Urartian speaker struggles to keep language alive
Beyazıt Şenbük - VAN
Mehmet Kuşman, 82, who is one of only 12 people in the world who can speak, write and read the Urartian language, has said that he wants to keep the language alive with his eight-year-old granddaughter learning it.
Kuşman stated that one of his sons, who is currently a civil servant, also knows Urartu. “I hope my son will keep his promise to me and teach this language to his daughter,” Kuşman said.
Kuşman, who has been guarding the castle on the Van-Hakkari highway in Türkiye’s east for 60 years in total — as a volunteer for the last 17 years — learned the Urartian alphabet from teachers who came to the region for excavation work and from the books they gave.
Serving as a guard at the castle, Kuşman also guided the groups that visited the region. This way, he had the opportunity to go abroad many times and raised his 11 children by processing stones with Urartian figures and writing and selling them.
“I started to work first as a worker and then as a guard at Çavuştepe Castle, and then my life has changed,” he said.
“The excavation team found an inscription, but they did not know how to decipher it. I used to think that professors know everything in this world, but it wasn’t like that.”
Then I made an effort to learn the Urartian language and learned the Urartian alphabet in three years. There was nobody who spoke the Urartian language at that time.” Kuşman said.
Academics are interested in Kuşman, who has participated in many seminars in Türkiye and around the world. To keep the Urartian language alive, universities should have an Urartu ology department to keep the language alive, similar to the Sumerology and Hititology departments, according to Kuşman.
“There are seven people in Türkiye who know this language, the others are older than me. This language should be taught to young people and kept alive,” he said.
After learning about him, the Culture and Tourism Ministry invited him to a symposium in Ankara and many Turkish universities invited him to give information about the Urartian language. The U.S. offered him a residence permit to teach the language.
Kuşman didn’t want to leave his family and rejected all these invitations.
The Urartian kingdom, which reigned in the Eastern Anatolian region between 900-600 B.C., is known for their skills in architecture, mining, rock carving, embossing and stonemasonry.
Van, which was the capital of the Urartian kingdom in the ninth century B.C., has often been called “the Pearl of the East” because of the beauty of its surrounding landscape.