique comprenant l’interpretation des racines par les lettres de l’alphabet, appliquée a la langue Arménienne.


In his controversial recent monograph on modern Jewish history, the Slavicist Prof. Yuri Slezkine proposes

a division of human societies into types he calls Apollonians and Mercurians, after telling characteristics of the
ancient gods: the Apollonians are rooted in land, hierarchy, honor, and military service; while Mercurians live by
traveling, trading, and exchanging information. Jews, some Armenians, Overseas Chinese, some Roma, and other
like cosmopolitan groups comprise the latter, global fraternity; while the traditional, landed aristocracies of
Germany, England, Russia, etc. exemplify the former. It is as much in the interests of Mercurians— who are in
many ways trans-national, and represent the common human denominator in the most positive sense— to knit the
world together with one language, legal system, and currency as it is vital to the status of Apollonians— whose
essence is parochial and reactionary— for these things to be divided among nation-states. The T‘nkǝrean clan and
the other families of the Armenian amira-nobility of the Ottoman Empire were Mercurians par excellence: they
dominated finance but were barred from the military, they slipped effortlessly from one language into another, and
they traveled ceaselessly. In Smyrna, one might add to the Mercurian roster the “Levantines”, those huge, wealthy

19 See text in Simonean 1965, p. 61.
20 Berberean 1937, part 1, pp. 74-75.


trader-clans of mixed Western European and Eastern Mediterranean Christian lineage who resided in garden-
wreathed palaces in Smyrnaic suburbs like Bournabat, T‘nkǝr’s Buca, and even a district called Paradise.

Idealistic visionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries created hundreds of invented languages,21 but only two

have survived, and Jews made both. The first, perhaps more a resurrection than a creation ex nihilo, is Modern
Hebrew. Eliezer Ben Yehuda (1858-1922), who grew up in the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire, read in
Russian translation George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda, in which a young English aristocrat discovers he is a Jew,
but instead of burying his shameful secret comes out of the closet, as it were, and determines to revive Hebrew and
live in the Land of Israel. Following the pogroms of 1881, the year of T‘nkǝr’s death, Ben Yehuda followed the
example of his fictional hero and emigrated from Russia to Jerusalem, seeking to erase his Mercurian status by
reclaiming his ancestral homeland. (Mercurian Armenians felt the similar pull of Yergirǝ, “The Land”, though many,
like Bedros Tourian, imagined its fallen glories but never pulled up stakes and went.) The second made-up tongue is
Esperanto, meaning literally “one who hopes”. Its inventor, Ludwik Zamenhof (1859-1917), a Jewish oculist from
Bialystok, witnessed the same anti-Semitism as his contemporary Ben Yehuda. Though sympathetic to Zionism, he
elected to remain in Europe, hoping with his internacia lingvo to promote world peace through mutual
understanding. In 1887 he published at Warsaw in Russian his booklet outlining the rules and lexicon of his new
language. Although Esperanto was the creation of Jews, it was Armenians who propagated it in the Caucasus: In
Tiflis, Hayk Artem’evich Astvatsatriants (Astuacatreanc‘) from 15 March 1910 published and edited the journal
Kaŭkaza Esperantisto (“The Caucasian Esperantist”), which featured articles in Esperanto, Russian, Armenian, and
Georgian on art and music, belles lettres, and the theater, and provided also lessons in Esperanto and a review of the
press. At Baku from 1911, Abel Ivanovich Ter-Bagdasarian (Tēr-Bałdasarean) published, and Yakov Kalustovich
Khodzhamir (Xoǰamir) edited, the commercial and humor paper Nerkarar (Arm., “The House Painter”) in
Esperanto, Russian, and Armenian. And at Constantinople, as we shall see presently, Greeks were at the forefront of
the Esperanto movement.22

These trends in cosmopolitan, global thinking reached the Islamic world mainly through Mercurian,

Christian communities and individuals. It is true that in the 16th century a hypothetical faith or abstract religious
philosophy called Dīn-e Elāhī— “Divine Religion” in Persian— was created by intellectuals of the different
religions that flourished at the cosmopolitan court of the Mughal emperor Akbar. It united the teachings of these
diverse confessions— Hindu, Muslim, Zoroastrian. And the Parsi Zoroastrian author of the Desātir (“Instructions”),
a mystical treatise in the spirit of the Dīn-e Elāhī, composed his work in a hybrid language. There is another,
likewise Persian-based invented language employed to convey Sufi mysteries to initiates, Balaibalan.23 And in the
early decades of the 20th century the leader of the Baha’i faith championed the study and use of Esperanto in Iran.
However it would seem that Sehlerai is the only invented language intended specifically for all nations and faiths
that was invented in the Near East by a native of a Near Eastern nation, a Mercurian, an Armenian, Petros T‘nkǝr.


Unsatisfied by one word of the invented language, I pursued my search for Sehlerai and turned to an Italian

dictionary of imaginary languages, and found a brief reference. Albani and Buonarroti 1994, p. 371 s.v. Sehlerai,
report that the inventor of Seh-lerai published at Smyrna in 1864 under the pseudonym Tghransar a description of
his language. They provide a sample sentence with translation: Rum shai yran bes lerai vom, shaiz il le sam lerai iun
sim, mim serai vam shaiz il le som “Nel mondo sarà preferita una lingua scientifica unica à numerose lingue con una
scienza unica” (or, in the Esperanto translation of Stamatiadis, En la mondo estas prefere por la scienco unu sola
lingvo/ Ol multinombraj lingvoj kaj plej malgranda scienco.”) A history of international languages in Esperanto
offers a brief notice: La libro de Tgransar portis la nomon “Alphabetarion Ansailanzar Sahlerai” kaj estis eldonita
en Smyrna. La eldonjaro de la libro ne estas konata, sed lau la havataj informoj ĝi estis publikigita en ĉiu okazo ne
pli malfrue ol ĉe la fino de la XVIII jarzento. (“Tgransar’s book bore the name Alphabetarion Ansailanzar Sahlerai
and was published at Smyrna. The date of publication of the book is not known, but according to the information we
possess it was published at any event no later than the end of the 18th century.” [Tr. by JRR])24 But that would place
the invention of the language at or before the date of Bedros’ birth; and this erroneous statement seems to be the
source of a still more inaccurate assertion by the linguist Mario Pei— that Sehlerai (as he calls it) was invented
around 1800 but published in 1921.25 For the latter date is erroneous as well. 1921 is the date of an abridged
translation of T‘nkǝr’s work into Esperanto, with facing text in Greek, published in two consecutive issues of the

21 Okrent 2010 provides a list of some five hundred, though Sehlerai is not among them.
22 See Vlasov 2011, pp. 57-58 and 58 n. 1.
23 See Bausani 1954.
24 Drezen 1967, p. 61.
25 Pei 1968, p. 147.


journal Bizantio at Constantinople by its editor, the Greek physician and author of the standard Greek-Esperanto
dictionary, Anakreōn Stamatiadēs (Stamatiadis in general transliteration).26 I did not understand that Stamatiadis was
a person: my reference suggested this was the title of a journal.

