logo KEAC

Written by Nataliya Borys.

The International conference “Knowledge and ideological frontlines. Europe and the Black Sea region after World War II” was held at the Blagoevgrad University, Bulgaria on 24 April 2020 in the framework of the project (KEAC-BSR). Because of the coronavirus and the lockdown of the borders, the conference was organized online. Nevertheless, I was truly excited to take part in the conference online, to read all the papers, to listen to presentations and to take part in the discussions. My interest was sparked by the fact that Soviet academic history is probably one of the least researched interest topics, as well as by my interest in the Caucasian area. It was amazing to meet many scholars from almost all postsoviet republics including Caucasian countries. This kind of event, uniting scholars from the Black Sea region, does not happen often, so I am truly grateful to the organizers for allowing me to participate in the conference and meet so many interesting people. We had lively discussions and intellectually stimulating debates.

About the project KEAC-BSR

I would like to mention the project Knowledge Exchange and Academic Cultures in the Humanities: Europe and the Black Sea Region (KEAC-BSR),[1] which I discovered this year. It was initiated by Prof. Dr. Karl Kaser[2] and Dr. Dominik Gutmeyr[3] from the University of Graz, and is financed by the Horizon2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie RISE research fund (2017-2020).[4] The backbone of the project is due to decades of close cooperation between the University of Graz and the Balkanistic Seminar at SW-University Blagoevgrad (Bulgaria) as well as with Batumi Shota Rustaveli University (Georgia). Some of counterparts had previously conducted another EU-funded project about memory cultures and politics of memory related to the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877/1878 (FP7-IRSES, 2012-2016), which consisted of numerous institutions in Southeastern Europe and the Caucasus.[5]

Dr. Karl Kaser adn Dr. Dominik Gutmeyr from the University of Graz.The project’s participants set up ambitious goals to continue the research about forms of knowledge and academic cultures between the Black Sea Region and Western Europe from the late 18th century to the present, interrupted a few times in their existence by world wars and the Iron Curtain. The project coordinators aim in particular to investigate academic cultures in the BSR over time and how types of communication impact on the varying forms these cultures have taken. Moreover, particular attention is paid to theoretical and methodological approaches as well as to gender aspects.[6]

Innovative aspects of the proposed project consist of drawing attention to an emerging region (the Black Sea Region (BSR)) consisting of countries previously considered as belonging to separate historical regions. I find it outstanding that the research objective shifts the focus from the usual Western European perspective to the “periphery”, as is reflected in the choice of participating countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine). Moreover, the organizers pay particular attention to innovative theoretical frameworks, inter/multidisciplinary methodology, as well as gender perspectives. The gender perspective is covered in all conferences and publications. I can also mention a very interesting virtual exhibition about gender and women in science “Women in the Black Sea Region”. [7]

Virtual exhibition “Women at the Black Sea region”. See at http://womeninscience.swu.bg/?page_id=129

The project is piloted by Prof. Dr. Karl Kaser and Dr. Dominik Gutmeyr from the University of Graz. Among the institutional partners there is the main coordinating institution in Bulgaria, South-West University Blagoevgrad “Neofit Rilski”, as well as the partners in the Black Sea Region, such as The International Hellenic University (IHU) in Greece, The Institute of National History of Skopje, Macedonia, Bilkent University (Turkey), Moldova State University, The “Nicolae Iorga Institute of History” of Bucharest, Odessa National I.I. Mechnikov University (Ukraine), Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University (Georgia), Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University (Russian Federation), The Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (Armenia) and the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

institutionbuilding book
Publication in 2019

The project aims to cover academic exchange, knowledge transfer, foreign influence and institution building from the early XVIIIth until the end of the XXth century. Participants had covered late XVIII – XX centuries in the previous sessions[8]. Interesting edited volumes have been published: Europe and the Black Sea Region: A History of Early Knowledge Exchange (1750-1850) edited by Dominik Gutmeyr and Karl Kaser[9], Institution Building and Research Under Foreign Domination: Europe and the Black Sea Region (Early 19th-Early 20th Centuries), edited by Iakovos Michailidis, and Giorgos Antoniou [10] in 2019, as well as The Beginnings of Macedonian Academic Research and Institution Building (19th – Early 20th Century) by Biljana Ristovska-Josifovska and Dragi Ǵorgiev[11]. All the volumes can be downloaded from the site.[12] Participants published additional edited publications in specialized magazines.[13]


Skopje conferenceEach year the participants organize a conference. In 2017 it was in Graz, “Knowledge Exchange. Europe and the Black Sea Region, ca. 1750-1850”, in 2018 in Thessaloniki, “Institution building and research under foreign domination”, in 2019 in Skopje, “Knowledge Exchange and Migration (WWI and its Aftermaths)”and in Odessa, as well as in 2020 an online conference in Blagoevograd, “Knowledge and ideological frontlines. Europe and the Black Sea Region after World War II”.

Soviet history in the Caucasus.

I was truly excited to listen to presentations about Soviet history in the Caucasus. Participants presented new topics and new research methods to me, and the research interests and topics covered many aspects. However, I will focus here only on some papers relevant to my own research interests, since I feel more confident to comment on these.

