Safavid dynasty

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Safavid dynasty
دودمان صفوی,
Safavid Flag.svg
Safavid flag after 1576
Country Safavid Iran
Founder Ismail I (1501–1524)
Final ruler Abbas III (1732–1736)
Titles Shahanshah of Iran
Traditions Twelver Shi'ism

The Safavid dynasty ( /ˈsæfəvɪd,ˈsɑː-/ ; Persian : دودمان صفوی, romanized: Dudmâne Safavi, [1] pronounced [d̪uːd̪ˈmɒːnesæfæˈviː] ) was one of Iran's most significant ruling dynasties reigning from 1501 to 1736. [2] Their rule is often considered the beginning of modern Iranian history, [3] as well as one of the gunpowder empires. [4] The Safavid Shāh Ismā'īl I established the Twelver denomination of Shīʿa Islam as the official religion of the Persian Empire, marking one of the most important turning points in the history of Islam. [5] The Safavid dynasty had its origin in the Safavid order of Sufism, which was established in the city of Ardabil in the Iranian Azerbaijan region. [6] It was an Iranian dynasty of Kurdish origin, [7] but during their rule they intermarried with Turkoman, [8] Georgian, [9] Circassian, [10] [11] and Pontic Greek [12] dignitaries, nevertheless, for practical purposes, they were Turkic-speaking and Turkified. [13] From their base in Ardabil, the Safavids established control over parts of Greater Iran and reasserted the Iranian identity of the region, [14] thus becoming the first native dynasty since the Sasanian Empire to establish a national state officially known as Iran. [15]


The Safavids ruled from 1501 to 1722 (experiencing a brief restoration from 1729 to 1736 and 1750 to 1773) and, at their height, controlled all of what is now Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Armenia, eastern Georgia, parts of the North Caucasus including Russia, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Despite their demise in 1736, the legacy that they left behind was the revival of Iran as an economic stronghold between East and West, the establishment of an efficient state and bureaucracy based upon "checks and balances", their architectural innovations, and patronage for fine arts. [3] The Safavids have also left their mark down to the present era by establishing Twelver Shīʿīsm as the state religion of Iran, as well as spreading Shīʿa Islam in major parts of the Middle East, Central Asia, Caucasus, Anatolia, the Persian Gulf, and Mesopotamia. [3] [5]

Genealogy and identity

The Safavid Kings themselves claimed to be sayyids, [16] family descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, although many scholars have cast doubt on this claim. [17] There seems now to be a consensus among scholars that the Safavid family hailed from Iranian Kurdistan, [5] and later moved to Iranian Azerbaijan, finally settling in the 11th century CE at Ardabil. Traditional pre-1501 Safavid manuscripts trace the lineage of the Safavids to the Kurdish dignitary, Firuz-Shah Zarrin-Kolah. [18] [19]

According to historians, [20] [21] including Vladimir Minorsky [22] and Roger Savory, the Safavids were Turkish speakers of Iranian origin: [23]

From the evidence available at the present time, it is certain that the Safavid family was of indigenous Iranian stock, and not of Turkish ancestry as it is sometimes claimed. It is probable that the family originated in Persian Kurdistan, and later moved to Azerbaijan, where they adopted the Azari form of Turkish spoken there, and eventually settled in the small town of Ardabil sometimes during the eleventh century.

By the time of the establishment of the Safavid empire, the members of the family were Turkicized and Turkish-speaking, [24] and some of the Shahs composed poems in their then-native Turkish language. Concurrently, the Shahs themselves also supported Persian literature, poetry and art projects including the grand Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, [25] [26] while members of the family and some Shahs composed Persian poetry as well. [27] [28]

The authority of the Safavids was religiously based, and their claim to legitimacy was founded on being direct male descendants of Ali, [29] the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and regarded by the Shiʻa as the first Imam.