I wrote to the E-mail address of Dr. Arika Okrent, a professional linguist and author of a very entertaining

book on invented languages already noted here, hoping she might have a lead. She promptly replied, apparently
much amused and approving of my pleasantly lunatic quest. She had not heard of Sehlerai, but suggested I contact
her learned friend Ms. Olga Kerziouk, Esperanto librarian of the British Library, to whom I wrote at once. Ms.
Kerziouk answered straightaway, explaining that Stamatiadis was a person. And she located his journal, Bizantio, at
a British Esperanto library. But my E-mail to its curator somewhere in the English countryside languished without
response for some time. Olga, anxious that my work not be delayed in the interim, kindly located another set of
Bizantio in the Planned Languages (this is another designation of “invented” languages) collection of the Austrian
National Library at Vienna; and Dr. Bernhard Tuider and the rest of their helpful staff immediately sent me scans of
both articles. They are reproduced here, with my translation of Dr. Stamatiadis’ introductory essay. They allude to a
publication by T‘nkǝr in Greek, which has not survived. In the meantime, Prof. Johann Strauss, a historian of
Ottoman Turkey at the University of Strasbourg, was intrigued by the question and sent me a reference to a
biographical note on T‘nkǝr and to a documentary history of the Ottoman Armenians of the 19th century by the
contemporary Istanbul Armenian savant Pars Tuğlacı. Both are cited in this study.27 At my request, my colleague
Prof. Taner Akçam of Tufts University, the eminent historian of the Armenian Genocide, took time from preparing
for yet another lecture tour and contacted his old friend Osman Köker, founder and editor in chief of Birzamanlar
Yayıncılık (“Once Upon A Time Publishers”) at Istanbul, who instantly sent me the photograph reproduced here of
the place where Petros T‘nkǝr had lived. Both these men have, at enormous personal cost, including prison and
torture, dedicated their lives to studying the record of Armenian life and death in Ottoman Turkey. My
peregrinations on the Internet have involved quiet heroes of collegiality and scholarship, and real life, flesh and
blood heroes of politics too. The speed of their collegial aid vied with the lightning rapidity of electronic

But the book by T‘nkǝr himself, printed at Smyrna in 1864,28 still eluded me. Neither the British Library
nor the Library of Congress nor the Bibliothèque Nationale de France possessed a copy; and it proved well-nigh
impossible to contact the libraries of the two Mekhitarist monasteries at Venice and Vienna. (Perhaps T‘nkǝr’s
papers are hiding in the Mechitharistengasse or on the isle of St. Lazzaro.) But my colleague and friend Prof.
Valentina Calzolari of the University of Geneva (to whom I am also indebted for her close reading of the draft of
this study and her many helpful comments) recommended I ask Dr. Raymond Kévorkian, director of the AGBU
Nubarian Library at Paris and an eminent Armenian historian, whether that collection might have the volume. And
indeed, a copy of Tgransar’s manual, perhaps the only one in existence, had been given in 1928 by an Armenian
from Istanbul to Aram Andonian, the library’s first director and author of Mec očirǝ [“The Great Crime”], one of the
first histories of the Armenian Genocide. To my delight and astonishment, Dr. Kévorkian instantly provided a
miraculous scan of the precious little book by E-mail; and you now hold it in your hands. The booklet deals with the
writing system of Sehlerai and contains mainly the names of letters, diacritical marks, and numbers, with the single
sentence quoted by the Italian authors of the encyclopedia noted above; the grammar and dictionary T‘nkǝr
compiled have not yet come to light. But that is a lot better than nothing. And if one seeks the holy grail of the
inventors of planned languages— the state of human fraternity and mutual assistance across religious confessions
and national frontiers— one place it is surely to be found is on the electronic strands of the worldwide web, where
collegial scholars, quiet heroes of the mind, weave the magical brocade of learning. And one can travel there, unlike
the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, without leaving one’s front door.


26 See Tg(h)ransar 1921, reproduced at the end of this study. According to Vikipedio, Stamatiadis was born at
Florence in 1868 at Florence and died in 1964. He worked as a physician on Samos, was exiled in 1913, and settled
in Athens. He published Bizantio from July 1921 to July 1924, and was active in Greek Esperanto associations and
publications. His first book of many on Esperanto, Hē diethnes boēthetikē glōssa (Greek, “The international
auxiliary language”) was published at Samos in 1912.
27 Seropyan 1999, vol. 2, p. 624; and Tuğlacı 2004.
28 For the year 1864 there is but this mention of the T‘nkǝrean clan recorded by Tuğlacı 2004, Vol. 2, p. 227: 8 Eylül
1864: Tıngırzade Ohannes Efendi’nin Der saadet Maliye Nezareti muavinliğine atanmasına irade buyuruldu “8
September 1864: Mr. Yovhannēs T‘nkǝr at Constantinople was appointed to the post of assistant at the Ministry of
Finance.” Though the declaration is less than earthshattering, it illustrates well the special privilege of sarraf
enjoyed by the Armenian amiras.


So here, finally, is the Book, Ans Haïlanzar ou Alpha-Gnomonomic de Seh-lerai: ouvrage, by Tghransar,
Petros T‘nkǝr. Its probably lost Greek precursor lay before Dr. Stamatiadis, who published in Bizantio on 30 Sept.
1921 these reflections on it, which I translate from the Esperanto:

“For a long time people have not ceased to invent artificial languages as international ones. For this

purpose they have from time to time proposed various projects, which belong to three different systems.

“According to the first, the inventor proposed languages a priori, made without reference to languages

already existent, such as those of Descartes (1629), Leibniz (1716), the Solresol of Sudre (1817), the Spokil of Dr.
Nicholas (1900), etc.

“According to the second type, they took into consideration the already existing languages, and,
principally, the European ones: of this kind were those of Faiguet (1765), Schipfer (1839), Zamenhof (Esperanto,
published in the year 1887), and others. Finally, according to the third system, the projects are based upon both
principles of the abovementioned schemes: of this kind were the languages of Von Grimm (1860), the Volapük of
Pastor Schleyer (1880), the langue bleue of Bollach (1899), etc.

“A project appeared again in the Near East, in olden time, of an artificial language to be employed as an

international one. This one was named Sehlerai (Σεχλεράη) and was published in the Greek language— at least the
old undated booklet which we have before our eyes and introduce. It was published once, under the pseudonym
Τγρανσάρ (Tgransar), which means, according to the language, ‘intellectual movement’.

“What distinguishes this old artificial language is that it can be written in three different ways: from above

to below, from left to right, and from right to left. Before becoming acquainted with its strange alphabet, we
consider it good to present the literal translation from Greek of the preface by the inventor. It will be evident
therefrom, that ‘There is nothing new under the sun,’ and that the same principles that inspired our Master of blessed
memory [i.e., Ludwik Zamenhof, who died four years earlier, in 1917] to invent Esperanto likewise impelled
Tgransar to create Sehlerai. [Tgransar’s preface from Ans Haïlanzar follows, in Esperanto and Greek.]”

The second and final installment of Stamatiadis’ contribution in the next issue of Bizantio, 31 Oct. 1921,

presents in Esperanto and Greek the consonants, vowels, diacritics (all named, which is not done in the French
booklet of 1864), the reading lesson (all of one sentence, the ditty cited above), and the numbers, in Esperanto and
Greek. Here is an annotated translation of Tghransar’s booklet, his ABC or Ans haïlanzar, from the French. I have
not put in the various invented characters, for which the reader is referred to the appended facsimile of the text.
Where they are supposed to appear, I signify the space with hooked quotation marks, thus: < >.

