A.A. Bakikhanov (1794-1847) is one of the most distinctive thinkers among the great personalities of 19th century Azerbaijan. What makes him stand out from the other talented researchers of the period? First of all, this historian was a leading light of the Azerbaijani Enlightenment. He originated the idea of establishing secular schools. One of Bakikhanov’s most prominent features was the fact that he was not a believer in Providence. He was knowledgeable in both modern science and literature and the classical Eastern traditions. He skilfully analyzed the ideas of both Eastern and Western thinkers, thus his philosophical work comprised aspects of Eastern, Russian and European culture and philosophy.

Bakikhanov worked in the fields of archaeology, numismatics, and toponymy. He was the first historian to take an interest in undersea archaeology and his research revealed important new information. He is known primarily as a historian and his work Gulustan-i Iram took the study of history in Azerbaijan to a higher stage; this first detailed history of the country was the result of systematic and fruitful academic study. This work on the history of the South Caucasus was written in accordance with Western standards and is still regarded as an important piece of historical scholarship today. Because of its content and scientifically organised supporting evidence, it was appreciated both during Tsarist Russia and in the Soviet era. Even now it attracts the attention of foreign researchers and has been published in Russian, Persian and Azerbaijani several times over the years. It has also been translated into English and published by Willem Floor and Hasan Javadi under the title The Heavenly Rose-Garden: A History of Shirvan & Daghestan by Abbas Qoli Aqa Bakikhanov.

Khan’s scion at Turkmenchay

In order to understand Bakikhanov’s place in the development of the historical science of Azerbaijan and the innovations he brought to this area of study, we need to know something of his background. He was from Baku khan stock. He was born in the village of Khila (the present-day Amirjan) in Baku. His father, Mirza Muhammad II, was a former khan of Baku. His mother, Sofiya khanim, was a Georgian who had accepted Islam. Mirza Muhammad khan II had been defeated by his cousin Huseyngulu khan in a dispute and, as a result, the family moved from Baku to Quba where they lived in a domain property granted by the Fatali khan of Quba. Bakikhanov studied Arabic and Persian and was soon reading entire books written in these languages. As a result, he was invited by General Yermolov, commander-in-chief of the Caucasus, to Tiflis. In 1820, he began military service with the Caucasus corps in Alahid. He was appointed to the position of Eastern Languages Translator in the office of the commander-in-chief and promoted to colonel.

Between 1826 and 1829, Russia was at war with Iran and Turkey. Bakikhanov participated in the negotiation of the Turkmenchay treaty between Russia and Iran. At this time, during the occupation of Ardebil, the historian became acquainted with many new sources. While in South Azerbaijan he conducted research in the Eastern manuscripts library which was under Russian supervision. It is known that when Ardebil was occupied in 1828, 166 rare manuscripts from the Sheikh Safi library were sent to St. Petersburg and that the library was then moved to Tiflis. Here Bakikhanov catalogued the manuscripts. He also translated the Derbendnameh into Russian.

New historical approach

Bakikhanov was a creative intellectual in his day. He was distinguished from other historians of the time by two characteristics: his historical understanding of Azerbaijan and his methodology. His works, including Mishkatul-anvar, Riyazul-Guds, Ganuni-Gudsi, Asrarul-Malakut, Tahzibi-akhlag, Kashful-Garaib, Umumi jografiya, Eynal-mizan, Kitabi-asgariyya, and Gulustan-i Iram brought him international recognition. Before his Gulustan-i Iram, the history of Azerbaijan was reflected in works dedicated to the history of various states, provinces and khanates. As is clear from works produced by historians of earlier times, Azerbaijan was not studied as a historical, geographical, economical or political unit.

Bakikhanov was the first historian to trace and study Azerbaijan as a country from ancient times to the Gulustan Treaty of 1813. Thus we can say that Gulustan-i Iram is the first work to express a national revival and the pride of the Azerbaijani people in recording their social and cultural place in world history. The work also has great academic value.

As we have mentioned, a new and positive feature of his work was the scientific method of research that he brought to historical science in Azerbaijan. This was the result of the writer’s acquaintance with Russian and European historical studies and his objective approach to historical events.

Bakikhanov characterised the importance and content of history thus:

... history gives us beautiful morality and knowledge, and teaches us how to deal with issues in life. Therefore, we can consider it as an achievement of the moral sciences and say that history is a ruler without order and tyranny, and all should bow down before it. History is a silent orator that brings the behest of ancestors to their descendants. It explains in great detail the reasons behind need and wealth, progress and regression.

