Dakhanavar: The Armenian Vampire
Vampires, at least in the world of entertainment have slowly been outnumbering their human counterparts over the last two years or so. With the adolescent phenomenon known as Twilight saturating the market with a book series and subsequent book-based films, as well as Charlaine Harris’ charming Sookie Stackhouse series that launched HBO’s “True Blood” series, whose second season premiere this year made it the most watched original program since the finale of “The Sopranos.” Then there’s films like “Thirst,” critically acclaimed “Let the Right One In” and the 2011 adaptation of “Fangland.” The list going forward or back does not stop there. Human fascination with the concept of the vampire has been around for millenia, with each cultural group having their own interpretations of the undead, including Armenians.
In “Transcaucasia: Sketches of the Nations and Races Between the Black Sea and the Caspian,” published in 1854, Baron von Hauxthausen recalls the tale told to him by his travel guide, Peter Neu, about a cruel Armenian vampire named “Dakhanavar” or “Dashanavar” that lived in the mountains who had a strange and unusual way of killing victims.
“On our right rose the glaciers of Allagas and at two miles from Erivan commenced the mountains of Ultmish Altotem, stretching to a distance of forty or fifty versts. They are said to have 366 Valleys, respecting which Peter related the following Armenian legend,” wrote Hauxthausen.
“There once dwelt in a cavern in this country a vampire, called Dakhanavar, who could not endure anyone to penetrate into these mountains or count their valleys. Everyone who attempted this had in the night his blood sucked by the monster, from the soles of his feet, until he died. The vampire was however at last outwitted by two cunning fellows: they began to count the valleys and when night came on they lay down to sleep, taking care to place themselves with the feet of the one under the head of the other. In the night the monster came, felt as usual and found a head: then he felt at the other end, and found a head there also. “Well,” he cried. “I have gone through the whole 366 Valleys of these mountains, and have sucked the blood of people without end, but never yet did I find any one with two heads and no feet!” SO saying, he ran away and was never more seen in that country; but ever after the people have known that the mountain has 366 Valleys.”
Unlike vampire tales from Eastern Europe and the Western world, there are not many documented sources of Dakhanavar whose name could stem from the Armenian word “dajan,” meaning “cruel.” Given that many popular vampires like Dracula and the like are ruthless creators who know how to lure their victims and don’t easily give up, Mr. Dakhanavar is pretty, well, incompetent as vampires go. Still, Jonathan Maberry author of “Vampire Universe: The Dark World of Supernatural Beings That Haunt Us, Hunt Us and Hunger for Us” describes the superstitions still associated with the Armenian vampire of the mountains.
“The Dakhanavar is ferociously territorial and will assault anyone who tries to make a map of its lands, or even count the hills and valleys in the region, correctly fearing that a thorough knowledge of the landscape would reveal all of its secret hiding places.
Even today some travelers in Armenia, particularly those going into the region of Mount Ararat, generally take precautions against evil beings such as Dakhanvar. Often, they put small cloves of raw garlic in various pockets or mash it up and rub the paste on their shoes. At night, if camping out of doors, these travelers build a large fire and toss garlic bulbs into the flames. The combination of garlic aroma and a blazing fire will drive almost all of the world’s many species of vampires away.”