“Tghransar, Ans Haïlanzar, or, an explanation of the rules of the alphabet of Seh-lerai. A work. Smyrna,


“Preface. It is a most natural tendency the world over to observe objects of curiosity and in particular to

satisfy the sense of sight. That is taken for granted.

“I now place before the eyes of the public a new object for observation, the product of a fantasy that is not
fantasized— that is, the lovely form and basic model, the means of pronouncing the words of a new language called
thus: Seh-lerai, that is, a Universal Language, composed and enriched not as other languages are, by some taking
from others, but original, entirely pure, from a single unsullied idea, or, to put it better, without imitation but
invented through the faculties of the spirit and the imagination in direct relationship with the Natural Law, put in
order in this language. For it would be absurd and unseemly to make a universal project such as this compatible with
a particular, non-universal language.

“It is already known that the most detestable calamity has sundered human hearts to espouse diverse

preferences. There are nationalities in the world, and, by consequence, their languages and dialects. These are: the
Chinese language and its relatives; the Chaldaean, and its; the Egyptian, and its; the Teutonic, and its; and finally,
the Illyrian, and its.29 Of all these remarkably original tongues, the Chinese is the most lively in sound; the
Chaldaean, crude; the Egyptian, majestic; the Teutonic, elegant; and the Illyrian, energetic. It follows that there are
many languages, with their innumerable dialects, of which French has a charming and very touching quality, while
English tickles, and is in our day the most profitable. This being the case, perhaps only an imbecile would venture
upon the error of such a new linguistic form: in effect one might say, What purpose is served by such superfluous

29 By Chaldaean the author means “Semitic”; by Teutonic, “Germanic”; and by Illyrian, “Slavic”.


rubbish? Bah! It would have to end there, were it my purpose to add a new nation to the existing ones; and a new
language, to the other tongues. Heaven forfend! To undertake any project, however excellent, that is detrimental to
reason, is but a perversion of the same. Indeed, it would be the work of a hare-brained individual, for a good project
is one that is forever and is advantageous.

“Whatever the case may be, if it seems to those attached to our real world, a world that is morally topsy-

turvy, that the creation of a universal language is bizarre, unnecessary, and, on the whole, a lot of garbage, I would
recommend it to the various quotidian observers of such theatrical spectacles that likewise find an obstacle to
acceptance of this offering of my modest invention that I present, most humbly, to the learned public, not as an
exacerbation— a new national and linguistic divide— but to the contrary, as a possibly complete harmonization and
means of connection.

“At the outset I would wish to offer to public knowledge this Anshaïlanzar (Alpha-Gnomonomic), or

Alphabet, of the language in question, in order to make study as easy as possible for the elementary students of
SEHLERAI, who will be obliged always and in every way to remember with acknowledgment and gratitude, not me
but the wisdom of the ineffable and supreme Providence.

“Borrowed characters suitable for the pronunciation of the words of Seh-lerai: h, in Latin, Italian, and

French, for < >. Y: Armenian for < >. Z, z: Armenian for < >. J: French for < >. Ga: Latin, Italian, and French for < >. B: for < >. G: Latin and Italian for < >. C: for < >. D: for < >. U: French for < >. Armenian shva and French short
e for < >. The rest are as in French.

“Instruction in the Alpha-Gnomonomic of the Universal Language. The basic characters of Sehleraï.

Sehleraï (the Universal Language) is composed of nineteen syllabiforms. These characters are called syllabiforms
because they are in effect syllables by reason of the value of their assumed vowel a, which can be deleted by means
of a perpendicular stroke, thus < >, called šerkendill. This makes them equivalent to the letters of already known

“In order to ensure from the start the most exact possible pronunciation of these forms, one lists them

individually, with the pronunciation of each in French and Armenian, noting to either side the characters of the two
ancient languages Hebrew and Arabo-Persian, as follows:31
No. 1. Handizer, Heb. h, < >, Ar. ḥ, Hantizēr.
No. 2. Iandizer, Heb. y, < >, Ar. y, Eantizēr.
No. 3. Landizer, Heb. l, < >, Ar. l, Lantizēr.
No. 4. Mandizer, Heb. m, < >, Ar. m, Mantizēr.
No. 5. Sandizer, Heb. ś, < >, Ar. s, Santizēr.
No. 6. [No Fr.], Heb. z, < >, Ar. z, Zantizēr.
No. 7. Dzandizer, [no Heb.], < >, [no Ar.], Cantizēr.
No. 8. Jandizer, [no Heb.], < >, [no Ar.],32 Žantizēr.
No. 9. Chandizer, Heb. š, < >, Ar. š, Šantizēr.
No. 10. Gandizer, Heb. q, < >, Ar. q, Kantizēr.
No. 11. Fandizer, Heb. f, < >, Ar. f, Fantizēr.
No. 12. Vandizer, Heb. w, < >, Ar. w, Vantizēr.
No. 13. Bandizer, Heb. b, < >, Ar. b, Pantizēr.
No. 14. Nandizer, Heb. n, < >, Ar. n, Nantizēr.
No. 15. Gandizer, [no Heb.], < >, Ar. j, Čantizēr.
No. 16. Ciandizer, [no Heb.], < >, [no Ar.], Č‘iantizēr.
No. 17. Dandizer, Heb. d, < >, Ar. d, Tantizēr.
No. 18. [No Fr.], Heb. r, < >, Ar. r, [no Arm.].
No. 19. Ghandizer, [no Heb.], < >, Ar. gh, Łantizēr.

30 T‘nkǝr here borrows the scheme of Devanagari for Sanskrit, in which each letter is pronounced with a short a
following unless a short diagonal stroke, the virāma, is written at the lower right-hand corner of the character.
31 The list of letters commences on page 10 of the text, with the character in the center, the Hebrew equivalent to the
left and the Arabic to the right, with the name of the letter in French above and Armenian below. I transcribe the
Armenian in accordance with the Hübschmann-Meillet system; so the reader should keep in mind that in T‘nkǝr’s
Western Armenian the voiced stops are unvoiced and vice-versa, the diphthong ea is pronounced /ya/, etc.
32 There is of course the Persian and Ottoman Turkish ž: the Arabic r with three dots above it; it is noted and printed
in the discussion of syllabiform no. 8, so its absence seems to be one of a number of errors for which one can but
commiserate with the harried typesetter!

“Chapter One. Function of syllabiforms.


No. 1. Handizer (syllable of h[a]), the first consonant, with its assumed vowel a, has three sounds: 1. In its
own basic form, simply formed, it is equivalent to the character h in Latin, Italian, etc. 2. When it has a point on top
of its upper hook it takes the value of Hebrew ḥ, Arabic kh, Greek χ, and Armenian x. 3. When it has a circle in the
same position it renders an égne [perhaps a misprint for égre, “chiming”?] sound, or one like the breath of birds or
their likes, which one can note and produce with the characters of other known languages.

No. 2. Iandizer (syllable of ia). This has a single pronunciation, identical to Hebrew y, Arabic y, and

Armenian e [i.e., ye, with on-glide].

