Nizami Ganjavi Foundation

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A Brief History of the
Sheikh Nizami Foundation

The works of the great Azerbaijani poet and thinker Nizami Ganjavi have an extraordinary position and status in the world’s literary heritage and his literary and cultural legacy is studied and promoted to this day. The unique artistry with which he conveyed universal values to the reader ensure that work continues to preserve and pass on his legacy to international audiences. This is why Azerbaijan has established scientific centres, museums and organizations named for the poet and raised monuments in his honour. Nizami Ganjavi was one of the most distinguished figures in medieval culture, as recognised not only in Azerbaijan but also in other countries that undertake extensive studies of his works. The local readership, too, has welcomed new approaches and interpretations by Azerbaijani researchers towards Nizami’s creativity and new editions of his verses in their language. 

President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev declared 2021 to be the ‘Year of Nizami’, a celebration of the great poet’s 880th anniversary. The Nizami Ganjavi Foundation (NGF) was also established as part of those celebrations. Founded as the cultural successor of the Sheikh Nizami Foundation, the NGF promotes the poet’s legacy and Azerbaijani culture to the international community.

Associate Professor Fakhraddin Kirzioghlu of Ataturk University, the author of a series of contributions on The Book of Dede Korkut and the historical folklore of Kars, discovered some of the documents from the Sheikh Nizami Foundation. Kirzioghlu and Yavuz Akpinar report that the first written mentions of the Foundation were in document #11564 held in the State Archives of the Prime Ministry in Istanbul. The documents read that a province with Ganja as its centre was established after the Ottoman Turks conquered the Ganja-Karabakh province. As Hadim Hasan Pasha, governor of Anatolia, took over the province (1588), the Cherkez Haydar Pasha was appointed beylerbey (head) of Ganja province. There was an appointment to the post of Pasha’s clerk. That was when cadastral #699 was compiled on the Ganja-Karabakh province to record agrarian and economic affairs, treasuries and population census. The Sheikh Nizami Foundation is mentioned on page 277 of the cadastral. This record represents documentary confirmation that the poet’s memory was cherished long after he passed away. The book clearly shows the foundation’s sources of income. The archive document is in two parts: 1) The foundation’s sources of income and the amounts received as donations; 2) The areas and services supported by the donations collected. 

Azerbaijani readers first heard about the foundation from articles published in the Literature and Art newspaper, first by Academician Hamid Arasli on 25 February 1983 and then by Academician Ziya Bunyadov on 3 August 1984. Written back in the Soviet era, the articles suggested that the documents were subjects for separate research. 

We do not know who set up the foundation, or when they did so. The founding documents have not survived to our times, which makes it impossible to answer a number of questions: how the foundation was managed, the nature of donations etc. 

In 1593 records were made of both foundations and the populations of cities ruled by the Ottoman state in northern Azerbaijan. The information we have allows us to say that Imamzadeh (Goy Imam – the Blue Imam) also had foundations in Ganja. While the Imamzadeh was located within the Ganja fortress, the Nizami Mausoleum stood outside it. 

The Nizami Corner had 12 endowed properties and it was considered to be the largest foundation in the Ganja-Karabakh region at the time. The foundation used its annual income to build schools, shrines etc. Documents of the time confirm that the foundation was one of the largest in the region in terms of donations and revenues. Its total annual income was 17,480 akhchas (akçe

 – Ottoman silver coins). The foundation’s expenses included employees’ salaries, daily meals and repairs to the tomb. Annual expenditure is recorded as 15,120 akhchas. How did this compare with another charity foundation? The annual income of the Imamzadeh Sheikh Muhammad Foundation, located in the mountainous area of the Kurek District in the Ganja-Karabakh Province, was just 5,400 akhchas. That foundation was considered one of the biggest in the province and was mentioned on page 278 of the abovementioned district cadastral. The income of the Sheikh Nizami Foundation was three times greater; its property also included a caravanserai (two small rooms), which hosted visitors to Ganja or those passing through the town along the Silk Road. Visitors were provided with free meals for three days. 

The Sheikh Nizami Foundation’s income was such that, apart from feeding the poor, paying employees and covering other expenses to run the foundation, they also paid the salaries of madrasa teachers at the Jami (Great Mosque) in Ganja. The poet had no heirs, thus a trustee, Sheikh Baba by name, managed the foundation. He received a special salary from the foundation’s income. All proceeds from the foundation were spent on money to the poor, the trustee, the minister, the Qur’an reader, the secretary and the teachers at the city mosque’s madrasa. 

When Shah Abbas conquered Ganja in 1606, he moved the city seven kilometres from its historical location, to its current location. People’s respect for Nizami lasted for centuries. But, as ancient Ganja was destroyed and relocated, the mausoleum beyond the city walls lost its grandeur. The Russo-Persian wars, especially the battle of 1828 on Shikh Nizami Plain, caused severe damage to the mausoleum. 

Once Azerbaijan regained its independence, the Nizami Mausoleum, neglected for many years, became a state reserve under special state protection. The Sheikh Nizami mausoleum is now one of the sights most visited by both locals and tourists in Ganja, Azerbaijan.

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