Encounters and interweavings in Caucasus
A long-term history of cross-cultural transfers
November 7-9, 2016
The Caucasus region may be considered as a classical place of crosscultural transfers along with Central Asia on the Eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. Many ethnic and linguistic groups of this region are often perceived as separate identities, nations and languages. Georgians are not Azerbaijanis, nor Ossetians. Circassians are different from Chechens. This puzzle of distinct languages and cultures can be observed from the viewpoint of the entanglements between cultures, whose encounter creates new configurations. This dynamic will be highlighted in a conference focused on the cultural history of the Caucasus or more precisely on the mixed forms generated by cultural encounters from Antiquity to the end of Soviet period. We will put aside the conflicts related to post-Soviet times and geopolitics issues. This conference will be organized in Baku during the autumn in November, 2016, by the labex TransferS and the Khazar University of Azerbaijan which accepted to host the meeting. As a country speaking a Turkic language but deeply indebted to Eastern (Persian) and Western (Russian) influences Azerbaijan illustrates clearly this shared history, which can be also illustrated by Turkic-Persian symbiosis in the culture of the Azerbaijani population in contemporary Iran. The oil-producing company of the Nobel family signalizes the cosmopolitism of Baku around 1900. Caucasus was a part of the northern Silk Road and has been shaped by this axis of continental exchanges. As a part of Turkey, of Persia or of the Russian Empire it has inherited moments of these traditions and belongs to the history of these different empires. But Caucasus was since the Antiquity a field for the expansion of Hellenism and can be considered as a location of Pontic Hellenism. The contestation between Christianity in the form of autocephalous churches and Islamic traditions is a specific phenomenon of the region. About 60 languages are currently spoken in Caucasus and this plurality of languages and ethnic groups is constituted on the basis of importations and interweavings. Such a museum of rare languages fascinated the linguists (Dumezil who studied oubykh, Marr, the discoverer of the Japhetic languages or the French scholar Brosset, who devoted himself to Georgian languages, could be referred as illustrations of this fascination). Linguists have still to define the place of Indo-European researches in the Caucasian context.
During the Antiquity the Caucasian world stepped beyond the borders of the region itself. The Hittites, the Hurrians, the Urartian cultures have been related to the Caucasian background, so that Anatolia and Mesopotamia were connected with the Caucasian world. The influence of the Caucasian cultures beyond the regional border explains why the Caucasian architecture may be recognized in religious buildings of the Ottoman Empire (for instance the mosque in Divrighi). The crossing of esthetic traditions has been highlighted by prominent art historians from Karl Schnaase to Strzygowski. German authors like Friedrich Bodenstedt, the translator of Azerbaijani poet Mirza Shafy, shaped the European perception of the Caucasian culture. The mixing of literary backgrounds is particularly remarkable in the Georgian Knight in the Panther‘s skin with its Persian sources as in the poem by Azerbaijani writer Nizami, which have been imitated in most oriental literatures or in Armenian David from Sassoun with its relatedness to Arabian patterns. Caucasus is especially central for Russian literary inspiration. From Lermontov’s A hero of our time to Pushkin, from Griboyedov to the travelogues concerning the Mount Ararat or to Tynianov’s Vazir Mukhtar, Russian culture is closely connected with the Caucasian world. The Turkish region of Kars belonged to Russia since the war 1877-1878 until the peace of Brest-Litovsk in 1918. A crosscultural history of Caucasus may be considered from the viewpoint of places of memory like the collections of the Matenadaran in Erevan or from the viewpoint of the urban history in cosmopolitan cities like Baku, a Muslim Azerbaijani city with an active Jewish minority (we can remember Lev Nussimbaum, the Orientalist) or like Tbilisi. Under the rule of the Mongols, the Safavids, the Ottomans and the Russians Tbilisi was occupied during long periods and ascended under the Russian Empire to the role of a Caucasian capital with a sensible memory of all the preceding occupiers. The crosscultural history of Caucasus may be also related to the diaspora dispersal of social groups. In the Middle ages the Georgian cloisters were established in Palestine, in Constantinople, on the Athos mountain or in Bulgaria. Because of the huge amount of empirical cases the conference will focus on the historical, linguistic, literary, archeological and aesthetic issues illustrating the principle of interwoven structuration and resemantization in the composition of this area.
Organized by Prof. Espagne (labex TransferS, ENS - Collège de France / PSL), Prof. Mustafayev (Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences) and Prof. Isakhanli (Khazar University).