No. 3. Landizer (syllable of la). It takes the place of the three following sounds: In its simple, basic form it

is equivalent to Latin, French, and Italian l, Hebrew l, Arabic l, and Armenian l. When it is marked with an accent
like a circumflex, thus < >, or sometimes by two points, thus < >, at the ends of words, this signifies gemination, or
at the end a doubling vibration of the same character, performed by touching the tongue to the palate and sliding it at
once, as in English.

No. 4. Mandizer (syllable of ma). The shape of one sound only, equivalent to the m of French, Italian, etc.,

Arabic m, and Armenian m.

No. 5. Sandizer (syllable of sa), the basic radical of five sounds: 1. Written simply, it is equivalent to the s

of Latin, French, etc., Arabic s, and Armenian s. [2.] Marked by a sinuous line like the Greek perispomene at the
middle and bottom, thus < >, it becomes equivalent to Greek θ and French th. 3. Surmounted by a semicircle thus < >, it produces the sound of French z, or the radical s raddonei (?) in a Sehleraï word. 4. Surmounted by a hook
touched by a point at the right edge, thus < >, it is pronounced like French or Italian xa and Greek ξα, while if
deprived by a šerkendill of its a-vowel, thus < >, it becomes equivalent to Greek ξ and French x. 5. When it is
surmounted by the miniature syllabiform < > of no. 9, thus < >, it is pronounced like Russian щ, Italian scia, and
Armenian ǝšč‘ia.

No. 6. Zandizer (syllable of za), written as a simple radical. But written with a point below, thus < >, it has

the value of Armenian c [in the Hübschmann-Meillet system: in W. Arm., dz], and does not differ from the
following base syllable

No. 7, Dzandizer (syllable of dza). Finally, touched by another point below, thus < >, it renders the stronger

sound of tsa: Hebrew ts or Armenian j [Hübschmann-Meillet; in W. Arm., ts].

No. 8. Jandizer (syllable of ja). The pronunciation of this form is identical to French j, Armenian ž, and

Persian ž.

No. 9. Chandizer (syllable of cha). This has only one sound, of the same pronunciation as Arabic š and

Armenian š.

No. 10. Gandizer (syllable of ga). In simple form as a radical it is pronounced like ga, or Arabic q, or

Persian g. If there is a point touching the top, thus < >, it becomes the equivalent of French and Italian k, Arabic k,
and Armenian k‘.

No. 11. Fandizer (syllable of fa). This form has only one sound, equivalent to French f, Arabic f, and

Armenian f.

No. 12. Vandizer (syllable of va). This form has only one sound, and is pronounced like French and Italian

v, Hebrew w, Arabic w, and Armenian v.

No. 13. Bandizer (syllable of ba), a form with two sounds. The basic one, without a point, is equivalent to

French b, Arabic b, and Armenian p [pron. b in W. Arm.]. The other, touched by a point on the right edge and above
its circular figure, thus < >, or else to the left side, thus < >, is equivalent in value to French p, Persian p, and
Armenian b [pron. p in W. Arm.].

No. 14. Nandizer (syllable of na): the form has only one sound, equivalent to French n, Arabic n, and

Armenian n.

No. 15. Giandizer (syllable of gia): the form has only one sound, equivalent to Latin and Italian g, Arabic j,

and Armenian č [pron. j in W. Arm.]; French g has a corresponding character.

No. 16. Ciandizer (syllable of cia). The form has only one sound, corresponding to Latin and Italian c,

Persian č, and Armenian ǰ [pron. č in W. Arm.]; French c has a corresponding character.

No. 17. Dandizer (syllable of da), the base form, with four sounds: 1. Written simply, it is equivalent to

French and Italian d. 2. Pointed in the middle above, thus < >, it has the sound of French and Italian t, Arabic t, and
Armenian t‘. 3. Surmounted by a semicircle, thus < >, it becomes equivalent to Greek δ [i.e., Modern Gk. dh]. 4.
Finally, < > surmounted by the same semicircle renders the sound of Greek θ and French th. But one must take care
not to confuse the form with the perispomene of no. 5, < >, with this character of the same value, keeping in mind
that the latter, always in the middle, interiorly, has an entirely particular function characteristic of abstract nouns in


No. 18. Randizer (syllable of ra) is a base form with two sounds. Written simply it is equivalent to French
and Italian r, Arabic r, Hebrew r, and Armenian r. Reinforced by a point, thus < >, it renders the sound of Greek ‘ρ
or Armenian ṙ [i.e., a trilled r], almost equivalent to the value of French, Latin, and Italian hr.

(No.) 19. Ghandizer (syllable of gha), a base form with two sounds. Written simply, it is of the same

pronunciation understood by French gh, Greek γ, Arabic gh, or Armenian ł [pron. gh]; and being marked thus, by a
point [not shown], it produces a guttural sound cruder and more forceful than either Arabic gh or Armenian ł, while
< > pointed by no. 10 introduces a more mitigated sound, between a strong [Arm.] x and the natural [Ar.] kh and
[Arm.] x, equivalent to the χ of Greek. And that suffices for the entire function of the consonants of the universal

“Second chapter. Vocalization, or the movement of the syllabiforms in Sehleraï. The first grade of pupils
studying and memorizing the forms and function of the 19 syllabiforms of Sehleraï, following their precise image
and punctual delineation, are to progress directly to the study of their vowels, this being absolutely necessary in
order to execute the act of reading.

“Now, the vowels in question most current for the pronunciation of the words of this universal language are

12 in number, beginning with < >. An a is assumed for every syllabiform, as I have already mentioned earlier; and
when it is marked within with the figure of a Greek or Latin comma, thus < >, it renders the sound of Hebrew ‘ayin
and Arabic ‘ayn, while the rest is as follows [the Latin transcription is followed by the Arm., which I italicize]:
No. 2. < > e ē
No. 3. < > i i
No. 4. < > o ō
No. 5. < > eu ēō
No. 6. < > short e ǝ
No. 7. < > ou u
No. 8. < > u iww
No. 9. < > iou io
No. 10. < > iu iiw [Arm. iw represents the diphthong yu]
No. 11. < > ieou iēu
No. 12. < > ieu iēiw

“Note: It is evident and perfectly clear to all grammarians that the five vowels a, e, i, o, and u are simple
ones, the rest being compounds, or diphthongs. The two last and most complicated are < >, iéou, < > ieóu— iḗou,
iēṓiw— whose use in Sehleraï is most rare and perhaps serves when necessary to pronounce certain Chinese words
and the like.

“Now, those beginning the study of Seh-lerai, after having strictly imprinted upon their imagination the preceding
consonantal forms, as well as their vowels delineated above, must now apply themselves to combining them
together and making syllables of them, carefully following the combinations below:
< > he hē
< > hi hi
< > ho hō
< > héu hēō
< > he hǝ
< > hou hu
< > hu hiw
< > hiou hiu
< > hiu hiiw
< > hieou hiēu
< > hieu hiēiw

“Then one must practice sufficiently before syllabifying, with each separate consonant with its vowels on
the same model, which is done by changing only the successive consonants: that is, in the place of ha, one puts an
ia, then la, and so forth— which I think it superfluous to repeat here to my ingenious pupil. Still, if he wishes to
practice only with the formal representation of their aspects, and one by one, he can see them in my Prototype
paradigm in Greek, where all 19 consonants are arranged and set in motion, explicitly.33

33 This would clearly be the earlier pamphlet to which Stamatiadis had access. The table would have resembled
somewhat the scheme of Ethiopic, in which each consonant is altered in shape slightly by the vowel added to it.