Furthermore, the dynasty was from the very start thoroughly intermarried with both Pontic Greek as well as Georgian lines. [30] In addition, from the official establishment of the dynasty in 1501, the dynasty would continue to have many intermarriages with both Circassian as well as again Georgian dignitaries, especially with the accession of Tahmasp I. [10] [11]

Safavid Shahs of Iran

Safavid dynasty timeline Safavid dynasty timeline-en.svg
Safavid dynasty timeline

Mothers of Safavid Shahs


The Safavid family was a literate family from its early origin. There are extant Tati and Persian poetry from Shaykh Safi ad-din Ardabili as well as extant Persian poetry from Shaykh Sadr ad-din. Most of the extant poetry of Shah Ismail I is in Azerbaijani pen-name of Khatai. [31] Sam Mirza, the son of Shah Ismail as well as some later authors assert that Ismail composed poems both in Turkish and Persian but only a few specimens of his Persian verse have survived. [32] A collection of his poems in Azeri were published as a Divan. Shah Tahmasp who has composed poetry in Persian was also a painter, while Shah Abbas II was known as a poet, writing Azerbaijani verses. [33] Sam Mirza, the son of Ismail I was himself a poet and composed his poetry in Persian. He also compiled an anthology of contemporary poetry. [34]

See also

Related Research Articles

Iranian Georgians or Persian Georgians are Iranian citizens who are ethnically Georgian, and are an ethnic group living in Iran. Today's Georgia was subject to Iran in the ancient times under the Achaemenid and Sassanian empires and from the 16th century till the early 19th century, starting with the Safavids in power and later Qajars. Shah Abbas I, his predecessors, and successors, relocated by force hundreds of thousands of Christian, and Jewish Georgians as part of his programs to reduce the power of the Qizilbash, develop industrial economy, strengthen the military, and populate newly built towns in various places in Iran including the provinces of Isfahan, Mazandaran and Khuzestan. A certain number of these, among them members of the nobility, also migrated voluntarily over the centuries, as well as some that moved as muhajirs in the 19th century to Iran, following the Russian conquest of the Caucasus. The Georgian community of Fereydunshahr have retained their distinct Georgian identity to this day, despite adopting certain aspects of Iranian culture such as the Persian language.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abbas the Great</span> Shah of Safavid Iran from 1588 to 1629

Abbas I, commonly known as Abbas the Great, was the fifth shah of Safavid Iran from 1588 to 1629. The third son of Shah Mohammad Khodabanda, he is generally considered one of the greatest rulers of Iranian history and the Safavid dynasty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tahmasp I</span> Safavid Shah of Iran from 1524 to 1576

Tahmasp I was the second shah of Safavid Iran from 1524 until his death in 1576. He was the eldest son of Ismail I and his principal consort, Tajlu Khanum. Ascending the throne after the death of his father on 23 May 1524, the first years of Tahmasp's reign were marked by civil wars between the Qizilbash leaders until 1532, when he asserted his authority and began an absolute monarchy. He soon faced a long-lasting war with the Ottoman Empire, which was divided into three phases. The Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, tried to install his own candidates on the Safavid throne. The war ended with the Peace of Amasya in 1555, with the Ottomans gaining sovereignty over Iraq, much of Kurdistan, and western Georgia. Tahmasp also had conflicts with the Uzbeks of Bukhara over Khorasan, with them repeatedly raiding Herat. In 1528, at the age of fourteen, he defeated the Uzbeks in the Battle of Jam by using artillery.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ismail I</span> Shah of Safavid Iran from 1501 to 1524

Ismail I was the founder and first shah of Safavid Iran, ruling from 1501 until his death in 1524. His reign is often considered the beginning of modern Iranian history, as well as one of the gunpowder empires. The rule of Ismail I is one of the most vital in the history of Iran. Before his accession in 1501, Iran, since its conquest by the Arabs eight-and-a-half centuries earlier, had not existed as a unified country under native Iranian rule. Although many Iranian dynasties rose to power amidst this whole period, it was only under the Buyids that a vast part of Iran properly returned to Iranian rule (945–1055).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Safi-ad-Din Ardabili</span> Poet, mystic, teacher and Sufi master

Safi-ad-Din Ardabili was a poet, mystic, teacher and Sufi master. He was the son-in-law and spiritual heir of the Sufi master Zahed Gilani, whose order—the Zahediyeh—he reformed and renamed the Safaviyya, which he led from 1301 to 1334.