Soviet political science in Azerbaijan at the crossroads of change (1989-1991) by Irada Baghirova

The first presentation and paper I would like to discuss is a fascinating paper, presented by Irada Baghirova from the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan, titled “Historical science in Azerbaijan at the crossroads of time (1989-1991)”. In her presentation, Irada focused on political history-writing at the historical turn of the Perestroika era in Azerbaijan. As she mentioned, at this time, unsurprisingly, Soviet science in Azerbaijan and in general in the Soviet Union had reached a high level by the mid-1980s. The progress was determined by the USSR’s aspiration to compete in space exploration, nuclear physics, the petrochemical industry, and other sciences of strategic importance for Soviet development. The situation was different in the humanities, and particularly in history, as the dominance of Marxist-Leninist ideology and its interpretation significantly affected history-writing. Until the mid-1990s, political history as an area of science of history, practically, did not exist. The “History of the CPSU” and the “History of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan” virtually monopolized all topics and research, reducing it to the glorification of the party.

Irada Baghirova

As the scholar convincingly presented, scholars in natural science were the most privileged in the whole Soviet Union. They could benefit from conferences organized abroad and in Baku, facilitated by state financing, while scholars in the humanities were the most discriminated against. Azerbaijan’s natural resources, mainly oil, made the petrochemical industry and its research boom in the country. Azerbaijani first communist party secretaries played an important role as they had privileged relations with Moscow. Many prestigious conferences were organized in Baku in Soviet times.[14]

Concerning history, the situation was more complicated since it was ideologically charged. Azerbaijan did the best in the fields of studying ancient and medieval local history, the less ideologized historical periods, which attracted regional and international scholars. At the same time, political history was reduced to the history of one political institution: The Communist Party. Besides the history of the communist party, Azerbaijani historians worked on the writing of the multivolume Azerbaijan Soviet Encyclopedia, which consisted of 10 volumes (published in 1976-1987). As for academic mobility, the situation was similar: while historians of ancient and medieval history could travel extensively and participate in conferences, specialists in contemporary history were the most restricted in their academic mobility. They participated for the first time in a conference abroad at the University of London on the history of the South Caucasus only in 1990.

However, with the beginning of Perestroika, changes occurred. Azerbaijani historians started writing about forbidden topics, such as the purges, repressions, forbidden national heroes and cultural activists, as well as about the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic of 1918-1920, the most banned topic during Soviet times. However, as Baghirova claims, it was not easy for older historians. Most of the books written at that time were for the general public aiming at a broad audience of readers, covering sometimes “sensational” topics. In the early 90s the publications lacked scientific credibility and depth, as the main goal was to fill the missing and forbidden history. In the 90s, many forbidden science disciplines had to start from the scratch or be rediscovered, such as sociology, ethnology, and economics.

Baghirova picture
Irada Baghirova

Another difficulty for historians in the early 90s was the collapse of state funding. From 1989 to 1991, the amount of funds allocated for social sciences and research projects decreased significantly. As the salaries were low, a massive brain drain happened, with younger scholars dropping academia. Moreover, emigration increased to enormous proportions: most scholars, including teachers and especially musicians, emigrated to Turkey.

Thanks to access to the previously closed archives, research projects based on the new archive materials, studies on historical anthropology, on the history of culture and national identity, on repressions of the Soviet regime in Azerbaijan, started to take place. Only in the second half of the 1990s, as the economic situation improved, financial support for scientific institutions was resumed, and in 2009 the Science Support Fund under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan was established.

After Irada’s presentations, a lot of questions arose. I had a lot of questions as it covered my research period, the late socialist period, and I was curious to know if somehow the situation of Soviet Azerbaijan was different (or probably privileged) from the Soviet Ukraine perspective. My main interrogations were about the mobility of Azerbaijani scholars. Was academic mobility abroad more or less free? What about the scholars from people’s democracies? Were they interested in Azerbaijani history and if so were they privileged to come to Baku?

As for academic mobility, the situation was the same as in other republics, as Baghirova claims. There were almost no scholars from people’s democracies interested in Azerbaijani history, however a few foreign biologists and physicians took part in Azerbaijani conferences. An exception was academician Shiraliev, who in 1953-54 taught Turkish language at Sofia, Warsaw and Krakow Universities. Only in the late 1980s did foreign historians from so-called “capitalist” countries who studied the history of Azerbaijan begin to visit the country. Foreign scholars were interested in Azerbaijani history; however, the important queries persist: what prevented foreign scholars from coming to Azerbaijan? Local or Moscow authorities? Did they need to access Azerbaijani archives?

