Everyone’s talking about this today, the fact that in 2012 the Italians wrongly set it in stone that the poet Nizami was Azerbaijani, on a statue of him at the luscious Villa Borghese in the country’s capital of Rome. In fact he was born in Azerbaijan but is historically lauded as a Persian poet, for his family are thought to be from Qom, Iran before they migrated to Azerbaijan and he wrote in Persian, greatly contributing to Persian literature, thought and language of the time and since.
The Azerbaijani’s certainly have a sense of ownership over Nizami, so much so that he features on their currency (above) and in any case Azeris spoke Old Azari, their version of Persian, until the Turkish language known as Azerbaijani took over, in the 11th century so the delineations are even less clear. Nizami was orphaned from his Iranian family, which he refers to in one poems calling his father Yusuf, and in some ways this reflects the debate of his heritage, he was appropriated not only by another family, but another region. On another level the debate reflects the fluidity of more modern notions of nationality and nation state and in this we’re disappointed at the reactions the Italian statue has levied.
The opening ceremony of the monument was held in April, 2012 with the support of Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the participation of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Italy. This was following the direction of the Azerbaijani president on June, 2011 “about holding the 870th anniversary of great Azerbaijani poet and thinker Nizami Ganjavi”.
Nezami, who brought a colloquial and realistic style to the Persian epic for which he is famous, is in fact also a shared heritage for the Afghanis, Tajiks, Kurds as well. Really he’s from the city of Ganja, an urban setting that at the time was mostly populated by Iranians and for that reason he’s often called Nizami Ganjavi. To us who he married (the first of three was a Kipchak slave girl) and what he wrote is far more interesting than all this short-sighted debate, but still the range of the reactionsto the issue is intriguing, some Iranians calling his Azerbaijani nationality “fake“, while others publicly state that calling Nezami Persian is “an unfortunate mistake.” In this day and age is this really relevant any more. Haven’t we, through experience understood the true nature of belonging. Academics, reporters and historians ignore the reality of dual nationality, of human and geographical and associative complexity, needing instead to categorise everyone and everything distinctly for their archives.
As Nizami himself said “To the tongue that brings you words without reason, the answer that best suits you is: silence”.