Qizilbash or Kizilbash were a diverse array of mainly Turkoman Shia militant groups that flourished in Azerbaijan, Anatolia, the Armenian highlands, the Caucasus, and Kurdistan from the late 15th century onwards, and contributed to the foundation of the Safavid dynasty in early modern Iran.

Firuz-Shah Zarrin-Kolah was a Kurdish dignitary, and the seventh in the ancestral line of Shaykh Safi Ardabili, the eponym of the Safavid dynasty of Iran.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shirvanshahs</span> State in Shirvan (861–1538)

The Shirvanshahs were the rulers of Shirvan from 861 to 1538. The first ruling line were the Yazidids, an originally Arab and later Persianized dynasty, who became known as the Kasranids. The second ruling line were the Darbandi, distant relatives of the Yazidids/Kasranids.

The oldest extant book on the genealogy of the Safavid family is Safvat as-safa and was written by Ibn Bazzaz in 1350, a disciple of Sheikh Sadr-al-Din Safavi, the son of Sheikh Safi ad-din Ardabili. According to Ibn Bazzaz, the Sheikh was a descendant of a Kurdish man named Firooz Shah Zarrin Kolah who was from Sanjar, southeast of Diyarbakir. The male lineage of the Safavid family given by the oldest manuscript of the Safvat as-Safa is: "Sheykh Safi al-Din Abul-Fatah Ishaaq the son of Al-Sheykh Amin al-din Jebrail the son of al-Saaleh Qutb al-Din Abu Bakr the son of Salaah al-Din Rashid the son of Muhammad al-Hafiz al-Kalaam Allah the son of ‘Avaad the son of Birooz al-Kurdi al-Sanjari." Later Safavid Kings themselves claimed to be Seyyeds, family descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shaykh Junayd</span>

Sheikh Junayd was the son of Shaykh Ibrahim, father of Shaykh Haydar and grandfather of the founder of Safavid dynasty, Shah Ismail I. After the death of his father, he assumed the leadership of the Safaviyya from 1447–1460.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shaykh Haydar</span> Leader of Safavid order 1460-1488

Shaykh Haydar or Sheikh Haydar was the successor of his father as leader of the Safavid order from 1460 to 1488. Haydar maintained the policies and political ambitions initiated by his father. Under Sheikh Haydar, the order became crystallized as a political movement with an increasingly extremist heterodox Twelver Shi'i coloring and Haydar was viewed as a divine figure by his followers. Shaykh Haydar was responsible for instructing his followers to adopt the scarlet headgear of 12 gores commemorating The Twelve Imams, which led to them being designated by the Turkish term Qizilbash "Red Head".

Ali Mirza Safavi, also known as Soltan-Ali Safavi, was the penultimate head of the Safavid order. Having grown wary of his political power, Ali Mirza was captured by the Ak Koyunlu and spent several years in captivity in Fars before being released in 1493 by prince Rostam. In the ensuing period he and his men assisted the prince in defeating Baysonqor bin Yaqub. A year later however, in 1494, now perceiving the Safavid order as a threat to his own position, Rostam ordered for the execution of Ali Mirza Safavi. Realizing his inevitable fate, shortly before his death, Ali Mirza Safavi appointed his brother Ismail as his successor. Ismail, in turn, eventually came to establish the Safavid Empire, with the regnal name Ismail I.

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The Circassians in Iran are an ethnic minority in Iran. Circassians in Iran differ somewhat from other Circassian diasporas, in that most in the former stem from the Safavid and Qajar era, although a number migrated as muhajirs in the late 19th century as well. The Circassians in Iran were very influential during periods in the last few centuries. The vast majority of them have assimilated to speak the Persian language, and no significant number speak their native Circassian languages anymore. Once a very large minority in Iran, nowadays due to being heavily assimilated over the course of time and the lack of censuses based on ethnicity, population estimates vary significantly. They are, however, after the Georgians, known to be the largest Caucasus-derived group in the nation.