One of Bakikhanov’s innovations in Azerbaijani historical scholarship was the division of the country’s history into periods. Before him, historical events had been described only as events in time. Social, economic and political aspects of events were not taken into account. Of course, the division of history into distinct periods seems natural to us now, but then it had great academic significance in the Azerbaijan of the day. The Russian Academy of Sciences recognized the value of this development.

Islamic autonomy

Alongside the positive features of Bakikhanov’s world vision and academic work mentioned here, some characteristics of his work were related to the social milieu and environment of the time. As a result, on the one hand, of his social status and, on the other, the classical Muslim education and upbringing he was given, he stayed faithful to orthodox Islam until the end of his life. His religion had a certain influence on his view of history as on aspects of his work. For him, a world that manifested such order could not be ownerless and he believed in a primary conscious power as creator of this world. He was at the same time an objective idealist and religious thinker in his philosophical outlook, linking the divine creation of eternity to a primary power and holding that humans had been created unchangeably unequal. Although he accepted that people had not been created equal, he did not reject their freedom of social action. This set him apart from previous historians. He wrote:

Although there is no other truly influential power in the creation of the world apart from a supreme power, i.e. Allah, human beings have been granted the right and the ability to do any work. Human beings may acquire merit or sin in Allah´s sight by their actions.

As we see, Bakikhanov accepted that human beings had autonomy of action. He opposed the role of Providence so prominent in previous historical studies in Azerbaijan which explained social and political events in terms of fate and punishment. Thus he acknowledged that people played a leading role in the development of historical events.

He also believed, however, that these events were affected by prominent personalities and rulers, rather than the masses, so these were the focus of his attention. He explained the outcome of any military operation as a victory or defeat arising not simply from the social and political situation, but also from the talent of the governing individuals. This vision of history derived from the period in which he lived. He belonged to a certain class and had a public position.

Toponymic evidence of origins

The Azerbaijani historian Abdulkarim Alizada wrote about the Gulustan-i Iram: A.A.Bakikhanov was the first to write a history of Shirvan and Dagestan from Ancient Days to the Gulustan Treaty based on rich written sources, ethnographic materials, linguistic toponymy and architectural monuments.
Manuscript first pages of Bakikhanov’s books, Tahzibi-akhlag (Moral Education), Eyn al-mizan (Being of Reason), Kitab-I nasihat (Book of Precepts)

The primary initiative in the study of our ancient toponyms in relation to our history belongs to A.A. Bakikhanov. Scholars often comment on his role in the clarification of the origin of our nation and the study of our toponyms. It is a fact. Due to the lack of sources (particularly local sources) on the ethnic composition of our people in ancient times and the Early Middle Ages, toponyms are a valuable source of information for researchers.

Another researcher, V. Leviatov, evaluated the thinker in his monograph A Summary of the History of Azerbaijan of the 18th Century. He regarded Gulustan-i Iram as the first work on the history of Northern Azerbaijan to be written from a base of rich factual material. He particularly stressed that the author used only three Persian language sources relating to the 18th century – Muhammad Kazim’s Nadirnameh, Muhammad Mohsum’s Zubtad Tavarix, and Abdulrazag bey’s Maasiri Sultaniyya:

Unfortunately, although A.A.Bakikhanov showed that he used the works of a range of other historians, he does not give the names of other Persian language sources.

According to most studies of Bakikhanov’s work, the fact that he was from Baku khan stock, was a great academic and was highly respected, helped him to foster relations with the intellectuals of his time and thus obtain access to multiple sources. Not satisfied with this, he also talked a great deal with old people, living witnesses of events that took place in the later decades of the 18th century, and obtained valuable written and oral information.

Scholars have occasionally expressed suspicions about the conclusions drawn by Bakikhanov. For example, S. Onullahi wrote in The History of Tabriz city in the 13th – 14th Centuries:

As there is no information in original Arab-language sources about Harun ar-Rashid or his wife being in Azerbaijan, for some reason A. Bakikhanov, knowing that the son of Harun ar – Rashid was buried in Derbend, concluded that Zubeyda khatun and her husband came here and conquered Derbend and Shirvan.

Publication and…

Bakikhanov said that he wrote Gulustan-i Iram in his free time. He believed that it would be a significant contribution to the study of the history of the Caucasus. After completing it (in Persian) in 1841, he then began work on a Russian translation with the Polish poet T.L. Zablotski, who was in exile in the Caucasus at the time; this was completed within three years, but the author was unfortunately unable to publish his work. He did, however, publish an article in 1846 entitled Nadir Shah’s Visit to Dagestan, based on the main work. In fact Gulustan-i Iram was first published after the establishment of Soviet power in Azerbaijan, in Russian in 1926 and in Azerbaijani in 1951.

