In June 2002, a monument to the “great Azerbaijani poet” Nizami Ganjavi was opened on Kamennoostrovsky Avenue of Saint Petersburg. The opening ceremony was held at the highest level, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Russia.
Media covered the speeches of the leaders of the two states.
Vladimir Putin said: “Today, we have a very joyful, solemn event – we are opening a monument to the eminent son of the East, the eminent son of Azerbaijan, poet and thinker Nizami. He has written many works, including about Russians, describing various moments of history, describing both peaceful life and military actions.
He has never slipped into ideas that would divide peoples, he has always talked about those topics and picked such words and situations that would bring people closer together. Nizami was a humanist in the broadest sense of the word. The idea that the world was created not for penury and oppression but for happiness and freedom belongs to him. Nizami also said that the word spoken from the heart goes straight to the heart.”
Saint Petersburg is the capital of monuments. The bronze five-meter figure of the poet sitting on a bench under an arch will probably fit well into the refined image of the great city.
But, paying tribute to the authors of the composition, it is necessary to recognize at the same time that no other Saint Petersburg statue distorts history in the same shameless way as this sculpture.
It is a monumental testimony for the impunity and even the justification of the process of appropriation by representatives of one nation of the cultural heritage of another. It is a form of abuse of the past cast in metal.
A cultural dialogue between nations is the most gratifying affair. But one wonders whether healthy relations can be supported through initially false, distorted beyond recognition realities, on the basis of a violent change in the poet’s self, and a frank mockery of history.
After all, the constant imposition of such anomalies provokes a chain reaction, replicates ideological clichés, creates a new reality. The chain reaction in such cases, as a rule, shoes itself immediately.
In 2004, monuments to the “great Azerbaijani poet” were opened in Tashkent and Cheboksary, the capital of the Chuvash Republic. In this Russian federal subject, the Azerbaijani delegation was headed by the then ambassador of the republic Ramiz Rizayev who thanked the leader of Chuvashia Nikolai Fedorov on behalf of the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for supporting the initiative to establish the monument. In 2005, a monument to the “Azerbaijani poet” was installed in Chisinau as well.
The Baku authorities are paying close attention to the issue of the ethnocultural identity of Nizami, and among other “evidence”, they also give monumental ones, which, by the way, continue to sculpt a version of their own history.
During the collapse of the USSR, a monument to the “Azerbaijani poet” was erected in Moscow, which can be seen today in front of the embassy of this republic. It is also planned to place sculptures in Houston in the US and Acapulco in Mexico.
In 2012, monuments to the “great Azerbaijani poet” appeared in Rome and Beijing. Moreover, the clause on the poet’s nationality may also appear in the indictment process during separate criminal trials in Azerbaijan itself.
Up to the mid-thirties of the last century, Nizami’s ethnic and cultural identity hadn’t been disputed. Actually, why should a Persian poet be presented as an Azerbaijani? How is it possible to remove the creator-poet from his native country? How could such a figure have been such unceremoniously pulled out of the soil that had grown talent and transplanted into an initially flawed ideological greenhouse?
With the same success, you can “remove” Shakespeare from English literature, Pushkin from Russian, and Cervantes from Spanish… Prodigal troubadour Bertran de Born and Danish singer of the early sagas Saxo Grammaticus were contemporaries of Nizami – why not represent them as Azerbaijanis, especially since they also did not write in Turkic?
The evidence base of the apologists for the Azerbaijanization of the poet, initially based on the fact that Nizami had lived in the city now located in the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan, is striking.
At the same time, they ignore the fact that he himself was of Iranian origin, worked in his native Farsi language, and never considered himself an “Azerbaijani”, especially given that such a people (as well as an ethnonym) did not exist not only during his life but also during the next nearly eight centuries.
Why not represent Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov, a native of Kiev, as a Ukrainian writer, especially when Russians and Ukrainians are the representatives of the same Indo-European language family, while Iranians and Azerbaijanis belong to radically different language families, the Indo-European and Altaic?
With the same “foundation”, one could call the great Vladimir Mayakovsky a Georgian poet, especially since he was not only a native and a resident of the country but also wrote: “Once I set foot on the Caucasus, I remembered that I am Georgian.”