These questions make me think about the access to Soviet Ukraine by foreign scholars. A similar situation happened with Ukraine: Moscow did not grant access to foreign scholars who wanted to study in Ukraine, particularly scholars from “capitalist” countries. U.S. scholars, who were the majority of applicants, were not allowed to come to Ukraine on official exchange agreements. They all had to stay in Moscow or in Leningrad. On the other hand, they were not so interested in Ukrainian history, and were more focused on Soviet archives in Moscow and Leningrad.[15] As Baghirova rightly says, so-called Sovietologists tried to find answers to a kind of political question about the nature of the Soviet Union, about Stalin’s rise to power and about other Soviet leaders, and the Revolution of 1917 also captivated their spirit and intellectual fascination. Globally, Ukraine or Azerbaijan were on the margins of this interest. In the Ukrainian case, only the Ukrainian emigrant community, mostly settled in the USA and Canada, lobbied the topic of Ukrainian history in the international scholarly community pressuring the Soviet Union.[16] They forced the Soviet embassies and specialized Soviet institutions to report on these attacks and to justify the exclusion of Ukrainians from international conferences, as well as American scholars from research in Ukraine. In this comparative context, it could be interesting to know if in the Azerbaijani case there was a lobby for the research of Azerbaijani history at the highest level in Moscow? What about the Turkish or Iranian lobby, if it existed at all?

The discussion proceeded with the questioning of the role of First Secretaries of the Azerbaijan Communist Party in the country’s development, and mainly in science. Heydar Aliyev seems to pay a particular attention to the prestige of Azerbaijani science, and how it was for humanities? As Baghirova confirms, indeed, First Secretaries of the Azerbaijan Communist Party, such as Jafar Baghirov and Heydar Aliev, were powerful men, close to power, who could get some privileges for Azerbaijan republic from Moscow, but in humanities they could not do as much, as Baghirova repeats. Even their influence in Moscow was limited when it came to history.

Sayyed Ja’far Pishevari

If foreign scholars were prevented from coming to Soviet Azerbaijan, what about Iranian scholars, as Azerbaijan for many centuries shared lands, history and culture with Iran. Baghirova told a fascinating, and unknown to me, story about so-called Iranian “democrats”, who fled to Azerbaijan in the late 1940s. This happened after the fall of the autonomous government of South Azerbaijan (1946), headed by Seid Pishevari in Tabriz, and the brutal massacre of his supporters (more than 25 thousands murdered). Seid Pishevari and some of his supporters could find shelter in Soviet Baku in 1946, but he was later murdered by Soviet authorities in agreement with the Persian government. His murder was disguised as a car accident. Iranian refugees worked actively in the field of Oriental studies, in Iranian history, taught Farsi, and many worked at the Institute of Oriental Studies.

Soviet Interpretation of Early Modern Armenian history by Gayane Ayvazyan.

Gayane picture
Gayane Ayvazyan.

The discussion about the Soviet interpretation of regional history continued with Gayane Ayvazyan, a senior researcher from the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, Armenia,[17] who covered another fascinating topic about the Soviet interpretation of Early Modern Armenian history. Like other Soviet republics, Soviet Armenia had to follow the Marxist theory of socio-economic formations from the late 1920s, which was not really suitable for Armenian history, as Ayvazyan claims. Soviet Armenian historians tried to shape Armenian history according to Marx’s theory of five formations with varying degrees of success. Moreover, Soviet Armenian historians had to write the history of Armenia within Soviet borders, cutting it off from former Armenian provinces or areas populated by Armenians. It was a typical Soviet approach to the history of Soviet republics, so Armenia was not an exception.

The Russian conquest of Armenian territories became an important issue for historians to handle in the new context. The year of 1801, when Eastern Georgia was annexed by Russia, unanimously nowadays considered as the year of the tsarist colonial policy in the Caucasus, became a key milestone in Soviet Armenian history. In a typically Soviet canon, the Russian empire’s annexations and its rule in the region was presented as a liberation, and “coincided” with the centuries-old liberation struggle of the Armenian and Transcaucasian peoples to overthrow Ottoman-Persian domination. In the Soviet Ukrainian context, a similar event, the Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654, which was concluded between the Russian empire and the Ukrainian state of Cossacks, had been heavily instrumentalized by Soviet power. It was depicted as an “eternal friendship” and a “reunification among brotherly friends”, and lavishly celebrated in the Soviet Union and even in people’s democracies.[18] As Ukrainians were “liberated” from the Polish “yoke”, so were Armenians from Ottoman and Persian oppression.

As Ayvazyan claims, in order to suit Soviet historiographical canons, unsurprisingly, Armenian historians had to exaggerate and overestimate some episodes of Armenian history, mainly in order to demonize and dehumanize the Persian-Ottoman rule. Moreover, Armenians from that period were depicted as an “eternally suffering” and oppressed nation without any convincing source base for such examples. As Ayvazyan states, sometimes it was even colored in heavy racial tints depicting Armenians as backward and violent.

An interesting point in Ayvazyan’s presentation was the Soviet writing of the history of Western Armenia, which did not experience Russian colonial subordination, but the Soviet canon had to be followed there too, depicting Armenians living there as aspiring for national liberation. As Ayvazyan claims, in the Early modern period of the Ottoman Empire, it is hard to talk about “liberation aspirations” in the Western Armenian educated circles, as the lack of sources does not allow serious claims about any liberation movements. Volens nolens, Armenian historians were given the task to unite both Armenia. Armenian historian Hakob Anasyan was criticized and instructed “to show the evident connection between Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian movements”, while “the connection between the two movements was undeniable and very important to realize”. It is obvious that Soviet Armenian historians had to comply with the new rules of history-writing. However, it would be interesting to know more about the intervention of Moscow in the history-writing process in Soviet Armenia, and how Moscow managed the “oriental” part of history, the Ottoman-Iranian past. Did Moscow intervene or did Armenians have to write it by themselves? How strong was Moscow’s pressure on Armenian historians? How did this collaboration work?