Certain parts of the work were published in newspapers at different times. In 1895, a long article, From the History of the Baku Khanate, was published in three editions of the Caspi newspaper, with a statement that it was taken from A. Bakikhanov’s work on the History of Dagestan – i.e. Gulustan-i Iram. In 1898, Ahmad bey Aghaoghlu also published a part of this work in the press under the title, The History of the Caucasus Related to the History of Iran, an event which aroused great interest.


We stated above that Bakikhanov was a leading figure in the Azerbaijani Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a movement led by the bourgeoisie against feudalism during the transition to capitalism. The term enlightenment was used by Voltaire and Herder and was highlighted in Kant’s article, What is Enlightenment? (1784). International promoters of enlightenment included Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Feuerbach, Franklin, Jefferson, Radishev and the Russian Decembrists among many others.

These ideas influenced Azerbaijani thinkers in the first half of the 19th century, leading to new directions in the study of history and historiography. The enlightening path to democracy was established here and Bakikhanov was one of its leading representatives, the environment in Tiflis being an essential component in these developments. The German poet F. Bodenstedt, who was in Tiflis, was amazed by his poetry and translated several of his poems into German. The Polish poet L. Zablotski and Russian poet Polonski translated his poems into Polish and Russian. Bakikhanov’s acquaintance with Russian writers and revolutionaries also affected his vision of the world. He worked with Griboyedov, Pushkin and Bestujev-Marlinski, and was friends with Vazeh, Gutgashinli, Akhundov, Kuchelbecker, Abovyan, Chavchavadze, Orbeliani, Baratashvili and Zablotski. According to T. Agayan, Marlinski described him as, ‘a very literate person, famous for his academic work.’

In 1833, Bakikhanov visited Moscow, Lithuania, Petersburg, Poland and Ukraine. A meeting with the great Pushkin was significant to his emergence as a leader of the Enlightenment, as was the visit to Poland.

He was also a military man. His service in the Russian army and his love of the military arts helped him to achieve the rank of colonel. However, his creative and academic work led him away from service and further into research. Thus, his academic interests prevailed.

Retirement and legacy

Manuscript first pages of Bakikhanov's books, Kashf al Garaib

The changes in Bakikhanov’s world vision finally led to his retirement. The tyranny of tsarist functionaries and the rebellion that took place in Quba in 1837 made a deep impression on him, as evidenced by official documents. Military Minister Chernishev wrote in a report to Tsar Nikolas I, that Bakikhanov had criticized the actions of local officers. He also explained the reasons for the rebellion in a letter of October 1838. He criticized the feudal basis of the rules set laid down by the Tsarist government and was entirely dissatisfied with the reforms of 1840. From this point onwards the Tsarist government viewed him as having oppositionist tendencies.

It is certainly true that this thinker had an encyclopaedic knowledge and wrote valuable works of history, philosophy, astrology, theology, astronomy and ethics. He was an active enlightener, was well-known as a poet familiar with Azerbaijani poetry and was, at the same time, a prominent political figure. Thus he stands alongside the greatest Russian and European academics and thinkers of the early 19th century.

Cover page, Bakikhanov’s book Gulustan-I iram I (Heavenly Rose-garden), 1841

A.A.Bakikhanov prepared the first systematic academic work on our history with reference to multiple sources. He laid a trail for future generations of scholars and, as a result, he enriched our knowledge of the country’s history. His artistic and academic versatility was appreciated both during the Soviet era and during Azerbaijan’s renewed independence; the publishing of his academic and artistic heritage being evidence of the respect for his contribution to historical research.


1. Bakikhanov A.A. Gulustan-i Iram. Baku, 1951
2. Gasimzadeh F. A History of 19th Century Azerbaijani Literature. Baku, 1956
3. Ahmadov E.М. А.A.Bakikhanov: His Era, Life and Work. B., 1989
4. Yenikolopov I.K. Bakikhanov’s Contemporaries. B., 1959
5. Leviatov V.I. Essays from the History of 18th Century Azerbaijan. Baku, 1948
6. Reykhman Y.Y. Tadeush Lada Zabolotski and А.А.Bakikhanov. Short Reports of the Institute of Oriental Studies. USSR AS. 1960, v. XXXVIII

About the author: Sevinj Gasimova is the author of research into historiography and source studies on the history of Azerbaijan. She is an associate professor at Baku State University with a PhD in History.