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    • Afšār, ta·līf-i Iskandar Baig Turkmān. Zīr-i naẓar bā tanẓīm-i fihristhā wa muqaddama-i Īraǧ (2003). Tārīkh-i ʻʻālamārā-yi ʻʻAbbāsī (in Persian) (Čāp-i 3. ed.). Tihrān: Mu·assasa-i Intišārāt-i Amīr Kabīr. pp. 17, 18, 19, 79. ISBN   978-964-00-0818-8.
    • p. 17: dudmān-i safavīa
    • p. 18: khāndān-i safavīa
    • p. 19: sīlsīla-i safavīa
    • p. 79: sīlsīla-i alīa-i safavīa
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  3. Streusand, Douglas E., Islamic Gunpowder Empires: Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (Boulder, Col : Westview Press, 2011) ("Streusand"), p. 135.
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    • Matthee, Rudi. (2005). The Pursuit of Pleasure: Drugs and Stimulants in Iranian History, 1500-1900. Princeton University Press. p. 18; "The Safavids, as Iranians of Kurdish ancestry and of nontribal background (...)".
    • Savory, Roger. (2008). "EBN BAZZĀZ". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. VIII, Fasc. 1. p. 8. "This official version contains textual changes designed to obscure the Kurdish origins of the Safavid family and to vindicate their claim to descent from the Imams."
    • Amoretti, Biancamaria Scarcia; Matthee, Rudi. (2009). "Ṣafavid Dynasty". In Esposito, John L. (ed.) The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford University Press. "Of Kurdish ancestry, the Ṣafavids started as a Sunnī mystical order (...)"
    • Roemer, H. R. (1986). "The Safavid Period" in Jackson, Peter; Lockhart, Laurence. The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods. Cambridge University Press. pp. 214, 229
    • Blow, David (2009). Shah Abbas: The Ruthless King Who Became an Iranian Legend. I.B.Tauris. p. 3
    • Savory, Roger M.; Karamustafa, Ahmet T. (1998) "ESMĀʿĪL I ṢAFAWĪ". Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. VIII, Fasc. 6, pp. 628-636
    • Ghereghlou, Kioumars (2016). "ḤAYDAR ṢAFAVI". Encyclopaedia Iranica
  6. Aptin Khanbaghi (2006) The Fire, the Star and the Cross: Minority Religions in Medieval and Early. London & New York. IB Tauris. ISBN   1-84511-056-0, pp. 130–1
  7. 1 2 Yarshater 2001, p. 493.
  8. 1 2 Khanbaghi 2006, p. 130.
  9. Anthony Bryer. "Greeks and Türkmens: The Pontic Exception", Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 29 (1975), Appendix II "Genealogy of the Muslim Marriages of the Princesses of Trebizond"
  10. Safavid dynasty at Encyclopædia Iranica , "The origins of the Safavids are clouded in obscurity. They may have been of Kurdish origin (see R. Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 1980, p. 2; R. Matthee, "Safavid Dynasty" at, but for all practical purposes they were Turkish-speaking and Turkified."
  11. "Why is there such confusion about the origins of this important dynasty, which reasserted Iranian identity and established an independent Iranian state after eight and a half centuries of rule by foreign dynasties?" RM Savory, Iran Under the Safavids (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980), p. 3.
  12. Alireza Shapur Shahbazi (2005), "The History of the Idea of Iran", in Vesta Curtis ed., Birth of the Persian Empire, IB Tauris, London, p. 108: "Similarly the collapse of Sassanian Eranshahr in AD 650 did not end Iranians' national idea. The name "Iran" disappeared from official records of the Saffarids, Samanids, Buyids, Saljuqs and their successor. But one unofficially used the name Iran, Eranshahr, and similar national designations, particularly Mamalek-e Iran or "Iranian lands", which exactly translated the old Avestan term Ariyanam Daihunam. On the other hand, when the Safavids (not Reza Shah, as is popularly assumed) revived a national state officially known as Iran, bureaucratic usage in the Ottoman empire and even Iran itself could still refer to it by other descriptive and traditional appellations".