The presentation of Ayvazyan is remarkable and important, as it shows the similarities and differences in Soviet writing in different Soviet republics and contexts. Obviously, Soviet republics had to follow the same schema and the same rules, particularly in depicting the neighbors. As in the Armenian context, Ukrainians had to fight against the Polish, Hungarian, Tatar-Ottoman “yoke”: almost all neighbours, and hopefully, as in the Caucasian context, the Russian empire brought liberation (finally!). However, Ukraine had benefited from the reunification with Russia already in 1654, while Armenians did only in the XIXth century.

Another important issue to mention about how relations with the neighboring countries played an important role in Ukrainian history-writing, is that only after World War II were Poland and people’s democracies considered officially as “friendly socialist” nations, and so depicted in a new friendly way. Until then, Poles were depicted as oppressors and aggressors only. Though, I wonder how was it in the Armenian context, how did the relations with Turkey and Iran influence history-writing in Soviet Armenia? Was it impacted by political changes in Iran or in Turkey? Or no impact at all? As Baghirova mentioned during the discussion, many communist Iranians fled to Azerbaijan in 1946 and pursued a successful scientific career there. Did something similar happen in Soviet Armenia?

Another similarity for me lies in Soviet depictions of the centuries-old “national liberation struggle” for Armenian independence. As Ayvazyan rightly pointed out, it was hard to find evidence (I would say nonsense) about such movement in Medieval history,[19] but in both Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Armenia, as I believe in other republics too, historians had to find such evidence and invent some evidence (sources) to support this. Even Polish scholars in the late socialist period had to comply with Soviet rules in order to manage the research projects with Soviet historians inventing “national liberation movements of Polish revolutionaries together with Russian ones”. They knew that it was not all true, as Polish elites rather fought against tsarist and Russian domination, but they changed the titles of the research projects into “revolutionary movements” and “national liberation movements” in order to please and to suit Soviet rules. It was part of the game. I wonder what kind of sources falsification or invented stories did Armenian historians produce, particularly in the Early modern period?

Despite the imposed Soviet rules in history-writing, Ukrainian historians continued stubbornly to write a more ethnic Ukrainian history. In the Institute of History, the majority worked on Ukrainian history, disguised often in terms of mandatory “national liberation struggle” and other topics. I wonder if all Armenian historians complied or whether some of them did not write the imposed history? Were there dissident movements in history-writing? How did some historians avoid the imposed topics?

While talking about Armenian history, it is hard not to think about the Armenian diaspora abroad and its role in the country’s changes, even in Soviet times. What was the role of the Armenian diaspora in Soviet Armenian history-writing? As I mentioned previously, the Ukrainian diaspora, mainly in the USA and Canada, strongly pushed for Ukrainian studies and lobbied Ukrainian research topics during conferences. The Ukrainian diaspora harassed Soviet embassies and dignitaries to question about purges, Russification, as well as many other issues. This is why I wonder if the Armenian diaspora, which is much more organized and stronger, could somehow influence or lobby Moscow for Armenian interests?

Last but not least is my query about the collaboration in writing Armenian history among Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian historians during Soviet times. I have no idea if it was possible or not. As far as I know there was no such collaboration including Ukrainian historians. As a rule, Moscow decided everything and sent Moscow historians to supervise and to discuss the history-writing process, as was the case with the writing of the three-volume History of Poland’s in socialist Poland. However, it is interesting to know if historians in the Caucasian region collaborated in some way, or was it difficult to cross national differences?

Georgian emigrant scholars and the fate of the Georgian archive abroad.

Georgian participants, such as Marine Svanidze and Ketevan Svanidze, both from Batumi Shota Rustaveli University, focused on European ideals and national identity in Georgian emigrant literature abroad, as well as in Georgia. They focused on Georgian emigrants in Germany, namely on Grigol Robakidze (1880-1962), who was engaged in national-patriotic, cultural, educational and scientific activities abroad.

Ekvtime Takaishvili (1862-1953)

