Recent Developments in the Azerbaijani historiography

H22 A contribution to the SIPCATS Discussion Forum

Dr. Zaur Gasimov, the German Orient-Institut Istanbul (OII)

Editorial Remark
In Historiography and Nation-Building among Turkic Populations, one of our anthologies under revision, Dr. Zaur Gasimov, currently at the German Orient-Institut Istanbul (OII), presented a survey of history-writing and new “history-making” in Azerbaijan during the first two decades of the post-Soviet period. Following up on his previous presentation, Dr. Gasimov has posted a note to the SIPCATS discussion forum with a comment on the status of research after another 3-4 years.

Recent Developments in the Azerbaijani historiography

Looking back at the most recent developments in the Azerbaijani historiography, two aspects seem to be especially sustainable. Firstly, the history-writing around the problematics of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over the region of Nagorno Karabakh still dominates the agenda of the Bakıxanov-Institute of History at the Azerbaijani National Academy of Sciences, the main research institution in post-Soviet Azerbaijan in the field of History Studies. Secondly, the historical research on the so-called ‘Southern Azerbaijan’, the northern part of Iran populated by ethnic Azeris, is of recurrent interest among Baku-based historians.

Before I start to present some of the most recent developments, it is noteworthy to mention two structural elements that shape the framework for historical and any other research in the humanities of Azerbaijan. These elements are the authoritarian regime of the ruling party “Yeni Azǝrbaycan Partiyası” (YAP) as well as a relatively low level of historians’ training in post-Soviet Azerbaijan. The by-products of the political authoritarianism in Azerbaijan are the cult of the former President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev (1923-2003, presidency between 1993 and 2003) and the comprehensive involvement of historians in the state-run policy of identity-building and of state-building. The great majority of Azerbaijani historians are members of the ruling party and an integral part of the establishment. Baku State University along with the Azerbaijani State Pedagogical University, the two main institutions educating professional historians and teachers of history for the secondary and grammar schools, are highly corrupt. This has a crucial impact on the scholarly qualification of historians partly mirrored in the academic periodical of the Institute of History at the National Academy of Sciences, “Tarix vǝ onun problemlǝri” (History and its issues). Most articles can easily be considered as longer abstracts rather than academic articles. They often lack proper citation and are based on research from the Soviet period.

Leaving aside an enormous number of biased books, booklets and compilations of articles devoted to either Heydar Aliyev and his role in Azerbaijani state-building orthe conflict over Karabakh, it is worth mentioning some positive developments in Azerbajani history-writing.A Baku-based publishing house, Hǝdǝf nǝşrlǝri, founded in 2009, has launched a memory series, where so far they have published thirteen separate volumes mostly with primary texts initially written by Azerbaijan’s prominent writers and artists or by their family members.[1] The Baku-based historians Altay Göyüşov and Cǝmil Hǝsǝnli delivered amazing research on the history and current development of Islamic education as well as on the republican years between 1918 and 1920[2] and Azerbaijan’s place in the Cold War. Both authors are in regular contact and exchange of ideas with the international scholarship and are recognized as independent researchers of Azerbaijani and Caucasian history.

Strategic Area Studies and Politics
In May 2012, the Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Yerevan State University, Rumen Melkonian, presented a newly published textbook about the Azerbaijani Language authored by the Yerevan-based Turkologist Lilit Movsesian. During the press conference, Melkonian stressed that “the knowledge of the enemy’s language is of significant importance”[3]. This argumentation corresponded completely to the standpoint of Azad Rzayev, the Dean of the History Department of Baku State University (BDU) as well as of Iradǝ Hüseynova, Professor of Caucasian History at the same university. Rzayev and Hüseynova, both of whom are specialized on the contemporary history of Russia and the Caucasus, have argued for the expansion of Armenian Studies at Baku-based universities. BDU along with Azerbaijani State University of Languages and some other institutions for higher education regularly offer courses in the Armenian language and history. In 2015, a Baku linguist, Hatǝm Cabbarlı, presented his textbook in the Armenian language. In 2013, a public discussion on the opening of the Faculty of Armenology was launched by Azeri historians.

By boosting ‘strategic area-studies’, Baku exports its Armenologists to neighboring Turkey. Another academician, Gafar Mehdiyev, has been involved in the foundation of Armenian Studies at the Erciyes University in Kayseri, Turkey.[4]

The Phenomenon Yaqub Mahmudov
Yaqub Mahmudov is the head of the Bakıxanov-Institute of History at the National Academy of Sciences. He is about eighty years old and was initially specialized in the field of Azerbaijani Medieval History. In contrary to his predecessors educated partly in Baku and in Moscow, Mahmudov was trained at Baku State University only. After Heydar Aliyev’s comeback to power in 1993, Mahmudov joined the ruling party YAP. He was three times elected a member of parliament and and he is also part of the supreme board of the YAP. Mahmudov has been active as public intellectual in dailies and television. He has launched a project under the pathetic title of “Tarixi şǝxsiyyǝtlǝrimizǝ sahib çıxaq” (Let us protect our historical personalities!). A conference on “Azerbaijani Safavi ruler – Shah Abbas I” was held at the Bakıxanov-Institute on 22 April 2016 within the framework of this project.[5] The majority of events are designed for the local audience. Historians from Iran or Georgia rarely join them. Yaqub Mahmudov embodies the ethnically defined and highly politicized historical research currently conducted by the majority of academicians. Scientific cooperation with the international scholarship in general and with the regional historians in Iran, Georgia and Russia leaves much to be desired. Turkey seems to be the only exception: Mahmudov has co-organised several joint conferences with Turkish partners from mostly second-ranking universities.

To the Central Eurasia discussion forum

[1] “Xan” xatirǝ ǝdǝbiyyatı, in:ǝ-ǝdǝbiyyatı (31.08.2016).

[2] Jamil Hasanli: Foreign Policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 1918-1920. The Difficult Road to Western Integration. M.E.Sharpe, Armonk, New York, 2014

[3] Ruben Melkonian o pervom azerbaidzhanskom uchebnike: Znanie iazyka protivnika imeet strategicheskoe znachenie dlia Armenii, 14.05.2012, (09.09.2016).

[4] Türkiye’nin ilk Ermenice ders kitabı çıktı, in: (09.09.2016).

[5] Xǝbǝrlǝr, in: (31.08.2016).


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