Vol 3, article posted May 26, 2015
LOM: Still Present
by M. van Rheenen
The Lom of Armenia and the Republic of Georgia share a kinship with the Rom of Europe and the Dom of the Middle East/North Africa. The Lom, sometimes referred to as Bosa or Bosha, have been in this region for at least a thousand years. One of the first outsiders to study their language and culture noted:
Fifty years won’t even pass before there will be nothing left of either their originality or their language. It will retreat in the face of overbearing circumstances. No, it will not be assimilated, but will merely turn into nothing, leaving behind a historical trace that will be of interest only for ethnography (Petrosyan, 2002: 25).
These words were written by V.Papazian more than 100 years ago. But history has proven him wrong. A Facebook page founded in 2011 purposefully includes “Rom, Dom, Lom/Gypsies, Travellers & Jenischen.” (Rom, Dom, Lom/Gypsies, Travellers & Jenischen, 2011) “Who are Armenian Gypsies?” a YouTube video dating from January 2012, was created by someone very much alive and very much proclaiming himself to be “Zohrab, the Armenian Gypsy (italics added).” In fact, Zohrab claims to be one of at least 20,000 living Bosha in Armenia.
Where did the thousands of present Lom come from? While the Lom and their culture continues to be much more than “a historical trace,” tracing their history is not as easy as a YouTube search. They have been in historic Armenia at least since the seventh century (Fraser, 1995:41-42). Historic Armenia reached beyond the current Republic of Armenia and included a good deal of eastern Turkey (Anatolia). As is the case with the related Rom, a study of their language aids in deducing more of their past.
Lomavren, the language traditionally spoken by Lom, is clearly related to Romani and Domari./1/ One Lomavren-speaking individual even noted, “(W)hen I watch Indian films and hear Indian songs, their language is exactly the one we talk. Our words are their words. Three out of four words are the same” (Marutyan, 2011: 299). Some Lom who had met Roma in other parts of the then-Soviet Union recognized this similarity and even tried speaking with the Roma. However, the languages were different enough that the two groups could not understand each other (Ibid).
This is borne out by scholarship as well as personal experience. While Lomavren, Romani, and Domari all contain some words of Persian origin, none of the words in Lomavren are derived from the same Persian lexical items as the ones in Romani or Domari (Hancock, 2008; Fonseca, 1996: 96). Scholars hypothesize that the Lom may have entered the area separately from the ancestors of the Rom (Fraser, 1995: 41) since if the Dom, Rom, and Lom had been in Persian-speaking territory at the same time one would expect to find more Persian-based words in common (Hancock, 2008).
Additionally, while Romani does contain several words of Armenian origin, there is very little overlap with the Armenian found in Lomavren . The invasion of the Seljuk Turks into this area in the 11th century appears to have pushed the Lom east, with the Armenians, and the Rom west, towards Constantinople, the Balkans, and eventually the rest of Europe ( Fraser, 1995: 45-46). This can be seen in the heavy influence of Greek on Romani and the total lack of any Greek in Lomavren (Hancock, 2008).
The first scholarly study of Lomavren dates from 1828. Von Joakimov published a word list of 100 items (Hancock, 2006: 1871). In 1887, Patkanov, the researcher who so erroneously predicted the disappearance of Lomavren and the Lom as a distinct people, began work on the language. He noted that Lomavren was spoken in parts of eastern Turkey as well as in Georgia and Armenia (Hancock, 2006: 1871). By this time the Lom had become inextricably linked with Armenia, including Armenians living outside of Armenia. Even though Lom in the Republic of Georgia appear to have moved from Western Armenia into the area around Akhalkalak and Akhaltskha as long ago as the 1830's, they continue to send their children to Armenian schools (Marutyan, 2011: 298-299).
Several sources note that “Some Gypsie (Bosha/Lom) families provided a number of prominent figures of Armenia culture in the 19th Century (Fonseca, 1995, sic).”/2/ Zohrab, the self-proclaimed Armenian Gypsy on YouTube takes pains to make this point as well. In “Who are Armenian Gypsies?” (Zohrab, 2011), he seems to celebrate assimilation into Armenian culture. He claims that 30,000 Armenians leave Armenia per year. But not his people. They are Armenian and will stay in Armenia. He and his people are true Armenians./3/ And they are also Bosha.
Or are they? Hamlet L. Petrosyan recently did extensive field research into the group name which Zohrab and his people would prefer to use as well as the group names others use to refer to them. Other Armenians used the traditional name of Hay Bosha (literally “Bosha-Armenian”). In this context, the “Armenian” part refers primarily to the prevailing religion (Armenian Church, one of the oldest Christian Churches) rather than ethnicity or nationality. The Armenian Church itself referred to this group as Maghagorts (sieve-makers) (Petrosyan, 2002: 17-18). Making and selling sieves, as well as baskets and musical instruments, was a traditional occupation (Marutyan, 2011: 304). The terms commonly used in the Republic of Georgia also reflect this, Mesatsrebi (or alternately maghagorts, sieve-makers, in Armenian), KholesaniMesatsrebi (craftsman–sieve-maker [Petrosyan, 2002: 21]) or "the descendents of seivemakers" (Marutyan, 2011: 298).
