Celebration of the 880th anniversary of Nizami Ganjavi urges literary scholars to take another look at his literary works and to research all parameters of his cultural heritage. As it is well-known, during the medieval ages Persian was recognized as the language of poetry in the East. Nizami Ganjavi wrote his works mainly in this language. During the Soviet period, when the 800th anniversary of Nizami Ganjavi was celebrated in 1941, many works of the poet were translated into several foreign languages, including into Azerbaijani language. However, our research shows that, many mistakes were committed in the process of learning Nizami Ganjavi’s heritage and translating his works into Azerbaijani language. Moreover, the verses of the poet regarding his national identity and his Turkic origin were deformed, either omitted or distorted. It is of no doubt that these verses, especially the verses which express the poet’s religious beliefs, are crucial in order for us to learn about the national identity of the last prophet of the humanity – prophet Mohammad, as well as regarding the poet’s own Turkic origin. Nizami Ganjavi is the poet of Azerbaijan, he is pure Turk by nationality.
It should be noted that Nizami Ganjavi also wrote diwan in his mother tongue – Turkish language. Professor Aliyar Safarli provided ample information to the science world regarding the diwan of the poet in Turkish. This diwan has a huge importance in researching the national identity of the poet and his literary heritage.
A lot of attention was given to the national identity and Turkic origin of the poet in the article.
Key words: Nizami Ganjavi, national identity, Turk, diwan, poem, verse, line
One of the outstanding representatives of the world literature, prominent Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi is among the personalities, who opened a new page in the literary history of the humanity. For centuries, the literary heritage of the poet has been among the treasury of the countless cultural resources of the East. Nizami Ganjavi was born in Ganja city, which was considered as one of the cultural centers of the East during the medieval ages; he lived and worked in this city. The renown “Khamsa” of the poet was crucial in the enrichment of the global poetic-philosophical history.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ilham Aliyev adopted a decree on January 5th of this year on the occasion of the 880th anniversary of the birth of Nizami Ganjavi. According to the decree, 2021 is celebrated as the “Year of Nizami Ganjavi” within the republic.
We should note that, Nizami Ganjavi was always in the center of attention of the global scholars of Eastern studies. During the Soviet period, when 800th anniversary of the great poet was celebrated, his complete works were published and researched; however, certain censorship at the time, due to the Soviet rule, has complicated the complete and thorough learning of the poet’s life and work today. Therefore, with the independence of Azerbaijan, a necessity arises to take another look at the old cultural heritage of the nation. Looking from this angle, the 880th anniversary of Nizami Ganjavi urges literary scholars to look again at his literary works and to research again all parameters of his cultural heritage.
The goal of the research is to clarify some mistakes committed during the learning of the heritage of Nizami Ganjavi and the translation of his works into Azerbaijani language. In translations, even verses and lines regarding national identity and Turkic origin of the poet were deformed. Some ideas of the poet were forgotten and not added to the translations. Through correction of these kinds of faults, our goal is to eliminate the ill-intentional thoughts regarding national origin of Nizami Ganjavi.
Ill-intentional omissions
Research shows that, the large-scale celebration of the 800th anniversary of the great Azerbaijani poet during the Soviet period created a fundamental turn in the research and promotion of his heritage. Works of the poet were translated into his mother tongue and published academically. Without casting shadow on these great works, we could say that despite all of this, there is a necessity to learn Nizami Ganjavi and to research his works again, as well as to uncover his unknown works.
Especially, I feel it is important to remind that, verses related to the religious views and Turkic origin of the poet were taken out of his works. It is of no doubt that these verses are important in order to establish the impact of the religious views of that period at the outlook of the poet, as well as to find out about the national identity of the last prophet of the humanity – prophet Mohammed.