George Gotsiridze from Iakob Gogebashvili Telavi State University, Georgia, in his presentation, focused on émigré Georgian scholars who introduced Georgian culture and literature to European audiences and scholars, while at the same time had been strongly europeanized. The author investigated the mutual Georgian-European influence on the scholarly production of Georgian emigrant scholars, such as Ekvtime Takaishvili (1862-1953), Mikhako Tsereteli (1878-1965), Rafiel Ingilo (1886-1966), Tite Margvelashvili (1891–1946). As Gotsiridze claims, Georgian emigrant scholars, especially those who were educated in Europe, loved the European way of life and wanted to implement it in Georgia. I found it interesting that Gotsiridze uses the correspondence of Georgian scholars as an important historical source, which provides insight about the exchange of opinions between Georgian, American, and European scholars on historical issues, and about their close collaboration. Moreover, the scholar uses the archive of the Georgian Democratic Republic’s Government (1918-1921), which is a valuable source of information about the cooperation of prominent representatives of Georgian emigration with Western scholars. By the way, the whole story of the return of the archive of the Georgian Democratic Republic’s Government (1918-1921) seems to be a detective story. The first attempt to return the Georgian Historical Archive from Paris to Georgia in 1972 failed. Georgian scholars were afraid (quite rightly) that the archive could be confiscated by Moscow. The return of the archive to Georgia happened only in 1996. I also discovered that Richard Pipes, a prominent American historian and political scientist, was one of the initiators and supporters of keeping the Archives of the Democratic Republic of Georgia at the Harvard University Library free of charge in 1974. After the presentation, we had a lively discussion about the fate of this archive. Mainly the questions were about the fate of Georgian archives during the Soviet times, and the role of Lavrenti Beria in the fate of the archives. The fate of national archives held in foreign lands is a captivating issue for historians, and has a particular significance to me, as the main bone of contention in the Soviet period.

Gender aspects of knowledge transfer in the Black Sea region.

I particularly appreciated the presentations and papers dedicated to the gender aspects of knowledge transfer and to women scientists. I must admit that I did not know so much about women scholars in the Caucasus and in the Black Sea region, so it was a pleasure to discover the unknown pages of regional history, which still, even nowadays, as some scholars claim, remain unknown and rather ignored.[20]

Virtual exhibition “Women at the Black Sea region”. See at http://womeninscience.swu.bg/?page_id=129

Davitadze Tamila and Nana Mazmishvili from the Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University, Batumi, Georgia, focused on Georgian women scholars from Dimitri Kipiani’s family circle. As the authors claim, it is still hard to acknowledge the role of women in Georgian intellectual life, as for centuries Georgian women’s place and role were limited and determined to reproduction, children’s upbringing and keeping home. However, in the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, Georgian women got actively involved in activities like the establishment of small regional public libraries, publication of books, and training of teachers. As scholars rightly point out, it is hard to imagine how difficult it was for these women to abolish the stereotypes so deeply rooted in Georgian society and become scholars, teachers or inventors.

Barbare Kipiani (1879-1965)
Barbare Kipiani (1879-1965)

The scholars, female by the way, give the example of Barbare Kipiani (1879-1965), the granddaughter of Dimitri Kipiani, who is considered to be the first Georgian woman scholar. Nino Tatishvili-Kipiani, daughter-in-law of Dimitri Kipiani, was another outstanding woman from Kipiani’s family, who was a famous public figure, writer, translator and a feminist in Georgia. Elene Kipiani, daughter of Dimitri Kipiani, was a translator, an actress, and a successful publisher: She translated Hugo’s and Moliere’s works into Georgian, and also founded the Circle of Women Writers.

Tinatin Virsaladze (1907-1985).

Two further Georgian scholars, Dali Doborjginidze and Nana Mazmishvili from Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University, also focused on Georgian women scholars from noble families, such as Nino Javakhishvili (1914-2012), Tinatin Kaukhchishvili (1919-2012) and Tinatin Virsaladze (1907-1985). Nino Javakhishvili was the first woman who was awarded the title of professor in Anatomy. Tinatin Kaukhchishvili was an outstanding philologist, a specialist in classical philology, namely in Greek-Georgian relations, and was even elected as an academician at the Georgian Academy of Sciences.

Vera Bardavelidze (1899-1970)

Manuchar Loria from Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University in her study of Soviet Georgian ethnography after World War II also focused on women ethnographers, Vera Bardavelidze and Nino Brailashvili, and their scholarly heritage for ethnographical studies. Vera Bardavelidze (1899-1970) was the head of the ethnographical department in the Tbilisi Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography from 1965 till her death in 1970. She focused on the everyday life of Georgian people. Nino Brailashvili’s (1899-1991) album “I remember Georgia in such way, ethnographic sketches » is still an important source of knowledge nowadays, as the scholars claim. The scholars presented other outstanding women ethnographers, such as Rusudan Kharadze (1909-1965) and Julieta Rukhadze (1921-2012) and their work in remote mountainous regions of Georgia: Pshav-Khevsureti, Mtiuleti, Rachi, Svaneti.

Emzar Makaradze from Batumi Shota Rustaveli University focused on the role of women in the Turkish academic system and in higher education after World War II, as well as on women studies and gender centers in the country. A special focus was the Center for the Research and Study of Women’s Issues, created at the University of Ankara in 1993, where research was focused on understanding of gender issues in Turkish society.

