Digitisation of oriental manuscripts in Daghestan

Daghestan, 2016

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Factum Foundation is going to be working with the Ziyavudin Magomedov PERI Charitable Foundation (Moscow, Makhachkala) and the Juma al Majid Centre for Culture and Heritage (Dubai) to record the archive of oriental manuscripts of the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography (IHAE) at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Makhachkala, Daghestan. This is an ambitious project for both the digitisation and conservation of this important and relatively unknown archive. The work will be based on the model for sustainable cultural preservation that Factum Foundation is currently developing in Egypt (we are also discussing a similar approach for projects in Saudi, Jordan, Armenia, Lebanon and Chad). The model revolves around the training of local operators, the transfer of technology and equipment, as well as guidance in archiving, dissemination, and in the application of the data for preservation and conservation.The final - and most observable - outcome of the project will be a digital archive accessible in full to scholars around the world.

Oriental manuscripts at the Institute for History, Archaeology and Ethnography in Makhachkala

The Republic of Daghestan, in the Russian northern Caucasus, is home to dozens of ethnic groups and over thirty languages are spoken within its borders. Its rich culture has been shaped by its position at the crossing point of the Roman, Sasanian, Arabian, Ottoman and Russian empires; the religions adopted in the region have included Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Daghestan’s mountainous terrain encouraged, amongst other things, an individualisation of religious practice: different forms of paganism and mysticism are still common in the more isolated communities. The birth of nationalism, alongside the Islamic cultural revival, in the 19th century brought about a period of immense richness in Daghestani literature and poetry, which has remained all but unstudied in western scholarship. The cultural and religious life of Daghestan stagnated under the Soviet Union, although traditional crafts such as carpet making and wood carving have survived to a certain extent. Despite this, the archive in Makhachkala was established in second half of the 20th century, a result of the work carried out by a number of Daghestani orientalists, including the scholar and historian Magomed-Said Saidov.

Makhach Musaev, Director of the IHAE, and Bassam Dagestani from the Juma al Majid Centre for Culture and Heritage study one of the oldest Korans in the archive

Today the archive holds over 3200 manuscripts from the 11th-20th centuries-mostly in Arabic, but also in Persian and in the Turkic languages of the Caucasus. It contains over 5000 letters from the 17th-20th centuries - a period of tremendous importance in the history of Russia and of the Caucasus - as well as approximately 2300 printed books and several hundred photographs. The collection covers such subjects as Arabic grammar and lexicography, logic, the history of the Caucasus, literature and poetry, ethics, astronomy, philosophy or Islamic law; it also comprises many manuscripts on Sufism, and other Muslim religious texts including Korans, tafsirs, and hadiths. It may hold, moreover, important accounts or records of the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain.

One of the most important manuscripts at the IHAE – a unique copy of Rayhan al-haqa’iq (Truths of basilicum and the subtleties of the garden), an encyclopaedia of Sufi terminology composed by Abu Bakr al-Darbandi (d. 1145).

A 1505 manuscript of Ihya ‘ulum al-din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) by Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. 1111), Muslim scholar, jurist and mystic.

In addition to the main archive in Makhachkala, there are several important private collections of manuscripts in the country which could hold over 30,000 manuscripts. Trained teams will be sent to record these and study their condition.

Eva Rosenthal has been appointed as the person in charge of the practical organisation for Factum Foundation. She will coordinate the recording of the archive and the training of local operators working with the PERI Foundation. The Juma al Majid Centre will carry out the restoration of the manuscripts and will work closely with the PERI Foundation/Factum Foundation in the creation of training programmes in restoration and in making sure the transfer of technology works in practice.

We are starting to look for libraries and academic institutions that can participate in this project in a variety of ways. The study of this deep repository of information on the northern Caucasus should lead to a deepened understanding of this remarkable region, becoming in the process - we hope - a source of religious and cultural tolerance.

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