Official Digitized Version by Victoria Arakelova; with errata fixed from the print edition

















On the Modern Politicization

of the Persian Poet Nezami Ganjavi


















 Yerevan Series for Oriental Studies


Edited by

Garnik S. Asatrian












Siavash Lornejad

Ali Doostzadeh







On the Modern Politicization

of the Persian Poet Nezami Ganjavi






Caucasian Centre for Iranian Studies

Yerevan 2012



Siavash Lornejad, Ali Doostzadeh



On the Modern Politicization

of the Persian Poet Nezami Ganjavi




Guest Editor of the Volume

Victoria Arakelova




The monograph examines several anachronisms, misinterpretations and outright distortions related to the great Persian poet Nezami Ganjavi, that have been introduced since the USSR campaign for Nezami’s 800th anniversary in the 1930s and 1940s. The authors of the monograph provide a critical analysis of both the arguments and terms put forward primarily by Soviet Oriental school, and those introduced in modern nationalistic writings, which misrepresent the background and cultural heritage of Nezami. Outright forgeries, including those about an alleged Turkish Divan by Nezami Ganjavi and falsified verses first published in Azerbaijan SSR, which have found their way into Persian publications, are also in the focus of the authors’ attention. An important contribution of the book is that it highlights three rare and previously neglected historical sources with regards to the population of Arran and Azerbaijan, which provide information on the social conditions and ethnography of the urban Iranian Muslim population of the area and are indispensable for serious study of the Persian literature and Iranian culture of the period.



ISBN 978-99930-69-74-4


The first print of the book was published by the Caucasian Centre for Iranian Studies in 2012.  Copyright is released to the public with the exception that all citations from the book must reference the authors and publisher. (S. Lornejad and A. Doostzadeh, On the Modern Politicization of the Persian Poet Nezami Ganjavi, edited by Victoria Arakelova, Caucasian Centre for Iranian Studies, Yerevan, 2012).


Note for the digitized version of the book by Victoria Arakelova:


A few modifications by the authors were regretfully received late by the editor and did not make the first print version (October 2012).  However, they have been included in the digitized version of the book which holds the same ISBN.  In the event of future prints of the book, these modifications will also be applied.


Some of the Misprints that were corrected include:


1) Pg 29:

From: Accept in parts that need more explanation –

To: Except in parts that need more explanation.


2)  Slight modifications in Section 3.5 with regards to the count of few words which did not change the actual percentages that were mentioned previously by the authors.


3) Page 150.

From: “Currently, Qatrān Tabrizi and Asadi Tusi (both were originally from Tus, but fled to Naxchivan during the Ghaznavid era)”

To: “Currently, Qatrān Tabrizi and Asadi Tusi (originally from Tus, but fled to Naxchivan during the Ghaznavid era)”


Note: The authors in many places of the book have already emphasized that Qatrān spoke the Fahlavi dialect of Tabriz as his native language and was a Western Persian (from the Iranian region of Azerbaijan and not from Khurasan).


4) Footnote 150: “Iranioans” changed to “Iranians”


5) Title of Section 3.1 which did not show up in the index of the print edition was re-inserted.

6) Page 135:

From “Habashi is not while”

To: “Habashi is not white”


7) Page 187:

From: “such poets”

To: “such writers”


8) Footnote 277:

From: Vyronis 2001

To: Vyrnois 1993.  Vyrnois 1993 added to the reference list.



Table of Contents


Preface. i

Introduction.. 1

Part I. 7

Anachronistic Terminology Used with Regard to Nezami. 7

1.1 Arrān and Azerbaijan.. 7

1.2 Iran and ‘Ajam... 12

1.3 Non-existent ethnicities and ethnonyms in the 12th century. 16

Part II. 21

The Soviet Concept of Nezami and the Arguments. 21

2.1 Nezami and the Persian Language. 22

2.2 Invention of an Arbitrarily Named “Azerbaijani School” or “Transcaucasian School” of Persian Literature by the Soviet School of Oriental Studies. 32

2.3 Nezami, the Sharvānshāh and the Layli o Majnun. 49

2.4 Turkish Language in the 12th Century. 57

2.5 “Dar zivar-e Pārsi o Tāzi”. 58

2.6 “Torkāneh-sokhan”. 64

2.7 Misinterpreting the Relationship of Nezami and the Sharvānshāh through Erroneous Readings  74

2.8 Distortion of the word “bidārtarak”. 80

Part III. 85

The Turkish Nationalist Viewpoint of Nezami and Recent Forgeries. 85

3.1 National Treason! 86

3.2 Fabrication of the History of Turks in the Caucasus. 90

3.3 Fabrication of a False Verse and a Turkish Divan Falsely Ascribed To Nezami 91

3.4 Invalid Claim: “Using Turkish Loan Words Means Being a Turk”. 93

3.5 Analysis of Pseudo-Turkish and Turkish Words in Nezami’s Works. 98

3.6 Misinterpretation of Symbols and Imagery. 109

3.7 “Turk” as an imagery for Soldier. 117

3.8 Invalid Claim: “Talking About a Turkish Ruler Means Being a Turk!”. 119

3.9 Was Nezami Selling Curd in Ethiopia!?. 127

3.10 Alleged “Turkish Phrases” in Nezami’s Works. 138

Part IV.. 143

New Sources on the Population of Azerbaijan, Arrān and Sharvān.. 143

4.1 Iranian Languages of Azerbaijan and Arrān.. 143

4.2 First-Hand Account on Ganja. 154

4.3 The Nozhat al-Majāles. 157

4.4 The Safina-ye Tabriz. 161

4.5 Some Information on Nezami’s Life. 168

4.6 Nezami’s First Wife and Her Name. 173

4.7 On the Term Tork-zād. 175

4.8 Nezami, a Persian Dehqān. 178

4.9 Nezami’s Persian Cultural Heritage. 183

Conclusion.. 189

Bibliography: 193

Index.. 208

Back Cover Reviews…...…..………………………………………………………………………………………….














The new Yerevan Series for Oriental Studies is conceived as a continuation of the Series of the Caucasian Centre for Iranian Studies, published in Yerevan since 1996. The latter, though having never been restricted to Iranian Studies, had a narrower thematic range. Predominantly aimed at the CIS auditorium, it was mainly published in Russian. The present Series is first and foremost an international initiative. As such, the Yerevan Series for Oriental Studies will include short monographs primarily in Western European languages.              

In the sixteen years of publishing the international journal Iran and the Caucasus (BRILL: Leiden-Boston), we have often faced a problem when an important contribution to the field remained beyond the journal’s scope because of its format.  Thus, the Series has been created to promote scholarly works, which successfully pass the peer-reviewing, but exceed the limited space allotted to articles in Iran and the Caucasus.

                The authors of the present monograph, Siavash Lornejad and Ali Doostzadeh, and I as the Guest Editor, are privileged to open the Yerevan Series with research on one of the pillars of the Persian poetry — Nizami Ganjavi.

Mediaeval Ganja was the native place of many outstanding figures — poets, historians, philosophers, etc. For instance, Jamāl al-Dīn Khalīl Sharvānī’s Nuzhat al-Majālis, an anthology of the 11th-13th century Persian literature, includes the works of 115 poets from northwestern Iran (Azerbaijan, Sharvān and Arran),  24 of them from Ganja alone. Thus, Nizami Ganjavi’s personality represents an essential part of the cultural phenomenon of mediaeval Ganja and wider, the Caucasian-Iranian culture. Alas, centuries later – initially as a result of the USSR nation-building policy and afterword as a result of nationalistic aspirations in the Azerbaijan Republic, the same phenomenon became an instrument for biased, pseudo-academic approaches and political speculations.

I would like to especially emphasise that while analysing the arguments of authors involved in politicised Orientalistics, Siavash Lornejad and Ali Doostzadeh respond to the phenomenon of distortions related to Nizami as such, without calling into doubt the positive contributions of such scholars as, say, Evgenij Eduardovich Bertel’s to the study of Persian literature. Yet, it was the invention of the so-called “Azerbaijani school” of Persian poetry and the political mislabeling of Persian literature as “Azerbaijani literature” by recognised Soviet scholars, which later allowed politicised amateurs to “substantiate” the annihilation of the Iranian heritage of Transcaucasia for the sake of a new “Azerbaijani” identity.

Several words should be said about the scholarly value of the present research as it is, apart from its reasoned critiques of the politicised use of culture. The comprehensive bibliography, including Western, Russian, Iranian, Armenian and other publications, which are seldom, if ever, considered together by modern authors, makes the book itself a significant source on the subject discussed, as well as on the history and culture of Shirvan and Arran. The work is based on a solid corpus of available sources, including recently published manuscripts related to the history of the region and its literary tradition.  What is particularly attractive is that the narration, with its amazing insight into the colourful atmosphere of Nizami’s Ganja, to a certain extent reconstructs the ethno-cultural landscape of the city, in which the great Persian poet lived.

A note about some technical aspects: The authors, the North America-based scholars prefer, naturally, the New Persian transcription of Arabo-Persian citations and names, including the poets’ name itself (Nezami). We decided to keep it unchanged, despite the tradition we follow to render the early Persian texts in the classical manner, i.e. according to the rules of the Persian pronunciation before the 15th century.

I am grateful to Prof. Dr. Garnik Asatrian, the General Editor of the Yerevan Series, for accepting the monograph for publication in the Series. I would also like to extend sincere thanks to Prof. Dr. Adriano V. Rossi for his valuable comments and notes, as well as to Dr. George Bournoutian and Dr. Paola Orsatti for their evaluation of this work.















ای نام تو بهترین سرآغاز

بی نام تو نامه کی کنم باز


Dedicated to the Memory of Prof. Mohammad-Amin Riāhi Khoi





The USSR anniversary campaign of the Persian poet Nezami which began in the late 1930s was politicized from its very beginning[1]. From the beginning of the campaign, scholarship and politics were combined together for the purpose of nation building[2]. The campaign culminated in the festivities in 1948, but its consequences have affected scholarship by introducing anachronistic terms as well as non-scientific misinterpretations of Nezami’s writings. The political ramifications of that campaign can be seen in ethno-nationalistic writings to this day, as well as works of some scholars who are not aware of sources which contain critical examinations of USSR nation-building scholarship. For example, one can mention the anachronistic and 20th century invented term “Azerbaijani School of Persian poetry” or “Azerbaijani style of Persian poetry” whereas Nezami Ganjavi, Mujir al-Din Baylaqāni, Dhulfiqār Sharvāni and other poets of the area have never used such a term. As shown, such a term is not encountered prior to the 20th century and it was solely invented for partition of Persian poetry along politically contrived basis. The poetry of these Persian poets indicates that they referenced their own style as the historical term of ‘Iraqi Style (see Part II). Another example is that some of these politicized USSR scholars like Bertels[3] have called the poetry of Nezami using the anachronistic and non-existent (in the 12th century) term “Azerbaijani literature” whereas Nezami himself has explicitly termed his poetry as Persian poetry (see Part II). However, this unscientific anachronism is still being applied in non-specialist literature and some non-scholarly English articles.

