Mehmet Kuşman, 74, is one of the 38 people in the world who can speak, write and read the Urartian language.
Kuşman has served for 40 years as the watchman of Çavuştepe Castle, an Urartian castle in the eastern province of Van’s Gürpınar district. He still voluntarily keeps watch on the castle. He gives information about the castle and the Urartians to visitors.
Kuşman was given a residence permit from the U.S. to teach the Urartian there and has also received proposals from Japan, but did not accept these proposals because could not leave the castle, to which he is loyal.
Kuşman learned the Urartian language himself while keeping watch at the Çavuştepe Castle. He has also taught the language to his son. Academics are interested in Kuşman, who has participated in many seminars in Turkey and around the world. He thinks universities should have an Urartulogy department to keep the language alive, similar to the Sumerology and Hititology departments. “I am the youngest among the people who speak this language. This language should be taught to young people and kept alive,” he said.
Kuşman met with the Urartian language when he began working for the Van Museum more than 40 years ago. Later on, he was appointed to the Çavuştepe Castle to deal with excavation teams and tourists visiting the castle. His interest in the Urartian language started then, he says, and continues:
“Tourists did not come there in the past. An inscription was found during excavations. The academic tried to understand it, but he couldn’t because it was not his field of study. Then another academic named Emin Bilgiç came and he solved it. A year later, Professor Afif Erzen from the Istanbul University Faculty of Literature came here. Again some inscriptions were found. The professor was saying ‘how can I read it now?’ I asked him if I could learn it. But he became angry with me. His assistant said ‘there are no visitors, no tourists, you have time; you can learn it. You can find Urartian inscriptions wherever you are.’ He encouraged me and I collected inscriptions. I matched the letters of the names of kings, queens, castles and gods side by side. It came out to be 64 letters and I solved the Urartian writing.”
Residence permit from the US
Thanks to the Urartian language, Kuşman’s life has changed. The media learned that he could speak and write Urartian. Then, the Culture and Tourism Ministry invited him to a symposium in Ankara. After learning about him, many Turkish universities invited him to give information about the Urartian language. The U.S. offered him a residence permit to teach the language. Also, a Japanese tourist, who visited the castle, offered him a $4,000 monthly wage, as well as many other opportunities to him, to teach Urartian to his children. But Kuşman did not want to leave his family and rejected all these invitations.
Stating that he makes a living with Urartian, Kuşman says, “At first, I was thinking what would change if I learn it. But happily, I learned it. Now I write the Urartian alphabet, writing on stone tablets and sell them. Many state officials have them.”