In each book I have read about the Caucasus, Sayat Nova is mentioned at least once, if not numerous times. It’s not difficult to see why. His life and poetry are a conglomeration of the many languages and cultures of the region. He trained as a monk at the Monastery of Sanahin, but later became a poet at the court of king Irakli II. He was an Armenian, living in Tiflis (Tbilisi- the current capital of Georgia,) with a Persian name (Sayat Nova actually means “King of Songs” in Persian), who most often wrote in Azeri.
He composed over two hundred songs in four languages: Armenian, Azeri, Georgian, and Persian. Some of his poems move between all four. His polyglot verse is a reminder not only of the linguistic and cultural diversity of the region, but an indicator of the neighborly interchange once enjoyed in an area now discussed so often in relation to ethnically driven violence and border disputes. While Sayat Nova is most often claimed as a representative of Armenia’s cultural heritage, ultranationalist Armenians and Azerbaijanis alike may be horrified to learn that he often wrote poems in Azeri using Armenian script.
The Soviet Surrealist film maker Sergei Parajonov‘s most famous film, “The Color of Pomegranates” is a visual biography of the poet’s life. The film was immediately banned by Soviet censors, but after Parajonov changed the title from “Sayat Nova” to “The Color of Pomegranates” and re-edited portions of the film, it was released in 1968. The sureal images of Sayat Nova as a boy, lying on the roof of an Armenian church covered in open books, their pages flapping in the wind, of the young boy’s father smearing the blood of a decapitated chicken across his forehead, of the poet as a young man dressed in a women’s veil and dress all must have surprised the typical Soviet film goer (other Soviet films of that year include War and Peace, a slapstick comedy film called The Diamond Arm, and the Russian animated version of The Little Mermaid). Parajonov was later imprisoned and sentenced to 5 years in a labor camp for “rape of a Communist Party member, and the propagation of pornography.”
Here is the link to that film with english subtitles:
And here is instrumental performance of what I think is one of Sayat Nova’s works:
(I plan on devoting an entire post to the instrument being played in the clip ((the Tar)) soon)