Ganja is situated in a picturesque area on the northeastern spurs of the mountain system of the Lesser Caucasus. Despite the considerable antiquity of the area, the name of the city itself has been known only since the middle of the 9th century and goes back to the Indo-European (Iranian) word “gandz” (meaning treasure, casket, in some cases – spiritual chants), which retained all its meanings in the related Armenian language.
In accordance with the peculiarities of the pronunciation of a particular language (Persian, Armenian, Arabic, Albanian, Georgian), the city has been called differently – Gandzak or Ganja – long before the appearance of Turkic nomads in the region.
The political status of the territory in which it is located has changed very often in history. However, regardless of the official registration, the area itself has always been famous for its natives.
A contemporary of Nizami was Persian poetess Mahsati Ganjavi, a representative of Muslim versification who praised the characters and images of the inhabitants of the artisan quarter, poets, and Mutrib singers. Most of her literary heritage hasn’t reached our days, but about thirty verse passages and more than two hundred and fifty quatrains – rubai – testify to the genius of the poetess.
A native of Ganja was Armenian thinker, literary and social activist, theologian, and priest Mkhitar Gosh. A contemporary of Nizami, he was particularly famous as a fabulist and the author of “Datastanagirk” (“Lawcode”).
The legal provisions presented by Gosh (“On the oath and the procedure of its taking”, “The necessary characteristics of judges, prosecutors, and defendants”, “On the witnesses, why they are necessary, and why two or three of them are selected”, etc.) interest jurists even today.
If you follow the logic of the apologists of the Azerbaijanization of Nizami, then the Armenian natives of Gandzak-Ganja, especially lyrical contemporaries, may also be considered the representatives of the Turkic culture and literature.
However, to a certain extent, this process has actually started a long time ago.
Doctor of Historical Sciences, Chief Researcher at the N. Miklukho-Maclay Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences Victor Schnirelmann emphasizes: “The most favorite occupation of Azerbaijani authors was the renaming of medieval Armenian political figures, historians, and writers who had lived and worked in Karabakh in Albania.
The most influential book in Azerbaijan, where all this became a principled position, was the work of Z. Buniyatov published in 1965 and devoted to the events of Arabic times in Caucasian Albania which he directly called Azerbaijan.
In this book, he already spoke of ‘Armenian-speaking authors’, implying figures of early medieval Albania who wrote in Armenian, such as historians Movses Kaghankatvatsi and Kirakos Gandzaketsi, poet Davtak, and jurist Mkhitar Gosh.
The fact of the recognition of Nizami as an Azerbaijani poet is almost the same as the recognition of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan within its Soviet borders. In other words, it is the permission of Azerbaijan’s aggression against indigenous cultures caused by the variegated spectrum of different interests.
Distortion of the obvious history is not only disgusting but also dangerous – it inspires all new claims. Today, the Baku authorities continue to consistently declare the Azerbaijani identity of Yerevan, the Ararat valley, the Sevan basin, Zangezur, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Nakhichevan… There is no need to go far for examples.
In October 2009, the Ninth Summit of Turkic-speaking states was held in Nakhichevan with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, as well as high-ranking officials from a number of other Turkic-speaking countries.
Already in his opening speech, President Ilham Aliyev voiced some benchmarks of Turkic cooperation, which turned out to be somewhat different from the announced ‘deepening of cultural and economic development ties between the fraternal republics.’”
Aliyev said: “The separation of Azerbaijan from its historic, ancestral land, the Zangezur region, and its accession to Armenia geographically dismembered our great Turkic world. That is, the activity of the Turkic world as a single family, a single force was suspended for decades. Today, the Zangezur region – an ancient Azerbaijani region which is now part of Armenia – is located between us.”
Such unrestricted handling of the historical past by modern Azerbaijanis is largely due to the fact that history itself, as well as numerous monuments, whether spiritual or material, have never been Azerbaijani, especially in the current understanding of the term.
Subconscious (or conscious) fixation of this circumstance minimizes the degree of reverent attitude to the past and instead allows them to correct, alter, and direct it at a given rate.
It is significant that the Azerbaijanis themselves first became acquainted with “their” great national poet (and in a directive manner!) only by the forties of the last century, in other words, almost eight hundred years after his death and a century after the Western European and Russian readers had become acquainted with him.
Indeed, does this happen to national poets?