The famous Armenian writer Vrtanes Papazian (1866–1920) used Lom and Bosha interchangeably. He had roots in this group, had also researched the matter, and had produced artistic works dealing with it. Today, people prefer to call themselves Lom and their language Lomakan or Lomeren (Petrosyan, 2002: 18).
"Lom is the name of our kin-group; thanks to it we recognize one another wherever we may be. We ask ‘Loma innav es?’ which means ‘Art thou a son of Bosha?’" (Petrosyan, 2002: 19).
Sieve-making also comes into their own way of identifying each other. According to a master sieve-maker from Gyumri, the traditional center for Lom in Armenia, his fellow Lom know one another by the following saying: “I ate bread (fed myself) from a thousand sieves.” He explained this meant "having spent time in a thousand homes and having sat at a table with thousands” (Petrosyan, 2002: 19).
Lom in the Republic of Georgia also refer to this history of honest labor:
We did not act as beggars and did not knock at doors asking for bread, sugar, salt or flour. The Bosha nation is an honourable, artisan people who have cared for their families and raised their children with their hard work… (Marutyan, 2011: 298).
In pre-W.W. II Soviet Union, a Lom serving in the army met an old sieve-maker in the Ural mountains. The old man did not know his ethnic origin; his great-grandfather had immigrated to that region from somewhere else. The young man immediately concluded that this old man must be the descendant of some of his own people. Sieve-making has been that intrinsically connected to being Lom both for the Lom themselves and for the other, non-Lom Armenians (Marutyan, 2011: 304).
"Like their Romani- and Domari-speaking 'cousins,' Lom have a separate word for non-Lom, kagut (in Armenia; Petrosyan, 2002: 19) or kachut (in Georgia, Marutyan, 2011: 298). Kagut and gajo or gadjo (non-Roma) derive from the same Sanskrit rootword (Petrosyan, 2002: 19). At the end of the nineteenth century G. Vantsian also observed that some Lom used the word Manus (person) to refer to themselves. However, he is the only one to record this, and it is not currently in use" (Petrosyan, 2002: 19).
Though the term Lom like the language Lomavren is reserved for private, internal use, most Lom do not care for the term Bosha (Petrosyan, 2002: 19). They are not exactly pleased that the Georgians have begun using it. Bosha has cold, uncultured connotations for them (Marutyan, 2011: 298; Petrosyan, 2002: 21). Most kagut in the region assume that this word comes from Bos(tail) which is Turkish for "empty or vacant" in a very unpositive way (Petrosyan, 2002: 23; Marutyan, 2011: 298).
Lom in the Republic of Georgia also reject the term. A shopkeeper in one of the major cities explained: ”An unworthy person can call you Bosha as if he is better than us... A person who has no money to buy a cigarette can call you Bosha or can ignore you. So I feel humiliated, upset and nervous at that humiliating word” (Marutyan, 2011: 298).
In 1993 a pitched battle nearly erupted between Lom and other Armenian-speakers in the Georgian city of Akhalkalak when Lom musicians were publically taunted with the term. “Isn’t he Bosha?” kagut said. “What else can he do but play music? As the Blacks suffer in America, Boshas must suffer” (Marutyan, 2011: 311).
The negative connotations of Bosha are clearly reflected in the following idioms in the Armenian language: boshaiutiun anel (literally, to behave like a Bosha)—to beg; boshi beran, boshi hot (literally, the smell of a Bosha)—an unpleasant odor; boshi guin (literally, the color of a Bosha)—an excessively bright, loud color which people of good taste would not use; boshi egh (literally, the butter of a Bosha)—to use food products and other commodities in an uneconomically, potentially wasteful way; boshi küfta (a Bosha’s meatballs)—excessively copious food, a ridiculously large amount; boshin akhte hanel (to clean like a Bosha)—to clean or to sweep the floor in a perfunctory and slip-shod manner. (Petrosyan, 2002: 23).
In the eyes of these outsiders, Bosha were either one or all of the following: 1) Beggars; 2) Vagabonds; 3) Seivemakers (not a high-status, high-earning occupation); 4) Penny entrepreuners (Petrosyan, 2002: 21-22).
This last was a genuine no-no during the Soviet era. Another negative saying dates from that era: “Bosha will never become a pasha and my (wooden) stick won’t become a(n iron) poker” (Marutyan, 2011: 310).
Now, however, Kagut say "The Bosha didn't become a pasha, but the pasha became a Bosha (a "biznes" person)/4/. Contemporary Armenians define Bosha as "an impudent person who has lost all sense of shame—a biznesmen" (Petrosyan, 2002: 22).