The politics surrounding the anniversary campaign and the nation building in USSR have been reviewed by some scholars[4]. Consequently, the aim of the present work is not to examine the politics surrounding this issue which has already been examined at varying level of details by the aforementioned scholars. Rather, we aim at critical examination of the politically driven arguments by the USSR scholars and also the writers with ethno-nationalist viewpoints.

These political fallacious claims have been collected and recently presented by authors writing from an ethno-nationalistic point of view[5]. Some of the Soviet and even ethno-nationalist viewpoints have also found their way into some English publications whose authors lack knowledge of the Persian/Arabic languages[6] and are politically biased[7]. The mainstream and specialized English publications that have been examined by us have not been affected or only minutely affected by the USSR campaign. These sources which are written by scholars of Persian literature and Nezami specialist, affirm clearly that the uniform consensus of Nezami scholars is that Nezami Ganjavi is a Persian poet and thinker[8].

However, a recent new trend is observed where some non-expert authors writing about the region have carelessly relied on politicized USSR and modern Azerbaijan Republic sources. These authors lack knowledge of the Persian language and consequently have no scholarly authority in the field of Persian literature. In order to compensate for this short-coming, they have relied on readily available politicized Soviet and modern Azerbaijan Republic sources to make invalid claims. Three authors who do not understand Persian are mentioned here to demonstrate this point[9]. In one recent book on ethnic music[10], the author who uses sources published in Soviet Union and Republic of Azerbaijan, claims that: “the poetry of Nezami contained expressions of spoken Turkish”[11] and “the ghazal is the essence of Azerbaijanian classical poetry created by native poets such as Nezami, Sharvāni, Fizuli, Nasimi, Natavan and Vagif”[12]. We note that neither Nezami nor Khāqāni wrote in any language called “Azerbaijanian” nor was such an anachronistic term used until the 20th century. They both wrote in Persian and the ghazal genre pre-exists the poetry of both poets. Also, as shown in Part IV, there is absolutely no proof that Nezami, who does not even have a single verse in Turkish, even knew Turkish.

In another recent book[13], the author claims that: “Nezami Ganjevi, because of his wide fame and enormous contributions to Persian-language literature, is seen as an example of interconnections between Turkish and Persian cultural strands, and of Azerbaijan’s place in Turco-Persian culture”[14]. However, the statement is not sourced, and there is no literary basis to claim that Nezami’s work shows an interconnection of such two strands. Nezami in his many works has referenced such works as Shāhnāma and the Quran (see Part IV below). However, there is no such reference in any work of Nezami for any Turkish language sources as the Oghuz nomads who had just entered the area lacked a written literature (see Part II). In another highly politicized book[15], Brenda Shaffer claims that: “Authors such as Nezami, who were of Azerbaijani ethnic origin but wrote most of their works in Persian”[16]. However, Nezami wrote all of his work in Persian and the notion that he wrote “most of his work” in Persian was first proposed in the political settings of the USSR (see Part I). Also there was no “Azerbaijani” ethnicity in the 12th century and the author who lacks knowledge of the Persian language and mainly writes about modern geopolitical matters, has revealed her bias.

The same author, in another politicized gathering about geopolitical matters, has made the wrong statement that: “Some have interpreted Khusraw to be an ancestor of today's Turks in the Caucasus, and Shiren as a woman who is an ancestor of Armenians”[17]. Therefore she has politicized the work of Nezami by attributing false interpretations to him. It is obvious that the Sassanid king Khusraw Parviz has nothing to do with the culture or language of Turks in the Caucasus. What is important to note is that some of these politicized authors are affiliated with universities in the West[18], and although they lack knowledge of the Persian language, this has not stopped them in using Soviet and post-Soviet Azerbaijan Republic based sources to make unsound and absurd claims about history in general and Nezami in particular.

The present book is divided into four parts. In Part I, we examine some anachronistic terminology and misplaced (in both space and time) terms with regards to the 12th century in which Nezami lived.

In Part II, we examine the politicized arguments that are found in the USSR literature. We provide the first known English translation of two sections of the Layli o Majnun of Nezami and examine it in the light of the Persian literature of time. We also examine the unsubstantiated term “Azerbaijani school of Persian literature” or “Azerbaijani style of Persian literature” and clearly show that such a concept did not exist at the time of Nezami. Rather, the poetry of Caucasian Persian poets such as Nezami, Mujir al-Din Baylaqāni, Dhulfiqār Sharvāni shows that they considered their own style to be part of the ‘Iraqi Style. This is still the most common category used for these poets in books about Persian literature studies.

In Part III, we look at arguments brought by Turkish authors with nationalist viewpoints, some of which are based on non-ethnic affiliated image/symbol of “Turk” in Persian poetry while others are outright falsifications of verses, unscientific extrapolation of sources and even false attribution of a Turkish Divan to Nezami. A list of arguments which were mainly created during the USSR era to support the thesis of an “Azerbaijani” (which actually meant a different idea in the Russian and Azerbaijan SSR) background of Nezami Ganjavi are found in Heyat and Manaf-Oglu[19]. Some of these contain outright fabrications while other arguments are anachronistic and imply bad reading of the verses.

In Part IV, we examine three important historical sources which have not been examined in the scholarly literature with regards to Nezami. We also look at some verses surrounding Nezami, his religion and specifically, a section about his first wife which provides conclusive evidence that he was not of Turkish background as claimed by the authors discussed in Part III. The book is concluded with a summary and future outlook.













Part I

Anachronistic Terminology Used with Regard to Nezami


The terminologies mentioned in this section should be known by scholars and historians who write about medieval Persian literature, medieval Islamic history or modern history. However, as shown in the previous section, this is sometimes not the case due to either lack of knowledge about ancient nomenclatures or political motivations. An overview is provided here because many authors might not be aware of how these terms have been used and changed due to political reasons.


1.1  Arrān and Azerbaijan 

The name Azerbaijan has an Iranian[20] root and derives from the Iranian satrap Atropates[21]. In the older new Dari-Persian form[22], the term is given as Ādharbādhagān / Ādharābādhagān which is used[23] by Nezami[24] and Adharbāyagān[25]. The Modern Persian form is pronounced as Āzarbāydjān. In the 12th century, the name Azerbaijan was almost unanimously used for the geographical region of North Western Iran whose boundary in the north was with Arrān (including Ganja), Sharvān and Armenia[26]. An important proof bearing on this fact is the examination of the numerous well known historical maps that has been drawn in the span of centuries by local Christian and Muslim geographers, as well as those drawn by Western cartographers[27]. The adoption of the name “Azerbaijan” in 1918 by the Mussavatist government for classical Caucasian Albania (Arrān and Sharvān) was due to political reasons[28]. For example, the giant orientalist of the early 20th century, Vasily Barthold has stated: “… whenever it is necessary to choose a name that will encompass all regions of the republic of Azerbaijan, the name Arrān can be chosen. But the term Azerbaijan was chosen because when the Azerbaijan republic was created, it was assumed that this and the Persian Azerbaijan will be one entity, because the population of both has a big similarity. On this basis, the word Azerbaijan was chosen. Of course right now when the word Azerbaijan is used, it has two meanings as Persian Azerbaijan and as a republic, it’s confusing and a question rises as to which Azerbaijan is being talked about”[29]. In the post-Islamic sense, Arrān and Sharvān are often distinguished while in the pre-Islamic era, Arrān or the Western Caucasian Albania roughly corresponds to the modern territory of republic of Azerbaijan. In the Soviet era, in a breathtaking manipulation, historical Azerbaijan (NW Iran) was reinterpreted as “South Azerbaijan” in order for the Soviets to lay territorial claim on historical Azerbaijan proper which is located in modern Northwestern Iran[30].

Nezami Ganjavi in his own work like Khusraw o Shirin has mentioned the queen Mahin Bānu as the ruler of “Arrān o Arman”[31] while mentioning Adharbāyagān[32] in the same epic poem, which clearly shows these were separate lands. In one of his ghazals[33], Nezami mentions his land as Arrān:


Do not be unjust to me, if you are from the lands of Arrān

مرا غلط مکن، ار تو ز شهر ارانی

Oh idol (beauty), Nezami does not come from the outskirts

نظامی، ای صنم از روستا نمی‌آید

Abu ‘Ala Ganjavi, himself a native of Ganja and contemporary of Nezami, has also called his native land as Arrān and contrasted it with Sharvān[34]:


I am now sixty and from the land of Arrān

مرا شصت سال است و از خاک اران

It is sixteen years that I have come to Sharvān

بوَد شانزده تا به شروان فتادم


Another poet who influenced Nezami Ganjavi and lived in Eastern Transcaucasia was Khāqāni Sharvāni. Khāqāni Sharvāni has also consistently called his land as Sharvān and not Azerbaijan. A keyword search in his divan shows that Arrān occurs at least 4 times, Azerbaijan occurs once, and Sharvān occurs more than 100 times[35]. Qatrān Tabrizi also has distinguished these three regions separately and has mentioned Arrān, Azerbaijan and Sharvān as separate lands[36].

Another source very close to Nezami Ganjavi’s time is the work History of Jalal al-Din Mangubirti (reigned in 1220-1231) written by a high official of his court, Shihab al-Din al-Nasawi (d. 1249). He was part of the entourage of the Khwarazmshāh Jalal al-Din Mangubirti and followed the Khwarazmshāh in the Caucasus and Azerbaijan, during the turbulent period of the Mongol invasion and recorded the events that he witnessed. In his book, he clearly distinguishes between Arrān and Azerbaijan[37]. Consequently, to even use the term “Azerbaijani” geographically for Ganja of the 12th century is an anachronism in the sense that the area at that time was geographically known as Arrān. Furthermore, some authors try to anachronistically define ancient poets by modern geographical territories whose ethnic characteristics have changed significantly in the last 1000 years. This method of naming is fallacious as calling an Armenian writer who was born in Ganja (see Part IV) as an “Azerbaijani” or calling Herodotus who was born in the territory that is now modern Turkey as “Turkish”. The same concept applies to Nezami Ganjavi who lived in the 12th century.