A very interesting presentation was done by Georgeta Nazarska from the University of Library Studies and Information Technologies in Sofia. She focused on the scientific career paths of Bulgarian women at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (the 1940s-1980’s) with an emphasis on the vertical social mobility and the “glass ceiling” in women’s life careers. Georgeta uses the database of biographies of all women who worked in the system of the BAS (Bulgarian Academy of Science), which contains 949 biographies of women.

nazarska 2The results of this prosopographical analysis confirms the general trend of socialist countries, and generally in Europe after World War II: women tended to do university studies as a result of the Cold War, the expanded network of domestic educational institutions and the introduced system of privileges in higher education. Women enrolled at the BAS were born mostly in cities (86.1%), and predominantly Bulgarian: only about 6.3% were of non-Bulgarian background. Women from elites and privileged circles were dominant in the BAS, despite the intentions of the socialist government to create a “people’s intelligentsia”. As Georgeta claims, particularly important for the beginning of women’s scientific careers at the BAS were their family and kinship networks. As a rule, their fathers were highly educated, mostly intellectuals, as well as their mothers.

nazarska 3
Georgeta Nazarska’s prosopographical study about women in science: women’s doctoral and post-doctoral studies.

Female scientists defended their doctorates (then called kandydatska according to the Soviet model) on average at 35.9 years of age, and the PhD at the age of 45 years. It is interesting to note that the late PhD title can be explained by typical socialist, based on Soviet model, system of state planning of postgraduate studies, by the infamous “double burden”, and by the “glass ceiling” for women.  Women were more predominant in natural sciences (46.4%), humanities (30.6%) and social sciences (8.9%), which can be explained by the institutional structure of the BAS, by the privileges and extensive financing of natural sciences, as well as professional prejudices and negative stereotypes towards women in technical and medical specialties.

Nazarska ppt Blagoevgrad 24 04 2020The Bulgarian authorities, it seems, did not promote women to high administration functions. Only a few could have powerful high-echelon positions: women comprised only 9.8% of scientists elected as heads of sections, 3.7% of scientific secretaries of institutes, 1.9% of Deputy Directors, and 2.5% of directors. Moreover, during the whole period, only one woman, the geneticist Raina Georgieva (1961) was elected as a member of the Academy of Sciences. Obviously, there was a clear existence of “high” and “low” specialties within the professional fields, but also preservation of “gender roles” in science, i.e. for the humanities, art and cultural studies as being more “appropriate” for women.

Female scientists perpetuated their privileged status: they most often married their fellow students or colleagues at the BAS. The so-called “scientific dynasties” were a huge incentive in material and spiritual terms for the careers of women scientists in their entirety. Women explain that they maintained this mechanism in order to break “the glass ceiling”, as well as to survive in a highly competitive environment where vertical channels of informal influence were used.

Among factors impeding vertical social mobility, there were regulatory and administrative rules, such as the 3 years post-graduation compulsory work, and the lengthy procedure of the PhD habilitation, which had to be approved by the Higher Attestation Commission, a centralizing and censorship body in science. Moreover, maternity leave, marital migrations to accompany their spouses during their research trips and short-term specializations after child-rearing made the whole period of training for a scientific career to take more than 10 years.

naz 4Unsurprisingly, women had difficulties in their individual (vertical and horizontal) social mobility throughout the whole period. Barriers were primarily a result of social conditions rather than a lack of subjective motivation, ambition or ability. The “glass ceiling” and “networks of power” impeded their careers. Moreover, women scientists rarely used the traditional channels of social mobility and women’s professional solidarity, instead they relied heavily on the family, kinship networks, and political networks of the nomenclature, from which the majority originated.


I was truly excited to take part in this conference and to meet many scholars from different disciplines and different research backgrounds. I am grateful to the organizers for allowing me, a young scholar, to participate in their project and at the conference, to meet many outstanding scholars and to exchange our views. Firstly, I learnt a lot about the regional forms of knowledge exchange and academic cultures, and in addition about the least researched historical area: the postwar academic history. As my research interests cover Soviet history, I particularly appreciated the exchange with scholars working on Soviet Caucasian history, such as Gayane Ayvazyan, Irada Baghirova, as well George Gotsiridze, Marine Svanidze and Ketevan Svanidzem whom I commented on in detail. I also tried to find entanglements and differences in the imposed Soviet historical canon, as well as to apply the comparative approach with the Ukrainian case. This panel was intellectually stimulating and enriching for me, and I hope for other scholars too, as it puts each topic in a transnational perspective. Moreover, I agree with the organizers that a systematic investigation of knowledge and cultural exchange as well as of academic cultures in the region as the whole, as well as beyond the region, is missing. This is why this conference is an important milestone for the research, and I thank the organizers for the conference organization.

Picture conf. Blagoevograd
Our virtual conference.

Secondly, the conference showed new sides of the interrelated, entangled, complicated, but also fascinating and intellectually stimulating history of the region. I particularly appreciated learning more about regional micro histories (such as for instance the micro cases of Soviet Georgian ethnographers), as well as the macro visions (for instance the science policy in Moldova after World War II). The gender issue was dominant at the conference, with diverse and complex issues covering the role of women and of women’s movements in post-war science and science exchange, as well as at universities and in academic cultures. It was refreshing to hear about women’s role in science by women. I learnt a lot.