We find the following notes in the monograph entitled “Azerbaijani poet Nizami” by Mahammad Amin Rasulzadeh. “When praising the excellency of the prophet, poet uses again the adjective of “Turk”. These verses of Nizami are masterpieces and they are worth to mention as they appear:
Such a prophet, that Afridun and Jamshid
Under his rule, they feel fear – trust
He is the leader of these heroes
He is the one who speaks until the afterlife
He is such a ruler that with his order
Everyone settles down, the world sees order
Who is this Turk who is the owner of seven realms
He is the one who shows way on the earth and sky” [Rasulzadeh, 2011:211]
These verses are in the “Khosrov and Shirin” poem of the poet, from the part where he talks about prophet Mohammed. M.A.Rasulzadeh shows that, the poet used the word “Turk” in 80 instances in his works. Sometimes he used this word as an adjective, in the meaning of “beautiful, brave, heroic”. According to us, the word “Turk” in the above-mentioned lines were written to point out his national origin. Since “Who is this Turk who is the owner of seven realms, He is the one who shows way on the earth and sky” pointed to the national identity of the prophet, it was left out from the Soviet period publications, at the time when “pan-turkism” atmosphere were reigning.
We researched this similarity in other poems of he poet.
Through introducing the reader to the similar verses found in “Leyli and Majnun” poem of the poet, we would like to note that, the main goal of the of Soviet literature was not to hide the glorious adjectives used to describe the prophet, but to hide his national identity. The 3 (three) other similar verses, just like the above-mentioned omitted verse regarding the national identity of the prophet found in Azerbaijani translation of “Khosrov and Shirin”, were kept as they were, in the translation of “Leyli and Majnun”.
You are the one who surprises the six directions,
You ride your horse to seven skies.[Ganjavi. Leyli and Majnun 2004: 21]
You are the leader of the friends of Gods
You have a place in the Seven skies [Ganjavi. Leyli and Majnun 2004: 22].
By opening seven treasures at once
You have stepped on four precious stones [Ganjavi. Leyli and Majnun 2004: 23].
Seven treasures are an indication of seven skies. Four precious stones mean four elements: water, earth, fire and air.
You ascended by passing seven layer skies
You ascended and came to the highest peak.
Inhabitants of sky said “subbuh”
Thousands nymphs bathed in the light of your shadow [Ganjavi Leyli and Majnun 2004: 24].
Subbuh – means the one who is worth highest praise and prayer.
As it can be seen, the figure of “seven” is used in connection to prophet Mohammed in many instances to show the grandiosity of His Excellency.
When searching for the above-mentioned omitted part in the 2004 publication of “Khosrov and Shirin”, several parts of the preface entitled “Immortal love epos” written by Hamid Arasli drew our attention. “In all the translations of the poem throughout the medieval ages, as well as during the later period, some liberties, omissions, additions, interventions of translators were done; and therefore, none of them can be considered as an exact reflection of the original. The contemporary understanding of the translation of “Khosrov and Shirin” was done in 1947 by our great poet Rasul Rza. This translation was published with certain changes in 1948 by Azerbaijani Cultural Communication Society in Arabic alphabet. The translator corrected his own translation in 1962 comparing it with the scientific critical text, improved its literary meaning and re-published. The translator succeeded to keep the main attributes of the original text in his translation through verse style; he was able to clearly reflect in Azerbaijani language the literary terms, proverbs, wise words of Nizami which conveyed deep meanings. Deviation from original text, conveyance of one verse in several verses and distortion of meaning, which were common in the earlier publications, were here mainly eliminated. Although this translation was very close to the original, still there were instances when several verses of the poet were not clearly conveyed. [Arasli 2004: 21].
Confession of Hamid Arasli uncovers the necessity to prepare scientific-critical texts of Nizami Ganjavi’s works once more. It is clear that naming of prophet Mohammed as “Turk” by Nizami caused certain omissions and changes in the translation and re-publications of his poems.
Being Turkic in Nizami
Mahammad Amin Rasulzadeh also mentions that in “Sultani-Kaba” qasida , poet names prophet Mohammad as a Turk in an Arabic body, he uses this word several times and in doing so, informs about his own national identity.
We looked for the above-mentioned idea of Nizami Ganjavi regarding prophet Mohammad in “Sultani-Kaba” qasida. We present a piece of that qasida in the translation of Khalil Rza Uluturk:
He is the soltan of Kaba in the throne of seven countries
With black umbrella on this head, green clothes on his body
Khosrovs are sitting alone in their square throne
His arrow in the circle of skies
He is a Turk in an Arabic body, he hunts thousands hearts every day
He has a black mole from an amber in his white face [Ganjavi. Lyrics 2004:141].
