The Origin of Abazajian Surname


We know that at the end of the 19th century the family lived in Rodosto (now Tekirdag, formerly also called Bizanthi), about 135 km west of Constantinople (now Istanbul). In 1915, during the Armenian Genocide and concurrent ethnic cleansing, Turkish regular army and Kurdish irregulars drove the family, mostly on foot, across entire Turkey. Some members of the family perished or became separated from the rest. The survivors settled in Mosul, Iraq, and later relocated to Baghdad. One daughter, separated from the family, much later was located in Bulgaria.

The middle suffix -ji- in Abaza-ji-an is an Armenian version of Turkic “-çi” or “-smith,” as in “blacksmith”. For example, the famous cymbal manufacturer’s name Zildjian came from Turkish “Zild” – “bell” or “cymbal” and “ji” – “smith” or “maker”. Thus Zildjian is “cymbal-maker”, well-known since 1623. Such names are always Western Armenian, since they had to have practiced a trade in Turkey to acquire the Turkish -ji- suffix. Other examples are Kazanji-an – “kettle-maker”, Tutunji-an – “tobacco- or cigarette-maker”, Kurkji-an – “fur-maker” or furrier, Deukmenji-an – “metalworker”.

“-ian”: Armenian connotation of belonging to someone or something, as in “son (or daughter) of.”

There is a question as to what “Abaza-” may have meant. The suffix -ji- implies that it must have been an object that was manufactured or produced by a tradesman. There are three possibilities (1):

1. Abaza were equestrian decorative medallions or pendants originally made by the Abaza tribe of northern Caucasus (ethnically related to Abkhaz).

2. Wax amulets made from church candles worn to remind the wearer of a vow they made were also called “abaza”.

3. Abaz or abaza was a small Persian silver coin that was widely traded in Trans-Caucasus. Among other references, Lev Tolstoy mentioned its existence in his memoirs of Caucasian service (1,2).

All three items are distantly related to each other in a wider sense of being decorative accouterments. Small silver coin, punched and threaded, was and is often used in the Middle East as precious, yet inexpensive costume jewelry. Perhaps Abazajian meant “son of ornament-maker” or “son of bijouterier”.

The first mention of Turkish-affiliated name Abaza was in 1622, when Abaza Mehmed, Pasha of Erzerum (Theodosiopolis), rebelled against the Ottoman sultan Osman II.  Another Abaza, Siyavuş Pasha, possibly a member of the same family, briefly became an Ottoman Grand Vizier in 1651.  He also held the post two more times, in 1656 and 1687/88, for a few months at a time (3).  In 1711 Ilia Andreyevich Abaza, possibly a representative of the same family, was captured by or came over to the Russians during one of many Russo-Turkish wars, swore allegiance to the czar and founded a Russian noble house.  One of his descendants became a high-placed advisor to the czar in the 19th century(1).  Although some historians think Abaza Mehmed and Abaza Siyavuş Pashas may have come from the Caucasian Abaza tribe, Russian records indicate that Ilia Andreyevich Abaza was an Orthodox Christian and may have been Armenian, inferring that Abaza Mehmed and Siyavuş Pashas may have been Armenian as well.

Genographic analysis shows that on the paternal side the family belongs to a relatively rare genotype which crossed the land bridge from Africa either before or after the main wave of migration, settled in the Middle East and, during Neolithic period, migrated to the Balkans. Most of the Abazajian paternal ancestors did not move much in the succeeding 10,000 to 20,000 years, ending the 19th century in Rodosto in eastern Thrace. They have witnessed the Persian armies crossing the Bosphorus on their way to Marathon and Thermopylae, Alexander the Great’s conquering army preparing for their invasion of Asia, Diadochi armies crisscrossing Thrace in search for innumerable battles. They probably prospered under the benevolent Roman rule and saw the Basilei travel through the countryside. They survived the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and the tyrannical rule of the Sultans. The Armenian Genocide, the first Genocide of the modern age, succeeded in what thousands of years and hundreds of wars could not, scattering family members to Iraq, Bulgaria, Russia and, eventually, the United States.

— Researched and written by Armen Abazajian

(1) B. O. Unbegaun, “Russian Surnames”, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1972,

(2)  Толковый словарь Ушакова,

(3) Charles Wilkins, Wake Forest University, “Aleppo in the ‘The Age of Rebellious Governors’: The Revolts of Seydi Ahmed Pasha (1655-56) and Abaza Hasan Pasha (1658-59).” delivered at the 2006 Middle Eastern Studies Association Conference, Boston,  MA.



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