“Note: The vowels ought to be proportional to their syllabiforms as much as possible, so students at the
outset are to arrange them between two evenly spaced lines, the adornment being thus lovelier. And this is a most
necessary exercise, whereby you behold them at every instant, and at every point, to ravish them as bees do flowers,
in order to produce the most exquisite sweetness of this universal language.

“Third chapter. The diacritic signs of Sehleraï.34 The comma is an inverted triangle, thus

< >; when pointed in this way < >, it marks the division of a phrase. The full stop to end a sentence is a round mark
and appears thus, < >. Accent is a line inclined slightly to the right, thus < >, and must always be written under the
syllable to be accented. The question mark is a perpendicular stroke capped above by a semicircle, thus < >, which
is written at the end and sometimes under the šerkendills of words that bear the sense of a question.35 The
exclamation point is likewise a perpendicular stroke with a hook just to one side, thus < >, or sometimes inclined
thus [not shown], when its hook is placed upon the accent of an interjection. Note: The doubling of syllabiforms (a
variety of the Arabic tašdīd)36 is done with two points separated by a šerkendill, and is called a šefirkendill, thus < >.
Finally, to soften and assimilate two dissonant consonants found at the end of a word and the beginning of another,
one uses the sign < >, called firurïundill (see the rest in the Grammar).37

“Reading lesson. < >.


hroùm chaï ïram, bes leraï
vom chàïz illè sam
leraï ioun sem mimseraï
vam chàïz illè som;

[in Armenian transliteration]
Hrum šay, eiran, pēs lēray vōm
šáyzil lē sam:
Lēráy eunsim, mimsēray vam
šáyzillḗ sōm.


One language on all the earth,
A plethora of sciences is worth more
Than various languages in great number
Which scarcely contain any knowledge.

“Nota bene. Seh-leraï may be written in three way: right to left, left to right, and in vertical columns like

Chinese. Even the existential law itself is written together in all three fashions (see it in its place).38

34 The text from which Stamatiadis worked gives the Sehleraï names of the signs of punctuation, which he renders in
Esperanto (and Greek): komo [comma], raniedil; punkto [period, full stop], periendil; malakuta akcento [accent
grave], prondil; demanda punkto [question mark], aišendil; ekkria punkto [exclamation point], fran-šafrandil; signo
pro la koincido de la radikaj elementoj [sign for the coming together of radicals, i.e., gemination], šefirkendil; signo
por korekti la malbonsonecon [sign for the correction of cacophony], feruriundil (Tg(h)ransar 1921, part 2, p. 100).
In the original Sehleraï each name would have ended with a double l; cf. the spelling of šerkendill in the 1864 text,
35 Here T‘nkǝr adopts the usage of Armenian, whose question mark is a diacritical sign placed above the stressed
syllable of the questioning word in a phrase, rather than at the end of the sentence as in English.
36 This is the common Arabic-in-Persian term that T‘nkǝr would have known from either Persian or Ottoman
Turkish, grammarians of Arabic themselves preferring to call the symbol šedda, literally “strengthening”, a sign of
37 Feruriundill seems to follow the practice of consonantal sandhi in Sanskrit grammar and orthography. In the
writing of the classical Indian language one does not separate words in writing a phrase, and an unvoiced stop at the
end of one word is harmonized to a voiced stop at the beginning of the next, for instance, by being written as its
voiced equivalent (t becomes d; k goes to g; p changes to b; etc.). Whaddaya mean? The same thing happens in
actual English speech; but since we separate words in writing the phonetic process is not represented on the page,
except when reproducing colloquial northeastern American (“What do you mean?”).
38 This would presumably refer to some recapitulation of Rousseau’s loi naturelle in the credo of a universal religion
intended to accompany Sehlerai, the international language.


“Fourth chapter. The numbers, or, characters for noting the numbers in Seh-leraï. Aside from its alphabetic
characters, Seh-leraï is also the possessor of its own arithmetical signs to mark numbers, following the forms below:
< > 1 aik ayk‘
< > 2 fir fir
< > 3 chia šia
< > 4 lun lēōn
< > 5 ghir kir
< > 6 iks ik‘s
< > 7 fiks fik‘s
< > 8 chiks šik‘s
< > 9 luks liwk‘s
< > 10 jirai žiray
< > 11 akmunjir ak‘miwnžir
< > 12 firmunjir firmiwnžir
< > 13 chirmunjir širmiwnžir
< > 14 leurmunjir lēōimiōnžir
< > 15 ghirmunjir kirmiwnžir
< > 16 iksmunjir ik‘smiwnžir
< > 17 fiksmunjir fik‘smiwnžir
< > 18 chikmunjir šik‘smiwnžir
< > 19 luksmunjir liwk‘smiwnžir
< > 20 firaijir firayžir
< > 21 akmunfijir ak‘miwnfižir
< > 30 chiraijir širayžir
< > 31 akmunchijir ak‘miwnšēžir
< > 40 leuraijir lēōrayžir
< > 41 akmulunjir ak‘miwllēōnžir
< > 50 ghirmanjir kirmanžir
< > 60 iksanjir ik‘sanžir
< > 70 fiksanjir fik‘sanžir
< > 80 chiksanjir šik‘sanžir
< > 90 luksanjir liwk‘sanžir
< > 100 jaierai žayēray
< > 1000 jeròm žērōm
< > 10,000 jerài i jerom žērayeižērōm
< > 1,000,000 jeromkom žērōmk‘ōm
< > 10,000,000 jeronikari jerom kom žērōmk‘arižērōmk‘ōm

“Note: These arithmetical characters, as one can see, are formed in an ordered system, of which the basis is

a point, augmented successively. It is written from left to write and with a composite system. This is done
intentionally to abbreviate the writing of the characters and to abridge them even when one is computing mentally.
Still, if one wants to express them also according to the methods of arithmetic, it will go much better that way for
beginning students. As to an alternative function for these characters, note well that the same numerical symbols up
to seven render also the notes of the [musical] scale, when one writes them in their entirety at a slant and uses for the
sharps the division of a šerkendill.

“And for the concise instruction in Seh-lerai, that suffices.

“The End.

“Advertisement. The studious pupil, after having studied assiduously my little course of primary instruction

in Seh-lerai is then to have the grammar, after its dictionary, which are already complete and ready to be printed, at
the service of the public, with sole thanks for the assistance of divine Providence.

“Table of Contents of this work, the Alpha-gnomonomic:
Page 7. Preface.
9. Characters loaned for pronunciation, etc.
9. Instruction in the Alpha-gnomonomic.
17. Ch. 1. The function of the syllabiforms.


21. Ch. 2. Movement of the syllabiforms.
25. Ch. 3. Signs of punctuation.
27. Reading lesson.
28. The numbers of Seh-leraï.
32. Advertisement.”