It is clear that “Nizami is a name who wakes not only simple, patriotic, but also national feelings of Azerbaijanis. With his name not only Azerbaijanis, but also all Turks should be proud. Despite the fact that his language is Persian, none of the poets have idealized Turks the same level as Nizami” [Rasulzadeh 2011: 58].
As it is seen, writing in Persian does not mean being a Persian poet. Firstly, along with Persian, Nizami also mastered Arabic. Secondly, he also wrote in his mother tongue, about which we will talk below. When analyzing that period, the following thought of Bertels should be taken into account: “Just like French was an obligatory language for Russian aristocracy, Persian was considered as an obligatory language for Seljugi feudal persons. When the urban life progressed, this language started to play a more prominent role in the city. Persian was an international language to connect countless nations that were inside the Seljugi state. During this epoch, this was the reason why Persian was so widely spread”. [Bertels 2017: 17].
For those who try to make Nizami Ganjavi Persian, a more solid answer than this cannot be provided. On the subject of national ethnicity of Nizami, the prominent Russian scholar Yevgeni Bertels even writes that, “although some scholars of Eastern studies from Europe try to connect Nizami or his ancestors with Qum city, basing it on Persian sources, these initiatives should be rejected. This remark is in the second part of “Iskandarname”, allegedly Nizami named Qum here.
But, as English scholar of Eastern studies Rieu shows, these lines were added later and they were not from Nizami. Our materials completely confirm the confession of Rieu. These lines do not exist in the manuscript dated year of 763 of the hajera calendar (Christian calendar 1360) of Nizami, which is kept in Paris in National Library and which is the oldest manuscript known to me. [Bertels 2017: 27-28].
Prof.dr. Saban Ibrahimov, in his book “Azerbaijani poems of Nizami Ganjavi” in the preface entitled “Turkish poems of Nizami”, writes the following: “Let us first inform about the national ethnicity of Nizami and some attributes of the diwan. The poet in his Persian diwan writes the following regarding his national ethnicity:
Our ancestors were Turks
We were exemplary in the circle of intelligence [İbrahimov 2021: 3].
It should also be noted that, professor Sanan Ibrahimov reinforces this thought by giving undeniable facts on Nizami Ganjavi’s diwan written in his mother tongue – Turkish language. The scholar shows that this diwan, which was kept for many year is “Khadaviyya” library of Egypt, was published in Iran in the old alphabet in 1381 (Christian calendar 2002) by Sadyar Vazifa Eloghlu; in Azerbaijan, Huseyn Turksoy for the first time published qasidas and ghazals from this diwan with broad scientific explanations. The author even provided the photo of the sentence written on the manuscript. These were written clearly on the page of the manuscript belonging to Nizami Ganjavi: Diwani-Nizami. Talif al-muli Nizami Aladdin abi Mahammad Jamaladdin Yusif ban Muayyad al-Ganjavi.
In 2013, Aliyar Safarli, correspondent member of the Board of Governors of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, re-published the Turkish diwan of the poet with his own editorship at “Iqra” publishing house. This diwan has a great importance in researching national identity and literary heritage of the poet.
Shahamettin Kuzucular in his article “Nizami from Ganja – his Turkishness, literary direction and life” (13th century) writes: “Being certainly from Ganja, Nizami’s Turkish origin is highly probable. Many sources present proofs for this. It is certain that Nizami is a Turk and has origin from Turkish people living in AZERBAIJAN. This can be proven in the following verses taken from his poems. He says in Persian:
Peder mer peder mera Tork bud,
Der niru yek yeki gorg bud.
Turkish translation:
My fathers and grandfathers were all Turks,
They all were braves in their power” [Kuzucular].
