Inst. of Manuscripts named for Mohammad Fuzuli


A review of the Institute of Manuscripts named for Mohammad Fuzuli, Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan.

In May, 2012, I traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan to carry out pre-dissertation research at the Institute of Manuscripts named for Mohammad Fuzuli (Məhəmməd Füzuli adına Əlyazmalar İnstitutu). The Institute has evolved, in several stages of expansion and name changes, from a small archival branch of the National Academy of Sciences founded in 1950. The Institute is located in central Baku, just outside the walled Inner City and next to the State Economic University at 8 İstiqlaliyyət. Hajji Zeyn al-Abedein Taghiyev, a wealthy investor in the city’s oil industry, financed the construction of the building to provide a secular school for girls at the end of the nineteenth century. The site housed the first sessions of the Parliament of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918.

The archive contains approximately 40,000 documents. Most of these materials are written in Turkish, Persian or Arabic, with some sources in Russian or Central Asian Turkic languages. The collection contains many major literary and poetic works and copies of well-known historical chronicles; however it also holds unique texts, including local histories, geographical works, and medieval scientific and medical works.

One of the major challenges of conducting research at the Institute is the incomplete cataloguing of documents. Various catalogues have been published, including several in the last decade, of manuscripts in the collection. The recent publications are divided by the language of the materials, with one volume for Persian manuscripts, another for Turkish, and one for Arabic. They are roughly organized according to genre. I was able to identify potentially valuable materials quickly and they were brought to the reading room for use the day after ordering. Unfortunately, the process of locating individual documents proved more difficult. The archive has not made any container lists available online; for this reason, I was unable prepare a research plan for their use prior to my arrival. The only means of searching most of the documents is through a card catalogue in the reading room. Its entries are divided simply by type of document (for example, there were drawers labeled for vaqf-namehs or for treaties) with no additional organization by date, location, author or subject. Because this card catalogue had not been updated for many years, the entries were written exclusively in Cyrillic Azerbaijani. As a result of these complications, and the limited time in which I could work in Baku, I chose to focus solely on manuscripts. Correspondence and writings in collections related to prominent individuals are better organized. Some of these materials, as well as other volumes of documents have been published in translation or transcription into modern Azerbaijani. Personal archives and manuscript catalogues can be found on the Institute’s website.

It is necessary obtain permission from the Director of Institute in order to carry out research. This process can be handled quickly by e-mail. In addition to the permission, the Institute should also send a letter of invitation for those in need of visas. In order to begin work in the archive, I was required to bring two letters of introduction, including one from my department.

I was not made aware of any clear policy regarding digitization or copying of materials, and relied on personal discussions with the Institute’s administration. I received permission to photograph documents after a meeting with the Director of the Institute. Each item that I photographed required his approval individually. He asked me to search the catalogues and prepare a complete list prior to the meeting. No photocopies were made by the employees of the Institute, but I returned with copies of several complete, photographed manuscripts, without any charge.

The working environment within the Institute was usually very conducive to my work. The reading room contains a large number of reference books and major historical and literary works, in Russian and Azerbaijani. At any given time, three or four staff members work in the reading room to process document requests and offer any necessary assistance. The room contains four computer stations. Because the windows face outward to İstiqlaliyyət, one of the busiest streets of central Baku, street noise sometimes became a distraction.

The archive is located downtown and can be easily reached from most hotels. Many of these hotels are found inside the old city walls or nearby. Baku is a somewhat expensive city, with hotel rates comparable to Europe or North America. For a long-term stay, an apartment rental is preferable to minimize costs. For people staying further away from the city center, the archive can be reached by public transit at the Içeri Şehir Metro Station, a few blocks west on İstiqlaliyyət. There are many dining options nearby, mostly located outside the walls, mostly offering Turkish cuisine, although some restaurants to the north and east of Fountain Square serve traditional Azerbaijani dishes. Tea was often offered to researchers at the Institute, as well.

The Institute is open Monday to Friday. It closes for state holidays and during the month of July.

Contact Information:

Address: 8, İstiqlaliyyət küçəsi, AZ 1001, Bakı
Tel.: (994-12) 492 – 31 – 97

[Author’s Note: I would like to thank the American Institute of Iranian Studies for providing support for my research in Baku, and Dr. Ahmad Guliyev of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Azerbaijan, for helping to facilitate my work at the Institute of Manuscripts.]

Kevin Gledhill
Department of History
Yale University

Image: Website of the Institute of Manuscripts named for Mohammad Fuzuli.

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