Alexander Kasimovich Kazembek

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Alexander Kasimovich Kazembek
Muhammad Ali Kazim-bey

(1802-06-22)June 22, 1802
DiedNovember 27, 1870(1870-11-27) (aged 68)
Occupation(s)Orientalist, historian, philologist
FamilyKazembek family

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

The Cambridge History of Russia refers to him as "a Dagestani Persian of Shi‘i origin",[1] whereas the Archival Collections of Columbia University Libraries refers to his great-grandson as born "into an old noble family of Persian (Azeri) origin".[2] Robert P. Geraci refers to Kasimovich Kazembek as "an Azeri who converted to Christianity",[3] whereas Brill's Christian-Muslim Relations series refers to him as born "to a prominent Iranian family from the Caucasus", whose father was an "Azerbaijani Muslim cleric".[4] Historian and political scientist Zaur Gasimov refers to him as "Russian Orientalist of Azerbaijani origin".[5]


Alexander Kazembek's grandfather had settled in Derbent during the campaigns of Nader Shah (r.1736-1747), the Shah of Afsharid Iran. There, he had become the paymaster general of the Derbent Khanate. Kazembek's father, a Muslim cleric known by the name of Mirza Mohammad Qasim (also known as Hajji Kazim), was born in Derbent when the city had been taken by the Quba Khanate. On his way back from pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), he settled in Rasht in Gilan Province after marrying the daughter of the town's governor.[4]


Kazembek was born in Rasht in 1802. He was born in a time of political upheaval as Russia was expanding into Iran's territories in the Caucasus. His childhood thus coincided with the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813). During this war, Derbent was annexed by the Russians. Kazembek's family stayed in Rasht until 1811, when they moved back to Derbent. There, Kazembek's father was appointed chief judge by the Tsarist authorities. However, in 1820, Mirza Mohammad Qasim was charged with espionage on behalf of Persia, deprived of his religious title and exiled to Astrakhan along with his wife.[6]

Kazembek completed his studies in Islam and, already fluent in Azerbaijani 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.

Religious views[edit]

While residing in Derbent, young Kazembek often met with Scottish Presbyterian missionaries.[citation needed] 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.[7] He started studying Hebrew and English in order to have access to more information on this subject.[7] In 1821, Kazembek visited his father in Astrakhan to arrange his own enrollment into foreign Islamic schools. There, he once again came across missionaries from the Edinburgh (later Scottish) Missionary Society.

Two members of that group, Dr Robert Ross MD and Mr MacPherson, who knew him as Mahommed Ali, instructed Kazembek daily in the truths of the Gospel. Living at the Mission House, he swayed from the ill treatment which his father subjected him to on account of his new belief. For, to be baptised, the emperor’s permission had to be granted, because the Greek Church wanted him to be baptised in their way, but the missionaries appealed to the emperor. So, the service was held in the Mission Chapel, which was crowded with Persians, Tartars, Russians, Armenians, English, French and Germans and conducted in three languages, namely Persian, Turkish and English. While not all understood the service, the congregation showed lively interest in the sacred services of the day.[8]

Kazembek, who maintained his steadfastness in the faith, received instructions from the Russian government that he was expected to enter Russian service, because he had become a Christian. In this, he complied and asked to go to St Petersburg to the College of Foreign Affairs, but this was not to be, as the Government placed all those such as Kazembek far away from any further influence of Christian teaching.[8]

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.[7]

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 Daghestan) 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.[9]

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, Azerbaijani 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.

Other works[edit]

  • Resaleh-ye haqiqat-nameh
  • Resaleh-ye Mohammad Ali be qazi-e Khiveh
  • Resaleh dar javab-e Eshbat-e nobovvat-e khasse-ye Molla Mohammad Reza Hamedani


  1. ^ Bobrovnikov, Vladimir (2006). "Islam in the Russian Empire". In Lieven, Dominic (ed.). The Cambridge History of Russia, Volume II: Imperial Russia, 1689–1917. Cambridge University Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-521-81529-1. The department's leading consultant in the field of Islamic law was Kazembeg, a Dagestani Persian of Shi'i origin converted to Presbyterianism in his youth.
  2. ^ "Aleksandr Kazem-Bek Papers, 1898-2014". Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  3. ^ Robert P. Geraci. Window on the East: National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia. (Cornell University Press, 2001), 310 (note 3) ISBN 0-8014-3422-X, 9780801434228
  4. ^ a b Jorati, Hadi (2023). "Iran and Afghanistan: Alexander Kazembeg". In Thomas, David; Chesworth, Thomas A. (eds.). Christian-Muslim Relations. A Bibliographical History Volume 20. Iran, Afghanistan and the Caucasus (1800-1914). Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. pp. 198–200.
  5. ^ Gasimov, Zaur (2018). "T". Historical dictionary of Azerbaijan. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. ISBN 9781538110416. Even though the Russian Orientalist of Azerbaijani origin and instructor of Persian at Kazan University Mirza Kazembek (1802–1870) authored his seminal Grammar of Turko-Tatar Language in 1839, the institutionalization of Turkological research in Azerbaijan itself started with the foundation of the Oriental Studies Department at the university in Baku in 1919.
  6. ^ (in Russian) Alexander Kazembek: Light from the East by Alexei Pylev. 13 April 2003. Retrieved 9 October 2006
  7. ^ a b c 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.
  8. ^ a b Ross, Robert (1792–1862). "Dr Ross' Journal (1818-1852)". Held by D Giblin, Wahroonga, NSW, Australia. Copied by Mrs Sarah Reid, Dr Ress’ daughter from the oiginal which was later burnt in a disastrous fire at Bowral in 1909.
  9. ^ (in Russian) Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary. "Kazembek, Alexander Kasimovich".[permanent dead link] St. Petersburg, Russia, 1890-1907. Retrieved 9 October 2006