Nizami Ganjavi


Nizami Ganjavi (Persian: نظامی گنجوی‎, translit. Niẓāmī Ganjavī, lit. 'Niẓāmī of Ganja') (1141 to 1209), Nizami Ganje'i, Nizami, or Nezāmi, whose formal name was Jamal ad-Dīn Abū Muhammad Ilyās ibn-Yūsuf ibn-Zakkī, was a 12th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet.

Nezāmi is considered the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature, who brought a colloquial and realistic style to the Persian epic. His heritage is widely appreciated and shared by Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, the Kurdistan region and Tajikistan.



His personal name was Ilyas  and his chosen pen-name was Nezami (also spelled as Nizami and Neẓāmi). He was born of an urban  background in Ganja (Great Seljuq  empire, now Azerbaijan) and is believed to have spent his whole life in South Caucasus. According to De Blois, Ganja was a city which at that time had predominantly an Iranian population.  The Armenian historian Kirakos Gandzaketsi (c. 1200 – 1271) mentions that: "This city was densely populated with Iranians and a small number of Christians".  Because Nezami was not a court poet, he does not appear in the annals of the dynasties.  Tazkerehs, which are the compilations of literary memoirs that include maxims of the great poets along with biographical information and commentary of styles refer to him briefly. Much of this material in these Tazkerehs are based on legends, anecdotes, and hearsays.  Consequently, few facts are known about Nezami's life,  the only source being his own work, which does not provide much information on his personal life.



Nezami was orphaned  early and was raised by his maternal uncle Khwaja Umar who took responsibility for him and afforded him an excellent education. His mother, named Ra'isa, was of Kurdish   background. His father, whose name was Yusuf is mentioned once by Nezami in his poetry.  In the same verse, Nezami mentions his grandfather's name as Zakki. In part of the same verse,  some have taken the word Mu'ayyad as a title for Zakki  while others have interpreted it as the name of his great grandfather. Some sources have stated that his father might be possibly from Qom.  Nezami is variously mentioned as a Persian and/or Iranian.



Nezami was married three times. His first wife was a Kipchak slave girl which was sent to him by Fakhr al-Din Bahramshah, the ruler of Darband, as part of a larger gift. According to Iraj Bashiri she became Nezami's "most beloved" wife. His only son Mohammad was from this wife. She died after "Khosrow and Shirin" was completed. Mohammad was seven at the time. Nezami mentions his son again in Layli and Majnun adding that now this son is 14 years old and "apple of my eyes". In "Haft Peykar" (Seven Beauties), he also mentions and advises his son about taking more responsibility as the father was growing more frail.

Some modern writers in the late 20th century have claimed that this wife was called Afaq. Vahid Dastgerdi seems to be the first writer to propose this name for Nezami's first wife, but Said Nafisi (at the same time) and a recent source have challenged this interpretation of the corresponding verse in Nezami's work and the assumption that Afaq was the real name of his wife  and have taken the Afaq in that verse to simply mean "horizon" rather than a proper name. Strangely enough, Nezami's two other wives, too, died prematurely – the death of each coinciding with the completion of an epic, prompting the poet to say, "God, why is it that for every mathnavi I must sacrifice a wife!".



Nezami was not a philosopher. in the sense of Avicenna or an expositor of theoretical Sufism in the sense of Ibn 'Arabi. However, he is regarded as a philosopher and gnostic who mastered various fields of Islamic thoughts which he synthesized in a way that brings to mind the traditions of later Hakims such as Qutb al-Din Shirazi.

Often referred to by the honorific Hakim ("the Sage"), Nezami is both a learned poet and master of a lyrical and sensuous style. About Nezami's prodigious learning there is no doubt. Poets were expected to be well versed in many subjects; but Nezami seems to have been exceptionally so. His poems show that not only he was fully acquainted with Arabic and Persian literatures and with oral and written popular and local traditions, but was also familiar with such diverse fields as mathematicsastronomyastrologyalchemymedicinebotany, Koranic exegesis, Islamic theory and lawIranian myths and legends,  history, ethicsphilosophy and esoteric thought, music, and the visual arts. His strong character, social sensibility, and knowledge of oral and written historical records, as well as his rich Persian  cultural heritage unite pre-Islamic and Islamic Iran into the creation of a new standard of literary achievement. Being a product of the Iranian culture of the time, he not only created a bridge between pre-Islamic and Islamic Iran, but also between Iran  and the whole ancient world.


Influences and literary scene

The recent discovery and publication of the anthology titled Nozhat al-Majales contains Persian language quatrains from Nizami and 115 other poets from the north western Iran (Arrān, Šarvān, Azerbaijan; including 24 poets from Ganja alone) during the same era. Unlike other parts of Persia, where the poets mostly belonged to higher echelons of society such as scholars, bureaucrats, and secretaries, a good number of poets in the north western areas rose from among the common people with working-class backgrounds, and they frequently used colloquial expressions in their poetry. Accordingly, the book demonstrates the social conditions at the time, reflecting the full spread of Persian language and the culture in the region, which is evidenced by the common use of spoken idioms in poems and the professions of many of the poets. The influence of the north western Pahlavi language, for example, which had been the spoken dialect of the region, is clearly observed in the poems contained in this anthology. However, at the same time, the Caucasus region was entertaining a unique mixture of ethnic cultures. Khaqani's mother was a Nestorian Christian, Mojir Baylqani's mother was an Armenian, and Nezami's mother was a Kurd. Their works reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of the region.


By the end of the 10th century, Persian literature became widespread from the eastern Mediterranean to the banks of the Indus. The earliest extant example of Persian poetry from the area is that of Qatran Tabrizi(1009–1072) who served in the courts of the Shaddadid and Rawadid dynasties. Qatran Tabrizi, is credited with what some scholars in the last century have termed as the founder of the "Azerbaijan" or "Trans-Cacausian" school or "Tabriz School" or "Shirvan School"or "Arranian Style"of Persian poetry. This school produced a distinctive style of poetry in Persian, which contrasted with "Khurasani" ("Eastern") style in its rhetorical sophistication, its innovative use of metaphor, its use of technical terminology and Christian imagery, the presence of Persian archaism while borrowing from Arabic vocabulary, as well as new concepts. Other sources including the Encyclopaedia of Islam and traditional Iranian literary sources have used the term "'Iraqi" style for the Persian poetry of Nezami.


The Seljuqs took control of Ganja from the Shaddadids in 1075 and spread Persian literary westwards to their courts. In the middle of the 12th century, the Seljuks control of the region weakened and their provincial governors, virtually autonomous local princes, further encouraged Persian culture, art and poetry in their courts. Persian culture characteristically flourished in this era when political power was diffused and Persian remained the primary language, Persian civil cervants, merchants were in great demand and rival dynastines continue to vie for the service of Persian poets. This was especially true in Ganjeh, the Caucasian outpost town where Nizami lived. Nezami was patronized by different rulers and dedicated his epics to various rival dynasties including the SeljuqsEldiguzids (who maintained control of Ganja during most of the later 12th century), Shirvanshahs, the ruler of Ahar and Ahmadilis. Although he enjoyed the patronage of various rulers and princes, he avoided the court life and is generally believed to have lived a secluded life. Since he was not a court poet, he does not appear in the annals of the dynasties which list the names of events of the ruling families.

