The Centre for the Study of the Islamic Republic of Iran at St Petersburg University has been established to extend cooperation in academic and research fields between St Petersburg University and the University of Tehran, as well as other well-known universities in Iran. Two years have passed since the establishment of the Centre for the Study of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the University. To mark this occasion the Iranian Students’ News Agency ISNA published an interview with Mr Artem Andreev, Director of the Centre.andreev artem

When was the University Centre for the Study of the Islamic Republic of Iran established and what was it created for? 

The Centre for the Study of the Islamic Republic of Iran was established at St Petersburg University two years ago with the active participation of Dr Mehdi Sanaei, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Russian Federation.

The creation of this Centre was actually a joint idea of the Rector of St Petersburg University Nikolay Kropachev and the Ambassador. The Centre was established to expand research collaboration between St Petersburg University and the University of Tehran, as well as other well-known universities in Iran. To improve bilateral relations, my colleagues from St Petersburg University and I are trying to implement joint research projects with Iranian higher educational institutions.

What topics have the studies of your Centre of Iran focused on so far?

The Centre is currently working on two research projects. They are also of great importance for Iran–Russia relations. One of these projects covers the relationship between the Safavid Empire and the Russian Empire from the late 16th century to the early 18th century.

This project involves a detailed study of surviving documents from the Safavid era, including documents and correspondence between Shah Mohammad Khodabanda, Shah Abbas, Shah Safi, Shah Abbas II, Shah Suleiman and Shah Sultan Husayn with the Russian tsars. The ambassadors of these shahs during their stay in Russia and while carrying out their missions kept a lively correspondence. The collection of these documents is of great historical value for conducting the research on which we are working. Thanks to these documents, very important information has come down to us and has been preserved. On the main website of the Centre there is a separate section devoted to this project, which currently contains 12 articles. Those who wish can easily access the information published by the Centre on this topic. For example, in this section, visitors can read a previously unpublished document that Shah Safi sent to Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov, the first Russian Tsar of the House of Romanov.

The second project is unique. It is cutting edge research in the field of stylometry. Experts from the University Centre for the Study of the Islamic Republic of Iran use digital methods for analysing text arrays. This makes it possible to objectively and quickly identify the stylistic devices used by a particular author. The linguistic figures and artistic devices of a ‘disputed’ work are compared with confirmed originals, whose authorship is beyond exceptions. This makes it possible to give an impartial and unbiased answer to the question of the text's authenticity. Eventually, a number of age-long issues in world Iranian studies are resolved. A typical issue is whether Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi, the founder of the Persian heroic epic literature and the author of the poem Shahnameh (‘The Book of Kings’), also wrote the second poem – Yūsof o Zolaykā (Joseph and Zuleika). It was written on a Qur’anic plot and in the same metre – mutaqarib. In addition to these two projects, the Centre advises Russian government agencies that require assistance in dealing with Iran. Thus, the Centre helped to attract famous Iranian bloggers and travel writers to participate in the international conference on tourism that the administration of St Petersburg held last year. One of the most important steps taken by the Centre is the administration of the Persian language proficiency test (AMFA). It was first held in Russia in November last year in cooperation with the Saadi Foundation and the Language Testing Centre of St Petersburg University.  We hope that we will be able to conduct this international test for all Persian language lovers next year.

You are collaborating with established university centres and leading research institutes in Iran. What does this collaboration include?

At present, St Petersburg University is actively cooperating with the University of Tehran in various fields. One of the areas for such cooperation is mobility programmes for students and teachers. Also, two years ago, we conducted a Russian language test at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures of the University of Tehran. The best participants were awarded certificates and gifts from St Petersburg University.

As for the Saadi Foundation, as I have already mentioned, we are collaborating on administering the Persian language proficiency test. I am glad that we were the first in Russia to conduct this test at St Petersburg University. Both our University students and participants from other regions passed the AMFA test last year. We are also actively engaged in collaboration with Allameh Tabataba'i University. Last spring, one of the professors of this Iranian university delivered a series of online lectures for academics and students of St Petersburg University. And we are looking forward to further expanding our cooperation with this university. We are also negotiating with several institutions in Iran to start cooperation with them in other areas. They will be announced immediately after passing through all the formal procedures.

What role should the mass media play in developing ties between the peoples of Iran and Russia?

First of all, I should say that the history of Iran–Russia relations is full of ups and downs. And in the past few years, due to foreign policy conditions, relations between the two countries have been at a good level. Academic connections are integral to these relations. Initially, they were limited to the travels of orientalists. However, as time went on, these relations have expanded to include technical and engineering fields. Recently, the second competitive selection for the award of scholarships for joint development projects between Iran and Russia has been held. Although its winners have not been announced yet, this indicates the strengthening of academic connections between the two countries. I think that in this regard the mass media play an essential role. There are mass media in Russia that work in Persian, but they do not receive due attention. I believe that if the Russian media and even Russian social media intensify their efforts in publishing information in Persian, the awareness of the Iranian people about Russia will increase significantly.

What features of Iran are attractive to Russian citizens?

Due to the peculiarities of tourism in the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is more attractive for Russians to visit Iranian historical sites. In this regard, if an appropriate infrastructure for tourism is created, we will witness a significant increase in the number of Russian tourists travelling to cities such as Isfahan, Shiraz, Hamadan, Tabriz, Tehran, Yazd and Mashhad. This will raise the awareness of Russians about Iran.

Unfortunately, as you know, there are certain stereotypes in our society regarding Iran.

Most Russians do not have sufficient information on Iran. At present, Iran is referred to in Russian news and media as a strategic partner, and positive information about this country is being published. This affects favourably the attitude of Russians towards Iran. If we see the same positive image of Russia in the Iranian media and news, this will improve the attitude of the Iranian people towards Russia and our bilateral cooperation. Yet the most important step is the development of the tourism infrastructure. There are several travel itineraries from Russia to Turkey that attract many tourists from Russia to this country every year. So, it might be difficult to urge them to travel to Iran. However, I think that by making long-term plans, it is possible to make much headway in this area.

What are your plans for the future to extend cooperation and develop ties with Iranian academic and university centres?

In the future, we plan to extend our cooperation and coordination with Iranian research institutions. However, I personally would like that the cooperation is not limited to academic exchanges, and visits of teachers and students to improve their level of fluency in Persian. I hope the cooperation will extend to other scientific fields and involve, for example, joint research in the field of archaeology. Also, conducting ethnographical studies in Iran might be very attractive for us because of an abundance of tribes and peoples living in Iran. On the contrary, Russian ethnographical studies might also be of great interest to Iranian researchers.