Seeing national spirit in Nizami’s works, Mahammad Amin Rasulzadeh also writes that “what makes a work national, is not only the form, but also the national self. When there is no balance between these two aspects, self, rather than form makes it national; in other words, meaning plays more role than the language. A work written in a foreign language can be national for a nation, within certain conditions, because of the meaning and spirit which it carries” [Rasulzadeh 2011: 50].
Wrong translations
Let us pay attention to another aspect. We had to conduct a lot of research regarding one verse from “Leyli and Majnun” where Nizami Ganjavi wrote about his mother. Firstly, let me point that, today “Leyli and Majnun” is presented mainly through translation of Samad Vurghun. I do not know for which reasons, but this translation contains a lot of mistakes. The verse regarding the mother of the poet was published with a huge error. In fact, the same translation of S. Vurghun published in 2004 through different publishing houses have different versions. Let us see:
My mother, who is a Kurd daughter left us
She left the world with a mother heart [Ganjavi. Leyli and Majnun 2004: 54].
My mother, who is a Kurd daughter left us,
She left like a real mother on my shoulder [Ganjavi. Leyli and Majnun. Chashioghlu 2004: 44].
According to Mahammad Amin, Nizami’s mother is a daughter of one of the Kurdish raises ; traditionally, those raises were Turks, in other words their nationality were Turkish. Some researchers read the word “raiseye” as “Raisa” and noted that the mother’s name was Raisa. Samad Vurghun also accepted it as her name and put it as the title of the poem, dedicated to the memory of the poet’s mother.
Also Abulfaz Elchibay in his article “Fateh Salahaddin: Arab, Kurd or Azerbaijani Turk?” analyzed the verse regarding Nizami’s mother and wrote the following:
… “In medieval period, another confusion stemming from the similar writing of the words “qurd” and “kurd” in Arabic alphabet was related to the Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi. Azerbaijani scholars wrote a lot on this topic. I do not feel a need to repeat them here. In fact, Nizami in one of his works wrote “my brave faced mother” (Ger maderi-men Raiseyi-qord/ Mader sefetane pishe men mord – My mother brave Raisa/She died in front of me with a mother face – editor), researchers read this “My mother Kurd Raisa” and presented it wrongly (in medieval times the word “qurd” was written the same way as “kurd”) ” [Elchibay 2004: 162].
Aliyar Safarli and Khalil Yusifli wrote about this verse in the book “Ancient and middle ages Azerbaijani literature”: “Mother of Nizami was noted as Raisa. Until recently, she was thought to be Kurd. But according to us, Nizami wrote that she was brave, not of Kurd origin.
Ger madere- men Raiseye qord
Mader sefetane pishe – men mord…
(My mother brave Raisa
She died with mother face in front of me).
The word “kord” here was written the same way as “qord” which meant “brave” during Nizami’s period, the letters “kaf” and “gaf” could not be distinguished. But the meaning of the verse necessitates that we read it as “qord”. It is as if Nizami created contradiction with his mother’s bravery and her motherly death” [Safarli 1998: 123].
Before reflecting on the opinion of our colleague and analyzing the verse, let us look at the first verse written by the poet to the memory of his father:
My father Yusif ibni Zaki Muayyid
My grandfather left the world alone [Ganjavi Leyli and Majnun Chashioglu, 2004: 53].
The similarity of the meaning between the idea in the second line (my grandfather left the world alone) and the second line of the poem dedicated to his mother (she died in front of me with mother face) is uncanny. But the difference in the first lines were created by the poet intentionally through use of the particle “ger” in the second line.
It seems to us that translators forgot the particle “ger” in the verse at all times. Although, Aliyar Safarli and Khalil Yusifli were a bit closer to the issue on this matter, but not taking into account the particle “ger” have resulted in incompleteness. The poet through the use of the particle “ger” not only describes his mother as – a“brave ruler”, but also depicts her helplessness in front of death.
Ger madere men reiseye qord
Mader sefetane pishe – men mord.
