Politicization of the background of Nizami Ganjavi

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Politicization of the background of Nizami Ganjavi: Attempted de-Iranization of a historical Iranian figure by the USSR

By Dr. Ali Doostzadeh

(In memory of Vladimir Minorsky and Nowruzali Mohammadzadeh)

Note 1: The article believes that Nizami Ganjavi despite his Iranic background, culture and contribution to Iranian civilization, and being a product of this civilization is a universal figure. He is also equally a part of the heritage of Iran, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and modern republic of Azerbaijan. These are people that are either Iranian or have been greatly affected by Iranian civilization although at his own time, the concept of nation-state did not exist for any particular modern country to claim Nizami Ganjavi. People of Iranic backgrounds and inheritors of Persian language, civilization and culture have the duty to present this universal figure to the world and keep his language alive. At the same time, this great figure has been politically manipulated by some ethno-minded scholars and USSR ethno-engineers. The article discusses this issue at length where USSR tried (and failed) to detach this great Iranian figure from Iranian civilization.

Note 2: the PDF version of this article reads much better and can be downloaded from here:


(look for PersianPoetNezamiGanjeiPoliticizationByUSSR.pdf)



(look for PDF file)



(look for .pdf file)

To Cite:

Doostzadeh, Ali. “Politicization of the background of Nizami Ganjavi: Attempted de-Iranization of a historical Iranian figure by the USSR”, June 2008 (Updated 2009).

URL: http://sites.google.com/site/rakhshesh/articles-related-to-iranian-history

The article should also be somewhere in www.archive.org

The goal of this article is to examine the ethnic roots and cultural association of Nezami Ganjavi, one of the greatest Persian poets. It is of course well known that Nezami is a universal figure, but there are two reasons to examine his ethnic and cultural associations. The first reason is that it helps us understand his work better. We provide exposition of rare sources (such as Nozhat al-Majales) which are crucial for the study of the 12th century region of Arran and Sherwan. The other reason to write this article, as explained later in this paper (under the section: politicization of Nizami USSR and its remnants today), is the politicization surrounding Nezami Ganjavi’s ethnic and cultural background by the USSR for the purpose of nation building. Through objective analysis based on Nezami Ganjavi’s work and other primary sources, we analyze the ethnic root and cultural background of Nezami Ganjavi.

The politicization discussion centers on the following points. Despite the fact that Nizami Ganjavi being a Persian poet and all of his poetry is in Persian, is he a cultural icon from the Iranian civilization or Turkic civilization? What is his ethnic background and does it play role in assigning to which civilization he belongs?

And does this question matter at all, given Nizami’s usage of Persian as his cultural vehicle and hence his contribution to Persian culture, language and civilization? Given the fact that Nizami Ganjavi’s poem cannot be translated without losing its multi-layered symbolic meaning and fine details, and given the fact that there is no “pure ethnicity” in the modern Middle East and Caucasia, and given the fact that ethnic divisions were not as prominent as they are today, does the question even matter? The belief of this author is that the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi belongs to all humanity equally. At the same time, Nizami and his legacy are part of the same culture that he was influenced by and expanded upon. That is other great poets before him, including Ferdowsi, Asadi Tusi, Fakhr ad-in Asad Gorgani and Sanai were his predecessors. Those who speak, read and write Persian, and understand verses of Nizami’s poetry, are those that keep the heritage of Nizami alive today and have a special responsibility to pass down the cultural heritage of great Persian poets like Ferdowsi, Sanai, Nizami, Attar and many others. For example, Pushkin who is the most popular literary figure of Russians is a Russian poet and has served the Russian language and followed the Russian literary tradition. His ethnicity from his father’s side was partially Ethiopian but nevertheless he is part of Russian culture and civilization. We shall get back to this issue in the conclusion of this essay. Thus the question of ethnicity is secondary relative to that of the culture/civilization which a poet arises from and contributes towards. Especially in the middle ages when the concept of nation-state did not exist and one has to concentrate on ethnicity and culture which defines ethnicity.

Despite this simple fact that ethnicity of most 12th century figures (and most people do not know their say 20th ancestor!) cannot be 100% known, we will look into the details of Nizami’s background and we will provide criticism for invalid interpretations, recent forgeries of non-existent verses and the politicization of Nizami by the USSR in order to materialize Stalin’s unfulfilled wish that “Nizami must not be surrendered to Iranian/Persian literature”! Ultimately, Nizami is part and parcel of Persian-Iranian literature and culture, since he lives through this language, all his thoughts are in this language and he is popular due the masterpieces in this language. The question of whether he belongs to Iranian civilization or Turkic civilization is simply answered by anyone who can read his untranslatable work in its original language. The issue of his ethnicity has no bearing on this fact. Yet, we will look at this issue in detail and show that there is nothing to support a Turkic ethnicity for Nizami where-as the corpus of Nizami’s work and other historical and cultural reasons show an Iranic background. That is the issue of claiming Turkic father line for Nizami lacks any solid proof and is used today ethno-nationalists from the republic of Azerbaijan to detach Nezami Ganjavi from Iranian civilization.

It is clearly evident that in terms of cultural orientation, cultural background, legacy, myth, folklore and language, Nizami Ganjavi is part of Iranian civilization and a prominent of Persian cultural history. Thus attempted political annexation of Nizami Ganjavi from Iranian civilization and attribution of Nizami Ganjavi towards Turkic civilization will simply bear no fruit in the long run (since he does not even have a single verse in any other language than Persian) and is a futile political effort which was taken up by USSR for nation-building process and is continued today for unscientific reasons of ethnic nationalism. Nizami Ganjavi survives through more than 30000+ Persian verses and his background is well known to be at least half Iranic and we will show in this article that it was full Iranic. There is nothing to support a Turkic background for Nizami Ganjavi’s father, who Nizami was orphaned from in an early age and was raised by his Kurdish maternal uncle Khwaja Umar.