However, one author with a nationalist viewpoint[38] has used the different historical name for the Eldiguzid, that is “Atabegs of Azerbaijan”, to erroneously claim that the region of Arrān was also part of Azerbaijan. However, the author ignores that there was no ethnic concept attached to the Iranian word ‘Azerbaijan’ in the 12th century and so such a naming cannot have any sort of ethnic connotation. Furthermore, it should be noted that the term “Atabegs of Azerbaijan” for the Eldiguzids is simply a name used by later historians for the family itself rather than a name for an official geographical area[39]. For example, while their capital was in Tabriz (Azerbaijan proper), their territory extended to Northern Jebal, Ray, Hamadan and Isfahan[40], but this does not mean that these territories were called “Azerbaijan” in any official record of that period. Similarly, they did not control the area of Sharvān which was under the rule of Sharvānshāhs. As mentioned, Nasawi, who describes the battles between the Khwarazmshāhs and Eldiguzids, has clearly mentioned Arrān and Azerbaijan as separate lands. Similarly, later historians also used “Atabegs of Fars” (Salghurids) or “Atabegs of Yazd” or “Atabegs of Mosul” or “Atabegs of Maraghah” who controlled neighboring territories or cities, but it does not mean that their territory was officially designated by such names or there were official states with names such as Fars, Yazd, etc. Rather these are the names assigned to these dynasties by later historians for the territory of their main capital or political center. And even in this case, this term was not necessarily unique. For example, the term “Atabeg of Azerbaijan” was not unique to the Eldiguzids as it also has been used to reference an Ahmadili ruler who is called as the “Atabeg of Maragha and Azerbaijan”[41]. This clearly shows that such a title did not denote an official name of a nation state (which is anachronistic), but rather it was a title for the dynasties (not a name of a country or state or an empire) by historians to distinguish the Atabeg dynasties (mainly by the territory of their capital or their traditional power base) within the larger and decaying Saljuq Empire. A study of the works of Nasawi[42] and the Ilkhanid adaptation of Nishapuri[43] explicitly shows that Arrān and Azerbaijan are used as separate lands in their descriptions of the events of the 12th and 13th century.


1.2 Iran and ‘Ajam

The same writer has claimed that the name Iran did not exist[44] in the 12th century since it was reunited under a single government during the Safavid era. Although this is non-factual as there were other Iranian and non-Iranian dynasties which had united major portions of Sassanid Iran (such as Samanids, Saffarids, Buyids, Ilkhanids, etc.), what that writer forgets is that Iran just like India or China, existed for the Persian/Arabic (as well as Armenian as shown in Part IV) writers as an ethno-cultural-geographical region despite being ruled by a variety of dynasties. For many examples of this term being used prior to Nezami Ganjavi, one can refer to the comprehensive article by Jalal Matini which has cited numerous examples from medieval Arabic texts, Persian poets and officials, as well Persian manuscripts of the Samanid, Ghaznavid, Saljuqid, Mongol, Timurid, Turcoman and Safavid eras[45]. Since the wide occurrence of the name Iran has been examined therein, we briefly provide sufficient examples from Nezami Ganjavi, Khāqāni Sharvāni and Hamdollah Mostowfi Qazvini.

The examples from Nezami are taken from verses from the prologue which is outside of the main stories. In the Haft Paykar, while addressing the local Ahmadili ruler of Maragha, ‘Ala a-din Korp Arslān, Nezami Ganjavi states[46]:


The world is a body, Iran its heart,

همه عالم تن است و ایران دل

No shame to him who says such a word (The word guyande refers to the poet: the poet (guyande, i.e. Nezami) feels not ashamed in making this comparison: “the world as a body and Iran as its heart”.)

نیست گوینده زین قیاس خجل

Iran, the world’s most precious heart

چون که ایران دل زمین باشد

Excels the body, there is no doubt

دل ز تن به بود یقین باشد

Among the realms the kings posses

زان ولایت که مهتران دارند

The best place goes to the best

بهترین جای بهتران دارند


C.E. Wilson[47], the early translator of the Haft Paykar into the English language comments on these three verses: “The sense is apparently, ‘since Persia is the heart of the earth, Persia is the best part of the earth, because it is certain that the heart is better than the body.’”

In the Layli o Majnun, in praise of the Sharvānshāh Axsitān[48]:


Especially a king like King of Sharvān 

خاصه ملکی چو شاه شروان

 Why (just) Sharvān? He is the King of Iran

شروان چه؟ که شهریار ایران


By the 9th century A.D., the word ‘Ajam had become equivalent to the ethnic and geographical designation of Persians and Persia respectively[49]. It was used by Iranians themselves as ethnic and geographical designation as shown for example by the debate of the “Arab and ‘Ajam” by Asadi Tusi[50], as well as the Shāhnāma of Ferdowsi[51]:


Where went Fereydun, Zahak and Jamshid?

کجا شد فریدون و ضحاک و جم

The Great Ones of  the Arabs, The Kings of the Persians

مهان عرب خسروان عجم


Like in the above example from Ferdowsi, Nezami Ganjavi has also used this term for the Sassanid realm and has called the domain of Bahram Gur as ‘Ajam (Persia) and Molk-e ‘Ajam (Persian realm)[52]. However, even outside the main body of the stories, Nezami Ganjavi has praised the Eldiguzid ruler Atabak Shams al-Din as the King of the Persian Realm. For example in the Khusraw o Shirin, Nezami states[53]:


In that day that they bestowed mercy upon all,

در آن بخشش که رحمت عام کردند

Two great ones were given the name Muhammad,

دو صاحب را محمد نام کردند

One whose essence was the seal of prophethood,

یکی ختم نبوت گشته ذاتش

The other who is the Kingdom’s Seal, in his own days

یکی ختم ممالک بر حیاتش

One whose house/zodiac is moon of the Arabs

یکی برج عرب را تا ابد ماه

The other who is the everlasting Shāh of Realm of Persians

یکی ملک عجم را جاودان شاه


Another final example, Nezami Ganjavi, outside of his stories, calls upon the Prophet of Islam[54]:

Come to Persia (‘Ajam), do not stay in Arabia

سوی عجم ران، منشین در عرب

Thou hast the light and dark steeds of night and day

زرده‌ی روز اینک و شبدیز شب

Adorn the Empire and refresh the world.

مُلک برآرای و جهان تازه کن

Blossom both worlds with thy name and fame

هر دو جهان را پرآوازه کن

An examination of the number of occurrences of some regional geographic terms in the work of Nezami reveals that the term Iran has appeared 32 times, ‘Ajam has appeared 21 times, Arman (Armenia) has appeared 23 times (mostly in KH), Ādharābādhagān appears twice (like the form in the Shāhnāma), Adharbāyagān appears once (like the form in the Vis o Ramin) and Arrān appears twice (one time in the ghazals and one time in the pentalogue).

The Persian poet Khāqāni Sharvāni who was an older contemporary of Nezami has also used the word ‘ajam in the sense of Persian. One of his pen-name which he referenced himself with is Hessān al-‘Ajam which means the Persian Hessān. This title for him shows that he believed his place among the Persians is like the place of the celebrated Arabian poet Hessān ibn Thabit among the Arabs. We can see in his Divan that he considers his land as part of Persia and calls Axsitān as the Shāh of Persia[55]:


The king of ‘Ajam (Persia) Axsitān who took the religion

شاه عجم اخستان که دین را

And decorated it by expanding justice

پیرایه ز عدل‌پروری ساخت


And in a poem dedicated to Axsitān[56] he mentions him as the Khāqān of Iran:


The Ka’aba will be clothed with the green of Nowruz

روَد کعبه در جامه‌ی سبز عیدی

If the Khaqan of Iran (Axsitān) holds a feast

مگر بزم خاقان ایران نماید


Khāqāni uses the terms ‘Ajam and Iran more than 50 and 30 times respectively[57]. Examples include praising the mother of Axsitān as the queen of Iran or praising the Eldiguzid Atabak Qizil Arslān or referencing his own land while in Arabia. He considered himself to be unequalled in Persia[58]:


In Persia (‘Ajam) there is none equal to me today

که نیست در عجم امروز کس قرینه‌ی من


The above examples clearly demonstrates that the cultural-geographical territory of Iran and ‘Ajam during the time of these Iranian Muslim poets included Azerbaijan (ruled by the Eldiguzids and small portion of it by the Ahmadilis), Arrān (ruled mainly by the Eldiguzids with occasional Georgian incursions and control) and Sharvān (ruled by the Sharvānshāhs). A century after Nezami Ganjavi, the Persian historian, government official and geographer Hamdollah Mostowfi Qazvini also mentioned Ganja as part of Arrān, as well as part of Iran in his work Nozhat al-Qolub[59]:


Several cities in Iran are more opulent than many others,

چند شهر است اندر ایران مرتفع‌تر از همه

Richer and more productive, by reason of climate and soil,

بهتر و سازنده‌تر از خوشی آب و هوا

Of these is Ganja, so full of treasure, in Arrān, Isfahān in `Irāq,

گنجه‌ی پر گنج در ارّان، صفاهان در عراق

In Khurāsān Marv and Tus, in Rum (Asia Minor) Āq Sarāy.

در خراسان مرو و طوس، در روم باشد آق‌سرا


So, the ethno-cultural-geographical concept of Iran/Persia as a geographical and ethnic designation was very real[60] to the authors of that era and was not simply references to the legend portions of their story. This is similar to other ancient territories like China, India, Greece (Rum in Islamic historiography), Armenia, etc., which despite being ruled by various kingdoms and having varying borders, were nevertheless, a concrete entity for the authors of that time.


1.3  Non-existent ethnicities and ethnonyms in the 12th century

Besides Azerbaijan, which as a historical territory in the 12th century has been illustrated in the maps of that era as an area in modern northwestern Iran and distinguished from Arrān, we should mention the term “Azerbaijani”. Prior to the late 19th century and early 20th century, the term “Azerbaijani” and “Azerbaijani Turk” had never been used as an ethnonym[61]. Such ethnonyms did not exist[62]. During the 19th century and early 20th century, Russian sources primarily referred to the Turcophone Muslim population as “Tatars” which was a general term that included a variety of Turkish speaker[63]. Under the Mussavatist government, in 1918 and during the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, the term “Azeri people” referred to all inhabitants while the Turkish-speaking portion was called “Azeri Turk”[64]. Thus the concept of an Azeri identity barely appears at all before 1920 and Azerbaijan before this era had been a simple geographical area[65].

In the Soviet era, due to political considerations, the ethnicity and the name of the language of the Turkish speaking Muslims was transformed to “Azerbaijani”.[66] During the Soviet nation building campaign[67], any historical event, past and present, that ever occurred in the territories of the modern Republic of Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan, was considered a phenomenon of “Azerbaijani culture”[68]. In this period, Iranian rulers and poets began to be assigned to the newly formulated identity for the Transcaucasian Turcophones[69]. During the Stalin era, Soviet and particularly Transcaucasian Turkish historians were obliged to formulate the ethno-genesis of the Turkish speakers of the region to the Iranian Medes and to break them off from any Turkish roots[70]. This is part of the reason that the arguments in Part III which derive mainly from a pro-Turkish nationalist viewpoint are treated differently than the Soviet arguments in Part II, although they sometimes do overlap.