  13. In the pre-Safavid written work Safvat as-Safa (oldest manuscripts from 1485 and 1491), the origin of the Safavids is tracted to Piruz Shah Zarin Kolah who is called a Kurd from Sanjan, while in the post-Safavid manuscripts, this portion has been excised and Piruz Shah Zarin Kollah is made a descendant of the Imams. R Savory, "Ebn Bazzaz" in Encyclopædia Iranica). In the Silsilat an-nasab-i Safawiya (composed during the reign of Shah Suleiman, 1667–94), by Hussayn ibn Abdal Zahedi, the ancestry of the Safavid was purported to be tracing back to Hijaz and the first Shiʻi Imam as follows: Shaykh Safi al-din Abul Fatah Eshaq ibn (son of) Shaykh Amin al-Din Jabrail ibn Qutb al-din ibn Salih ibn Muhammad al-Hafez ibn Awad ibn Firuz Shah Zarin Kulah ibn Majd ibn Sharafshah ibn Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn Seyyed Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Seyyed Ja'afar ibn Seyyed Muhammad ibn Seyyed Isma'il ibn Seyyed Muhammad ibn Seyyed Ahmad 'Arabi ibn Seyyed Qasim ibn Seyyed Abul Qasim Hamzah ibn Musa al-Kazim ibn Ja'far As-Sadiq ibn Muhammad al-Baqir ibn Imam Zayn ul-'Abedin ibn Hussein ibn Ali ibn Abi Taleb Alayha as-Salam. There are differences between this and the oldest manuscript of Safwat as-Safa. Seyyeds have been added from Piruz Shah Zarin Kulah up to the first Shiʻi Imam and the nisba "Al-Kurdi" has been excised. The title/name "Abu Bakr" (also the name of the first Caliph and highly regarded by Sunnis) is deleted from Qutb ad-Din's name. ُSource: Husayn ibn Abdāl Zāhedī, 17th cent. Silsilat al-nasab-i Safavīyah, nasabnāmah-'i pādishāhān bā ʻuzmat-i Safavī, ta'līf-i Shaykh Husayn pisar-i Shaykh Abdāl Pīrzādah Zāhedī dar 'ahd-i Shāh-i Sulaymnān-i Safavī. Berlīn, Chāpkhānah-'i Īrānshahr, 1343 (1924), 116 pp. Original Persian: شیخ صفی الدین ابو الفتح اسحق ابن شیخ امین الدین جبرائیل بن قطب الدین ابن صالح ابن محمد الحافظ ابن عوض ابن فیروزشاه زرین کلاه ابن محمد ابن شرفشاه ابن محمد ابن حسن ابن سید محمد ابن ابراهیم ابن سید جعفر بن سید محمد ابن سید اسمعیل بن سید محمد بن سید احمد اعرابی بن سید قاسم بن سید ابو القاسم حمزه بن موسی الکاظم ابن جعفر الصادق ابن محمد الباقر ابن امام زین العابدین بن حسین ابن علی ابن ابی طالب علیه السلام.
  14. R.M. Savory, "Safavid Persia" in: Ann Katherine Swynford Lambton, Peter Malcolm Holt, Bernard Lewis, The Cambridge History of Islam, Cambridge University Press, 1977. p. 394: "They (Safavids after the establishment of the Safavid state) fabricated evidence to prove that the Safavids were Sayyids."
  15. RM Savory. Ebn Bazzaz. Encyclopædia Iranica
  16. F. Daftary, "Intellectual Traditions in Islam", I.B. Tauris, 2001. p. 147: "But the origins of the family of Shaykh Safi al-Din go back not to Hijaz but to Kurdistan, from where, seven generations before him, Firuz Shah Zarin-kulah had migrated to Adharbayjan"
  17. Tamara Sonn. A Brief History of Islam, Blackwell Publishing, 2004, p. 83, ISBN   1-4051-0900-9
  18. É. Á. Csató, B. Isaksson, C Jahani. Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion: Case Studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic, Routledge, 2004, p. 228, ISBN   0-415-30804-6.