And that, to the best of my knowledge, is all that is known or can be known, on present evidence, about

Seh-lerai, though I should be happy to be discover the lost Grammar and Dictionary. What can we extract from it?
Seh-lerai means “universal language”; and from the rhymed reading passage it is plain lerai means “language”, with
the base ler- and -ai most likely a suffix; cf. žirai “ten” alone but žir- “ten” in compounds. The name Tghransar
means “moved by mind”; and the title Ans haïlanzar means “Alpha-gnomonomic”. The first syllabiforms are H, Y,
and L; accounting for haïl-, “ABC”; that leaves the suffixes -sar and -zar meaning, most likely, “mind” and
“gnomic”; and ay-zer- “wisdom” (in Ayzeratand; tand—pronounced, of course, dant— then meaning “temple”, with
the final -t perhaps the marker of an abstract noun and the root word then possibly inspired by Pers. dān,
“container”, from which is Arm. -aran?) with the initial sibilant modified by verbal sandhi; and to this same root
having to do with thought or order one might add -zer, probably “form”, with a different vowel gradation, in X-anti-
+-zer, “syllaboform of X”. (Could the ending -ant(i) be participial, and thus from Indo-European?) The base tigr-
would then mean “move”; and ans, “law”. The -en and -an(t) would thus be nominal suffixes in compounds (in
numbers, -an- means “times”). So we can analyze šerkendill, the virāma stroke that cuts away the -a following each
syllabiform consonant, as šerk- “cut”, -en suffix, and dill “line”, following which we can derive the bases ram-
“comma”, peri- “stop”, pron- “accent”, aiš- “question”, fran-šafr- “exclamation” with related šefir-k- “gemination”
(with the shared root šafr- meaning something like “intensify”), and feriuri- “harmony” (perhaps sharing a root with
fr-an-?). The bases peri- and pron- sound like they have Indo-European prepositions as their precursors. But when
one deals with an avowedly a priori language, and one for which so little evidence exists besides, such impressions
may be mere mirages. Returning to the reading sample in verse, seh- would be “universal”; and šaïz-ille, “sciences”.
Supposing a use of vowel gradation as above, sam/sem/som might mean “plethora, many, hardly any”; whilst
rhyming vom/vam could be the connective terms of the comparative “more… than”. Bes would be “one only, sole”
(for aik is ordinal “one”, cf. Sanskrit eka-, Persian yek); and iun, “various”. The phrase hrum šai iram could be “on
all earth” in that order, with rum/ram a pair with the root sense “surface” perhaps. All roads, a Greek or Armenian
might say, lead to Hrum (for a rough breathing must precede the initial R of the name of the Eternal City where the
itinerant Bedros briefly sojourned)… The numbers give us -mun-, “and, plus” and -om, the marker of a hundred.
Most of these decipherments are of necessity hypothetical and could quite easily be wrong.

Bedros Tghransar, whom I like to imagine, not as “moved by mind” but as an immovable Tigransar, a
lonely mountaintop (Arm. sar) with the proud name of the Armenian king of the first century BC, Tigran II the
Great (and, inter alia, the invented nom de plume encodes his outer-world surname, T-n-g-r, so for all we know
there is a three-way word-play hidden here), shows a marked predilection in his a priori language (the only word I
have found related to anything is that for “one”) for monosyllabic roots— a nod, perhaps, to Chinese, for which he
seems to have a particular regard and consciousness. Though his alphabet provides amply for Arm. ts, dz, ch, and
ch‘, these are strikingly absent from what little Seh-lerai we have; and the value of the vowels follows French, not
Armenian: the vowel spelled as -u- is frequent but to be pronounced as in French, transliterated into Arm. as -iw-
/yu/, not -ow- /u/. It would have been a cumbersome language, no matter whether written left to right, right to left, or
from the top down. Yet one hopes the poems, grammar, and glossary may yet be discovered. At the beginning of
Kevork H. Gulian’s Elementary Modern Armenian Grammar (printed by the Vienna Mekhitarists) is this quotation
from Lord Byron (who stayed at San Lazzaro with the Venice Mekhitarists in 1816, when Bedros was a seminarian
at Vienna): “I have begun, and am proceeding, in the study of the Armenian language… It is a rich language, and
would amply repay any one the trouble of learning it.” Few take that trouble; and although the dervish-like Bedros
evidently had frequent callers at his temple of wisdom with its cabinet of curiosities and somber tomb, we are told
that they contented themselves with French translations of his verses, so one feels fewer still learned Seh-lerai. But
this fleeting acquaintance with a 19th-century eccentric, intellectual, and idealist does afford an intriguing glimpse
into the rich diversity of late Ottoman Armenian life and letters, and that is ample repayment. As though the quest
were anything but an exciting adventure in any case.


Smyrna, Izmir, Zmiwṙnia— the second largest city of the Ottoman Empire— was the major trade

emporium of the Aegean and a cosmopolis of culture, enlightenment, and sophistication. It stood in the heart of
ancient Hellenic Ionia: Homer was born, according to traditional legend, on the nearby island of Chios. Armenians
are known from the 13th century and their numbers grew following the collapse of the Cilician kingdom in the 14th
century and the chaotic conditions in the Anatolian heartland during the Jalali rebellions of the 17th century. The


Church of St. Stephen was built in the 16th century and restored in 1853. The first Armenian printing press of
Smyrna opened in the 18th century (T‘ēodik gives the precise year 1676, however, as the date when the Tparan S.
Ēǰmiacni ew S. Sargsi Zōravari, “Press of Holy Echmiadzin and St. Sergius the Strategos” opened its doors); and in
the 19th century the city was a center of Western missionary operations, with Mekhitarist schools (the first one
founded in 1847), Protestant presses, etc. The majority of Smyrniotes were Greeks; the Armenian quarter, Haynoc‘,
was next door to the Jewish one. In 1841 the American traveler Valentine Mott wrote of the Armenians of Smyrna,
which he calls the Paris of the Levant, “These people have their own quarter, and are numerous and wealthy, of fine
persons and great dignity of deportment, and wear a costume of their own, of which the huge cap is the most
striking.” He then describes vividly a church service in Haynoc‘.39 In 1861, the city had about 124,000 inhabitants.
Armenians were prominent in commerce, with trading connections at Trieste, Vienna, and Manchester, but never
numbered more than 15,000 or so. It was a city of the Armenian cultural renaissance: major figures include the
author Grigor Č‘ilingirian; the philologist Galust Kostandian; the lexicographer Mesrop Nuparian; the poet Ṙubēn
Vorberian; and many others. Major institutions included the Mesropian School and Surb Lusaworič‘ (Holy
Illuminator) National Hospital. A number of benevolent societies functioned, including the Siwneac‘, Aragacuneac‘,
and Haykazean. The prominent Freemason Matt‘ēos Mamurian shines perhaps most brightly in the constellation of
Smyrna Armenian intellectuals of the day: he translated Voltaire, Dumas, Goethe, Lessing, Stendhal, and Tolstoy,
wrote the social critique English Letters mentioned earlier in this study, and championed an Armenian woman
writer, Srbuhi Tiwsap, in her struggle to make a career in belles lettres.40 The publishing house of the Dedeyan
Brothers, mentioned above, was founded in 1851: among its publications was a book on Joseph Balsamo, or
Cagliostro, the enigmatic Freemason of legend and conspiracy theory.41 “(Smyrna’s) prosperity,” wrote the
American traveler John Price Durbin in 1845, “is to be attributed chiefly to the capital of the Armenians, and the
commerce of the Greeks and Franks, that is, to the Christian population,” of a country, he adds darkly and
presciently, “in which, though they be subjects, they are not citizens.”(This could be the epitaph of millions of
Mercurians of the 20th century.)42