However, what about the main question asked: does the exchange of knowledge in science merely constitute a subgroup of a more general cultural exchange or does it have unique features? Participants showed that it was both at once: in some cases, it had unique features, while in others, it was a more general cultural process, which impacted the whole region. If I can give some examples, for instance Soviet history-writing, in all presented cases, had the similar general framework: Soviet Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian and Ukrainian scholars suffered from Moscow’s all-powerful control over the humanities, particularly on historical topics. Even powerful Azerbaijani leaders, as well as the Ukrainian emigrant community, could not really influence it. Another similar process in the region: women scholars in all categories, in all disciplines and in the whole region, struggled to be acknowledged as scholars and to be promoted in their careers. In the Caucasus, it seems they still struggle to be visible.

To summarize, the conference was a memorable event providing new research perspectives. It was fascinating to hear reflections on the exchange of knowledge, women in science, cultural exchange, many aspects of the post-World War II period: a fascinating universe to be further explored.

[1] See more about the project at https://blacksearegion.eu/about/, also in Karl Kaser and Dominik Gutmeyr “Introduction: Europe and the Black Sea Region. A History of Early Knowledge Exchange (1750–1850)” in Gutmeyr, Dominik, and Karl Kaser. Europe and the Black Sea Region: A History of Early Knowledge Exchange (1750-1850). Studies on South East Europe, vol. 22. Wien: LIT 2018, 10-12.

[2] The project coordinator Prof. Dr. Karl Kaser has been full Professor of Southeast European History and Anthropology at the University of Graz, Austria, since 1996. His research focuses on historical-anthropological theories and methods, and encompasses topics such as the history of the family, kinship and clientelism, gender relations in the Balkans and visual cultures. His monograph “History Of The Balkans And The Near East: Introduction To A Joint History” (2011) constitutes a programmatic statement about the urgency of seeing the former regions of the Ottoman Empire together. His most recent monographs deal with religion and visual cultures in the Balkans and the Near East (“Andere Blicke. Religion und visuelle Kulturen auf dem Balkan und im Nahen Osten“, Böhlau 2013) and the socio-cultural history of the Balkan cinema (1900-1970) (“Hollywood auf dem Balkan. Die visuelle Moderne an der europäischen Peripherie (1900-1970“), Böhlau 2017). See more at https://blacksearegion.eu/university-of-graz/

[3] The project manager MMag. Dr. Dominik Gutmeyr is assistant professor at the Institute of History (Southeast European History and Anthropology) at the University of Graz, Austria. He is working on cultural representations and their visualization in both Southeastern Europe and the Caucasus region, with a particular interest in photography in imperial Russia. He is the author of “Borderlands Orientalism or How the Savage Lost his Nobility. The Russian Perception of the Caucasus between 1817 and 1878” (LIT, 2017).

[4] The RISE scheme aims to promote international and inter-sector collaboration through research and innovation staff exchanges, and sharing of knowledge and ideas from research to market (and vice-versa). The scheme fosters a shared culture of research and innovation that welcomes and rewards creativity and entrepreneurship and helps to turn creative ideas into innovative products, services or processes. See more about the HORIZON2020 RISE program at https://blacksearegion.eu/marie-sklodowska-curie-rise/

[5] Mainly institutions from Austria, Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and Russia.

[6] More about goals and participants in https://blacksearegion.eu/about/, also in Karl Kaser and Dominik Gutmeyr “Introduction: Europe and the Black Sea Region. A History of Early Knowledge Exchange (1750–1850)” in Gutmeyr, Dominik, and Karl Kaser. Europe and the Black Sea Region: A History of Early Knowledge Exchange (1750-1850). Studies on South East Europe, vol. 22. Wien: LIT 2018, 10-12.

[7] The aim of the exhibition is to present the place of women in the transfer of knowledge in the Black Sea Region and in its rich cultural representations and its historical dynamics. It is a captivating exhibition, which reveals many aspects of women’s life and activities: educated woman and her biographical background, female diaries, letters, and books, first female translators and their role in the transfer of knowledge, first female periodicals and journalists, famous feminists and many other aspects. The exhibition was conceptualized by Nurie Muratova, Kristina Popova, Petar Vodenicharov, Anastasiya Pashova, Mariyana Piskova, Milena Angelova with the collaboration of Gayane Ayvazyan, Georgeta Nazarska, Claudia-Florentina Dobre, Irada Bagirova, Eudochia Saharneanu, Nurie Muratova, Kristina Popova, Anastasiya Pashova, Marina Aroshidze, Alla Kondrasheva http://womeninscience.swu.bg/?page_id=129

[8] See more in https://blacksearegion.eu/wp5-ideological-frontlines/

[9] Gutmeyr, Dominik, and Karl Kaser. Europe and the Black Sea Region: A History of Early Knowledge Exchange (1750-1850). Studies on South East Europe, vol. 22. Wien: LIT 2018

[10] Michaēlidēs, Iakōbos D., and Giōrgos Antōniu. Institution Building and Research Under Foreign Domination: Europe and the Black Sea Region (Early 19th-Early 20th Centuries), Thessaloniki Epikentro 2019.

[11] Ristovska-Josifovska Biljana and Dragi Ǵorgiev, eds. 2018. The Beginnings of Macedonian Academic Research and Institution Building (19th – Early 20th Century). Institute of National History, Skopje, 2018.

