— The Department of Near Eastern Studies —
In 1957, the Academic Council of the Leningrad Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies (now the Institute for the Study of Oriental Manuscripts) decided that the structure of the Branch should consist of five principal departments, one of them being the Arabic Department headed by V.I.Belyayev. At that time, there were seven researchers at the department. However, there was also a group of Semitic Studies (including Syriology and Hebraic Studies) that was reorganised into the Department of Near Eastern Studies the following year, headed by the corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences N.V.Pigulevskaya. In 1978, the structure of the Institute was reformed and the two departments were merged into the Department of Near Eastern Studies with A.B. Khalidov as its chairman. The staff of the Department also included an Iranist, Y.E.Borshchevsky, and a researcher on the Caucasus, K.N.Yuzbashian.
The academic description of the relevant manuscripts kept at the Institute was one of the principal aims of the Department of Near Eastern Studies. This work resulted in a number of published catalogues such as that of Syrian manuscripts (by N.V.Pigulevskaya), a short catalogue of Arabic manuscripts (by a group of ten scholars headed by A.B.Khalidov), three thematic issues of a detailed catalogue of Arabic manuscripts (by A.B.Khalidov, A.I.Mikhailova), a catalogue of Druze manuscripts (by Val.V.Polosin), a catalogue of Arabic Christian manuscripts (by Val.V. and V.V. Polosins), a catalogue of Jewish manuscripts and incunabulae (by S.M.Yackerson, K.B.Starkova, P.B.Kondratiev) and a catalogue of Armenian manuscripts (K.N. Yuzbashian). A number of unique or rare manuscripts were first published by A.B.Khalidov, P.A.Gryaznevich, T.A.Shumovsky, V.I. Belyayev, S.M.Prozorov, A.K.Alikberov and V.V.Polosin.
The study of texts belonging to Mediaeval Oriental literature has been the other principal direction of the scholarly work. It has taken two forms: academic translations of Eastern texts into Russian (by V.I.Belyayev, K.A.Boiko, O.G.Bolshakov, P.A.Gryaznevich, A.D.Knysh, E.N.Meshcherskaya, I.B.Mikhailova, V.V.Polosin, S.M.Prozorov, A.B.Khalidov, A.L.Khosroyev, O.M.Chunakova, I.S.Shifman, T.A.Shumovsky and K.N.Yuzbashian) and historical or philological research into them (produced by all scholars as both short papers and monographs).
Important historiographical research projects were conducted by O.G.Bolshakov, A.M.Goldobin, I.B.Mikhailova, N.V. Pigulevskaya and M.B.Piotrovsky. A series of reference works, entitled The Arabic Historical Literature of the Early Middle Ages, is also worth mentioning. This was the brainchild of P.A.Gryaznevich and it was realised under his editorship by K.A.Boiko, who produced 3 issues of the series, and S.M.Prozorov, who produced 1 issue.
Any scholar dealing with Oriental manuscripts will necessarily have to learn the history of religions to some extent. The essential study of the history of Islam has been run by S.M.Prozorov, who also repeatedly enrolled groups of scholars to produce various encyclopaedic works such as the Islam dictionary, a reading book on Islam and a dictionary entitled Islam on the Territory of the Former Russian Empire. This activity has been recently highly appraised and supported by the authorities of the Academy of Sciences.
In 1983, the Soviet-Yemenite complex expedition started out. Hence Sabaeic studies, which had been run before only by A.G.Lundin, became much more important for the Department of Near Eastern Studies. The expedition was run for a long time by P.A.Gryaznevich, who was shortly succeeded by M.B.Piotrovsky. Other scholars also took part in the field work. The photoarchive of the expedition is now kept at the Department of Near Eastern Studies and remains a unique basis for the study of ancient epigraphic material that is run now by S.A.Frantsouzoff.
From the end of the 1960s, the Department of Near Eastern Studies has organised annual meetings of St Petersburg Arabists. P.A.Gryaznevich was their first chairman, who was succeeded by O.G.Bolshakov. S.A.Frantsouzoff is the academic secretary at the meetings.
Translated by Dr A.Zorin; proofread by J.Young