Abbasgulu Agha Bakikhanov - Azerbaijani enlightener, intellectual & historian
By Vugar Khalilov
June 21 marks the 228th birthday of renowned writer Abbasgulu Agha Bakikhanov.
Among the notable figures of the XIX century Azerbaijan, Abbasgulu Agha Bakikhanov (1794–1847) is one of the most unique thinkers. What distinguishes him from the other accomplished researchers of the era?
First and foremost, he - as a historian led the Azerbaijani enlightenment process. He is known as an author of valuable works on history, philosophy, theology, and ethics, an active educator, as well as a powerful poet who was deeply familiar with classical Azerbaijani poetry. He was the one, who first proposed creating secular schools. Bakikhanov's lack of belief in providence was one of his most notable characteristics.
He was well-versed in contemporary literature, science, and Eastern classical traditions. His philosophical work included elements of Eastern, Russian, and European culture and philosophy since he skillfully evaluated the concepts of both Eastern and Western intellectuals.
Bakikhanov was an expert in toponymy, numismatics, and archaeology. He was the first historian to become interested in underwater archaeology, and his studies produced significant new data.
He is principally recognized as a historian, and his book Gulustan-i Iram (The Blooming Flower Garden) elevated the study of history in Azerbaijan. This first comprehensive history of the nation was the outcome of a methodical and useful academic investigation.
Written in conformity with Western standards, this treatise on the history of the South Caucasus is still recognized as a significant contribution to historical knowledge. It was respected both in Imperial and Soviet Russia because of its substance and scientifically organized supporting evidence. It was published several times throughout the years in Russian, Persian, and Azerbaijani and continues to draw the interest of experts from different countries.
It is necessary to know a little bit more about Bakikhanov's background in order to comprehend his contribution to the advancement of Azerbaijani historical science and the innovations he made in this field of study.
He came from the Baku Khan dynasty. He was born in Baku's Khila village, which is now known as Amirjan. Former Khan of Baku Mirza Muhammad II was his father. His mother, called Sofiya, was an ethnic Georgian, who had converted to Islam.
The family relocated from Baku to Quba, where they lived in a property given by the Fatali khan of Quba after Mirza Muhammad khan II had been defeated by his cousin Huseyngulu khan in a dispute.
Bakikhanov read full works published in Arabic and Persian after studying those languages. As a consequence, he received an invitation to Tiflis from Russian General Yermolov, who was in charge of the Caucasus.
He started his military career in 1820 with the Caucasus corps and was promoted to a colonel and worked as an eastern languages translator in the office of the commander-in-chief.
Bakikhanov took part in the peace talks between Iran and Russia after the war (1804-1813) that led to the Turkmenchay Treaty. The historian learned a lot about fresh sources during this period of Ardabil's occupation by the Russian Empire.
He carried out extensive study while in Southern Azerbaijan in the Russian-supervised Eastern Manuscripts Library. It is known that 166 priceless manuscripts from the Sheikh Safi library were taken to St. Petersburg during the occupation of Ardabil in 1828 and that the collection was afterwards relocated to Tiflis. Bakikhanov listed the manuscripts here, moreover, translated the Derbendnameh into Russian.
As a brilliant thinker, his awareness of Azerbaijan's historical context and his technique set him apart from other historians of the day. He gained prominence across the world for his works, which include Mishkatul-Anvar, Riyazul-Guds, Ganuni-Gudsi, Asrarul-Malakut, Tahzibi-Akhlag, Kashful-Garaib, Umumi jografiya, Eynal-mizan, Kitabi-Asgariyya, and Gulustan-i Iram.
Gulustan-i Iram is the first piece of literature to convey a national renaissance and the Azerbaijani people's pride in preserving their social and cultural legacy for future generations. The work is also very valuable academically.
Bakikhanov introduced the scientific technique of inquiry to Azerbaijani historical science, which was a novel and constructive aspect of his work. This came about as a result of the author's familiarity with European and Russian historical studies as well as his impartial perspective on historical events.
He was a key character in the Azerbaijani Enlightenment during the transition from feudalism to capitalism.
In the first half of the XIX century, the enlightenment ideas had a great impact on Azerbaijani intellectuals, inspiring new approaches to the study of history and historiography. Bakikhanov was one of its prominent spokesmen as the enlightenment movement was emerging in the region, with the atmosphere of Tiflis playing a crucial role in these events.
Bakikhanov's worldview was influenced by his interactions with Russian intellectuals and revolutionaries such as Griboyedov, Pushkin, Bestujev-Marlinski among others.
Bakikhanov's retirement was ultimately brought on by the changes in his worldview. According to official records, he was profoundly affected by the tsarist bureaucrats' despotism and the Guba revolt of 1837. He was completely unsatisfied with the reforms of 1840 and questioned the feudal foundation of the norms established by the tsarist authorities. The Tsarist regime began to perceive him as having oppositional inclinations at this point.
It is undeniable that this scholar was a veritable encyclopedia of information and produced important works on history, philosophy, astrology, religion, astronomy, and ethics. He was a well-known poet who was familiar with Azerbaijani poetry, a major political figure, and an active enlightener. He, therefore, ranks among the best scholars and philosophers of the early XIX century in Europe and Russia.
Bakikhanov compiled the first organized scholarly study on Azerbaijan’s history using a number of sources. He paved the way for subsequent generations of academics, which improved the people’s understanding of national history. The publication of his academic and artistic legacy is proof of the respect for his contribution to historical studies.
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