While this gives interesting insights into post-Soviet attitudes towards entrepreneurship, it also gives a glimpse of the pervasive prejudice against Lom. They themselves have a saying for this term based on the fact that lom is also the Russian word for "crowbar," a connection which is known in Armenia: "We're Loms, that's all!" As translator Stephan Lang explains, the underlying meaning of this pun on the Russian word "crowbar" is: "We're tough as nails, so there!" (Petrosyan, 2002: 25).
Contrary to V.Papazian's dire predictions a century ago, the Lom still exist as a people and a culture. And, although the Ethnologue lists their language as threatened, Lomavren, has also survived into a new millenium. In fact, it is listed as being used in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, and Syria as well as Armenia (Lewis, et al, 2014). The Lom, like their Romani- and Domari-speaking cousins, can indeed be as tough as nails. Or are these supposed wanderers even more enduring than nails? After all, supposedly stationary nails do not always last as well as the mobile crowbar.
/1/ A comparison of the three languages can be found in Matras, 2004, pp. 35-37 and 45-48. A chart on p. 37 details some historical shifts phonology; one on p. 48 compares lexical elements.
/2/ Given this high degree of integration it can be assumed that Lom/Bosha living in Turkish-controlled territory suffered the same deportation and annihilation as Armenians during the 1915 Armenian Genocide. What is not clear is whether Armenia Gypsies were living among Armenians in Greece and were also repatriated from Greece to Armenia.
/3/ Lom in the Republic of Georgia also identify themselves as “true” or “first” Armenians (Marutyan, 2011: 300-301).
/4/ Armenians in Georgia similiarly say, “Bosha became pasha and the Armenians became Bosha.” Again, they are not pleased with so many Armenians working as peddlers or in retail (Marutyan, 2011: 310).
Fonseca, Isabel. 1996. Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Frasier, Angus. 1995. The Gypsies. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.
Hancock, Ian. 2006. "Gypsy Languages/Zigeunerspraken." Pp. X-y in Sociolinguistics, edited by Ulrich Ammon, Norbert Dittmar, Klaus J. Mattheier, Peter Trudgi. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
Hancock, Ian. 2007-2008. “Gypsy Languages.” RADOC The Romani Archives and Documentation Center. http://www.radoc.net/radoc.php?doc=art_c_language_gypsy_languages&lang=en&articles=true
Hancock, Ian. 2010. Danger: Educated Gypsy; selected essays. Herfordshire, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press
Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2014. Ethnologue: Languages of the World", Seventeenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.
Marutyan, Harutyun. 2011. "The Contemporary Expression of the Identity of the Boshas". Acta Ethnographica Hungarica 56(2): 297-314.
Matras, Yaron. 2004. Romani: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ney, Rick. 1997-2014. “Gypsies and Tats,” Tour Armenia. http://www.tacentral.com/people.asp?story_no=10
Petrosyan, Hamlet L. 2002. “Name and Prestige: Self-Designation, Outsider-Designation, and The Search For A Neutral Designation (On The System Of Ethnonims Of The Armeinain Gypsies).” Anthropology & Archeology of Eurasia 41(1): 16-25.
RADOC The Romani Archives and Documentation Center. http://www.radoc.net/radoc.php?doc=search&lang=en&TypeSearch=title&searchstring=Lom&Submit=Search&page=1
Rom, Dom, Lom/ Gypsies,Travellers & Jenischen. [ca. 2011]. In Facebook. Retrieved September 9, 2014, from https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rom-Dom-Lom-GypsiesTravellers-Jenischen/181151671968128
Zohrab, The Armenian Gypsy. January 24, 2012. Who Are Armenian Gypsies in YouTube, retrieved September 6, 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6HYTloMnvI.
Zohrab, The Armenian Gypsy. Uploaded February 2012. My Big Fat Armenian Gypsy Wedding part 2 in YouTube, retrieved September 6, 2014 frm http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SjhhKes6F8.
ADDITIONAL SOURCES AND SCHOLARS:
Charles J.F. Dowsett (1924-1998) of Oxford University whose last work was "Sayat-Nova: A Biography and Literary Study", 1997. Professor Dowsett’s "Some Gypsy-Armenian Correspondences" (in Revue des etudes Armeniennes, nouvelle serie, v. 10, 1973-74) explores further, in English, the "Gypsy-Armenian" language.
Dr. Franz Nikolaus Finck, (1867-1910), Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Berlin.
Dr. John A. C. Greppin, Professor of Linguistics at Cleveland State University who has lived and researched in Armenia continues the linguistic and ethnographic study of Armenian Boshas in his many publications.
KHACHATRYAN, Armenak. 2003: Boshaner: Patma-azgagrakan usumnasirut’yun [Boshas: A Historical-Ethnographical Research]. Yerevan: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. Unpublished dissertation.
PAPAZIAN, Vrtanes. 1898. "Hay Boshaner" [Armenian Boshas]. Azgagrakan Handes 2. 203
V. Papaziants (Papazian). 1899. "Hay-Poshaner, An Ethnographic Study", Tiflis, 1899 (in Armenian.)
Veradzin "Armenian Gypsies in Asia Minor"
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