Azerbaijan International

Summer 2005 (13.2)
Pages 40-43

Institute of Manuscripts

Empress Alexandra Russian Muslim Boarding School for Girls

haji zeynalabdin taghiyev
Left: Zeynalabdin Taghiyev (1823-1924), known as the most philanthropic of all Oil Barons, gave this building as a Girls' School.

Street name today: 8 Istiglaliyyat [Independence] Street
Soviet period (1920-1991): Kommunisticheskaya [Communist] Street Russian Imperial era (before 1918): Nikolayevskaya [Nicholas II] Street

Owner: Zeynalabdin Taghiyev, Oil Baron (1823-1924)
Architect: Joseph Goslavski (Polish, 1865-1904)
Date built: 1898-1901

Use of Building
September 1901until March 1918: Empress Alexandra Russian Muslim Boarding School for Girls.

December 18, 1918 until April 20, 1920: Taghiyev gave the building to the Parliament of the first Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (DRA). It was the first European-style Parliament in the Muslim world. The Parliament continued to function until the collapse of the fledgling republic 23 months later - April 1920 - when the Bolsheviks invaded Azerbaijan.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

institute of manuscripts - haji zeynalabdin taghiyev institute of manuscripts - haji zeynalabdin taghiyev institute of manuscripts - haji zeynalabdin taghiyev institute of manuscripts - haji zeynalabdin taghiyev

institute of manuscripts - haji zeynalabdin taghiyev institute of manuscripts - haji zeynalabdin taghiyev institute of manuscripts - haji zeynalabdin taghiyev institute of manuscripts - haji zeynalabdin taghiyev institute of manuscripts - haji zeynalabdin taghiyev

April 1920 until an unknown date: Bolsheviks turned the building into the headquarters for the Worker, Peasant and Soldier Deputies. Also the School for Girls in the building was named after Husein Javid (depriving the school of its original identity with the czar's wife). The date must have been only until the early 1930s since poet and playwright Husein Javid was arrested in 1937 and branded as an "Enemy of the People" and was exiled in Siberia where he died in 1944. [Read: "The Night Father Was Arrested" by Daughter Turan Javid, AI 4.1 (Spring 1996): Search at]

Unknown date until 1981: Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan SSR (Governing Body of the Parliament of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Note: We're not sure when this government body set up their chambers there, but the building was used as such until 1981).

1981-1986: Manuscript Fund.

1986 to present day: Institute of Manuscripts, which is part of the Academy of Sciences; also Home Museum of poet and playwright Husein Javid (1882-1944).

Architectural Features: The design is based on Moorish architecture, which was popular in Spain between the 13th to 16th centuries. The building is characterized by its treatment of windows - the horseshoe-shaped Moorish arch. The most beautiful gallery is the Institute's main Exhibition Hall on the second floor. It has elaborate geometric designs in stucco entirely covering all walls and ceiling. They are intricately painted in pastels - pink, blue, green and gold.

Historical Background
The building which today houses Azerbaijan's Institute of Manuscripts was solely designed with education in mind. It was constructed by Oil Baron Zeynalabdin Taghiyev on the most prestigious street in town.

Despite never having gone to school himself, nor learned to read and write, Taghiyev greatly valued education, especially for girls, which was a revolutionary idea at the time, since it was a traditional Muslim society. Taghiyev's father had been a boot-maker and he, himself, had apprenticed as a bricklayer at the age of six.

Despite what might seem to have been a project worthy of much praise, Taghiyev had great difficulty in gaining permission to open the school. He met with vigorous resistance - both from Russian authorities as well as the Muslim clerics - according to the late Manaf Suleymanov, who wrote a book in the early 1990s about the stories and legends that circulated about Taghiyev during the Soviet period. Alexander who was czar at the time simply refused to grant permission.

But Taghiyev - who was in his late 70s at the time and who lived to be 101 years old - would not give up. When Alexander's son, Nicholas II, came to power, the oil baron sent a very expensive gift to Nicholas' wife - Alexandra Fyodorovna - imploring her help. This time he succeeded. In appreciation, Taghiyev named his school the Empress Alexandra Russian Muslim School for Girls.

To convince the local clergy, Taghiyev sent a trusted colleague to all the Muslim centers seeking written confirmation from all major theologists and authorities that the Holy Quran did not include a single word prohibiting women from getting an education. The entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist was not be deterred in his belief that an educated girl would become an educated mother and, as such, she could better provide her children with a broader perspective and better life.

Such were the origins that gave birth to a secular, European-style boarding school for girls - the first of its kind in Baku, and the first of its kind for Muslims any place in the world.

Construction began in 1898 and was completed in 1901. Building costs were said to be 184,000 rubles - a considerable sum for its day. Classes opened on September 7, 1901. The opening ceremony took place on September 9th. Taghiyev received many congratulatory telegrams from places like Crimea, Uzbekistan, St. Petersburg and Kazan. In his opening speech, he conveyed his dream that "in the future, we must transform this female school into a gymnasium [high school]."

During that first year, 58 girls were accepted at the school, 35 of whom came from poor families. Taghiyev covered expenses for school uniforms as well as room and board. To finance the school, the oil baron invested 125 golden rubles (an inordinate sum for his time) in the bank as untouchable capital from which the annual interest provided the budget for the school. He then set out to hire the best educated women from all over Russia to staff it.

The school was set up like a restricted boarding school: students could visit their parents only once a week - on [the holy day for Muslims] from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Today, the building is still a repository for learning. It houses the rare Eastern medieval texts of the Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences. The center collects, systematizes, stores and publishes analytical works related to these documents. The collection includes about 40,000 works in various languages including Azeri, Turkish, Uzbek, Persian and Arabic which provide rare insight into what scholars from the Middle Ages thought about medicine, astronomy, mathematics, poetry, philosophy, law, history and geography. Ironically, most documents are written in the Arabic script - the official alphabet in Azerbaijan at the time but which even the benefactor himself was not able to read.

The Manuscript Institute is not a museum even though it creates exhibitions for special occasions. Therefore, access is limited. It is necessary to call at least one day in advance to set up an appointment to see the main hall. Tel: 492-3197 or 492-1401.

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