Scripts, Sounds, and Songs: Mediating History in the Caucasus and Beyond (Part 1) | Crosscultural Archives and Contrapuntal Reading: Three Texts from an Era of Transition
The 10th-century Arab historian and geographer Al-Mas'udi long ago called the Caucasus “jabal al-alsun,” the "mountain of tongues," referencing the densely compacted presence of topographical variation and cultural-linguistic diversity. This description rings true locally, as a dynamic internal to the region’s indigenous inhabitants, as well as transregionally, to the extent that the historical destiny of the Caucasus has generally been determined by external pressures, above all the interimperial rivalry unfolding in recent centuries between Russia, Iran, and Ottoman Turkey. One of the many challenges in studying the Caucasus, then, arises from the need for a crosscultural and multilingual archive which asks to be read “contrapuntally,” as Edward Said would have it, to grasp the entangled nature of historical events and cultural processes. This talk looks at three texts representing two successive military conflicts of the late eighteenth century: Agha Mohammad Khan's campaign of 1795, which briefly reasserted Persian control over the South Caucasus while devastating the region, and Count Valerian Zubov’s campaign of 1796, militarily inconsequential but anticipating Russia's annexation of the South Caucasus in the decades to come. The texts that will be examined are the Russian poet Gavrila Derzhavin’s “On the Return of Count Zubov from Persia” (1797), the Armenian Harutiun Araratian (Artemy of Ararat)’s “Life and Adventures” (1813), and the Georgian poet Nikoloz Baratashvili’s “The Fate of Kartli” (1839). All three texts address the key events of a transitional decade which saw the South Caucasus pass from Persian into Russian hands and reflect shifting perspectives that owe much to the complex interplay between ethnicity, social class, political allegiances, and aesthetic form.
Discussant: Samuel Hodgkin, Yale University.