According to Professor Chelkowski: It seems that Nezami's favorite pastime was reading Firdawsi's monumental epic Shahnameh (The book of Kings). Nezami has mentioned Ferdowsi as the Sage (Hakim) and Knower/Wise (daanaa) and the great master of discourse: who has decorated words like new bride. Nezami advises the son of the Shirvanshah to read the Shah-nama and to remember the meaningful sayings of the wise. Nezami has used the Shahnameh as a source in his three epics of "Haft Paykar", "Khosrow and Shirin" and "Eskandar-nameh".

The story of Vis and Ramin also had an immense influence on Nezami. Although Nezami takes the bases for most of his plots from Ferdowsi, but the basis for his rhetoric comes from Gorgani. This is especially noticeable in the Khosrow and Shirin, which is of the same meter and imitates some scenes from Vis and Ramin. Nezami's concern with astrology also has a precedent in an elaborate astrological description of the night sky in Vis and Ramin. Nezami had a paramount influence on the romantic tradition, and Gorgani can be said to have initiated much of the distinctive rhetoric and poetic atmosphere of this tradition, with the absence of the Sufi influences, which are seen in Nezami's epic poetry.

The first monumental work of Nezami, the Makhzan al-Asrar is influenced by Sanai's "Hadikat al-Hakika". Nezami acknowledges this but considers his work to be superior. The main similarities between Sanai's poem and Nezami's are in its ethico-philosophical genre, although Nezami uses a different metre and organized the whole work in a different fashion. Khaqani Sherwani daring imagery, was to have a momentous influence on Nezami Ganjavi and through the latter on Persian poetry in general.


Nezami lived in an age of both political instability and intense intellectual activity, which his poems reflect; but little is known about his life, his relations with his patrons, or the precise dates of his works, as the many legends built up around the poet color the accounts of his later biographers.


Persian lyrical poetry

Only a small corpus of his lyric poetry, mainly qaṣīdahs ("odes") and ghazals("lyrics") have survived. Ten of his quatrains have also been recorded in the anthology Nozhat al-Majales (which was compiled around 1250) by Jamal Khalil Shirvani along with 23 other poets from Ganja. A famous ghazal of Nezami talks about altruism as the path for reaching the ultimate spiritual goal:

I went to the Tavern last night, but I was not admitted
I was bellowing yet nobody was listening to me
Either none of the wine-sellers were awake
Or I was a nobody, and no one opened the door for a Nobody
When more or less half of the night had passed
A shrewd, perfect man (rind) raised his head from a booth and showed his face
I asked him: “to open the door”, he told me: “go away, do not talk nonsense!
At this hour, nobody opens door for anybody
This is not a mosque where its doors are open any moment
Where you can come late and move quickly to the first row
This is the Tavern of Magians and rinds dwell here
There are Beauties, candle, wine, sugar, reed flute and songs
Whatever wonders that exists, is present here
(in this tavern there are) Muslims, Armenians, Zoroastrian, Nestorians, and Jews
If you are seeking company of all that is found here
You must become a dust upon the feet of everyone in order to reach your (spiritual perfection) goal”
O Nezami! if you knock the ring on this door day and night
You won't find except smoke from this burning fire

Quinary ("Panj Ganj" or "Khamsa")

Nezami is best known for his five long narrative poems, which have been preserved. He dedicated his poems to various rulers of the region as was custom of that time for great poets, but avoided court life. Nezami was a master of the Masnavi style (double-rhymed verses). He wrote poetical works; the main one is the Panj Ganj (Persian: Five Treasures), also known by the Persian pronunciation of the Arabic word Khamsa ("Quintet" or "Quinary"). The first of his five 'Treasures', called The Store house of Mysteries, was influenced by Sanai of Ghazna's (d. 1131) monumental Garden of Truth. The other ‘Treasures’ were medieval romances. Khusaw and Shirin, Bahrām-e Gur, and Alexander the Great, who all have episodes devoted to them in Ferdowsi's Book of Kings, appear again here at the center of three of four of Nezami's narrative poems. The adventure of the paired lovers, Leyli and Majnun, is the subject of the second of his four romances, and derived from Arabic sources. In all these cases, Nezami reworked the material from his sources in a substantial way.

The Khamsa was a popular subject for lavish manuscripts illustrated with painted miniatures at the Persian and Mughalcourts in later centuries. Examples include the Khamsa of Nizami (British Library, Or. 12208), created for the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 1590s.


Makhzan al-Asrar

·                    Makhzan al-Asrar (Persian: مخزن الاسرار) "The Treasury of Mysteries" (1163) (some date it 1176)

The ethico-philosophical poems of about 2,250 Persian distichs was dedicated to Fakhr al-Din Bahramshah, the ruler of Erzinjan. The story deals with such esoteric subjects as philosophy and theology. The story contains twenty discourses, each of them portraying an exemplary story on religious and ethical topics. Each chapter concludes with apostrophe to the poet himself containing his pen name. The content of the poems are indicated in the heading to each chapter and are written in a typical Homiletics style. The stories which discuss spiritual and practical concerns enjoin kingly justice, riddance of hypocrisy, warning of vanity of this world and the need to prepare for the after-life. The general message of the discourse is that Nezami preaches the ideal way of life drawing attention to his reader of the supreme rank man among God's creatures and approaching of the end life and the necessity of man becoming aware of his spiritual destination. In a few chapters he address the duties of a King, but as a whole he addresses himself to mankind in general rather than his royal patrons. In the introduction, the poet provides an account of his solitary vigils, called Khalwat. There is no indication that these were Sufi vigils, but are used as a literally fantasy on the duty of spiritually inclined poet he wanted to be. In highly rhetorical style, the aim he pursues is to transcend the limitation of secular literature of the courts. With this work, Nezami joins the destination of Persian poetry which had started with Sanai and was continued by others, in the first place by Attar.

Not a romantic epic, "The Treasury of Mysteries" was translated into English by Gholam H. Darab in 1945. After this early work, Nezami turned into narrative poetry.

·                    Khosrow o Shirin(Persian: خسرو و شیرین) "Khosrow and Shirin" (1177–1180)

A story of pre-Islamic Persian origin which is found in the great epico-historical poems of Shahnameh and is based on a true story that was further romanticized by Persian poets. The story chosen by Nezami, was commissioned and dedicated to the Seljuk Sultan Toghril II, the Atabek Muhammad ibn Eldiguz Jahan Pahlavan and his brother Qizil Arslan. It contains about 6,500 distichs in length, the story depicts the love of Sassanian Khosrow II Parviz towards his Armenian princess Shirin. "Khusrow and Shirin" recounts the story of King Khosrow's courtship of Princess Shirin, and vanquishing of his love-rival, Farhad. The story has a complex structure with several genres exploited simultaneously; and contains many verbal exchanges and letters, all imbued with lyrical intensity.  Khosrow endures long journeys, physical and spiritual, before returning to Shirin, his true love.  They are eventually married, but eventually Khosrow is killed by his son and Shirin commits suicide over the body of her murdered husband. Pure and selfless love is represented here embodied in the figure of Farhad, secretly in love with Shirin, who finally falls victim to the king's ire and jealousy.

