Nizami Ganjavi Programme for the study of languages and cultures of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus

This is a photo of a monument in Azerbaijan identified by the ID 6. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The idea for the Nizami Ganjavi Programme for the study of ancient languages and cultures of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus was born in 2013 when Professor Robert Hoyland came to Azerbaijan to visit archaeological sites and was invited to meet Professor Nargiz Pashayeva, rector of the Baku branch of Moscow State University. Their shared interest in education and research resulted in a joint decision to work towards the establishment of a Centre in Oxford that could provide resources for students and scholars from all over the world to come together to investigate and discuss the pre-modern history and culture of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus.  The first step in realizing this aim has been the creation of the Oxford Nizami Ganjavi Programme, which will oversee the excavation of Barda in Azerbaijan, the translation of major works of Azeri and Russian scholarship into English and sponsor a number of graduate students. This programme will run for five years, in the course of which we will plan the establishment of a more permanent Centre with a long-term endowment. We hope thereby to fill a gap in modern scholarly work on the Caucasus, which tends to focus on recent politics and to ignore the long, rich and diverse history of this strategically and culturally important region of the world.

The purpose of this research program is to further the study of the languages and cultures that have played a part in the land that is now called the Republic of Azerbaijan.  As well as Azeri and various other Caucasian languages/cultures (Georgian, Armenian, Circassian, etc.), this will include Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Kurdish. This would also allow for research into the literatures that have been expressed in these languages and the religions that have made use of them to convey their doctrines and rituals, most notably Christianity and Islam. The chronological focus will be the pre-modern period, up to ca. 1864, the end of the Russian-Circassian war. The geographical focus will be more diffuse; though the territory represented by modern Azerbaijan will be a core feature of the research, those countries which it neighbors and with which it has had relations in previous centuries will also be included.

More specifically we intend:

  • To organize an archaeological survey and excavation of Barda, in modern Azerbaijan, which was the capital city of the ancient Christian kingdom of Caucasian Albania and the site of one of the first Muslim garrisons in the Caucasus. The results of this work will be published and its conclusions presented to experts for discussion.
  •  To select and translate into English significant works on the history of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus, both in Russian and Azeri, and to make them freely available on our website.
  • To organize and fund lectures and workshops with the participation of scholars from inside and outside Oxford to present their work to different audiences.
  • To maintain a website that will advertise public research-seminars and special lectures held in Oxford that deal with the ancient languages and cultures of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus.
  • To publicize through our website research conducted in Oxford on the ancient languages and cultures of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus
  • To fund a number of graduate scholarships in the fields of Oriental Studies, history and archaeology, which will be offered on a competitive basis with preference given to those wanting to study subjects pertinent to the aims of the programme.


James White

James' Master’s project examined how ideas about vision – both what happens when we look at something and how we interpret visual experience – are played out in the text and later illustration of Niẓāmī Ganjavī’s Khamsa. The prefaces and the narratives of the five poems in the Khamsa consistently focus on the interpretation of sensory experience as a method for understanding the order of things. By engaging with Niẓāmī’s ideas about interpretation, he analysed how the Khamsaties the study of knowledge to the composition and reading of poetry. In a second strand to the project, he examined how the hermeneutic frameworks developed in the Khamsa were read anew when itwas illustrated in the early-modern period. For this he focused on an illustrated manuscript produced for the Timurid self-styled sulṭān Iskandar.  

His doctoral research will examine two medieval anthologies - al-Thaʿālibī’s (d.1039) Arabic Yatīmat al-Dahr and ʿAwfī’s (d. c. 1230) Persian Lubāb al-Albāb. He will ask how the compilers create critical and aesthetic contexts for the appreciation of literature by close reading their selections of poetry and the material that introduces them. His research will focus on what the compilers considered good poetry in their respective languages to be and why, and on how they encouraged their readers to engage with the frameworks that they developed.

Eliza Mauhs-Pugh

Eliza Mauhs-Pugh comes to Oxford after having completed her BA in Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Spanish at Drew University (New Jersey, USA). She graduated summa cum laude with Honors in Comparative Religion for her thesis, Santiago Matamoros: Reconquista and Identity in Twelfth-century Iberia, in which she examined the ways in which St. James was used as a lodestone of identity in Christian Iberia in the context of the so-called Reconquista. Her research interests lie primarily in the sociocultural history of the medieval Middle East, particularly the interactions between Christian and Muslim communities and the role of minority communities. As a Critical Language Scholar she spent a summer in Tangier, Morocco studying Modern Standard Arabic and Moroccan Darija, and made use of original sources in Spanish, French, Latin, and Arabic in her thesis research. An inveterate linguaphile, she is currently working on adding Russian to the list. 

Katie Campbell

Katie is an archaeologist, carrying out research into the impact of the Mongol invasion on the cities of Central Asia and the Caucasus. By identifying the archaeological remains of conquest versus abandonment and desertion, her DPhil aims to evaluate the impact of the Mongols in the region in the 13th and 14th centuries. She is excavating in central Bərdə, Azerbaijan and will compare the archaeological remains at this site to other cities in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. 

Prior to working on the Nizami Ganjavi Project she worked as an archaeologist accross Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, and recently completed an MSc at the University of York, using 3D recording to document and analyse a monumental mudbrick building in Turkmenistan. 

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