The reader of course is free to make their own conclusion, but this does not change the simple fact that Nizami inherited the Persian heritage by previous Iranian poets, composed in the Persian language through Iranian culture, is alive through the Persian language, Iranian folklore, mythology and culture and finally it is the Persian speakers of the world who can read him in his own language and appreciate his untranslatable poetry (he is arguably one of the hardest poets to translate because of the multi-layered meaning of many verses, play with language and extensive use of symbolism/imagery pertinent to Persian language and culture). At the same time, we do not deny his shared heritage among countries that have been influenced heavily by Iranian culture and are inheritors of Iranian civilizations and culture. Thus besides highlighting the politicization by the USSR and Stalin, the article will expose many forgeries and invalid arguments to detach Nezami Ganjavi from Iranian background, language and culture.


Basic Nomenclature on ethnic names used in this writing. 6

On the ethnonym Azeri/Azerbaijani 7

What did the USSR mean by Azerbaijani?. 18

Politicization of Nizami by the USSR and its Remnants Today. 19

Two important and recent articles on Politicization of Nezami by Alexandar Otarovich Tamazshvilli 40

Article 1 of Tamazashvilli: From the History of Study of Nezami-ye Ganjavi in the USSR: Around the Anniversary – E.E. Bertels, J.V. Stalin, and others”. 42

Article 2 of Tamazshvilli: Afterword: (Iranology in Russia and Iranologists) 70

Recent Politicization of the Figure of Nizami Ganjavi 77

Nizami’s Mother 90

Nizami and his maternal uncle Khwaja Umar 94

Nizami’s Father 94

Dynasties before and during the era of Nizami 97

Pre-Islamic Iranic dynasties of Arran, Sherwan and Azerbaijan. 97

Post-Islamic period, the Iranian Intermezzo before the Seljuqids. 100

Seljuqid Empire and subsequent local Atabak dynasties. 110

Regional Iranian culture in Arran/Sherwan and Azerbaijan. 122

Arran/Sherwan and Nezami’s designation of Iran/Persia for his land. 122

Iranic languages and people of Azerbaijan. 138

Language of Tabriz as a special case. 143

Maragheh. 149

Another look at the linguistic Turkification of Azerbaijan, Arran and Sherwan 149

Qatran Tabrizi, rise of Persian-Dari poetry and what a few modern scholars have called “Azerbaijani school”of Persian poetry. 161

What did Nezami call his own style?. 168

Persian poetry images and symbols: Turk, Hindu, Rum, Zang/Habash. 169

Which Turks are described in Persian Poetry?. 206

Unsound arguments made during the USSR era about the ethnicity of Nizami 211

False argument: A false verse created in 1980. 211

Incorrect argument: Nizami uses “Turkish words” so “he must be Turkish”. 214

Incorrect argument: Nizami Praises Seljuq Turks (or Turks) so he was half Turkic 221

Invalid Argument: Nizami wanted to write Turkish but he was forced to write in Persian! 238

The false statement from Stalin. 238

No evidence of Turkic literature in the Caucasus and historical invalidity of the argument due to Shirvanshah not being Persian and not Turkic rulers. 239

Example of politically minded writer today. 246

Criticial editions of the verses in question. 250

Translation and explanation of the introduction of Layli and Majnoon. 257

Misinterpretation of a verse in Haft Paykar 310

Incorrect argument: Nizami and his research into Dari-Persian and Arabic literature means that he was a Turk. 329

Incorrect argument: Nizami praises Alexander, so “he must have been a Turk” 334

Invalid arguments about Idioms, Dedicatees, Eldiguzids, Sunni and Shi’i and other invalid arguments. 338

Alleged Claim of Turkish Idioms. 338

Eldiguzids-Feudal lords (Atabekan) of Azerbaijan. 343

Invalid arguments: Dedicatees of Nezami were Turks so Nezami was a Turk! 349

Invalid Argument: Court poetry and official language was in Persian and that is why Nezami wrote in Persian to get paid. 350

Sunni and Shi’i! 353

Conclusion of invalid arguments. 354

Nizami’s Iranian Background, Culture and Contribution to the Persian Language, Culture and Civilization. 355

Iranian background and some statements from scholars. 356

Nezami’s reference to himself as the Persian Dehqan. 359

Nizami’s reference to his wife and another proof of non-Turkic background for Nizami 363

Other Indicators of Nizami Ganjavi’s Father line. 369

Lack of Turkish names unlike Turkish dynasties and groups. 369

Urban background. 369

Shafiite Madhab. 370

Qom theory. 375

Intermarriage was rare between Western Iranians and Turks due to both religious and ethnic factors. 379

Nizami Ganjavi’s Culture. 381

Viewpoints of Navai and a perspective upon culture. 382

Nizami and the inheritance of Ferdowsi’s throne. 387

Cultural Content of the works of Nizami Ganjavi 394

Nizami Ganjavi’s attachment to Iran. 406

Conclusion. 407

Bibliography. 410

Appendix A: Modern scholastic sources. 415

Corrected information. 428

Appendix B: Response to two arguments with regards to the population of Turks in Caucasus. 431

Do “Turkish” soldiers in Baghdad during the early Abbasid period have anything to do with Caucasus and Azerbaijan. 431

Akbar Kitab al-Tijan: The Arab folklore Kitab al-Tijan and fight between mythical Yemenese Kings and Turanians/Turks in Azerbaijan has no historical validity. On the background of Turanians. 435

Appendix C: Some important neglected sources in the study of Nezami Ganjavi 459

Appendix D: On the etymology of the name Axsartan. 460

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