As we shall discuss in Part II, Soviet  scholars such as Bertels, who were encouraged and coerced to follow the territorial principle of history, did not state a firm opinion on the ethnicity of the father of Nezami Ganjavi (they have described his mother as a Kurd/Iranian). Rather, they primarily tried to connect Nezami Ganjavi to the culture of Azerbaijan SSR through the territorial principle[71]. It was in the Stalin period that the Azerbaijanization of Nezami as that of Medes, Babak and other historical Iranian cultural heritages occurred in official Soviet historiography[72]. An example of this anachronistic and non-scientific viewpoint is seen in the fact that even the Zoroastrian holy book of Avesta was considered as part of the Azerbaijani literature in the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia. The 3rd edition of the Encyclopaedia under “Azerbaijani literature” states: “Among the ancient monuments of Azeri culture is also the ‘Avesta’ of Zoroaster, reflecting the religious, philosophical, socio-worldly conception of the ancients Azerbaijanis”[73]. We should also note that there is ambiguity between the term Azeri and Azerbaijani, since both ethnonyms have been adopted and used in reference to the Turkish speakers of Eastern Transcaucasia since the 20th century. Although some authors take these as synonymous, most authors use the first as a reference to the Transcaucasian Turkish group while the second, as that to the citizens of the country. However, in the state of the Azerbaijan Republic, “Azerbaijani” is used as both an ethnicity for the Turcophone population and also as a citizenship which may include non-Turkish ethnicities (including the autochthonous peoples, such as Talyshis, Lezgins, etc).

Modern historiography in the Republic of Azerbaijan on the ethno-genesis of Turkish people of Eastern Transcaucasia has tried to retroactively Turkify many of the peoples and kingdoms that existed prior to the arrival of Turks in the region[74]. The different theories of the Soviet Union and Azerbaijan SSR with regards to the ethnogenesis of Azeris are discussed in more detail elsewhere[75]. What is pertinent for this work is that at the time of Nezami Ganjavi, there was neither such a concept or self-identification, nor an ethnic group called “Azerbaijani”, “Azerbaijani Turkish”, “Azeri” or “Azeri-Turkish”[76]. Nezami Ganjavi has referenced a variety of people including Persians/Iranians/Kurd (Pārsi/Irāniān/Kord), Armenians (Armani), Turks (Tork), Arabs (Arab), Russians (Rus, likely reference to the Viking Rus), Indians (Hindi), Ethiopians (Habash), etc. As per Turks, we note that the Oghuz speakers of that time (which can be claimed to be the linguistic ancestors of the Turcophones of the country of Azerbaijan) might have shared a common tribal identity. Besides, it is important to note that the term “Turk” had a wider, non-ethnic and geographical reference in the Persian and Arabic writings, and it often included Iranian groups of Central Asia[77], and even Tibetans[78]. However, some authors were not aware of these facts and considered early Arabic references to “Turks” in Central Asia to denote Altaic speakers, while the term should be treated carefully since many early Arabic references use the term in the geographic sense for anyone from the wider area of Central Asia,[79] which at the time had a much larger Iranian speaking component than today. According to Bosworth, Central Asia in the early 7th century was “ethnically, still largely an Iranian land whose people used various Middle Iranian languages”[80]. The formation of Altaic speaking majorities in that region took place several centuries after Islam and a major impetus for this was the Mongol (majority of whose troops were of Turkic stock) destruction of the mainly Iranian speaking urban centers.

In conclusion, the terms “Azerbaijani”, “Azeri”, “Azeri Turk” or “Azerbaijani Turk” did not denote any specific ethnic group, culture or nationality in the 12th century. The correct term for Oghuz-Turkish speaking people (the claim in official Azerbaijan historiography seems to be that Nezami was an Oghuz Turk), i.e. the terminology used during that time was Oghuz/Ghuzz and Turcoman[81]. However, even the Soviet Union did not call Nezami a “Turcoman poet” or “Ghuzz poet”. Additionally, from the geographical point of view, the Iranian non-ethnic geographical term Azerbaijan does not include Arrān/Sharvān in the works of the poets of these periods and in the maps by the geographers of that time. So application of this term, in any historical sense or form, for a person from the 12th century Ganja of Arrān is incorrect. Correct terminology dictates that Nezami Ganjavi lived in historical Arrān; henceforth geo-cultural terms such as Arrānian, Caucasian and Eastern Trans-Caucasian Persian poet can be used to designate Nezami without causing any confusion. As noted, Nezami considered the variety of rulers whom he has praised as rulers of part of Iran or the Persian realm (Molk-e-Ajam). Additionally, the language of his work is solely Persian. Consequently, he is correctly considered part of Persian literature and not the invented Soviet term of “Azerbaijani literature” applied to him in the Soviet politicized writings.











Part II

The Soviet Concept of Nezami and the Arguments


In 1936, when the administrative status of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic was recognized, the Soviets deemed it necessary that it should have its own distinct identity and history[82]. This was not unique to Azerbaijan SSR; each Soviet entity was tasked to develop its identity within the wider Soviet framework[83]. The first secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist Party Mir Jafar Bagirov ordered Azerbaijani historians to rewrite history in order to represent the Azeri people as an indigenous population and cut them off from any Turkish roots[84]. In order for Azerbaijan SSR to have its own autochthonous national history, Armenian and Iranian cultural factors necessarily became conducive to rapid Azerbaijanization of historical heroes and cultural phenomena[85]. According to Shnirelman, “in 1938, the 800-year anniversary of Nezami was celebrated, and he was declared a great Azeri poet. In fact, he was a Persian poet that was no wonder, since the Persians accounted for the entire urban population in those days. This was recognized in all the encyclopedias published in Russia before the 1930s, and only in 1939 did the Big Soviet Encyclopedia call Nezami a ‘great Azeri poet’ for the first time”[86]. The sources that were mentioned in the Introduction have covered this politicization campaign in some detail[87]. A striking example of this politicization is the report in Pravda [“The Truth” – official Communist Party of the USSR Publication”] published in March 4th, 1939. According to this report, in a talk with the Ukrainian writer, Mikola Bazhan: “Comrade Stalin spoke of the Azerbaijani poet, Nezami, quoted his works to destroy the viewpoint by his own words that this great poet of our brotherly Azerbaijani people, should not be given to the Iranian literature, just because he wrote most of his works in the Iranian language. Nezami, in his poems himself asserts that he was compelled to resort to the Iranian language, because he is not allowed to address his own people in his native tongue.”[88] It is obviously well known that if one challenges Stalin’s opinion in the USSR, it would have been politically incorrect, with possible severe consequences.


2.1 Nezami and the Persian Language

Two major fabrications have been propagated ever since this verdict by Stalin. The first falsification is that Nezami Ganjavi wrote “most” (where it is actually all) of his work in the Persian language and Stalin’s verdict has falsely hinted that he “could have” had works in Turkish. However, Nezami mentioned several times his skill in composing Persian poetry; he never mentioned composing in any other language and all of his works are in Persian. The second distortion is that Nezami was forced to write in the Persian language; in other words implying that someone can create five masterpieces in distress due to force. Whereas Nezami Ganjavi emphasized that he composed his poem out of love and not for money. For example, in the Sharaf-Nāma[89]:


If I had told this story for Gold

گر این نامه را من به زر گفتمی

How could I have pierced shells and brought pearls then?

به عمری کجا گوهری سفتمی

Truly it was love that brought this magnificent work

همانا که عشقم بر این کار داشت

Love had a lot of people who did not seek Gold and Silver.

چون من کمزنان عشق بسیار داشت


And the quatrains and many of the ghazals of Nezami which were not dedicated to any king, also clearly show that Nezami passionately composed Persian poetry on his own free will. Besides, Nezami was not a court poet; he had much more freedom to write in the language he chose. Both of these distortions are analyzed in the present work, since some authors have still propagated these erroneous viewpoints, either as a result of ignorance or due to political reasons.

Evgenii Eduardovich Bertels (d. 1957) was a prolific Soviet scientist who wrote about Nezami. Some of his ideologically-driven theories about Persian literature were adopted and disseminated by the Czech scholar Jan Rypka (d. 1968). Their works have been cited uncritically by some scholars who are not aware of the USSR anniversary campaign and the politicization of Soviet orientalism (which influenced orientalism in the whole Soviet bloc). To challenge Stalin after his verdict would have been politically incorrect and even dangerous. A recent research by Tamazishvili of the private archives of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the USSR academy of Sciences (IOSAS) illustrates an extremely politicized atmosphere, in which Orientalism was used as a political tool for the USSR nation building and support of the Soviet national interests[90]. With regards to the Soviet Orientalism and nation-building, a Soviet orientalist E.M. Zukhov is quoted as stating: “We are obligated to translate everything, through to the end, into the language of politics”[91]. That was said precisely in connection with the discussion of the works of E. E. Bertels, in the process of the academic-political campaign of the struggle against “bourgeois cosmopolitanism” in the Soviet Oriental studies that developed in the late forties[92]. Bertels’ study on Nezami in the late 1930s and early 1940s were among his most politicized works[93].

Later on, while trying to possibly revise some of his earlier politicized theories, including the USSR supported view of disunity of Persian literature; he was criticized harshly by others in the IOSAS. According to Tamazishvili, he was even reproached by other USSR orientalist for attempting to revise the politicized Soviet viewpoint of Nezami being an “Azerbaijani poet”[94]. The most significant criticism of Bertels was due to the statement in his 1949 work Persian-language literature in Central Asia, in which he states: “By the Persian literature we shall, from now on, understand all the literary works written in the so-called ‘neo-Persian’ language, irrespective of their authors’ ethnic identity and of the geographical point where these works emerged”[95]. Obviously, this was a departing from his earlier political proclamations of calling the work of Nezami with the anachronistic and politicized term “Azerbaijani literature”.

His fellow politicized colleagues in 1949 accused Bertels of “deviating from Marxism, for reflecting in his works the objectivist errors and the cosmopolitan views characteristic of bourgeois oriental studies”[96]. Bertels tried to respond by stating: “To find out the ethnic identity of every author worth notice, and then classify them over the various literatures – but such a task would be, first of all, impossible to perform, because we have no data on the ethnic identity of old writers, and, probably, we will never have them; and, secondly, that would be methodologically vicious to the extreme. We would, then, be constructing literature by blood, by race. It hardly needs saying that we cannot and shall not be constructing literature in such a way, I won't, at least – if someone else wants to do it, let him, that is his private affair”[97]. However, A.K. Borokov, the deputy director of IOSAS called Bertels’ statement unsatisfactory and non-self-critical, and criticized Bertels for “not saying the criticism of his view is just” and “repeating those unusual assertions which he had made before”[98].

With further campaign launched by IOSAS against “bourgeois cosmopolitanism in oriental studies”, Bertels was accused by another Soviet orientalist Zhukov of spreading: “the newest bourgeois-nationalist conceptions about an imaginary superiority of Iran's culture”[99]. At this time, the politics surrounding the works of Bertels was heating up and he was forced to admit “his mistake”, and attempted to explain “his mistake” by blaming the opinion of Tajik public opinion for sharing the idea of the commonality of their literature with that of Iran[100]. However, these explanations were insufficient; further accusation of supporting “pan-Iranism” was leveled against him by other scholars and the IOSAS private archive show that criticism of Bertels was continuing. In a radical measure, he was excluded from the research plan of the IOSAS on the topic he was developing “History of the Persian literature”, and was instructed to temporarily concentrate on dictionary work[101]. This onslaught against Bertels possibly explains his reaction to absolve himself from accusations by abun­dant usage of ideological clichés and party cant in his public addresses and publications from the early 1950s[102]. This onslaught against him was especially grave because at that time his son Dmitri was behind bars but was later released[103].

