Turkey, Urartian language speaker retires

This is one of the last people in the world to speak the Urartu language

At 82 years old, Mehmet Kuşman is one of the 12 people who speak the ancient language of the Kingdom of Urartu… and one of the youngest.

Mehmet Kuşman, who at 82 is one of the last people in the world to speak the Urartu language, and who for 60 years has worked as a guard at Çavuştepe Castle – built almost 3,000 years ago in Van province, in Eastern Turkey – has finally announced its retirement.

Kuşman, who has announced that he will leave his post next November, had been working for the last 17 years as a volunteer in this thousand-year-old castle, after the president of the General Directorate of Heritage and Museums asked him to continue in the position. It was in this same fortification, located in the Gürpınar district and built by order of King Sarduri II between 764 and 734 BC, that he taught himself Urartian by working as a watchman.

When he started working, tourists rarely came to visit the castle, so Kuşman had a lot of free time. Even some expert archaeologists felt offended when he asked if he could learn to read a language they themselves did not understand. The place had inscriptions everywhere, and he had plenty of time and interest, so he began to investigate on his own.

He combined the letters of the names of the kings, queens, castles and gods of the ancient Kingdom of Urartu, and ended up deciphering the Urartian alphabet, which has 64 letters. “Then I went to Iran and Syria to examine and take notes on the inscriptions written (there) in Urartian. Later, I learned the language, and I began to form words”, explains the man, who came to learn some 650 words of this ancient language at that time.

Only 12 people in the whole world speak Urartian

“If I went back to the day I started guarding, and got an offer to work somewhere else, I would choose to work here again. I have very good memories of this place,” says Kuşman, who in recent years has been earning a salary engraving on stones the Urartian language that he knows so well. He has lectured at universities, and was even offered a salary of $4,000 a month in Japan to teach Urartian, an offer he refused to stay in Turkey.

Kuşman is now one of the last people in the world to speak the language of Urartu, an ancient kingdom that ruled Eastern Anatolia between 860 and 590 BC after the fall of the Hittite Empire. Only 7 people in Turkey, and 12 in the whole world speak and understand Urartian… and despite his advanced age, he is in fact one of the youngest.