The influence of Vis o Ramin is visible as the poem imitates a major scene (that of the lovers arguing in the snow) from Vis o Rāmin, as well as being in the same meter (hazaj) as Gorgāni's poem. Nezami's concern with astrology also has a precedent in an elaborate astrological description of the night sky in Vis o Rāmin.  In turn, Nezami's great work had a tremendous influence on later authors and many imitations of this work were made.  With complete artistic and structural unity, the epic of Khosrow o Shirin turned to be a turning point not only for Nizami but for all of Persian literature.


Layli o Majnun

·                    Layli o Majnun(Persian: لیلی و مجنون) "Layla and Majnun" (1192)

A story of Arabic origin[48] which was later absorbed and embellished by the Persians. The poem of 4,600 distichs was dedicated, in 1192, to Abu al-Muzaffar Shirvanshah, who claimed descent from the Sassanid King, whose exploits are reflected in Nezami's "Seven Beauties"(Haft Paykar). The poem is based on the popular Arab legend of ill-starred lovers: the poet Qays falls in love with his cousin Layla, but is prevented from marrying her by Layla's father. Layla's father forbids contact with Qays and Qays becomes obsessed and starts signing of his love for Layla in public. The obsession becomes so severe that he sees and evaluates everything in terms of Layla; hence his sobriquet "the possessed" (Majnun). Realizing that cannot obtain union even when other people intercede for him, he leaves society and roams naked in the desert among the beasts. However the image of Layla was so ingrained in him that he cannot eat or sleep. His only activity becomes composing poetry of longing for Layla.  Meanwhile, Layla is married against her will, but she guards her virginity by resisting the advances of her husband. Arranging a secret meeting with Majnun, they meet, but have no physical contact. Rather they recite poetry to each other from a distance. Layla's husband dies eventually which removes the legal obstacles to a licit union. However Majnun is so focused on the ideal picture of Layla in his mind that he had fled to the desert. Layla dies out of grief and is buried in her bridal dress. Hearing this news, Majun rushes to her grave where he instantly dies. They are buried side by side and their grave becomes a site of pilgrimage. Someone dreams that in Paradise they are united and live as a king and queen.  Nezami composed his romance at the request of the Shirvanshah Akhsatan. Initially, he doubted that this simple story about the agony and pain of an Arab boy wandering in rough mountains and burning deserts would be a suitable subject for royal court poetry and his cultured audience.  It was his son who persuaded him to undertake the project, saying: "wherever tales of love are read, this will add spice to them".  Nezami used many Arabic anecdotes in the story but also adds a strong Persian flavor to the legend.  He adapted the disconnected stories about Majnun to fit the requirement of a Persian romance.

He Persianises  the poem by adding several techniques borrowed from the Persian epic tradition, such as the portrayal of characters, the relationship between characters, description of time and setting, etc and adapts the disconnected stories to fit the requirements of a Persian romance.

The Story of Layla and Majnun by Nizami, was translated and edited by Dr. Rudolf Gelpke into an English version in collaboration with E. Mattin and G. Hill Omega Publications and published in 1966. A comprehensive analysis in English containing partial translations of Nezami's romance Layla and Majnun examining key themes such as chastity, constancy and suffering through an analysis of the main characters was recently accomplished by Ali Asghar Seyed-Gohrab.

Eskandar Nameh

·                    Eskandar-nameh (Persian: اسکندرنامه) "The Book of Alexander" (1194) or (1196–1202)

The Romance of Alexander the Great" contains 10,500 distichs. There are differences of opinion on whether this was Nezami's last epic or the Haft Paykar. The names of its dedicatees are uncertain but the ruler of Ahar, Nosart al-Din Bishkin b. Mohammad has been mentioned. The story is based on Islamic myths developed about Alexander the Great, which derive from Qur'anic references to the Dhu'l-Qarnayn as well as from the Greek Alexander romance of Pseudo-Callisthenes. It consists of two books, Sharaf-Nama and Iqbal-nameh. The poem narrates the three stages in Alexander's life: first as the conqueror of the world; then as a seeker after knowledge, gaining enough wisdom to acknowledge his own ignorance; and finally as a prophet, traveling once again across the world, from west to east, and south to north to proclaim his monotheistic creed to the world at large. The Sharaf-nama discusses the birth of Alexander, his succession to the throne of Rum (Greece), his wars against Africans who invaded Egypt, his conquest of Persia and his marriage to the daughter of Darius. The episode also discusses Alexander's pilgrimage to Mecca, his stay in the Caucasus and his visit to Queen Nushaba of Barda' and her court of Amazons. Alexander conquers India, China and the land of the Rus. The Sharafnama concludes with Alexander's unsuccessful search for the water of immortal life.

The Iqbal-nameh is a description of Alexander's personal growth into the ideal ruler on a model ultimately derived, through Islamic intermediaries, from Plato's Republic. He has debates with Greek and Indian philosophers (c.f. with Garshaspnama) and a major portion of the text is devoted to the discourses he has with seven Greek sages. The poet then tells of Alexander's end and adds an account of the circumstances of the death of each of the seven sages. Nezami's image of Alexander is that of an Iranian knight.

An English translation of the Sharaf-Nama by Henry Wilberforce-Clarke was published in 1881 under the title Sikandar Nama e Bara and is available online.


Haft Paykar

A pre-Islamic story of Persian origin, it was dedicated to the ruler of Maragha, 'Ala' Al-Din korp Arslan. It is the story of Bahram V, the Sassanid king, who is born to Yazdegerd after twenty years of childlessness and supplication to Ahura Mazdafor a child. The Haft Paykar is a romanticized biography of the Sasanian Persian empire ruler Bahram Gur. His adventurous life had already been treated byFerdowsi in the Shahnama, to which fact Nezami alludes a number of times. In general, his method is to omit those episodes that the earlier poet had treated, or to touch on them only very briefly, and to concentrate on new material.  The poet starts by giving an account of the birth of Bahram Gur and his upbringing in the court of the Arab King No'man and his fabled palace Khwarnaq.

Bahram whose upbringing is entrusted to Nom'man becomes a formidable huntsman. While wandering through the fabled palace, he discovers a locked room which contains a depiction of seven princesses; hence the name Haft Paykar (seven beauties). Each of these princesses is from the seven different climes (traditional Zoroastrian-Islamic division of the Earth) and he falls in love with them. His father Yazdegerd I passes away and Bahram returns to Persia to claim his throne from pretenders. After some episodes he is recognized as King and rescues the Persians from a famine. Once the country is stable, the King searches for the seven princesses and wins them as his brides. His architect is ordered to construct seven domes for each of his new brides. The architect tells him that each of the seven climes is ruled by one of the seven planets (classical planetary system of Zoroastrian-Islamic world) and advises him to assure good fortune by adorning each dome with the color that is associated with each clime and planet. 

Bahram is skeptical but follows the advice of the architect. The princesses take up residence in the splendid pavilions. On each visit, the king visits the princesses on successive days of the week; on Saturday the Indian princess, who is governed by Saturn and so on. The princesses names are Furak (Nurak), the daughter of the Rajah of India, as beautiful as the moon; Yaghma Naz, the daughter of the Khaqan of the Turks; Naz Pari, the daughter of the king ofKhwarazm; Nasrin Nush, the daughter of the king of the Slavs; Azarbin (Azareyon), the daughter of the king of Morocco; Humay, the daughter of the Roman Caesar; and Diroste(wholesome), a beautiful Iranian princess from the House of Kay Ka'us. Each princess relates to the king a story matching the mood of her respective color.