What is clear from the political atmosphere surrounding Bertels is that political ideology and Soviet nation building had cast an imposing ideological shadow upon the work of Soviet bloc orientalists. However, it should be noted that both Bertels and Rypka only accepted that Nezami’s mother was Kurd and did not present a verdict about his father. Using the term “Azerbaijani”, they rather meant a territorial principle of historical continuity in the sense of the USSR historiography where people of a region are autochthonous and only the elites are changed due to invasions[104]. For example, Bertels states with regards to Nezami: “About the family of Nezami, we know almost nothing. The only thing we can say with certainty is that at the time of writing the poem ‘Layli o Majnun’, i.e. in 1188, his father had passed away. His mother too, had passed away and the poet calls her ‘a Kurdish lady’”[105]. Similarly, Jan Rypka states: “We can only deduce that he [Nezami] was born between 535 and 540 (1140-46 A.D.), and that his background was urban. Modern Azerbaijan is exceedingly proud of its world famous son and insists that he was not just a native of the region, but that he came from its own Turkic stock. At all events, his mother was of Iranian origin, the poet himself calling her Ra’isa and describing her as Kurdish”[106]. Thus it seems that Rypka and Bertels did not have a firm opinion on the ethnic identity of Nezami (or due to political pressure, they could not express it), they rather applied the USSR nation building concepts based on the territorial principle.

Despite these facts, Soviet authors like Bertels had to follow the Soviet guidelines, establish new terminologies for nation building and write ideological history to downplay the Persian cultural, ethnic and literary heritage of the Caucasian region. This does not mean of course that all the works of these authors are distortions of historical truths; many of them, indeed, have scholarly merit and contributed to the field. However, when there was a conflict between historical accuracy and Soviet ideological concerns (e.g. nation building, which Nezami studies became part of, cutting off cultural ties with the Iranian world and ideological compartmentalization of Persian literature), the Soviet ideology of nation building and dissection of Persian literature along imaginary identities took precedence. In fairness to these writers and other writers from the Soviet bloc, the IOSAS archives clearly show that the USSR orientalism did not tolerate ideological divergence.

The ideas about Islam and socialism with regards to Nezami illustrate another dimension of the mentioned ideology. For example, Jan Rypka terms Nezami a “socialist” and claims: “such were the heights of socialist conceptions to which Nezami climbed”,[107] citing the Eskandar-Nāma that “not, however, till he reaches north does he [Alexander] find people living in complete happiness and in a classless society”[108]. On the Islamic identity of Nezami, which is abundantly clear, Rypka, without any basis, tries to portray a contradiction between Islamic theology and the God of Nezami. Rypka states with this regard: “He (God for Nezami) is the supreme moral principle, far removed from the God of Islamic theology”[109]. Others even claimed erroneously that Nezami was undermining Islam[110].

E.E. Bertels, while talking about the Eskandar-Nāma, claims that the dream of Nezami was realized by the establishment of the USSR and further states: “We, Soviet readers of Nezami, look at this from a completely different viewpoint. We know this country; we are lucky to live in this country and know which way one should go in order to achieve such happiness. It also excites the Soviet reader that the great Azerbaijani thinker of the 12th century, put this country in the geographic location, where his great dream was in fact realized. Let us note that all of Nezami’s works end here; that all of his works were to get to this culminating period … And now, in the country where socialism became victorious, a country that does not know the fear of historical truth, Soviet scholars take onto themselves an honorable task to give to the peoples of their country the treasures that were denied to them for centuries”[111]. The fact that Nezami was a pious Muslim, and modern concepts such as “socialism” and “classless society” would have been alien to him and his milieu, does not need any further elaboration. It is clear from the work of Nezami that he actually supported the Persian tradition of monarchy and believed it was an integral and sacred part of the Persian life[112]. His praise of various monarchs of the region shows that he had no problem with the system of monarchy. But, as shown, the Soviet ideological historiography tried to portray Nezami as a communist and atheist “Azerbaijani poet” of “Azerbaijani literature” who strived for a classless society.

In this work, we will focus more on the anachronism propagated by these two scholars to undermine the Persian heritage of Nezami and introduce doubts about his culture and identity. For example, Jan Rypka states: “But as we have no indication of his having spent any length of time outside of the gates of his native Gandja, we conclude that a high standard of education must have existed among the urban Mussulman communities in the Caucasus and in Gandja in particular. The mosaic of nationalities in the Caucasus in Nezami’s time was probably not very different from what it is today. And even if we concede a larger number of inhabitants Persian as their mother-tongue, they were still no doubt a minority. What wonder then that Azerbaijan is not content to name the poet a native of Azerbaijan, but claim him as a member of the Turkish race? It cannot be denied that his mother, whom the poet himself, in his epic, Laili and Majnun, designates Kurdish Ra’isa, was of different (Iranian) origin. The undisputed supremacy of Persian culture, in which the Turkish tribes could only participate through the Persian tongue, makes understandable that Nezami should write in Persian. His mastery of the language is as unexampled as his command of thought. Only a detailed history of the Caucasian town can clear up the question of Nezami’s nationality. Not even the Persians seem to have been quite sure of their ground. Only thus can we explain their interpolation of a verse in “The Treasury of Mysteries” in which the poet’s birthplace is given at Qom, that is, in Persia proper. … In this epos (Khursaw o Shirin), and if we except Layli o Majnun, in all his other epic poems the poet draws on Iranian materials, especially those having some connection with Azerbaijan. The Sassanid Prince (later Shāh) Khusraw Parviz hears of the lovely Armenian princess Shirin…”.[113]

There are some contradictions and unjustifiable theories in the above quote of Jan Rypka that should be pointed out. For example, as we shall see in Part IV through primary sources, the mosaic of languages in the Caucasus (especially Ganja) in the 12th century of Nezami differed a lot from that of the 20th century. Indeed, the Mongol, Turcoman and Safavid era brought a major language shift to the area. Another contradiction is the fact that Rypka rightfully admits that Nezami came from an urban and educated background, but at the same time, Rypka states that “Turkish tribes could only participate through the Persian tongue… Only a detailed history of the Caucasian town can clear up the question of Nezami’s nationality.” Thus Rypka contradicts the fact that Nezami was from an urban background by mentioning (although not himself accepting) the baseless hypothetical theory accepted in modern Azerbaijan, that he was a Turcoman (Oghuz) tribesman. The question is raised why the very recent and small (relative to the established native population of the area) Turcoman Oghuz tribes would forget their tribal lifestyle (yet still be Turkish tribes as Rypka calls them), decide to become urban and write about ancient Iranian myths and legends? This would be natural for an Iranian (the sedentary urban and rural populations of Ganja) to write about the myths and legends of Iranians in the Persian language; Rypka provides no reason why members of the nomadic Turcoman tribes who had just entered the region for no more than two or three generations (Ganja fell to the Saljuqs in 1075[114]), became urban (even according to Rypka,[115] Nezami came from an urban background), Persianized and decided to forget their own folk stories, and instead adopt Iranian materials. Similarly, Rypka, without any proof, claims that the verse of Qom which is considered an interpolation had to do with arguments about Nezami’s ethnic affiliation (i.e. father’s ethnicity). However, the verse from Qom is found in the Sharaf-Nāma (not “The Treasury of Mysteries” as Rypka has claimed[116]) and it predates the era of modern nation building and nationalism. This interpolation was already pointed out by Dastgerdi before the USSR scholars. So there is no proof to connect it with modern nationalism of the 20th century. After all, Qom historically, besides its Persian population, had substantial Arab settlements which were gradually Persianized. Consequently, more suitable places could have been chosen if an author from at least 400+ years (before the modern era of nationalism) ago interpolated such a verse due to nationalism.

An additional contradiction from the statement of Rypka is that he correctly claims Nezami drew his material from Iranian myths and legends (see Part IV), but at the same time, he adds about these Iranian materials, “especially those having some connection with Azerbaijan” and then mentions the Armenian princess Shirin and the Persian Sassanid King Khusraw Parviz[117]. However, as shown in Part I, the definition of Azerbaijan was very different at that time for Nezami and there was no ethnonym “Azerbaijani”. The stories of Khusraw o Shirin, Haft Paykar, Eskandar-Nāma, and Layli o Majnun was already part of the lore of the Iranian world and was not peculiar to Azerbaijan proper (Northwestern Iran) or Arrān (the place Nezami was from). Another point of view which we shall come back to in Part IV is that Rypka and some other writers tried to portray the Persian language as “distinct from local languages”, but this argument has no basis, especially with the recent finding of the Nozhat al-Majāles and Safina-ye Tabriz, as well primary sources describing the populace and language of the region (see Part IV).

E.E. Bertels, for example, has called the poetry of Nezami as “great masterpiece of Azerbaijani literature”[118]. Such use of an anachronistic term has no historical basis because as shown in Part I, Azerbaijan proper to the Persian Caucasian poets in the 12th century would be an area of NW modern Iran bordering Arrān and Sharvān, and it had no ethnic/linguistic affiliations. Nezami makes it clear that he is writing Persian poetry which naturally is part of Persian literature. For example, in the Sharaf-Nāma, the poet recounts a dream or inspiration where Khizr tells him that he should not recompose the Nāma-ye Khusrawān (i.e. legendary history of Iran or Shāhnāma), because Ferdowsi has already composed it[119]:


I heard you want to recompose the book of Kings

شنیدم که در نامه‌ی خسروان

Using your discourse which flows naturally like water

سخن راند خواهی چو آب روان

But do not act in a way which is unacceptable (do not imitate)

مشو ناپسندیده را پیش باز

For people do not like a disharmonious note

که در پرده‌ی کژ نسازند ساز

Accept your fate, so that you may be dear

پسندیدگی کن که باشی عزیز

Those who are approved (saints), may accept you

پسندیدگانت پسندیده نیز

Being swallowed swiftly by a dragon

فرو بردن اژدها بی‌درنگ

Or going down to the mouth of a crocodile

بی انباشتن در دهان نهنگ

Is more pleasant in front of the wise

از آن خوش‌تر آید جهان‌دیده را

Then for the wise to see unacceptable acts

که بینید همی ناپسندیده را

Do not retell what that passed away sage (Ferdowsi) has composed

مگوی آنچه دانای پیشینه گفت

One cannot pierce two holes in a single pearl (majestic work)

که دَر دُر نشاید دو سوراخ سفت

Except in parts that need more explanation (i.e. The portion of Alexander in the Shāhnāma needs more elaboration)

