As mentioned in our previous series of articles, in the Middle Ages the Gypsy-Boshas quickly began to adapt to the Armenian environment, becoming predominantly Armenian-speaking and Christian, and gradually, naturally, and voluntarily integrated into the Armenian people.
Already in the 19th century, to describe this unique community, all Armenian researchers used the nomenclature “Armenian-Boshas”, emphasizing the fact that they were part of the real Armenians. All the facts prove that the Armenian Bochas were bearers of the Armenian identity in the broadest sense and answered the question of their nationality with a short answer: “I am Armenian”. According to Gr. Vantsyan, an Armenian educator, the poet Harutyun Alamdaryan and his sister, an Armenian Bosha on her mother’s side, Kerovbe Patkanyan, an eminent Armenian linguist and Orientalist, were original Boshas.
On the other hand, the Armenian-Boshas were quite different from the “ordinary” Armenians; they continued to live exceptionally self-sufficiently, with closed intra-community relations, albeit with a simple, somewhat backward lifestyle. They spent the winter in huts rented from Armenians and could move from region to region in the spring. It should be noted that mixed marriages between Armenian Boshas and Armenians did not occur in practice. It should also be noted that the Boshas, who were considered Christian Armenians and were baptized like all Armenians, were in fact indifferent to religious matters and rituals. They had no taste for education and rarely sent their children to school. Incidentally, the Armenian Boshas were known for their exceptional respect for the law and their tranquility. According to Gr. Vantsyan there was no known case of a Bosha being convicted in a criminal case.
The occupation of the Armenian Boshas was very specific: the men made flour sieves, sometimes also some other small household items or wooden toys for children, there were also horseshoers, donkey and horse veterinarians, as well as good musicians, entertaining speakers and storytellers, they traveled from village to village and participated in the ceremonies of the Armenians. The men, however, mostly stayed at home, making sieves and taking care of the children. The pillar of the Bosha family and the main breadwinner was the woman.
Because of the promiscuity of Bosha women, the word “bosha”, when used as an adjective in Armenian, has acquired the meaning of “vagrant, pushy beggar”, which is why the Bosha themselves avoid this name, considering it contemptuous and derisive. As for the language of the Armenian-Bosha, which they call Lomavren (lom + Armenian suffix (e)ren), it has acquired a very interesting physiognomy over the centuries, with a vocabulary of Indian origin (already in the 19th century barely 500-600 native Gypsy words were preserved) and Armenian grammar. In the 19th century, a significant part of the Boshas hardly knew the Lomavren language, and it acquired the status of a secret language for the Boshas who became Armenian speakers, used mainly for closed communication purposes.
After the massacres of Armenians in 1915, the Boshas of Western Armenia moved to Eastern Armenia. During the Soviet period, Armenian Boshas lived in Soviet Armenia, mainly in Yerevan, Sari tagh, Kanaker (“Boshi tagh”), Nor Marash districts, Nor Kharberd village, Gyumri (“Boshi maila”) and elsewhere, as well as in Javakhk, mainly in Akhalkalak and Akhaltskha. However, it was during this period that the Armenian Boshas almost finally “became Armenians”. As clear evidence of this, the Boshas were not separately mentioned as a national minority until 1926, when the census counted only a few dozen people.
During the twentieth century, the lifestyle of the Armenian Boshas underwent significant changes: over time, they became practically sedentary, moreover, due to the decrease or lack of demand on the one hand, and the change in lifestyle and worldview of young people on the other hand, especially in the 1970s and 80s, they rarely practiced the traditional trades, including sieving.
In the 1990s, due to the deterioration of the socio-economic situation, for a while Boshas (this time mainly men) were seen selling or exchanging sieves and other small items in the Armenian settlements, but this was short-lived. Now we can really talk about the ancient or extinct Armenian Boshas, who, having lost the last shreds of their traditional character, are practically no different from the “remaining” Armenians in terms of lifestyle and occupations.
Ashkhen Virabyan, journalist-analyst of Western Armenia TV