These seven beautifully constructed, highly sensuous stories occupy about half of the whole poem.  While the king is busy with the seven brides, his evil minister seizes power in the realm. Bahram Gur discovers that the affairs of Persia are in disarray, the treasury is empty and the neighboring rulers are posed to invade. He clears his mind first by going hunting. After returning from hunt, he sees a suspended dog from a tree. The owner of the dog, who was shepherd, tells the story of how his faithful watchdog had betrayed his flock to a she-wolf in return for sexual favors.

He starts investigating the corrupt minister and from the multitude of complaints, he selects seven who tell him the injustice they have suffered. The minister is subsequently put to death and Bahram Gur restores justice and orders the seven pleasure-domes to be converted to fire temples for the pleasure of God. Bahram then goes hunting for the last time but mysteriously disappears. As a pun on words, while trying to hunt the wild ass (gūr) he instead finds his tomb (gūr).

Ritter, in his introduction to the critical edition describes it as: "the best and most beautiful epic in New Persian poetry and at the same time . . . one of the most important poetical creations of the whole of oriental Indo-European literature". The Haft Paykar is considered the poet's masterpiece. Overall, in this masterpiece, Nezami illustrates the harmony of the universe, the affinity of the sacred and the profane, and the concordance of ancient and Islamic Iran.

The story was translated to English in 1924 by Charles Edward Wilson. A newer English rendering based on more complete manuscripts was accomplished by Professor Julia Scott Meysami.

An excerpt (Original Persian):

گوهر نیک را ز عقد مریز   وآنکه بد گوهرست ازو بگریز
بدگهر با کسی وفا نکند   اصل بد در خطا خطا نکند
اصل بد با تو چون شود معطی   آن نخواندی که اصل لایخطی
کژدم از راه آنکه بدگهرست   ماندنش عیب و کشتنش هنرست
هنرآموز کز هنرمندی   در گشائی کنی نه در بندی
هرکه ز آموختن ندارد ننگ   در برآرد ز آب و لعل از سنگ
وانکه دانش نباشدش روزی   ننگ دارد ز دانش‌آموزی
ای بسا تیز طبع کاهل کوش   که شد از کاهلی سفال فروش
وای بسا کور دل که از تعلیم   گشت قاضی‌القضات هفت اقلیم

Take not apart the good pearl from the string; from him who is of evil nature flee.
An evil nature acts consistently: have you not heard that Nature does not err?
The evil-natured man keeps faith with none; the erring nature does not fail to err.
The scorpion since it is by nature bad—to let it live's a fault, to kill it, good.
Seek knowledge, for through knowledge you effect that doors to you be opened and not closed.
He who shames not at learning can draw forth pearls from the water, rubies from the rock.
Whilst he to whom no knowledge is assigned—that person (you will find) ashamed to learn.
How many, keen of mind, in effort slack, sell pottery from lack of pearls (to sell)!
How many a dullard, through his being taught, becomes the chief judge of the Seven Climes!


Translation by Wilson

Influence and legacy

Persian culture

The influence of Neẓāmi’s work on the subsequent development of Persian literature has been enormous and the Khamsa became a pattern that was emulated in later Persian poetry (and also in other Islamic literatures). The legacy of Nezami is widely felt in the Islamic world and his poetry has influenced the development of Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish and Urdu poetry amongst many other languages.

In Persian miniature, the stories in Nezami’s poems alongside those of Ferdowsi's Shahnama have been the most frequently illustrated literary works.  According to the Encyclopædia Britannica: Nezami is admired in Persian-speaking lands for his originality and clarity of style, though his love of language for its own sake and of philosophical and scientific learning makes his work difficult for the average reader. Nezami composed his verses in Persian and Western Encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia of IslamEncyclopædia IranicaEncyclopædia Britannica and orientalists of many countries consider Nezami as a significant Persian poet and hail him as the greatest exponent of romantic epic poetry in Persian literature.

Amongst the many notable poets who have taken the Five Treasures of Nezami as their model may be mentioned Amir Khusro, Jalal Farahani, Khwaju Kermani, Mohammad Katebi Tarr-Shirini, Abdul Rahman Jami, Hatefi Jami, Vahshi Bafqi, Maktabi Shirazi, Ali-Shir Nava'iAbdul Qader-e Bedel DehlaviFuzûlî, Hashemi Kermani, Fayzi, Jamali and Ahmad Khani. Not only poets, but historians such as Rawandi were also influenced by Nezami's poetry and used his poem in rendering history. Besides these, scores of poets have started their composition with the first line of the Makhzan al-Asrar.

According to Dr. Rudolf Gelpke: Many later poets have imitated Nizami's work, even if they could not equal and certainly not surpass it; Persians, Turks, Indians, to name only the most important ones. The Persian scholar Hekmat has listed not less than forty Persians and thirteen Turkish versions of Layli and Majnun.

According to Vahid Dastgerdi, If one would search all existing libraries, one would probably find more than 1000 versions of Layli and Majnun.

Jami in his Nafahatol Ons remarks that: Although most of Nezami's work on the surface appear to be romance, in reality they are a mask for the essential truths and for the explanation of divine knowledge.

Jami in his Baharestan mentions that: Nezami's excellence is more manifest than the sun and has no need of description. Hashemi of Kerman remarks: The empire of poetry obtained its law and order from Nezami's beautiful verses and To present words before Nezami's silent speech is a waste of time.

Amir Khusro writes:
"The ruler of the kingdom of words, famed hero,
Scholar and poet, his goblet [glass] toasts.
In it – pure wine, it's drunkingly sweet,
Yet in goblet [glass] beside us – only muddy setting."

Western reception

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe writes:
A gentle, highly gifted spirit, who, when Ferdowsi had completed the collected heroic traditions, chose for the material of his poems the sweetest encounters of the deepest love. Majnun and Layli, Khosrow and Shirin, lovers he presented; meant for one another by premonition, destiny, nature, habit, inclination, passion staunchly devoted to each other; but divided by mad ideas, stubbornness, chance, necessity, and force, then miraculously reunited, yet in the end again in one way or another torn apart and separated from each other.

With regards to the recitation of his poetry, Peter Chelkowski states: "The memorization and recitation of their literary heritage has alway beens vital to Iranians, whose attitude towards the power of the written and spoken word is revential. Even today the national passion for poetry is constantly expressed over radio and television, in teahouses, in literary societies, in daily conversation, and in the Musha'areh, the poetry recitation contest. Nizami's work serves as a vehicle and a symbol of this tradition, for it unites universality with deep-rooted artistic endeavor, a sense of justice and passion for the arts and sciences with spirituallity and genuine piety. for richness and fineness of metaphor, accuracy, and profundity of psychological observation, and sheer virtuosity of storytelling, Nizami is unequalled".

Nezami's story of Layla and Majnun also provided the namesake for a hit single by Eric Clapton, also called "Layla". Recorded with Derek and the Dominos, "Layla" was released on the 1970 album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The album was highly influenced by Nezami and his poetry of unrequited love. The fifth song of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, "I Am Yours", was in fact a Nezami composition, set to music by Clapton.