Although my mother was – brave ruler (was rais)
She died in front of me with a mother face (in other words: like an ordinary mother)
As it is known, even nowadays the term “family ruler” is used. That is when the head of the family – man dies, the mission of ruling passes to mother. Even, in some families “ruling” is always done by a woman – mother. As it is stated in folk proverbs, “man is a worker, woman is a builder” [folklore sample]. This demonstrates the ever existent notion of the mother ruling bravely in the family. Thus, Nizami Ganjavi approaches his mother’s ruling (being rais) with a bit of smile, creates a contrast with comparison and shows her helplessness in front of death.
Regarding the use of particle “ger” in the medieval poems, we can say that it was used with the purpose of creation of contradiction and comparison. M.Fuzuli in his ghazal “Word” uses this particle in this way:
If (ger), Fuzuli, if you respect yourself so much, talk less
Talking much gets people out of respect [Fuzuli 2005: 151].
Or in Nasimi:
If (ger) you do not believe that your dimple look damaged the city of my heart
What is the reason then for my cry, why are my eyes wet? [Nasimi 2004: 232].
If (ger) I expose the secret of “analhaq” today in reality
It burns me in its flames and brings longing [Nasimi 2004: 269].
The medieval poems, which we showed as examples, are important indicators of how important “ger” component was in the poems of that age. It becomes clear from this that, Nizami Ganjavi expressed his own grief by comparing his mother’s bravery and her helplessness in from of death. That is to say, helplessness of a mother in front of death, who in normal times behaves or acts as a brave leader, increases literary impact of the poem, as well as it emphasizes that there are opposite poles on the circle of the world. Synonym of the word “brave” is “courageous, heroic, fearless”, while antonym of this word is “weak, fearful, underdog” and etc. The word “rais” here was in the meaning of a ruler and does not mean the name of a woman, that we understand nowadays. The same way, the word “qord” does not mean “qurd” (wolf), as well as not “kurd”.
Nizami Ganjavi was born and brought up in a Turkish family in Ganja city of the current Republic of Azerbaijan, his national identity is Turk. He gained global fame with his literary work, especially the quintet (khamsa) that he created, like other prominent scholars and poets of his period; his humanistic ideas caused his fame as a man of great intelligence, doctor and sheikh. But from time to time, mistakes caused during copy and translation of his works, created confusion in many topics. This was sometimes caused involuntarily through the inattentiveness of the secretaries, but it was also sometimes done intentionally. We conclude that, it is necessary to publish academically, as well as to conduct literary and figurative translation of complete literary heritage of Azerbaijani Turkish poet Nizami Ganjavi, based on the most ancient manuscripts.
Arasli Hamid (2004). Immortal love epos (Preface), Ganjavi Nizami. Khosrov and Shirin. Baku, “Lider” publishing house, 392 pages.
Bertels Yevgeni (2017). Great Azerbaijani poet Nizami. Baku, “Education” publishing house, 168 pages.
Elchibay Abulfaz (2004). On the Road of Great Azerbaijan, Baku, “Nurlar” publishing house, 376 pages
Fuzuli Mahammad (2005). Complete works. In six volumes. I volume. Baku, “East-West” publishing house, 400 pages.
Folklore sample. (Material is from our own archive).
Ganjavi Nizami (2004). Leyli and Majnun. Baku, “Lider” publishing house, 288 pages.
Ganjavi Nizami (2004). Lyrics, Baku, “Lider” publishing house, 160 pages.
Ganjavi Nizami (2004). Leyli and Majnun, Вакu: “Chashioghlu” publishing house, 240 pages.
İbrahimov Sanan (2021), Azerbaijani poems of Nizami, Baku, “Fuyuzat” publishing house, 102 pages.
Kuzucular Shahamettin. “Nizami fromGanja – his Turkishness, literary direction and life (13th century)
Nasimi Imadaddin (2004). Selected works. In two volumes. I volume. Bakı, “Lidеr” publishing house, 336 pages.
Rasulzadeh Mahammad Amin (2011). Azerbaijani poet Nizami Baku, “Taknur” publishing house, 520 pages.
Safarli Aliyar, Yusifli Khalil (1998). Ancient and medieval history, Bakı, “Ozan” publishing house, 632 pages.
Prof. Dr. Nizami MURADOGLU
Folklor Institute of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences
Baku, Azerbaijan,

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