Recently, the article “The newly discovered code from the Tatev monastery” by Arsen Harutyunyan, a lithographer and candidate in historical sciences, was published. The article presented a three-part inscription recently discovered at the Tatev monastery, the contents of which, until now, have remained illegible.
A coded inscription was preserved on the southern outer wall of the main church of the Saint-Poghos-Petros monastery in Tatev. At some point, certain specialists attempted to decipher the contents of the inscription, but the work was done partially and incompletely. Several circumstances hampered the reading of the inscription, such as its high location, obscurity due to humidity, and the circular, mirror writing style.
Recently, the lithography expert Arsen Harutyunyan succeeded in deciphering the inscription with the help of high-quality photos. It became clear that it was written from right to left and in a circular, mirror writing style. The triple inscription shows that it was dedicated to three spiritual fathers: Father Anton, Father Stepanos, and Father Kirakos. Additionally, the names “Kolichan” and “Terin” were also read here, along with the date of the inscription (1537).
According to the author, the spiritual fathers mentioned in the inscription were visitor-donors who visited the Tatev monastery and made certain donations. In exchange, they were commemorated on the church walls. Apparently, the text was coded at the request of the donors, who sought to keep their identities secret.
As the author notes in his article, encryption or cryptography has deep roots in Armenian and world written cultural heritage. The basis of this phenomenon, known internationally as “Cryptography,” was to keep various facts and names secret and confidential, protecting them from the cruelty of ignorant people and passing them on to future generations.
Armenian cryptography, as a distinct scientific branch, has attracted the attention of Armenian and foreign researchers since the 19th and 20th centuries.
In circular cryptography, the letters are represented in an inverted manner, mainly mirrored, so that they can be read from right to left. According to researchers Hr. Acaryan and A. Abrahamyan, decoding such a cipher is possible and easy, using methods such as reflecting the writing in a mirror or copying it onto transparent paper and deciphering it by holding it up to the light.
Incidentally, other examples of circular ciphers are also known from Armenian lithographs. Similar inscriptions have been found in the village of Kurtan in the Lori region, the monasteries of Tanahat and Sevanavank, the village of Lichk in the Gegharkunik region, and so on.