A name accused of being un-Armenian

Shortly after the Boston marathon bombings, the media reported that the Tsarnaev brothers were brainwashed by an Islamic preacher known as “Misha.” It turned out that Misha was neither Islamic nor a preacher nor a brainwasher. His full name is Mikhail Allakhverdov; his father was Armenian and his mother, Ukrainian; his parents had lived in Baku until the early 1990s when, following anti-Armenian pogroms, they left and apparently managed to obtain refugee status in the US.

Not an unusual flight, unfortunately – there are quite a few Armenian Muscovites who had lived in the capital of Azerbaijan when it was a Soviet republic but had to leave in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Baku had been a multiethnic city for decades and perhaps centuries, with large Armenian, Jewish and Russian communities, but it all changed for the Armenians after the Karabakh conflict flared up in 1988. The Jews and other Russian speakers gradually left during the 1990s as far as I know.

What’s unusual about this – apart from the other false claims – is that according to some netizens, Mikhail “Misha” Allakhverdov’s last name was not genuinely Armenian. Aha! they cried. In reality, there is nothing “suspicious” about that name. Google or Yandex Аллахвердов AND Армения and you’ll find plenty of genuinely Armenian Allakhverdovs.

Take Andrey Allakhverdov, one of the Greenpeace 30, the group’s spokesman recently granted bail by a St. Petersburg court. He was born in Yerevan but has lived in Moscow since he was two. I cannot find the link but I think someone suggested that he was a descendant of the Soviet spy Mikhail Allakhverdov, a Soviet resident in Turkey and Afghanistan in the 1930-40s. He was an Armenian from Shusha in Nagorny Karabakh (see Mandeshtam’s poem The Phaeton Driver (Faetonschik)).

There is also a region of Armenia called Alaverdi.

It is not at all unusual for Armenian names to be derived from other languages. Take Melikov or Melikyan, for instance, clearly going back to the Arab word for “king.” According to Wikipedia, “…Armenia was constantly fought over and passed back and forth between the dominion of Persia and the Ottomans. At the height of the Ottoman-Persian warsYerevan changed hands fourteen times between 1513 and 1737.”

That’s why we should expect both Turkic and Persian roots in Armenian names. Unfortunately I cannot say whether “Allakhverdov” has anything to do with “Allah verdi” meaning “God gave” in Turkish. I don’t know if it is connected to the region of Alaverdi or to the name of the Persian general Allahverdi Khan, a convert of Georgian descent; or the old Persian and modern Armenian word “vard,” “rose.” But it’s definitely not “un-Armenian.”


  1. “It is not at all unusual for Armenian names to be derived from other languages.”

    Indeed. There was a medieval Armenian noble dynasty called Hasan-Jalalyan, founded by Hasan-Jalal Dawla, an Armenian with a thoroughly Arabic name. I believe “Melikyan” comes from the rank of this kind of noble, “melik” (from the Arabic for “king”).

    Armenian culture has absorbed a lot of foreign influences. For example, the elite of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (the last independent Armenian state before the 20th century) became quite “Frenchified” during the Crusades, so you get Armenian names such as “Zabel” (derived from the French “Isabelle”). Also, the Armenian equivalent of “Mister” is “baron” or “paron”. The origin of that is too obvious to point out.

    • Also consider Mikhail Loris-Melikov, a descendent of rulers of Lori, a region in the north of Armenia, the “velvet dictator” or “dictator of the heart” in 1880-1.

      I didn’t know about the Crusader influence – it might explain why names like Robert and Albert are popular with Armenians in Russia and Armenia.

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