In 2004, there was a conference on Nezami organized in the University of Cambridge. The book containing the proceedings of this conference was published under the title: "Nizami: A Key to the Treasure of Hakim " in 2011 by Leiden Press.

Soviet Union

Main article: Campaign on granting Nizami the status of the national poet of Azerbaijan


The Soviet ballet produced a film, Leili and Medjnun, named after a poem by Nizami Gandjevi.  The ballet "Seven Beauties" by Azerbaijani composer Gara Garayev, based on Nezami's famous poem, won an international acclaim.

minor planet 3770 Nizami, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Chernykh in 1974 is named after him. The Museum of Azerbaijan literature in Baku is named after Nezami.


Campaign on granting Nizami the status of the national poet of Azerbaijan(the term Azerbaijanization  is also used) – is a politically and ideologically motivated revision of the national-cultural origin of one of the classics of Persian poetry, Nizami Ganjavi, which began in the USSR in the late 1930s  and was arranged to coincide with the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the poet. The campaign was crowned with jubilee celebrations in 1947 but its effects continue up to this day: on one hand this process was beneficial for many cultures of the multi-cultural Soviet Union and for the Azerbaijani culture in the first place; on the other hand this brought to an extreme politicization of the question on Nizami’s cultural-national identity in the USSR and in modern Azerbaijan.

The reasons and the background of the campaign

The first allegation of Nizami’s ethnic Turkic origin before the late 1930s


In 1903 Azerbaijani publicist and writer Firidun Kocharlinski in his book “Literature of Azerbaijani Tatars” called the poet a ‘Tatar from Elizavetpol’ (up until the 1930s the Azerbaijanis were called ‘Tatars’). According to Soviet orientalist A. E. Krimsky Kocharlinski’s theses were based on Jóhannes Sherr’s assumptions on that Nazimi’s mother was an Azerbaijani from Gyanja, contrary to the testimony of the poet himself according to which his mother was Kurdish.

Kocharlinski brings Nizami as an example of an Azerbaijani poet who wrote in Persian language !!! ?? in the light of a general trend of borrowing religion, language and literature from Persians by the Azerbaijanis. At the same time Konchalovski, referring to an accepted opinion, ascribes Azerbaijani literature to the first famous poet of those times Vaqif who wrote in Azerbaijani language (18th century).

American historian Yuri Slezkine also mentions that in 1934 on the First Congress of Soviet Writers the representative of the Azerbaijani delegation called Nizami a Turk from Gyanja.


The situation in the field of science in the late 1930s

In world Orientalism the dominant view was to consider Nizami as a representative of Persian literature. Soviet Orientalists also held the same view till the late 1930s. According to encyclopedic dictionaries published in Russia  , Nizami was a Persian poet and a descendant of city of Qom in central Iran (this fact was subsequently questioned and the contemporary scientists tend to consider Gyanja as his birthplace) .  Thus, the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary states (the author of the article is Agafangel Krimsky):

The best Persian romantic poet (1141–1203) is a descendant of Qom but has a nickname ‘Gyanjevi’ (from Gyanja) because he spent most of his life in Gyanja (now Elizavetpol) where he died.

Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) also characterises the poet in a similar way:

Persian poet born in 535 in Hidżra (1141 A.D.). His motherland, or at least the place where his father lived, was in the highlands of Qom, but as he lived almost all his days in Gyanja in Arran (present-day Elizavetpol) he is known as Nizami from Gyanja or Gyanjevi.


The reasons for the revision of Nizami’s status

The ideological needs of Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1930s

According to Victor A. Shnirelman after the dissolution of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic in 1936 the newly formed independent Azerbaijani SSR needed a special history which would on one hand allow distancing the republic from Shiite Iran for avoid suspicions in the counter revolutionary pan-Islamism and on the other hand to separate the Azerbaijanis from other Turkic people (in the light of the official struggle against pan-Turkism).

At the same time the Azerbaijanis desperately needed proofs of their own autochthony, since being considered as a ‘nation of newcomers’ created a direct threat of deportations. As a result, a Chair of Azerbaijani history was established in the Faculty of History of the State University of Azerbaijan and rapid Azerbaijanization of historical heroes and preceding historical-political entities on the territory of Azerbaijan was launched.

 Yuri Slezkine mentions that in the self-determined republics the efforts directed at the formation of cultures of titular nations were doubled at that time. According to the national line of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks all the titular nations were supposed to have “great traditions” which according to Slezkine was, if necessary, to be invented so that all the national cultures except Russian became equivalent.

George Bournoutian reviews the issue of classifying Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet (also Rudaki as Uzbek and Rumi as Turkish) within the framework of the general policy of weakening the connection of Turkish nations with Islam and developing in them а sense of pride towards their glorious, albeit fictional, national identity

The jubilee campaigns of the late 1930s

In the second half of the 1930s along with the establishment of “Soviet patriotism”  jubilee celebrations were held throughout the whole Soviet Union – the Russians were celebrating the 100th anniversary of A. S. Pushkin’s death and the 750th anniversary of The Tale of Igor's Campaign (1938); there were also national celebrations, including those taking place in Trans caucasian republics, among them the 1000th anniversary of the Armenian national epic poem David of Sasun (1939, the poem was completed by the 10th century and the 750th anniversary of Georgian classic poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin (1937). For affirming an equal status with other Trans caucasian republics Soviet Azerbaijan was to hold a jubilee celebration of an equivalent scale.  In the framework of those all-Soviet jubilee campaigns the preparations for the 800th anniversary of Nizami as a great Azerbaijani poet were launched.

The course of the campaign

Declaring Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet

A. O. Tamazishvili notes that declaring Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet was essential by his 800th jubilee.  Victor Shnirelman mentions a more precise date – 1938.

Analyzing the sequence of events Tamazishvili comes to a conclusion that the initial idea of recognizing Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet occurred to the First Secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist Party M. D. A. Bagirov. Having strong anti-Iranian convictions and being a patriot of Azerbaijan he considered the Persian identification of Nizami as ideologically unacceptable. However, by the end of the 1930s the solution of this question was beyond the competence of politicians on the Republican level. Besides, the attempt to label Nizami as an Azerbaijani could be assessed by the Soviet authorities as a nationalistic act; also objections could be expected on the part of scientists and first of all those from the prominent Leningrad school of Orientalism.

In 1937 the “Anthology of Azerbaijani poetry” was to be published in the USSR. In the initial version of it Nizami’s poems were not included.  However, on the 1st of August newspaper “Bakinskiy Rabochiy” published a note which said that the works on the anthology were completed and Nizami’s poetry was included in it despite all the efforts of “the enemies of the nation” to make the anthology look as thin and feeble as possible”.

For supporting the inclusion of Nizami into the list of Azerbaijani poets the views of Orientalist Yuri Marr (the son of academician Nicholas Marr) were elaborated on; in 1929 he had declared that Nizami was native to Caucasus and that his poetry was honoured more in Azerbaijan than in Persia. According to Tamazishvili Yuri Marr did not claim that Nizami was an Azerbaijani poet but he was the only one whom the supporters of such view could refer to. Besides, Yuri Marr was enjoying the ‘beams of fame’ of his father who was quite influential in those years in academic and political circles. Later the Azerbaijanis would claim that academician N. A. Marr had also taken part in the revision of the “positions of the Bourgeoisie Orientalist science which distorted the image of the Azerbaijani poet”.

