The soundtrack to Fanaa was playing in the background, and I was finishing reviewing the most recent Arabic lesson’s vocabulary when I was reminded of another Arabic loanword found in Sayat Nova’s poetry. His Doon en hoorin is (You Are A Nymph) has a line where he says:
Toor, indzi spane, ikhtiar unis!
I believed that this translated roughly as, “Come (lit., give), kill me, you have the right.” The modern Eastern Armenian translator renders ikhtiar as iravunk’, which is where my translation of ikhtiar as “right” comes from. In the context of the poem, this rendering might make perfect sense, since the gusan is talking about the authority of the beloved to order his death, where she plays the role of a khan or some other powerful figure. Yet my Arabic lesson tells me that the primary meaning of ikhtiar is “choice” and the dictionary confirms that it means selection, preference or even free will in certain usages. Fortunately, there is a way out of this contradiction.
Ikhtiar (or ikhtiyar as Hans-Wehr transliterates it) can also mean “option” in Arabic, which would also fit the context of the poem. It would not, however, bear out the translator’s decision to use iravunk’. This rendering does manage to convey some of the meaning, but does not capture exactly what the poet was saying. Still, I can appreciate the translator’s quandary, since the main Armenian word for choice is entrut’yun, which is a bit more cumbersome. So, eight weeks in intensive Arabic have at least brought me some new insight into Sayat Nova. Park’ Astutso!