Reviews

Unfortunately based on an unspecified fieldwork and deprived of a critical apparatus of any kind, this paper deals with the question of the assimilation of the Gypsies of Armenia with the Armenians, through the recent evolution of their self-designation, and of their designation by the surrounding Armenian majority.  Among signs of assimilation, the author mentions the fact that only a few Armenian Gypsies know their own language, that is used mostly as a ‘secret language’ (viz. a means of mutual reconnaissance), their adhesion to the Armenian Apostolic Church, and overall the fact that they are inclined to consider themselves Armenians.  From the viewpoint of outsider-designation, the author surveys a series of pejorative denomination: ethnic (Bosha [derived by folk etymology from the Turkish boş—“empty, vacant”], Gnchu [from the verb gnchel, “to stammer”]) or confessional (Mashagorts, lit. “sieve makers”—this word appears in the nineteenth century as an ethnic denomination for purpose of compromise between the two communities, in order to avoid the disdainful words Bosha and Gnchu).  Gypsies tend to use the word Lom to signify themselves, with a positive meaning, as opposed to the Armenians, this denomination appearing in internal use only.  The author astutely notes the permanence of stereotypes:  If in pre-modern times Boshas were regarded primarily as beggars, or vagabond sieve makers, during the Soviet period and thereafter their engagement in petty trading owed them bad reputation in a society traditionally hostile to the notion of speculation:  “A Bosha is an impudent person who has lost all sense of shame—a biznesmen”.  An excellent and subtle illustration of lasting ethnic and social stereotypes in former Soviet Central Eurasia, and of their mental integration by minorities, in spite of the economic and social upheavals of the long twentieth century.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-7.3.B-625