مگر در گذرهای اندیشه گیر

That portion(even if partially overlaps) if repeated, is necessary

که از بازگفتن بود ناگزیر

In this path, be like a new leader

درین پیشه چون پیشوای نوی

Do not follow the ancient ones (i.e. do not imitate)

کهن پیشگان را مکن پیروی

When you have the power of virgin words (i.e. new topic)

چو نیروی بکرآزمائیت هست

Do not incline towards a widow (i.e. imitate)

به هر بیوه خود را میالای دست

Do not be upset by the hunt you did not capture

(i.e. Ferdowsi already has composed the Shāhnāma)

مخور غم به صیدی که ناکرده‌ای

There are untouched food for you preserved in the store

که یخنی بود هرچه ناخورده‌ای


In a poetic way, Khizr tells him that: “Do not fill with grief over the hunt you did not capture”. Khizr (which could symbolically mean inner divine inspiration or inner thought although in Islamic literature, it is a real person alluded to in the Quran – Sura 18) rather inspires Nezami to write the story of Alexander[120]:


Since I listened to the heartfelt inspiration of Khizr 

چو دلداری خضرم آمد به گوش

My mind was uplifted with new vigor

دماغ مرا تازه گردید هوش

His words were acceptable and I accepted it

پذیرا سخن بود شد جایگیر

Good advice from the heart is acceptable to the heart

سخن کز دل آید بود دلپذیر

Since those advices took effect on me

چو در من گرفت آن نصیحت‌گری

I opened my tongue and started to produce Persian pearls

زبان برگشادم به دُرّ دَری


Of course, Stalin could not have claimed that Khizr in a dream forced Nezami to compose Persian poetry (or as Nezami calls it “Persian Pearls”). Stalin also could not claim that Nezami was forced with regards to his great desire and personal inclinations towards the Persian national history! But the way the poet has described his situation here also exposes the invalid claim of the USSR with regards to the introduction of Layli o Majnun. The fact that Nezami Ganjavi wanted to do an imitation of the Nāma-ye Khusrawān (the sources for the Shāhnāma or the Shāhnāma itself) itself shows his tremendous interest in his pre-Islamic Iranian culture (which we briefly touch upon in Part IV). If he was of a non-Iranian background as claimed by Stalin, he would gravitate towards composing the national history of other cultures. In the same section, Nezami writes about his own skill and only mentions the Persian language, further invalidating the politically charged claim that Nezami composed in any other language[121]:


Nezami whose skill is composing Persian poetry

نظامی که نظم دری کار اوست

Composing Persian poetry is what he is deserving of

دری نظم کردن سزاوار اوست

He will tell this beautiful story in such a way

چنان گوید این نامه‌ی نغز را

That reading it will enlighten its readers

که روشن کند خواندنش مغز را


Similarly, in a reference likely to himself, he states[122]:

The educated word-master stated such

سخن‌پیمای فرهنگی چنین گفت

When he started piercing the Persian pearls

به وقت آن که دُرهای دَری سفت


Clearly, Nezami has called his own work as dorr-e dari (“Persian Pearl”) and nazm-e dari (Persian Poetry). Consequently, there is no historical basis to use politically invented anachronistic terms, such as “Azerbaijani literature”, which Nezami never used.

2.2 Invention of an Arbitrarily Named “Azerbaijani School” or “Transcaucasian School” of Persian Literature by the Soviet School of Oriental Studies

As noted the Soviet Union pursued the policy of dissecting Persian literature into smaller components and weakening the unity between these components for the purpose of regional nation building. Bertels even went further and invented a whole “Azerbaijani school of Persian poetry” or “Azerbaijani style of Persian poetry”. He states: “All authors characterize the group, starting with Qatrān, exhibit a certain commonality of style. It is so great that I think we have the right to speak of Azerbaijani School in the XII”[123]. This invented terminology of “Azerbaijani School” was borrowed from Bertels by Rypka and introduced in his two major English works[124]. The claim by both authors is that Qatrān Tabrizi started the “Azerbaijani School of Persian poetry”. It is obvious that these politically invented terms have no historical basis. That is the reason why such a school which is also called “Trans-Caucasian School of Persian poetry” has yet to be clearly defined. Its main characteristics are said to have been:

1-         The school started with Qatrān Tabrizi[125].

2-         More usage of Arabic words[126] relative to Khurasani School.

3-         Usage of Persian archaism; that is Fahlavi which in Azerbaijan is called Old Iranian Azari not to be confused with the later Turkish language[127].

4-         “Christian imagery and quotations from the Bible, and other expressions inspired by Christian sources, so that understanding Khāqāni and Nezami is impossible without a thorough knowledge of Christianity[128].

5-         “Relative freedom from mysticism”[129].

6-         Complexity of terms and new concepts[130].

7-         Its timeframe is supposed to be three generations of poets in the 11th and 12th century associated mainly with the courts of the Sharvānshāhs[131] (Incidentally, this was a period when Iranian languages predominated among the urban Muslims and not just the courts as shown later in this book).

With regards to the main factors above, the style of Qatrān Tabrizi is very different than that of Nezami, and Qatrān Tabrizi is considered as a poet of the Khurasani style as described below. With regards to point number two, Arabic words are the feature of School of ‘Iraq and the movement of center of gravity of the Persian language in this period. More words of Arabic origin had entered the Iranian dialects and languages of Western Iran relative to Eastern Iran at that time. Incidentally, but incomparable to the influence of the Arabic, the Persian language acquired a minor Turkish vocabulary in the Ghaznavid and Saljuqid era (see Part III). With regards to Persian archaism and Fahlavi language (NW Iranian vernaculars), this has been pointed out also by the major Iranian literary scholars (as noted below), but none of them have formulated an “Azerbaijani School”. Point number four about Christian imagery is a hyperbole which we shall discuss below.

With regards to point number five, this is very arbitrary but in our opinion, the Sufi influence in the Islamic world played its part in the local poetry of the Caucasus. Furthermore, Sufi influence in the chronological differentiation of Persian literature has to do with the specific Persian poet. For example, some poets of the ‘Iraqi School were themselves Sufis while others show less influence of Sufism. With regards to factor number six, with the exception of Khāqāni and Nezami (who was influenced by Khāqāni) who were two outstanding Persian poets of the Caucasus (much like Hafez and Sa’di in Fars), one cannot ascribe their creative stylistic features to the hundreds of Persian poets from the region between the 11th to 12th centuries. Just like not all the poets of Fars had the creativity and style of Hafez and Sa’di. The symbolic imagery and concepts of Khāqāni Sharvāni and Nezami are part of the stylistic features of these two poets (and to a lesser extent Mujir), or else the style of Mahsati Ganjavi or Qatrān Tabrizi does not use as much imagery and new terms.

As shown, none of the main factors have to do with Turkish culture from the Western language sources that we noted. But as noted, the Soviet nation building concept of building a new Azerbaijani identity devoid of any Turkish connections was not incompatible with such a terminology. Azerbaijanis to the Soviets were the continuation of the Medes and Christian Caucasian Albanians, whereas the Iranian Medes were already absorbed into other Iranians before the arrival of the Saljuqs and the Caucasian Albanians, who followed Christianity, were being absorbed into the Armenian peoples.

Our analysis begins with point number seven and Jan Rypka, who uses Bertels as his primary source. Rypka states: “The school, which began with Qatrān (d. 1072), formed a well defined group of teachers and pupils” and supposedly “the school” formed: “clearly defined group of three generations of teachers and pupils…All the poets worked at the courts or within the realms of the Sharvānshāhs…”[132]. However, no such group of “teachers and pupils” is found in the annals of history with the exception of Khāqāni and Falaki Sharvāni who were pupils of Abu ‘Ala Ganjavi[133] and Mujir Baylaqāni who presumably was a student of Khāqāni.  For example, no one knows who were the teachers of Abu ‘Ala Ganjavi or Nezami Ganjavi or that of more than 100 poets (24 of them from Ganja) from Sharvān, Arrān and Azerbaijan (see Part IV) in the 11th -13th century. Indeed the generation gap between Qatrān (circa. 1009-1070 A.D.) and Nezami Ganjavi (circa. 1130-1200 A.D.) is also more than three generation. As the recently discovered manuscript of Nozhat al-Majāles (see Part IV for more details) shows, Persian poetry was the common and folk expression of the average people and not just associated with the elites of the courts of the Sharvānshāhs.

Rypka also notes that: “With the exception of Nezami’s work, the entire poetic output of the region was confined to lyric poetry, to the qasida in particular”[134]. However, as shown in Part IV of this book, the most common poetic output of the region should now be considered the ruba’i (Quatrains), which is not a genre of court poetry like the qasida (Odes) or epic poetry. Rypka also claims with regards to the Sharvānshāh that “Persian was not the language of the princes whose praise they sang”[135], whereas the Sharvānshāhs were already Persianized[136] by the middle of 10th or early 11th century, composed Persian poetry themselves[137] and claimed descent from ancient Sassanid Kings[138]. Biruni (d. 1048) states that the common belief of people is that the Sharvānshāhs are descendants of the Sassanids (Biruni 1879:48) and Al-Mas’udi (d. circa 950) in the middle of the 10th century states there is no doubt that their pedigree goes back to Bahram Gur[139]. By the 10th century they had adopted the new Iranian languages that had evolved from Middle Persian dialects (e.g. Tat-Persian in the Caucasus) and composed Persian poetry themselves[140]. According to Minorsky, “The Iranicisation of the family must have proceeded continuously” and “the most likely explana­tion of this change must be a marriage link established on the spot, possibly with the family of the ancient rulers of Shābarān. The attraction of a Sasanian pedigree proved stronger than the recollections of the Shaybani lineage”[141].

On a similar line, Rypka while trying to distinguish between the languages of folk literature and court literature (which he states was mainly intended for the courts of the Sharvānshāh), makes the erroneous statement that: “folk poetry of course developed in consistence with local idioms”[142] without providing a single sample of such folk poetry. As clearly described by the book Nozhat al-Majāles, primary sources describing the population of the area, and modern secondary scholarly sources, Iranian vernacular languages and Persian poetry were the folk and common languages of the urban Muslim population of the major cities of the Caucasus (see Part IV). Consequently, due to political reasons and as a direct result of Soviet nation building, a set of non-historical and non-factual statements were contrived to minimizing the influence of Persian culture and Iranian ethnic elements of the Caucasus[143].

