The Legend Of Akhtamar Island
This legend is very popular in Armenian families. Older generation tells it to their children and grandchildren, carried away into the past, to those times, when royal families still ruled in Armenia, thus, not allowing to forget about the traditions, customs and fortitude of the Armenian people.
Long ago, in ancient times, King Artashes had a beautiful daughter named Tamar. Tamar’s eyes shone like stars in the night, and her skin was white as snow on the mountains. Her laughter gurgled and rang like water from a spring. The glory of her beauty went everywhere beyond Armenia. Many kings and princes sent matchmakers to King Artashes, and King began to fear that someone would come for his daughter with the war, or the evil Vishap (dragon) will kidnap the girl before he decides to whom to give his daughter in marriage.
And then the King ordered to build a golden palace for his daughter on an island in the middle of Lake Van, which has long been called the “The Sea of Nairi”, so big the lake was. And he gave to her servants, to be only women and girls, so that no one would disturb the peace of the beauty.
But the King did not know, that Tamar’s heart was no longer free. And she gave it away not to the king or to the prince, but to the poor fellow, who had nothing in the world except his handsomeness, strength and courage. And Tamar managed exchange with the young man a look and a word, and later an oath and a kiss.
But now the waters of Lake Van lie between the lovers. Tamar knew that by order of her father, a day and night, the guard watches to see if the boat sails from the shore to the forbidden island. Her lover knew this too. And one evening, wandering in longing on the shore of Lake Van, he saw a distant fire on the island. Small like a spark, the flame trembled in the darkness, as if trying to say something.
And peering far away, the young man whispered:
“Distant bonfire, is it me, that you send your light?
Aren’t you pretty beauties’ “hello”?”
And the light, as if answering him “yes”, flared brighter. Then the young man realized that the beloved is calling him: if at nightfall you set off across the lake and swim – not a single guard will notice the swimmer. The fire on the shore will serve beacon so as not to stray in the dark.
And the lover threw himself into the water of the lake and swam towards the distant light, to where the lovely Tamar was awaiting for him. He swam in the cold dark waters for long time, but the scarlet flower of fire inspired courage in his heart.
And only the bashful sister of the Sun, the Moon, looking out from behind the clouds from the dark sky, was a witness to the meeting of lovers. They spent the night together, and in the morning the young man again set off on his return journey.
So they began to meet every night. In the evening, Tamar made a fire on the shore, so that the beloved can see where to swim. And the light of the flame served the youth as talisman against dark waters that open at night the gates to the underworlds, inhabited by hostile water spirits.
But one day, the royal servant saw the young man in the morning returning from the lake. Wet, his hair was matted and water was dripping from it, and his happy face seemed tired. And the servant suspected the truth. And that same evening, shortly before dusk, the servant hid behind a stone on the shore and waited. And he saw how a distant fire was lit on the island, and he heard a slight splash with which the swimmer entered into the water.
The servant hurried to the King in the morning. King Artashes was furiously angry. The King was angry, that his daughter dared to fall in love, and even angrier at that she loved not one of the mighty kings that asked her hand, but the poor man! And the King ordered his servants to be at the shore ready with fast boat.
And when the darkness began to fall, the King’s people sail to island. When they had sailed more than half way, the island’s red bonfire flower blossomed. And the servants of the King leaned on the oars, in a hurry.
Coming ashore, they saw the beautiful Tamar, dressed in gold embroidered clothes, smeared with fragrant oils. From under her colorful cap fell on the shoulders the curls of her hair as black as agate. The girl was sitting on carpet spread on the shore, and feeding the fire with twigs of the magic Juniper. And in her smiling eyes, as the reflections in the dark waters of Van, small fires burned.
Seeing the uninvited guests, the girl jumped up in fright to her feet and exclaimed:
“You, the servants of my father! Kill me!
I pray for one thing – do not extinguish the fire!”
And the royal servants were glad to take pity on the beauty, but they feared the wrath of King Artashes. Roughly they seized the girl and dragged her away from the fire, into the golden palace. But first they gave her to see how the fire perished, trampled and scattered under their boots. Tamar wept bitterly, and the death of her fire seemed to her the death of a loved one.
So it was. There was a young man in the middle of the dark lake, when the light that had beckoned him went out. And the dark waters start pulling him into the depths, filling his soul with cold and fear. Before him lay darkness and he did not know where to swim. For a long time he fought black will of water spirits. Every time the head of an exhausted swimmer appeared from the water, his gaze with a prayer searched in the darkness for red firefly. But he did not find it, and again he swam at random, and the water spirits slowly circled above him.
And finally the young man was exhausted.
“Ah, Tamar!” he whispered, emerging from the water for the last time. Why you did not save the fire of our love? Is it really my destiny to sink into the dark water, and not to fall on the battlefield, as a warrior should!? Oh, Tamar, what an inauspicious death it is!”
He wanted to say that, but he couldn’t. Only one thing he had the strength to exclaim: “Ah, Tamar!”
“Ah, Tamar!” echoed the spirit of the wind, and carried over the waters of Lake Van. “Ah, Tamar!”
And the King ordered the beautiful Tamar to be imprisoned forever in her palace. With the grief and sorrow till the end of days, she mourned her beloved, without taking off her black scarf from loose hair. Many years have passed since then – everyone remembers their sad love…
And the island on Lake Van has been called Akhtamar ever since.
In the response to this legend there was a launch of the exclusive brand of Armenian cigarettes with a black filter, called “Akhtamar”, which were very hard to get in the Soviet Union, and were only obtained through an acquaintance, and the “Akhtamar” brandy.
The “Akhtamar” is a selective Armenian brandy, produced since 1967. With its deep mysterious rich color, it personifies the sadness of the beautiful princess Tamar who lost her lover. Many in Armenia call this brandy “the lovers drink”.