The 19th century was a time of hope for progress in the Ottoman Empire punctuated by Imperial decrees

that expanded, or purported to expand, the liberties and protection of individuals and national-religious minorities: in
1839, the edict Ḥaṭṭ-i Šerīf guaranteed life and property; the Ḥaṭṭ-i Humāyūn of 1856 expanded these reforms and
liberties; the Tanzimat period of 1839-1876 saw the formation of commercial and criminal courts and the
establishment of a unified customs tariff; and at the mid-point of the 19th century Victor Hugo prophesied that in a
hundred years Constantinople would be the capital of the world. In 1863, one year before the printing of T‘nkǝr’s
manual of Seh-lerai, Armenians celebrated the promulgation of a national Constitution (Sahmanadrut‘iwn)
codifying their communal rights. The poet Bedros Tourian in a prose poem evoked that Constitution as a mighty
ship sailing into a shining future. But that future might better be seen as the Titanic. The massacres of Armenians in
1894-1896 were the whiff of arctic cold; and the 1908 revolution of the Young Turks was the ghostly ice mountain
looming suddenly in the dark, with its murderous submarine mass cutting a gash in the hull in the black waters
below the surface where lights glittered and the band played.

The metaphorical ship carrying the passengers celebrating their century of progress, with all its bright

hopes, went down in the night; and all historical Armenia was destroyed. Smyrna itself was spared, for a time. The
horrors of the Genocide of 1915 bypassed the city: it was too profitable a place, nearly all gâvur “infidel” Smyrna
was Christian, and there were too many foreign eyes trained on the city. After the Great War the Greeks invaded
Ionia, pursuing the phantom of Venizelos’ megalē idea, but what had begun as a triumphal sweep towards Angora
ended as a rout. In early September 1922, a few days short of one year after the publication in Bizantio of
Stamatiadis’ “La lingvo Sehlerai”, Turkish forces under the command of Mustafa Kemal (the hero of the defense of
Gallipoli, soon to be dubbed Atatürk, “Father of the Turks”) conquered Smyrna. His men forced its Christian
inhabitants to the quayside and systematically burned the great city behind milling, teeming crowds, in such a
conflagration as history had not known hitherto. Thousands were massacred in the town and on death marches into
the interior. Turkish troops waded into the helpless multitude at the shore, severing limbs and casting victims into
the sea, even as the crews of Allied warships moored in the harbor watched impassively, sometimes turning up their
gramophones to drown out the clamor. Fleets of Greek fishing boats rescued some of the survivors, and ancient
Athens saw the construction of a new kind of city, a refugee quarter, Nea Smyrnē. But in a matter of days in

39 Cited in Ghazarian 1997, p. 308.
40 See Hovannisian 2012; for pictures of the Haynoc‘, S. Step‘anos, and the Mesropian school, see Kévorkian and
Paboudjian 1992, pp. 160-172. Köker 2005, p. 133 pl. 278, provides an illustration of the church of the Capuchin
priests at Buca (Boudja), the village where Petros T‘nkǝr lived. It is a pleasant white building in a park of cypresses.
41 See T‘ēodik 1912, pp. 133-138, on the history of Armenian publishing in the city.
42 Cited by Ghazarian 1997, p. 330.


September 1922 the largest and most secular, cosmopolitan city of the eastern Mediterranean, the embodiment of the
proposition that Muslim, Jew, and Christian might live and prosper together, had ceased to exist.

The grim story is well known: the American consul and eyewitness George Horton published his scathing
Blight of Asia four years after the disaster, and his white hot fury still burns through the pages. Marjorie Housepian,
professor of English and dean of Barnard College, published in 1971 her meticulously researched Smyrna 1922,
whose archival sources and testimonies recount the horror with a different, cool precision that makes the blood of
the reader, too, run cold. Most recently, Giles Milton, Paradise Lost: Smyrna, 1922, fills out the record with a lyrical
memoir of the opulent life that preceded the sudden and utter destruction: the villas, parties, cinemas, cafes, theaters,
sports clubs, daily papers in a score of languages. Marge Housepian-Dobkin is the mother of one of my oldest
friends and Columbia classmate, Stephen Andrew Johnson. Though I first met her when I was an undergraduate, I
first read her book a few years later as a graduate student at Oxford, opening it early one fall evening at the Wadham
College library and meaning to read for an hour, only to finish the last pages in the chill morning after a sleepless
night. The murder of an entire modern city and the world’s indifference on a scale just as grand became a precedent
for both vast crimes and moral oblivion. As I write these lines one of the oldest cities on earth, magnificent Aleppo,
with its vibrant Armenian community dating back to the Middle Ages, is being destroyed and not a single world
power is helping its population. One recalls the Nazi massacre at Babi Yar and then the silence captured in
Yevtushenko’s poem: Над Бабьим Яром памятников нет:/ Крутой обрыв, как грубое надгробье. “There is no
monument over Babi Yar:/ A steep ridge, like a crude grave piled.” There is a monument on the outskirts of Kiev
now; but memory in the rebuilt Izmir belongs to the victors, who were mass murderers like the Nazis, not liberators
like the Red Army. And each calendar day of the deadly month Eylül/September of conquest and destruction has
become the gloating name of an Izmir street, or a square. The officially defined, homogeneous türklük,
“Turkishness”, of the present has no room for the cosmopolitan babel of Greek, Armenian, Ladino, French, Italian…
or Seh-lerai. Yet there are cracks widening in the wall of silence, and Turkish scholars and humanists themselves
(for there is no such thing as a criminal nation) are, more and more loudly, speaking the truth of history. Some day
when the entire record is written, perhaps this small study will be a footnote. I tried in a book to render the homage
he felt his due to young Bedros of Constantinople, the poet; and here I have attempted the rescue of another Bedros
from the same city, then of Smyrna, of Boudja and Aspra Khomata, of Paradise lost, from oblivion.

The square stone edifice of the man alone on the hill, the Ayzeratand, is gone, too, though here memory is
not entirely dead. For the place at Buca where the Temple of Wisdom once stood is still called Tıngırtepe, “T‘nkǝr
Hill”; and upon its summit are now statues (see Plate 4), frozen in their whirling dance, of the 13th-century Persian
poet and mystic Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi (Maulānā Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī), whose tomb at Konya in western Turkey is
a major pilgrimage site. Rumi had espoused a mystical strand of Islam, Sufism, that addresses God through love, as
Christians are taught to do. Rumi taught his dervish disciples through poems, parables, meditation, chanting,
melodies, and the dance; and he shunned the divisions of language and creed as illusion and wickedness. Some of
the mourners who joined his funeral procession, indeed, were Armenians. There, there, in that undiscovered country
from whose bourne no traveler returns, there where there are no dogmatic religions, divisive ideologies, or
determined nationalisms, there Mevlana and Bedros, and Bedros, walk together.