An important fact to note is that, Rypka and Bertels claim that Qatrān allegedly started the “Azerbaijani School of Persian poetry”. Qatrān who spoke Persian vernacular language (denoted as Fahlavi, see Part IV for direct attestation of the Tabrizi Iranian language and Qatrān’s contrast of his native vernacular Pārsi with literary Persian or Dari) however has also intensely derided the plundering and massacres brought by the attack of the nomadic Oghuz Turks who ravaged and plundered Azerbaijan[144]. He calls these Oghuz nomads as khunkhār (“blood suckers”), virāngar (“bringers of ruin”) to Iran, kin-kār (“workers of hatred”), āfat (“a calamity”), ghaddār (“covenant breakers”) and makkār (“charlatan and deceivers”)[145]. This portion of Qatrān Tabrizi’s poetry which is very useful for historical analysis would present a major contradiction between the construction of “Azerbaijani School of Persian poetry” and attempting to connect such an imaginary school to the Oghuz Turcomans that were not settled in Azerbaijan at that time. Of course, the “Azerbaijani School of Poetry” was not connected to the Oghuz Turcophones or any other group, but rather it was a term based on the Soviet conception of a new Azerbaijani identity (that did not exist in the 12th century) based on the Medes and Caucasian Albanians. However, this aspect of Qatrān’s derision of the nomadic Turcoman incursion (which was the first attack of nomadic Turcomans in the area) is not mentioned by Rypka[146]. How Qatrān Tabrizi relates to the later emerging Turcophone culture of Azerbaijan SSR which did not exist during the time of Qatrān is unknown and not explained by Rypka. Besides, Qatrān Tabrizi is traditionally considered as part of the Khurasani School (see below). Other terminologies used by these authors for the “Azerbaijan School of Poetry” were the “Sharvān School” and “Trans-Caucasian School”[147]. However, none of these terms are clearly defined with the exception of portraying the fact that Persian poetry flourished in the 11th and 12th century in the Caucasus (which is precisely when the ethnic Iranian-speaking population constituted the bulk of the urban Muslims of the area).

After Rypka’s book and article, other sources have picked up this term of “Azerbaijan School” without recognizing its political intent. For example, Dr. Sakina Berenjian has mistakenly attributed the term “Azerbaijan School” to Iranian authors such as Badi-o-Zaman Foruzanfar, Rezazadeh Shafaq and Zabillollah Safa[148], while looking exactly in the same sources that she cites, none of these prominent expert scholars of Persian literature have mentioned an “Azerbaijan school of poetry” nor an “Azerbaijani style” has been mentioned[149]. Rather, these authors, such as Safa, mention the influence of Fahlaviyāt (Persian vernacular or as Safa calls it “Old Azari”) on the poetry of Qatrān, Nezami and Khāqāni[150]. They mention that due to the Persian of the time, as well as Fahlaviyāt NW Iranian dialects (which had greater Arabic vocabulary than Khurasani Persian according to Safa), more Arabic words are seen in the poets of ‘Arāq-e Ajam and the Caucasus[151]. At the same time, Qatrān is considered as master of the Khurasani tradition[152].

The confusion is also compounded by the fact that some scholars have mentioned an Azerbaijan or Sharvān or Tabriz or Transcaucasian School as a geographical term (rather than an independent literary stylistic term) while mentioning the major poets of these as cornerstone of the ‘Iraqi style[153]. That is they differentiate between style and local geographical regions where a large number of Persian poets emerged. For example, Chelkowski rightfully mentions the primary styles of Persian literate are the Khurasani style, ‘Iraqi style and Hindi style, and mentions the Azerbaijan and pre-Safavid Isfahan school under the ‘Iraqi style[154]. He correctly notes that: “Khāqāni could be termed as one of the greatest poets of Iran and the cornerstone of the ‘Iraqi style. In Azerbaijan, Mujir, the follower of Khāqāni, brought the style to its apogee.”[155] De Bruijn also mentions the three main styles based on the chronological order to be the Khurasani, ‘Iraqi and the Indian style[156] while mentioning the school of pre-Safavid Isfahan and Azerbaijan as part of the ‘Iraqi style. With regards to Nezami, he notes: “On the other hand he enriched the romantic mathnawi by using imagery of lyric poetry to the full, treating it with all the rhetorical ingenuity characteristic of the 'Iraqi style”[157].

Here we briefly touch upon this point from the viewpoint of traditional Iranian scholars which is also backed up by the verses of the poets of the regions. The division of classical Persian poetry into Khurasani, ‘Iraqi, and Hindi (or Isfahani) styles is a chronological differentiation. What is called today sabk (style) or school in Persian poetry is usually denoted as shiveh (شیوه = method) or tarz (طرز = style) in Persian poetry. For instance, Khāqāni Sharvāni, in comparing himself and Unsuri (the court poet of Mahmud Ghaznavi), states[158]:


I possess a new method

مرا شیوه‌ی تازه‌ای هست و داشت

While ‘Unsuri had the same ancient method

همان شیوه‌ی باستان عنصری


Or Hafez of Shiraz, in a ghazal attributed to him, claims:


Sa’di is the Master of ghazal (words) for everybody

استاد غزل (سخن) سعدی است پیش همه کس اما

However, ghazals of Hafez follow the style of Khwāju

دارد غزل حافظ طرز غزل خواجو


The most prominent scholars of Persian literature like poet laureate Muhammad-Taqi Bahar, Badi-o-Zaman Foruzanfar, Saeed Nafisi, and others define the following schools in Persian poetry[159].

1- School or Style of Khurasan: this style started in the 3rd and 4th century A.H. / 9th and 10th A.D. in Eastern Greater Iran (Greater Khurasan) and was followed by poets in other regions. Some important features of this school are straightforwardness, clarity, scarcity of Arabic loanwords and compounds, abundance of Persian words and compounds, and even traces of Middle Persian. The poems are characterized with description of nature and natural scenery, panegyric and elegy of kings, rulers, and high officials, epics, myths and such. Some of the most famous poets in this school are Rudaki Samarqandi, Ferdowsi Tusi, Shahid Balkhi, Kassāi Marvzi, Qatrān Tabrizi and Nāser-e Khusraw.

2- School or Style of ‘Iraq: from around the 6th century A.H. / 12th century A.D., due to the invasion of Khurasan by Oghuz Turkish tribes (vividly recorded in a poem by Anvari Abivardi and another poem by Khāqāni Sharvāni), the gravity center of Persian poetry shifted to the western regions of Iran, or so-called ‘araq-e ‘ajam or Iranian ‘Iraq[160] in medieval geographic terminology. Due to the proximity to the center of Islamic Caliphate and the influence of Arabic language, we can find more Arabic and Quranic / Islamic terms and terminology in the poetry of this school. Poems are now more about theological concepts, Sufism and mysticism, and more philosophical discourses. Some of the most famous poets of this school include Sanāi Ghaznavi, Jamāl al-Din Abd al-Razzāq Isfahāni and his son Kamāl al-Din Ismāil, Sa’di Shirazi, Hafez Shirazi, Fakhr al-Din Ibrāhim ‘Irāqi (Hamadani), Nezami Ganjavi, Khāqāni Sharvāni, Farid al-Din Attār Nishapuri, Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi (Mowlāna or Rumi), Salmān Sāveji, and Abd al-Rahmān Jāmi.

3- School or Style of India/Esfahan: After the death of Jāmi in later 15th century A.D. and from the time of Safavid dynasty, Persian poetry experienced some changes. Shāh Abbas the Great moved the capital of Safavid to the city of Esfahan and this city flourished under his reign. For this reason, the poetry of this period is called Isfahani. The characteristic features of this school are delicacy of imagery, extensive use of hidden references, sophisticated compounds and such. For example, Sāeb Tabrizi says[161]:


When you extend your hand to ask from others

دست طمع که پیش کسان می‌کنی دراز

You are building a bridge to leave behind your pride

پل بسته‌ای که بگذری از آبروی خویش


Or another example[162]:


Under the pressure of Time my hair tuned white

شد از فشار گردون مویم سپید و سر زد

This is the milk that I was fed during my infancy!

شیری که خورده بودم در روزگار طفلی


Another example by Kalim Kāshani:


I’m not to be blame if the stitches of my shoes are showing

بخیه‌ی کفشم اگر دندان‌نما شد عیب نیست

My shoes are laughing at my idle wanderings

خنده می‌آید وی را بر هرزه‌گردی‌های من


Due to the political period and as a result of good relations with India, many poets (including Sāeb Tabrizi, Kalim Kāshani, and ‘Orfi Shirazi) and artists of Persia migrated to Northern India and were welcomed by the Mughal Empire. Local poets started to imitate the Iranian poets but since the Persian of the Mughal courts had its own particularities and Persian was not the native language of the majority of the inhabitants of India, they came up with some strange compounds and far-fetched imageries and references. This branch is called School of India. However, some people do not use this distinction and call both groups as the School of India or School of Esfahan.

4- School of Restoration: in late Qajar period or early 13th century A.H. / 19th century A.D., Persian poetry was experiencing decline and decadence. Poems had become complex and out of reach and tasteless. So some poets decided to return to the elegance of School of Khurasan and make the poems clear and straightforward again. So this school is called “Return of Restoration” period. Some poets of this school include poet laureate Sorush Isfahani, Muhammad-Taqi Bahar, Saburi (Bahar’s father) and Parvin Etesami.

This categorization and periods are obviously for ease of understanding and convenience, as such changes are gradual. For example, Seyyed Hassan Ghaznavi, a poet from Khurasan in the 5th century A.H. / 11th century A.D. (during the period of School of Khurasan) that has poems in style of School of Esfahan in which he uses delicate imagery:


I would be hiding in the middle of my ghazal

اندر غزل خویش نهان خواهم گشتن

So I would kiss your lips when you recite my poem!

تا بر لب تو بوسه دهم چون که بخوانیش!


It is said that when Sheikh Abu-Saeed Abu al-Khair, the famous Iranian mystic, heard this line, he was so impressed that along with his disciples, he went and paid the poet a visit at his home. Another example by Khāqāni Sharvāni (a representative of the ‘Iraqi school in the Caucasus), which shows traces of School of Esfahan, was in existence many centuries before this school [163]:


The mirror of my kneecap has turned dark blue from (beating of) the comb of my hands

شده است آیینه‌ی زانو بنفش از شانه‌ی دستم

And I have rested my head on my knees from regret like a violet flower

که دارم چون بنفشه سر به زانوی پشیمانی


Here Khāqāni sees a violet as someone who is resting his head on his knees because of his regrets and sorrow and he portrays himself as such. Khāqāni is mentioned as also a connection between the Khurasani and ‘Iraqi Style by Foruzanfar[164]. Hafez borrowed the same image in one of his ghazals[165]:


Without her unruly curls, our melancholy-stricken heads

بی زلف سرکشش سر سودایی از ملال

We have rested on our kneecaps like violet

همچون بنفشه بر سر زانو نهاده‌ایم


These school names are not bound to regions either: for instance, one of the founders of School of ‘Iraq is Sanāi who lived in Ghazni in Greater Khurasan. Or Attār lived in Nishapur in Greater Khurasan, Khāqāni lived in Sharvān and Rumi (originally from Wakhsh/Balkh in Greater Khurasan) lived most of his life in Konya in Asia Minor but they are all prominent poets of School of ‘Iraq. Or even though Qatrān Tabrizi lived in Azerbaijan he is a poet of School of Khurasan. And ‘Orfi Shirazi, Sāeb Tabrizi and Kalim Kāshani from Iran are associated with the Indian style.