In the same year, the Institute of History of Language and Literature of the Azerbaijani affiliate of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR also started publishing Nizami’s works.

On 5 April 1938, a Decade of the Azerbaijani Art was held in Moscow, and for this occasion an anthology of Azerbaijani poetry, edited by poet Vladimir Lugovskoy, was published in Baku which included Konstantin Simonov’s translation of Nizami’s poetry. The foreword to the edition said, “Among the Azerbajani poets Nizami’s image gloriously stands out”.  On the opening day of the decade the editorial article of Pravda said:

“Early in the epoch of feudal lawlessness the Azerbaijani nation gave birth to greatest artists. The names of Nizami, Khakani, Fizuli of Baghdad compete in popularity with famous Persian poets Saadi and Hafiz. Both Nizami, Khakani and Fizuli were passionate patriots of their nation, while they served the foreign newcomer only because they were forced to yield to their power.

On April 18, 1938 Pravda published a front page article titled The triumph of Azerbaijani Аrt in which the same three poets – Nizami, his contemporary Khagani Shirvani and Fizuli of Baghdad were named as portrayers of “turbulent, brave and enraged soul” of the Azerbaijani nation, passionate patriots of their nation, champions of freedom and independence of their country”.

In Azerbaijan they realised that they could achieve success only by the involvement of Orientalists, and primarily those from Leningrad. Orientalist Yevgeni Bertels took the most active part in this process; he had earlier called Nizami a Persian poet but in the beginning of February 1939 published an article “Genius Azerbaijani poet Nizami”  in Pravda which, according to Tamazishvili's assumption, was ordered to him and hence biased.   

According to Ivan Luppol the mention of Nizami’s name in Pravda was an action directive for the Academy of Sciences:

If half a year ago an article on Nizami appeared in the lower half of the page of Pravda, if in the Soviet Union a party member wrote an article on Nizami, this meant that each conscious resident of the Soviet Union was supposed to know who Nizami was. This was an instruction to all the directive organizations, all the authorities of republican, district and regional levels and in this regard the Academy of Sciences was to say its word without challenging its high scientific standing on this matter.

Joseph Stalin's role 

On 3 April 1939 an issue of Pravda was published containing an article by a Ukrainian poet Mykola Bazhan in which he described his meeting with Stalin:

Comrade Stalin spoke about Azerbaijani poet Nizami and quoted his works in order to break, using the very words of the poet, the groundlessness of the assertion that this great poet of our fraternal Azerbaijani nation was to be given to Iranian literature only because he supposedly wrote most of his poems in the Iranian language. Nizami himself confirms in his poems that he was forced to resort to the Iranian language since he wasn’t allowed to turn to his nation in his native tongue. This was the part quoted by comrade Stalin who managed to grasp with genius scale of his mind and erudition all the outstanding creations in the history of mankind.

Walter Kolarz emphasizes that the final verdict supporting the stance that Nizami was a great Azerbaijani poet, who spoke against the oppressors but was forced to write in a foreign language, was made by Joseph Stalin. Nizami was not supposed to belong to the Persian literature notwithstanding the language of his poems.

On 16 April, Pravda published a poem on behalf of Baku intelligentsia (Samad Vurgun, Rasul Rza, Suleyman Rustam) expressing gratitude for ‘returning’ Nizami to Azerbaijan.

Foreigners possessed our Nizami, having ascribed him to themselves,
But the nests woven by the poet in the hearts of the faithful are strong.
You returned his poems to us, returned his magnitude to us
And have enlightened the pages of the world with his immortal word (translation from Russian)

However, as noted by Tamazishvili, Bertels never mentioned Stalin’s role in the question of the ‘repatriation’ of Nizami; there is no word about Stalin in Russian publications either, including the publications of Azerbaijani authors.  Nevertheless, in Azerbaijan the role of Stalin regarding the question about Nizami was stressed more than once. Thus in 1947 the Deputy Chairman of State Planning Committee of Azerbaijan SSR (from 1970 the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Azerbaijan SSR) Ali Ibragimov characterised Stalin’s role in promoting the studies of Nizami’s literary heritage in the following way:

The question of studying Nizami’s work at a larger scale in terms of studying his multifaceted and rich heritage was launched by the Soviet scholars in 1939 after our great leader comrade Stalin, an expert in history in general and in the history of the nations of the Soviet Union and in national issues in particular, at his meeting with writers spoke about Nizami and quoted his writings. After this, having received a bright, deep and scientifically correct directive, the Soviet scholars launched an exceptionally large research on Nizami's work and his epoch

Nizami – “A poet returned to Azerbaijan”

During the jubilee anniversaries it was mentioned for many times that the Soviet authorities and Stalin personally returned Nizami to the Azerbaijanis. Thus in 1940 in the framework of the Decade of Azerbaijani Literature in Moscow the leading Azerbaijani poet Samad Vurgun made a report in which he mentioned that Stalin had returned to the Azerbaijani people their greatest poet Nizami whom “the sneaky enemies of the nation, nationalist-Mousavatists, panturkists and other betrayers wanted to steal for the sole reason that he wrote most of his works in the Iranian language”.

On 22 September 1947, Pravda published an article titled Nizami written by the Deputy Chairman of the Union of Soviet WritersNikolai Tikhonov:

It is well known that Nizami wrote his poems in the Persian language. This fact was more than once used by the enemies of the Azerbaijani nation, bourgeoisie historians and Iranian nationalists for declaring Nizami as an Iranian poet, as though he had nothing in common with his motherland – Azerbaijan. But this outrageous lie will not deceive anyone.

At the jubilee ceremonies of September 1947 held in Baku, the General Secretary of the Union of Soviet Writers Alexander Fadeyev made an even more categorical statement:

If it hadn't been for the Soviet authority the greatest genius of Azerbaijani nation and the genius of all mankind would not have been known even to the Azerbaijani nation.

However, as mentioned by Tamazishvili, by the end of Stalin’s life the version of his role in 'returning' Nizami came to its demise as its further shameless exploitation could be of no use any more; as for Stalin himself, he was not interested in dubious laurels in the sphere of Nizamology, especially in the post-war period.

Other Arguments

The formation of Azerbaijani ethnos was completed mostly by the end of the 15th century.  However the 'territorial principle' was one of the cornerstones of the ideology of “Soviet nationalism” which applied also to the history. The national principle in the USSR presupposed the extrapolation of 15 republics back into the past. In particular this concept distinguished Azerbaijani literature from Persian literature classifying Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet based on the fact that he lived in the territory which later formed part of Soviet Azerbaijan.  Thus, as a proof for Nizami’s Azerbaijani identity Bertels used the argument of methodological fallacy of ascribing to Iran a whole complex of Persian literature irrespective of the place of its creation and the ethnic origin of the author  Azerbaijani commentators interpreted a number of parts within Nizami’s poetry as an expression of Turkish ethnic identity of the author.