Here on earth, happily, the Tingir clan survives, and here my evidence is photographic: Dr. Raffi Tingir
describes the family pictures from Istanbul he has kindly provided, here Plates 5-7 (letter of 27 November 2012):
“The first picture has my father Nurhan with his brother Levon (with glasses) and their father Mihran, circa 1952.
The second picture depicts three generations of Tingirs: my younger brother Zohrab and I, with our father Nurhan
and paternal grandfather Mihran Tingir, circa 1959. The third picture shows the Armenian-American author
William Saroyan visiting with my maternal grandparents, father, brother and me, circa 1962. Bedros Tingir is three,
four, and five generations apart, respectively, from Mihran, Nurhan and Raffi.” May Bedros’ family prosper. To
him, to them, and to the gentle dreamers and inventors of a peaceful future, I dedicate this work.


1-3: Pages of the Folger MS.
4. Tıngırtepe, Buca, Izmir.
5-7. The Tingir family, Istanbul, 1952-1962.


1. Tg(h)ransar [Petros T‘nkǝrean], “La lingvo Sehlerai” (Esperanto tr. from Gk. by Anakreōn Stamatiadēs),
Bizantio: Esperantikē Epitheōrēsis, Revue rédigée en esperanto, en Grec, et en Français, 1.3, Constantinople, 30
Sept. 1921, p. 64; 2nd part in Bizantio 1.4, 31 Oct. 1921, p. 99.


2. Tghransar, Ans Haïlanzar ou Alpha-Gnomonomic de Seh-lerai: ouvrage, Smyrne, 1864.


Paolo Albani and Berlinghiero Buonarroti, Aga Magéra Difúra: Dizionario delle lingue immaginarie, Bologna:
Zanichelli, 1994.

Sebouh David Aslanian, From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian
Merchants from New Julfa, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.

Abraham Y. Ayvazean, Šar hay kensagrut‘eanc‘ [“Series of Armenian biographies”], parts I-III, Constantinople:
Tpagrutiwn G. Pałtatlean [K. Baghdadlian Printers], 1893.

Alessandro Bausani, “About a curious mystical language Bāl-a i-Balan,” East and West, Year IV, No. 3, Rome:
IsMEO, 1954, pp. 234-238.

Ṙubēn Berberean, “Hay masōnnerǝ ew ‘Sēr’ ōt‘eakǝ Polsoy mǝǰ” [“The Armenian Masons and the Lodge Sēr
(‘Love’) in Constantinople”], Hayrenik‘ amsagir [“Hairenik Monthly”], Mar.-Jul. 1967.

E. Drezen, Historio de Mondolingvo, 3rd ed., Osaka: Pirato, 1967.

Vatche Ghazarian, ed., Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: An Anthology of Transformation, 13th-19th Centuries,
Waltham, MA: Mayreni Publishing, 1997.

R.G. Hovannisian, ed., Armenian Smyrna/Izmir: The Aegean Communities, UCLA Armenian History and Culture
Series: Armenian Cities and Provinces 11, Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, 2012.

John T. Irwin, American Hieroglyphics: The Symbol of the Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the American Renaissance,
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980.

Raymond Kévorkian, Paul B. Paboudjian, Les Arméniens dans l’Empire Ottoman à la vielle du génocide, Paris:
Arhis, 1992.

Osman Köker, ed., Armenians in Turkey 100 Years Ago, with the Postcards from the Collection of Orlando Carlo
Calumeno, Istanbul: Birzamanlar Yayıncılık, 2005.

H.C. Robbins Landon, Mozart and the Masons: New Light on the Lodge “Crowned Hope”, London: Thames &
Hudson, 1982 (2nd ed., 1991).

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, New York: International Publishers, 1968.

S. Brent Morris, The Folger Manuscript: The Cryptanalysis and Interpretation of an American Masonic
Manuscript, Bloomington, IN: The Masonic Book Club, 1992.

Paul Nettl, Mozart and Masonry, New York: Philosophical Library, 1957.

Arika Okrent, In the Land of Invented Languages, New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2010.

Vahe Oshagan, “Cosmopolitanism in West Armenian Literature,” in Vahe Oshagan, ed., Armenia, Review of
National Literatures Vol. 13, New York, 1984, pp. 194-212.

Mario Pei, One Language for the World, New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1968.

Fr. Ep‘rem Pōłosean, Guyumčean ew T‘ǝnkǝrean gerdastannerǝ [German title: Die Familien Kouyoumdjian und
Tingir], Vienna: Mxit‘arean tparan (Mechitharisten-Buchdruckerei), 1951.

Andrew Robinson, Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-François Champollion, Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2012.


James R. Russell, “The Craft and Mithraism Reconsidered,” Proceedings of the American Lodge of Research
(Masonic), Vol. 18, New York, 1989, pp. 15-28.

J.R. Russell, “Mithraism and Freemasonry,” Heredom, Vol. 4, Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction, Washington, DC,
1995, pp. 269-87.

J.R. Russell, Bosphorus Nights: The Complete Lyric Poems of Bedros Tourian, Armenian Heritage Press and
Harvard Armenian Texts and Studies 10, Cambridge, MA, 2005.

J.R. Russell, “The Script of the Dove: An Armenian Hetaerogram,” Journal of Armenian Studies, Belmont, MA,
Vol. IX, Nos. 1-2, 2010, pp. 61-108.

J.R. Russell, “Armenian Secret and Invented Languages and Argots,” in publication, Acta Linguistica Petropolitana,
Institute of Linguistic Research, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, [2014].

Noah Schachtman, “The Manuscript,” Wired magazine, Dec. 2012, pp. 211-218.

Vağarşag Seropyan (Vałaršak Serop‘ean), “Tıngıryan, Bedros”, Yaşamları ve yapıtlarıyla Osmanlilar ansiklopedisi
[“Encyclopedia of the lives and deeds of the Ottomans”], Istanbul, 1999, vol. 2.

Simon Simonean, ed., Arewelahay grakanut‘iwn, Beirut: Sevan, 1965.

T‘ēodik, Tip u taṙ [“Press and letter”], Constantinople, 1912, repr. Aleppo (Halēp): Kilikia, 2006.

Tg(h)ransar [Petros T‘nkǝrean], “La lingvo Sehlerai” (Esperanto tr. from Gk. by Anakreōn Stamatiadēs), Bizantio:
Esperantikē Epitheōrēsis, Revue rédigée en esperanto, en Grec, et en Français, 1.3, Constantinople, 30 Sept. 1921,
p. 64; 2nd part in Bizantio 1.4, 31 Oct. 1921, p. 99.

Tghransar, Ans Haïlanzar ou Alpha-Gnomonomic de Seh-lerai: ouvrage, Smyrne, 1864.

Pars Tuğlacı, Tarih Boyunca Batı Ermenileri [“The Western Armenians through history”] (Vol. 2: 1851-1890),
Istanbul, 2004.

Dmitrii Vlasov, Esperanto: polveka tsenzury. Razvitie Esperanto-dvizheniia i ego zhurnalistika v usloviiakh tsenzury
v Rossiiskoi Imperii i SSSR (1887-1938 gg.) [“Esperanto: a half century of censorship. The development of the
Esperanto movement and its journalism in the conditions of censorship in the Russian Empire and the USSR (1887-
1938)”], Moscow: Impeto, 2011.The Sehlerai Language image

Descargar PDF

(Visitado 1 veces, 1 visitas hoy)