These classification and school names were common and accepted by all experts and men of letters until Iran’s provinces in the Caucasus were lost to Russian Tsarist government in the 19th century after the Russo-Persian Wars and signing of the two treaties of Gulistan and Turcomanchay (in 1813 and 1828 respectively). Tsarist Russia and later, Soviet government, decided to cut any links and relationship between Iran and its former provinces. So they started their nation-building and historical revisionism project. The invented term “Azerbaijani School” by Bertels is a clear example of such nation-building concepts. The Soviet Orientalist E. E. Bertels in view of USSR nation building created new schools and labels for Persian poetry using his own contemporary geographical names and regions then under Soviet rule[166]. So he came up with these names for schools in Persian poetry: Central Asian School, Trans-Caucasian School, Persian School (?!), and Indian School[167]. Aside from the Indian Style or School, none of the other terms have any historical basis or precedence. An implication of calling a school “Persian” would be that other schools were not Iranian and the poets of those schools were not Iranian either. An obvious baseless and distorted theory that implies Rudaki was Central Asian but not Iranian, and his school was Central Asian rather than Khurasani! Of course, as has been demonstrated in the present work, Bertels had reservations about his political dissections of Persian literature and his unscientific methodology, but the political pressure upon him outweighed any attempted corrections[168].

Dr. Sakina Berenjian, while citing Rypka and Bertels, makes the extravagant claim that[169] a distinguishing feature specific to “Azerbaijani School” is “Christian imagery and symbolism” and continues that: “Christian imagery and symbolism, quotations from the Bible and other expressions inspired by Christian sources occur so frequently in the works of Khāqāni and Nezami in particular, that a comprehension of their work is almost impossible without a thorough knowledge of Christianity”. Such a statement itself could be rooted in the Soviet attempt that shows that ancient people of The Caucasus (Georgians, Armenians and the Soviet anachronistic concepts of an Azeri people in the 12th century) being closely bound and fighting jointly against Persians, Arabs and Islam.

The fact is such symbolism and imagery is found mainly in Khāqāni and not all poets of that region. There are two reasons for Khāqāni’s usage of these symbolisms. First, Khāqāni’s mother was a Nestorian Christian and then converted to Islam and freed. Khāqāni explains this in one of his poems[170]:


My mother was Nestorian and had lineage from Mubads

نسطوری و موبدی نژادش

Her nature was, however, Islamic and Believer

اسلامی و ایزدی نهادش

Her birthplace was the land of Byzantine

مولد بُده خاک ذوعطابش

Her (spiritual) father was Philip the Great

فیلاقوس الکبیر بابش

So, she chose based on her reason and intuition

پس کرده گزین به عقل و الهام

Islam over the religion of the (Christian) priests

بر کیش کشیش دین اسلام

She fled from Nestorian confession

بگریخته از عتاب نسطور

And she grasped in the Written Book (=Quran)

آویخته در کتاب مسطور

She was a Lady like Zulaikha

کدبانو بوده چون زلیخا

But she became a slave like Yusuf (Joseph)

بَرده شده باز یوسف‌آسا

She was brought from the Rome of Straying

از روم ضلالت آوریده

She was raised by Slave-Trader of Salvation

نـخّاس هُدیش پروریده

Since she saw Quran and “There is no God but God”

تا مصحف و «لااله» دیده

She became estranged with Bible and the crucifix

ز انجیل و صلیب دررمیده


Khāqāni’s mother might have told her son about the Christianity and some of his knowledge might have been through his mother. Alternatively, Khāqāni was very learned in all fields and could have studied the main concepts of other religions.

Second, not all poems of Khāqāni are laden with “Christian imagery and symbolism”, rather, only few and possibly only two are such. One is called “the Christian panegyric” and its title mentions: “on complaints from imprisonment and eulogy of Master of Rome, Izzu-dowlah Caesar”. Khāqāni composed this poem for the Caesar of Byzantium to intercede on his behalf and help Khāqāni out of prison. The famous orientalist Vladimir Minorsky has an extensive commentary on this poem in 30 pages and shows that this Caesar was in fact Andronicus Comnenus[171]. Khāqāni has used all of his Christian knowledge to impress the Caesar and incite him to intercede on his behalf. Many of Muslim poets did not understand this poem due to their lack of familiarity with Christian terms, symbols and imagery. Even though Minorsky was a great scholar and Iranologist, he never considered Khāqāni a poet of “Azerbaijani School”. Khāqāni has another poem in which he uses “Maryam” (Mary) and “Isā” (Jesus) repeatedly with some references to their story and they are merely to show off his mastery of words. Otherwise, Khāqāni has composed many long poems about his trips to Mecca and his pilgrimages to Ka’aba and the shrine of Prophet of Islam. Or Nezami’s treatment of the prophet of Islam’s ascension (me’rāj) is the most elaborate amongst Persian poets. Should we not consider such “Islamic imagery and symbolism” characteristics of “Azerbaijani School”? Khāqāni has a moving poem about his visit to the Ctesiphon and remains of Sassanid palace (Arch of Khusraw) where he expresses his love for Ancient Persia and his grief about the fall of Sassanid. Nezami talks about Iran being the center of the World and composed most of his epic about Ancient Persia. Should we not consider these as characteristics of “Azerbaijani School”? Both Khāqāni and Nezami have extensive and frequent references to pre-Islamic Iran, especially the Persian Sassanid Empire (Nezami has devoted large parts of his works, 3 out of 5 books, to pre-Islamic history of Iran). Should we not consider this as characteristics of “Azerbaijani School”?

As noted by Schimmel in her study of Christian influences in Persian poetry, while Persian poetry in general contains a good number of allusions to Jesus Christ, Mary and Christianity, most of the images and ideas expressed about Jesus and Mary are Quranic elaborations[172]. According to Schimmel, only among a few poets who had firsthand contact with Christian communities of Persia and Anatolia, such as Khāqāni and Rumi, do some lines betray more intimate knowledge of Christian customs and concepts[173]. We should note that Sanāi, Rumi and Attār for example reference Christianity, Jesus and Mary more often than most of the Caucasian Persian poets. Or for example, Sa’di, Nāser-e Khusraw, Rudaki have some parables and themes about Jesus which are close to their Gospel versions[174], but this does not allow for the creation of a new school of Persian poetry or classification of these poets into a separate category. No one has ever seen in the poems of Nezami, Khāqāni, and Mujir Baylaqāni, neither has heard about other poets of Arrān, Sharvān and the Caucasus – who are wrongly claimed by the USSR writes as poets of “Azerbaijani School” – so much “Christian imagery and symbolism” that prevents readers from understanding their poems, as was claimed in the definition of “Azerbaijani School”. Should all the numerous imitations of Nezami who themselves were overwhelmingly Muslim and understood the poetry of Nezami without Christianity also be considered as part of this school? As a whole, it is clear that Armenian and Georgian Christians influenced the Iranian peoples of the Caucasus more than other Iranian speaking regions. Likely, idioms from these cultures which are more permeated from Christianity had entered the Iranian languages of the area. However, as mentioned, most of the sources and imageries of Christ and Mary in Persian poetry is actually Quranic[175], and the usage of elements borrowed from Christianity in Persian poetry is not solely confined to the Persian poets of the Caucasus[176]. Even in the works of Khāqāni, who takes the foremost place amongst the Caucasian Persian poets, the usage of Christian imagery is extremely small compared to his Islamic and Iranian pre-Islamic terminology and imagery. Consequently, the formulation of new school of Persian by the USSR in the 20th century that bases one of its main pillars upon exaggeration of Christian elements is questionable.

As far we have researched in the books and works published in Iran before 1991 by Iranian author, the term “Azerbaijani School” of Persian poetry was never used by any notable literally scholar. Qatrān Tabrizi has always been considered a poet from School of Khurasan and Nezami and Khāqāni were considered poets of School of ‘Iraq. Even Hafez Shirazi, who has benefited a lot from the works of Khāqāni and Nezami, compared his poetry with the poetry of Nezami[177]:


Hafez! Your poems are like a necklace of exquisite pearls from fine water

چو سِلک دُرّ خوشاب است شعر نغز تو حافظ

Considering their delicateness, they surpass the poetry of Nezami

که گاه لطف سبق می‌برد ز نظم نظامی


Hafez even composed his Sāqi-Nāma following similar pieces in Nezami’s Eskandar-Nāma. Hafez explicitly refers his poetry to the School of ‘Iraq[178]:


Hafez’s lyrics are ghazals in the school of ‘Iraq

غزلیّات عراقی است سرود حافظ

Who heard these heart-rending songs and never screamed for sympathy?

که شنید این ره جانسوز که فریاد نکرد؟


After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, its opening to the outside world and outflow of Soviet-era materials abroad, some Iranians became familiar with the Soviet discover named “Azerbaijani School”. In 1997, in the Jun-July issue of Kayhān Farhangi magazine in Tehran, an article was published under the title of “Azerbaijani School of Persian poetry” by Ahmad Zākeri. He, too, despite all historical evidences and even despite the explicit writings of Khāqāni and Nezami, considered them as poets of “Azerbaijani School”. Interestingly, he writes about Nezami, Khāqāni, Sharvāni, Falaki Sharvāni, Mujir Baylaqāni and Dhulfiqār Sharvāni: All these composers and poets from Azerbaijan believed that they were creating material in the School of ‘Iraq not Azerbaijani School”[179]! This means, Khāqāni Sharvāni, Nezami Ganjavi, Mujir Baylaqāni, Falaki Sharvāni and others thought that they were composing poem in the School of ‘Iraq, but 800 years later, the USSR nation-builders and other scholars ignorant of the USSR nation building discovered that these poets were mistaken but they did not realize it!

Khāqāni clearly proclaims himself as the successor of Sanāi Ghaznavi, who was one of the founders of School of ‘Iraq and even claims that his first name, Badil, is the result of this affiliation (Badil means “alternate” or “successor”)[180]:


I am the successor (badal) of Sanāi in this world

بدل من آمدم اندر جهان سنایی را

That is the reason why my father named me Badil

بدین دلیل پدر نام من «بدیل» نهاد


And he mentions[181]:


When Time wrote off the period of Sanāi

چون زمان دور سنایی درنوشت

The Sky gave birth to a Word-Master like me

آسمان چون من سخن گستر بزاد

When a poet was interred in Ghazni

چون به غزنین شاعری شد زیر خاک

The land of Sharvān gave birth to a Wizard like me

خاک شروان ساحری دیگر بزاد


It is interesting that Mr. Zākeri is himself amazed with this new discovery and quotes lines from these poets, where they clearly and explicitly called their style the School of ‘Iraq. He then continues: “In our critique and judgment, a point worth considering and investigation is that all the poets of the Azerbaijani School called themselves “poets of ‘Iraqi Style” and never designated their style as “Azari” or “Azerbaijani”[182]. Then he brings examples from their poems.