The course of Nizami’s 800th anniversary celebrations

In May 1939 a special ad hoc committee of the Council of People's Commissars of Azerbaijan SSR was established for preparing and holding the 800th jubilee anniversary of the “great Azerbaijani poet Nizami” which was to take place in 1941. In autumn the Anthology of Azerbaijani Poetry was published, the plans for the release of which had been announced earlier. The foreword to the anthology contained arguments proving that Nizami was an Azerbaijani poet, which also included references to Yuri Marr, the letter being characterised as a leading Soviet Iranologist; also a reference was made to the “special decision on Nizami’s jubilee” in which the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR “firmly and decisively recognized Nizami as a great Azerbaijani poet”. In Nizami’s works “the life and the mode of life of the Azernbaijani nation were portrayed”. The Azerbaijani authors explained the lack of any research on Nizami in Azerbaijan by “the plots of sneaky agents of fascism, bourgeois nationalists and great-power chauvinists” who “did all they could to hide from the Azerbaijani nation the heritage of her great son – poet Nizami”.

The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia of 1939 likewise called Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet (the author of the article was Yevgeni Bertels who had previously referred to Nizami as a Persian poet). The article in the official Soviet Encyclopaedia completed the process of revising Nizami’s nationality in Soviet Oriental studies. After 1940 Soviet scholars and encyclopaedias acknowledged Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet. Any other point of view started to be considered as a serious political mistake.

In December 1939 in Literaturnaya Gazeta Bertels published an article titled “preparations for Nizami’s jubilee” in which he particularly noted the description by Nizami of a utopian country of universal happiness (at the end of his poem “Iskander Nameh”). Bertels presented this description as an anticipation of the establishment of the future Soviet Union.

Nizami’s works were translated into Azerbaijani language (all were published in Azerbaijani translations between 1941 and 1947).

The jubilee celebrations, planned for autumn 1941, were postponed because of the war, although the jubilee conference took place in December 1941 in Ermitage in Leningrad at the time of the blockade. With the war being over the campaign was renewed. In May 1945 Nizami’s museum opened in Baku; on the "wall of one of the halls comrade Stalin’s words were engraved in golden letters about Nizami being a great Azerbaijani poet who had to resort to the Iranian language as he was not permitted to turn to his nation in his native tongue". The exposition mostly consisted of paintings on the themes of Nizami’s poems. Despite the lack of authentic portraits of Nizami the central painting of the exhibition was the portrait of the poet by painter Ghazanfar Khalikov which met Bagirov’s requirements. Since the 1960s this portrait became canonical for the Azerbaijani textbooks while Ghazanfar Khalikov was acknowledged in modern Azerbaijan as the creator of Nizami’s artistic image. The campaign was crowned with celebrations that took place in Baku in May 1947.


The role of Nizami’s national identity in the Soviet culture

According to the ‘territoriality principle’ Nizami, as a native of future Azerbaijan SSR, was to a certain extent a ‘poet of Soviet Union’ and his image was exploited for ideological purposes in this very sense. According to Sergei Panarin the research in the field of Eastern literatures in the USSR focused on the changes that these literatures and Eastern nations in general had undergone due to socialism. One could not make those conclusions based on the analysis of literary works, that’s why the researchers had to cling to separate historical facts such as the birthplace of this or that author.

As a result, the authors who wrote exclusively in Arabic or Persian language were ‘appropriated’ by the Soviet republics for creating an impression that the best part of the pre-Soviet cultural heritage of the nations, which once constituted a single civilization, was created within the boundaries of the future USSR. The Soviet propaganda offered the following scheme – Nizami wrote in Persian, but was born and lived on the territory of future Azerbaijan SSR; he reflected the aspirations of the Azerbaijani nation and foresaw a brilliant future for the USSR. The fact that he made his predictions not as a foreigner but as an Azerbaijani made him twice as great. For that reason the Azerbaijanis can be considered as ‘elect’ builders of socialism as they foresaw the bright future and granted a progressive poet-prophet to the world. Panarin notes that this was not in any way related to the true national renaissance of the Azerbaijani nation but was a mere ideological initiative.

The cultural consequences of the campaign

According to Tamazishvili, presenting Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet and ascribing his work to the achievements of the Azerbaijani literature was “the most important revolutionary result for the Soviet science achieved by this ‘jubilee’ campaign”. In Azerbaijan the acknowledgement of Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet resulted in the creation of multiple works of art – poet Samad Vurgun wrote the drama Farhad and Shirin (1941), composer Fikret Amirov wrote the symphony To Nizami’s Memory (1947), Kara Karaev from 1947 to 1952 created a range of musical compositions based on the motives of Nizami’s poems (ballet Seven Beauties and a suite with the same title as well as a symphonic poem Leyla and Mejnun, Afrasiyab Badalbeyli wrote opera Nizami (1948), in 1982 film Nizami was released. Monuments to the poet were erected in Gyanja (1947) and in Baku (1949; the author of both these works is Fuad Abdurakhmanov). In 1985 in Baku a metro station called Nizami Ganjavi opened in the place where according to the tradition the poet’s grave was located.

Tamazishvili notes that despite the fact that the conclusion on the national affiliation of the poet was based on a priori assertions rather than on scientific research, this conclusion was still beneficial for the multinational Soviet culture. Nizami’s poems were translated into Azerbaijani and Russian languages. The Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR included in the work plan of 1938 the writing of a scientific monograph on the Life and Work of the Great Azerbaijani Poet Nizami.

An active part in propagating Nizami’s work was assigned to Yevgeni Bertels who headed the group engaged in the critical translation of the series of poems by Nizami called Khamsa and in 1940 published a book Great Azerbaijani poet Nizami: Epoch, Life and Work, adapted according to ideological standards of his time”. Accompanied by the politicised jubilee campaign and to a great extent thanks to this campaign a massive translation, scientific-research and publishing works of political and cultural importance were launched and enhanced in scale.

According to Bertels by 1948 in the USSR a new science was created – nizamology, and the works written about Nizami within the last decade have “for a number of times exceeded the volume of literature written in Western Europe within a century and a half”. The politicised analysis of Nizami’s works which was accepted in the USSR presupposed that the poet could dream of a communist society, which raised protests against Bertels in 1947. One of the main results of the jubilee campaign and of declaring Nizami as an Azerbaijani was the wide popularization of Nizami’s writings in the Soviet Union.

The state of the question in the USSR after 1939

After the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia called Nizami an Azerbaijani poet in 1939 in subsequent works he began to be described not only as a ‘crown’ of Azerbaijani poets of the 12th century but also as an element in the chain of ancient Azerbaijani literature which includes authors not only from the territory of Azerbaijan SSR but also from Iranian Azerbaijan (Khatib Tabrizi, Abul-Hasan Ardebili); the first works of Iranian Azerbaijan are considered to be Median tales written by Herod and Avesta of Zarathustra which “portrays the religious, philosophical, social and everyday beliefs of the ancient Azerbaijanis” This scheme was dominant in encyclopaedias throughout the whole Soviet period.

Bertels’ attempt to move away from the ethno-geographical principle of identification

In 1948 Bertels made an attempt to break with the ethnic-territorial approach in the Iranian philosophy. He published an article titled “Literature in Persian language in Central Asia” in which, based on the idea of integrity of Persian literature, he declared that he would consider as Persian all the literary works "written in so-called ‘new-Persian language’ irrespective of the ethnic origin of their authors and of the geographical location where these works originated".

