Alexander Kasimovich Kazembek

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Alexander Kasimovich Kazembek
A famous orientalist, historian and philologist of Azeri origin Mirza Kazim bey.jpg
Muhammad Ali Kazim-bey

(1802-06-22)June 22, 1802
Rasht, Iran
DiedNovember 27, 1870(1870-11-27) (aged 68)
OccupationOrientalist, historian, philologist

Alexander Kasimovich Kazembek (Russian: Алекса́ндр Каси́мович Казембе́к or Казем-Бек; Azeri: Aleksandr Kazımbəy or Mirzə Kazım-bəy; Persian: میرزا کاظم بیگ Mirzâ Kâzem Beg) (22 July 1802 – 27 November 1870), born Muhammad Ali Kazim-bey (Azeri: Məhəmməd Əli Kazımbəy), was an orientalist, historian and philologist of Azerbaijani and Iranian origin.[1] He was the grandfather of the Mladorossi founder Alexander Kazembek.

Early life[edit]

Alexander Kazembek's father, Hadji Kasim Kazem-Bey, was a prominent Azerbaijani Muslim cleric and a native of the city of Derbent (then part of the Quba Khanate, Qajar Persia, later part of Russia), whose father (Alexander Kazembek's paternal grandfather) Nazir Muhammad khan was paymaster general of the Derbent Khanate. On his way back from a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, Muhammad Qasim Kazim-bey visited Rasht (present-day Gilan province, Iran) and met a woman named Sharafnisa, daughter of the local governor Bagher-khan. The two married and settled in Rasht, where Kazembek was born. In 1811, his father was appointed qadhi in Derbent, and the family moved there. Kazembek completed his studies in Islam and, already fluent in Azeri and Persian, also excelled in Russian, Turkish and Arabic. At the age of 17, he wrote his first book named Topics in Grammar of the Arabic Language (originally in Arabic). His father wanted him to become a Muslim scholar and was going to send him away to Persia and Arabia to master Islamic studies. However, in 1820, Muhammad Qasim Kazim-bey was charged with espionage on behalf of Persia, deprived of his religious title and exiled to Astrakhan along with his wife.[2]

Religious views[edit]

While residing in Derbent, young Kazembek often met with Scottish Presbyterian missionaries.[3] They would have long discussions during which he, then a devout Muslim, would try to "undeceive" his opponents. However, these discussions led to Kazembek's frequent inquiries about the principles of Christianity.[4] He started studying Hebrew and English in order to have access to more information on this subject.[4] In 1821, Kazembek visited his father in Astrakhan to arrange his own enrollment into foreign Islamic schools. There he once again came across missionaries and, after grave cogitation, he converted to Christianity.[4] This resulted in conflict with his parents, who never came around to his decision. Despite this fact, Kazembek was later one of the few European scholars who strongly disagreed with the view that Islam was an obstacle to social development—a stance which was common among Westerners in the nineteenth century.[4]

Career as a historian[edit]

Kazembek was an author of several historical books. He wrote Assab as-Sayyar (Seven Planets) on the history of the Crimean khans from 1466 to 1737 (in Turkish) and The Study of the Uyghur on Ancient Uyghurs in 1841. He also translated Muhammad Avabi's Darband-nameh (17th century book on the history of Dagestan) into English and published it in 1850. His biggest historical work was Báb and the Bábis: Religious and Political Unrest in Persia in 1848-1852, which he published in 1865. His other works were mostly focused on Islamic studies: Concordance of the Koran (1859), Muridism and Shamil (1859), History of Islam (1860), etc.[5]

Career as a philologist[edit]

Kazembek started his career as a linguist by translating Christian books into Oriental languages. In addition to the languages he already knew, he learned French, German and Tatar. In 1825, he received an invitation to complete his bachelor's degree in London. However the Russian government refused to let him out of the country, fearing that Kazembek would choose to stay and work in England upon graduation. Instead by Imperial decree he was appointed as a teacher of the Tatar language in Omsk, thus being held away from his academic instructors. He never made it to Omsk as, while staying in Kazan due to an illness, Kazembek met historian Karl Fuchs and was invited by him to pass an academic test to determine Kazembek's eligibility to teach Arabic and Persian at Kazan University. The test was passed and Kazembek was hired as a senior teacher. In 1828, he was chosen to be a member of the Royal Asiatic Society and became head of the newly established Faculty of Turkic languages at Kazan University. In 1831, he attained a master's degree after writing an academic essay called Views on the History and Vocabulary of the Arabic Language (in Persian). In 1835 he was admitted to the Russian Academy of Sciences as a Corresponding Member. In 1837, he earned a Ph.D. degree at Kazan University. In 1839, he wrote a detailed work called Grammar of the Turco-Tatar language (at that time, most Turkic languages were regarded as dialects of one single language unit often referred to as 'Tatar' or 'Turco-Tatar'), where he compared Ottoman Turkish, Azeri and various dialects of Tatar in terms of their phonology, morphology, and syntax and for which he received the Demidov Prize. The second edition of this book was published in 1846 and incorporated the author's latest research in the field. It became popular in Western Europe, being the richest academic source on the Turkic languages at that time, and was used in universities as a primary reference book until 1921, when Jean Deny published his Grammar of the Turkish language (Ottoman dialect).

In 1849, Kazembek was transferred to St. Petersburg University, which by his initiative was reorganized into the main Russian post-secondary institution for studying Oriental languages. In 1855, he became dean of the newly formed faculty. In 1863, he secured the establishment of the Department of Oriental History. He organized internships for students who showed interest in field studies of Oriental cultures. In 1854, he published another linguistic work named Study Manual for Turkish Language Courses, which included several reading materials typed in various scripts, and a Russian-Turkish dictionary of 6,700 words (the richest one at the time). That same year, he also published The Explanation of the Russian Words Similar to Those in Oriental Languages, a major work on loanwords in the Russian language.

In 1868, Kazembek initiated an academic movement aimed at studying the linguistics, ethnography, numismatics, and epigraphy of Turkestan. Unfortunately, with his death, this idea was mostly abandoned.


  1. ^ Robert P. Geraci. Window on the East: National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia. (Cornell University Press, 2001), 310. ISBN 0-8014-3422-X, 9780801434228
  2. ^ (in Russian) Alexander Kazembek: Light from the East by Alexei Pylev. 13 April 2003. Retrieved 9 October 2006
  3. ^ "Archived item". Archived from the original on 2012-11-27. Retrieved 2012-11-02.
  4. ^ a b c d Mirza Alexander Kazembek, First Dean of the Oriental Languages Program at the Saint Petersburg Imperial University Archived 2015-04-02 at the Wayback Machine. Dagestanskaya Pravda, #331-333. 1 November 2012. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  5. ^ (in Russian) Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary. "Kazembek, Alexander Kasimovich".[permanent dead link] St. Petersburg, Russia, 1890-1907. Retrieved 9 October 2006