  19. Minorsky, V (2009). "Adgharbaydjan (Azarbaydjan)". In Berman, P; Bianquis, Th; Bosworth, CE; van Donzel, E; Henrichs, WP (eds.). Encyclopedia of Islam (2nd ed.). NL: Brill. Archived from the original on 2012-07-28. After 907/1502, Adharbayjan became the chief bulwark and rallying ground of the Safawids, themselves natives of Ardabil and originally speaking the local Iranian dialect
  20. Roger M. Savory. "Safavids" in Peter Burke, Irfan Habib, Halil İnalcık: History of Humanity-Scientific and Cultural Development: From the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century, Taylor & Francis. 1999, p. 259.
  21. Safavid dynasty at Encyclopædia Iranica , "The origins of the Safavids are clouded in obscurity. They may have been of Kurdish origin (see R. Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 1980, p. 2; R. Matthee, "Safavid Dynasty" at, but for all practical purposes they were Turkish-speaking and Turkified."
  22. John L. Esposito, The Oxford History of Islam, Oxford University Press US, 1999. pp 364: "To support their legitimacy, the Safavid dynasty of Iran (1501–1732) devoted a cultural policy to establish their regime as the reconstruction of the historic Iranian monarchy. To the end, they commissioned elaborate copies of the Shahnameh, the Iranian national epic, such as this one made for Tahmasp in the 1520s."
  23. Ira Marvin Lapidus, A history of Islamic Societies, Cambridge University Press, 2002, 2nd ed., p. 445: To bolster the prestige of the state, the Safavid dynasty sponsored an Iran-Islamic style of culture concentrating on court poetry, painting, and monumental architecture that symbolized not only the Islamic credentials of the state but also the glory of the ancient Persian traditions."
  24. Colin P. Mitchell, "Ṭahmāsp I" in Encyclopædia Iranica. "Shah Ṭahmāsp's own brother, Sām Mirzā, wrote the Taḏkera-yetoḥfa-ye sāmi, in which he mentioned 700 poets during the reigns of the first two Safavid rulers. Sām Mirzā himself was an ardent poet, writing 8,000 verses and a Šāh-nāma dedicated to his brother, Ṭahmāsp (see Sām Mirzā, ed. Homāyun-Farroḵ, 1969)."
  25. See: Willem Floor, Hasan Javadi (2009), The Heavenly Rose-Garden: A History of Shirvan & Daghestan by Abbas Qoli Aqa Bakikhanov, Mage Publishers, 2009. (see Sections on Safavids quoting poems of Shah Tahmasp I)
  26. Kathryn Babayan, Mystics, Monarchs and Messiahs: Cultural Landscapes of Early Modern Iran, Cambridge, Massachusetts; London : Harvard University Press, 2002. p. 143: "It is true that during their revolutionary phase (1447–1501), Safavi guides had played on their descent from the family of the Prophet. The hagiography of the founder of the Safavi order, Shaykh Safi al-Din Safvat al-Safa written by Ibn Bazzaz in 1350-was tampered with during this very phase. An initial stage of revisions saw the transformation of Safavi identity as Sunni Kurds into Arab blood descendants of Muhammad."
  27. From Maternal side: Chatrina daughter of Theodora daughter of John IV of Trebizond son of Alexios IV of Trebizond son of Manuel III of Trebizond son of Alexios III of Trebizond son of Irene Palaiologina of Trebizond. From Paternal side: Shaykh Haydar son of Khadijeh Khatoon daughter of Ali Beyg son of Qara Yuluk Osman son of Maria daughter of Irene Palaiologina of Trebizond.
  28. V. Minorsky, "The Poetry of Shāh Ismā‘īl I", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 10/4 (1942): 1006–53.
  29. "Ismail Safavi" Encyclopædia Iranica
  30. E. Yarshater, Language of Azerbaijan Archived 2009-01-20 at the Wayback Machine , vii., Persian language of Azerbaijan", Encyclopædia Iranica , v, pp. 238–45, Online edition.
  31. Emeri "van" Donzel, Islamic Desk Reference, Brill Academic Publishers, 1994, p. 393.


Further reading