[12] https://blacksearegion.eu/jointvolumes/

[13] Reflections on “Experiment, Power, Society” in the Black Sea Region. A Special Issue of the Journal “Balkanistic Forum” (2019/1), and “Frames of References in Central Europe and the Black Sea Region in the last two centuries.” An Issue of the Journal “MemoScapes” (Vol. 3, No. 3, April 2020) in https://blacksearegion.eu/jointvolumes/

[14] For instance, in particular, Irada mentioned in September 1982, the Soviet-American Symposium on Chemical Biological Aspects of the Impact of Pollutants on Marine Organisms was held in Baku, the capital of the Azerbaijan SSR. The event was organized by the USSR State Committee for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Control and Azerbaijan SSR Institute of Botany of the Academy of Sciences. In August-September of 1982 in Baku, the USSR State Committee on Science and Technology and the Azerbaijan SSR Council of Ministers organized training courses (workshops) for specialists from developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The organization of the classes was entrusted to the Institute of Soil Science and Agrochemistry of the Academy of Sciences. In 1982, the Institute of Oriental Studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences organized a large international conference with the participation of Asian and African scientists, with more than 90 participants.

[15] This issue is handled partially in Samuel Haskell Baron and Cathy A. Frierson, Adventures in Russian Historical Research : Reminiscences of American Scholars from the Cold War to the Present (Armonk (N.Y.): M.E. Sharpe, 2003); Robert Francis Byrnes, Soviet-American Academic Exchanges, 1958-1975 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976); Sheila Fitzpatrick, A Spy in the Archives a Memoir of Cold War Russia (London: Tauris, 2015); Wiktoria Sliwowska and René Sliwowski, Rosja nasza miłość (Warszawa: Iskry, 2008); Виктория Сливовская and Рене Сливовский, ‘Полвека у Кругах Российской Культуы и Науки (Несколько Заметок Личного Свойства)’, in Российско-Польские Научные Связи в XIX-XX Вв, ed. Владимир Волков (Москва: Рос. акад. наук. Ин-т славяноведения, Комис. историков России и Польши,Индрик, 2003); Sergei Zhuk, Soviet Americana: The Cultural History of Russian and Ukrainian Americanists. London : I.B. Tauris, 2018.

[16] See also Sergei Zhuk, The “KGB People,” Soviet Americanists and Soviet-American Academic Exchanges, 1958–1985” The Soviet and post-Soviet review (2016), 1-35; Sergei Zhuk, “Between Moscow and the West. Constructing the Soviet self in the American Studies in Soviet Russia and Ukraine during Late Socialism (1956-1991)” in Kurilla, Ivan, and Viktoria Zhuravleva, Russian/Soviet Studies in the United States, Amerikanistika in Russia: Mutual Representations in Academic Projects. Lanham, Maryland : Lexington Books, 2016 ; На скрижалях історії: З історії взаємозв’язків урядових структур і громадських кіл України з українсько-канадською громадою в другій половині 1940 – 1980-ті роки. Зб. док. та матеріалів. – Кн. 1 / Редкол.: П. Т. Тронько (голова) та ін. – К.: Ін-т історії України НАН України, 2003.

[17] Dr. Gayane Ayvazyan is a senior researcher at the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts-Matenadaran. Her professional interests include Armenian knowledge transfer in the Ottoman Empire, Еarly modern period of source criticism and historiography. She received her PhD degree in History from the Institute of History of NAS RA (2014). She was a researcher at Yerevan State University (2011-2013), a junior researcher at MEMORYROW (Politics of Memory and Memory Cultures of the Russian-Ottoman War 1877/1878: From Divergence to Dialogue) (2013), a Hrant Dink Foundation’s research fellow at the Center for Modern Turkish Studies, Istanbul Şehir University (2016-2017). She is currently a national coordinator in the project „Knowledge Exchange and Academic Cultures in the Humanities. Europe and the Black Sea Region“.

[18] The literature on the topic is huge. To mention only a few: Basarab, John. Pereiaslav 1654: A Historiographical Study . Edmonton, 1982, Sergiy Yekelchyk. Stalin’s Empire of Memory: Russian-Ukrainian Relations in the Soviet Historical Imagination. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2004. Celebrations and publications in people’s democracies: W 300 rocznicę zjednoczenia Ukrainy z Rosją pod sztandarem bratniej przyjaźni ; zbiór materiałów i dokumentów o wspólnej walce wyzwolenczej i nierozerwalnej przyjaźni ludu polskiego, ukrainskiego i rosyjskiego. Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1954.

[19] Ukrainian emigrant historian Konstantin Shteppa described how Soviet historians in Stalin’s time tried to find evidence of national-liberation movements in ancient and Medieval history in Konstantin Shteppa. Russian Historians and the Soviet State. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1962

[20] Davitadze Tamila and Nana Mazmishvili from the Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University, Batumi, Georgia, claim that despite huge efforts and invaluable contributions of Georgian women to educational movements, the monument to honor the “Society of Spreading Literacy Amongst Georgian People” does not mention the name of even one woman. I would like to acknowledge the efforts of two scholars to bring these women into recognition and life in contemporary Georgian society.