This announcement by Bertels immediately made him an object of politicised criticism which accused him in adopting “false standpoints of Western-European orientalists” and bourgeois cosmopolitanism and for diverging from Marxist–Leninist views on the literature of nations of Central Asia and the Caucasus. In April 1949, at an open party meeting in the Institute of Oriental Studies, devoted to the struggle against cosmopolitanism, it was announced that Bertels “was helping to spread new bourgeois-nationalistic concepts about supposed dominance of Iranian culture over the other cultures of neighbouring countries of Iran, especially the Soviet Socialist Republics of Central Asia and Transcaucasia”.

Bertels tried to defend his stance declaring about the methodological absurdity of classifying writers according to their ethnic or territorial affiliation. However, after receiving new accusations in reactionary pan-Islamism and bourgeois cosmopolitanism from his colleagues he had to admit his ‘big mistakes’.!!

The current state of the issue

The world science

In the contemporary literary studies the predominant view is that the 12th-century poet Nizami Ganjavi wrote in Persian and lived in Gyanja, in those times had a mixed population, predominantly Persian, and was under the influence of Persian culture. What is known about Nizami’s ethnic roots is that his mother was Kurdish . Some researchers believe that his father was from the city of Qom in Central Iran.

Beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet Union in the biggest national and biographical encyclopaedias of the world Nizami is recognized as a Persian poet while the Azerbaijani version is not even considered. Most leading experts in Persian poetry also hold this view.  Most of the researchers of Persian literature consider Nizami as a typical representative of the Iranian culture, a poet who influenced the Islamic culture of Iran and of the whole ancient world.

Scholars of modern history such as T. Swietochowski and A. Altstadt call Nizami a Persian poet and at the same time consider him as an example of synthesis of Turkish and Persian cultures. Criticising Altstadt’s point of view the critics note that it translates the ideological views of Soviet Azerbaijani researchers. According to Shireen Hunter by ascribing Nizami to Azerbaijani literature Altstadt continues the policies of Soviet falsifications of the history of Azerbaijani-Iranian relations. Reviewing the concept of the synthesis of Turkish and Iranian cultures in Nizami’s works Lornejad and Doostzadeh conclude that there are no grounds to consider that this kind of correlation actually exists.

In 2012, in the Yerevan volume on Orientalism a book On the Politicization of the Persian Poet Nezami Ganjavi by S. Lornejad and A. Doostzadeh was published; the book provided a detailed examination of the question of Nizami’s identity and the process of his politicization which received a positive criticism from a number of famous Orientalists. A. Bournoutian mentions that this work "not only exposes multiple falsifications but also, based on a thorough research of Nizami’s works, proves that Nizami was without doubt an Iranian poet”. Paola Orsatti believes that the book demonstrates the historical inconsistency of attributing Nizami to the Azerbaijani culture. Kamran Talattof considers this kind of work to be absolutely essential given the process of appropriation of the Iranian heritage of the ancient and modern times.

Rebecca Gould notes, that in most of the books on Persian literature published in Azerbaijan the significance of Persian poets born in the territory of the South Caucasus, among them Khaqani Shirvani or Nizami Ganjavi, boils down to the project of enhancing the ethnic prestige. “Nationalization” of classical Persian poets, which was a part of general policy of nation-building in Soviet times, in a number of former Soviet republics has now become a matter of political speculations as well as a subject of pseudo-science, which pays attention solely to ethnic roots of medieval figures.


After the break-up of the Soviet Union the encyclopaedias in Russian language continue to refer to Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet. Encyclopaedia Krugosvet in an article on Azerbaijani literature (author - Chingiz Husseynov) completely recovers the scheme of the origin of the Azerbaijani literature from “Avesta” as well as explains the writings of the poets of the 10th-13th centuries in Persian by the fact that it was “the language of the Persian empire”.  Other Russian scholars speak of Nizami as of a Persian poet.

In 2002 a monument to Nizami was erected in St. Petersburg at the opening ceremony of which the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia were present. In his speech made at the opening ceremony Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “A very happy and solemn event is taking place now – we are unveiling a monument to the prominent son of East, to the prominent son of Azerbaijan – poet and thinker Nizami. The head of the Iranian Philology Department and the dean of the Oriental Faculty of St. Petersburg State University I. M. Steblin-Kamensky, speaking of this monument characterises the description of Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet as a fruit of nationalist tendencies and as an “outright falsification”.


The political aspect of the question of Nizami’s national affiliation was intensified after the transformation of Azerbaijan SSR into the sovereign state of Azerbaijan. According to Sergei Rumyantsev and Ilham Abbasov in modern Azerbaijan Nizami has occupied a firm place along with many other heroes and cultural figures from Dede Korkut to Haydar Aliyev, serving as an example for today’s youth.

In the opening article to the three-volume collection of Nizami’s compositions published in Baku in 1991 doctor of philology Aliev Rustam Musa-ogli characterises the poet in the following way:

Nizami is one of the brightest geniuses not only of the Azerbaijani nation but also of the whole humanity. He is a rare phenomenon in whom all the best genetic qualities have been accumulated – talent, wit, conscience, honour, sagacity and clairvoyance which were always inherent to our nation.

“The history of Azerbaijani literature” (The Institute of Literature after Nizami at Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences 2007) repeats the Soviet scheme which derives the Azerbaijani literature from Avesta.

The version of Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet establishes itself by

·                    Territorial belonging of Nizami to Azerbaijan. At the same time the state of Atabegs of Azerbaijan, under the rule of which Nizami lived, is regarded as an Azerbaijani national state. Also the applicability of the concept “Iran” to that epoch, given the absence of a state with that name on the political map, is rejected;

·                    Claims about Nizami’s ethnic Turkish origin.

This point of view is predominant in Azerbaijan. In 2007 an “unacceptable” opinion on Nizami’s Talish rather than Azerbaijani origin was mentioned by the prosecution on the trial of Novruzali Mammadov who was charged with state treason.

In 2011 making a speech on the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliev declared that no one in the world doubts about Nizami being an Azerbaijani poet and that this can easily be proved. The perception of Nizami as a non-Azerbaijani poet Aliev explained by saying that Azerbaijani culture is so rich that other nations make attempts to attribute it to themselves.


Nezami was depicted on the obverse of the Azerbaijani 500 manat banknote of 1993–2006.  In 2008, coinciding with the 800th anniversary of his death, the National Bank of Azerbaijan minted a 100 manat gold commemorative coindedicated to his memory.

The Nizami Museum of Literature is located in BakuAzerbaijanOne of the Baku Metro stations is also named after Nizami Ganjavi. There is Institute of Literature named after Nizami and Cinema named after Nizami in Baku. One of the districts of Baku is called Nizami raion. The life of Nizami Ganjavi is shown in the Azerbaijani movie "Nizami" (1982), in which the leading role, role of Nizami Ganjavi, was played by Muslim Magomayev.

The Nizami Mausoleum, built in honor of Nizami, stands just outside the city of Ganja in Azerbaijan. It is a tall cylindrical building, surrounded by gardens. To one side, there is a metal statue commemorating Nizami's epic poems. The mausoleum was originally built in 1947 in place of an old collapsed mausoleum, and rebuilt in its present form after Azerbaijan Republic regained its independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Monuments to Nezami are found in many cities of Azerbaijan and Iran, as well as in MoscowSt.Petersburg and Udmurtiya (Russia), Kiev (Ukraine), Beijing (China), Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Marneuli (Georgia), Chişinău (Moldova), Rome (Italy).

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