How do neural networks help to identify authors of ancient manuscripts? Where can you take the Persian language exam and get a certificate? How to acquaint the general public with life in modern Iran? Artem Andreev, Director of the Centre for the Study of the Islamic Republic of Iran at St Petersburg University, answered all these questions in detail during a round-table discussion "Russia — Iran: Promising Areas of Cooperation".

The event participants discussed various aspects of Russian-Iranian cooperation in economy, conflict resolution and humanitarian sphere. According to Artem Andreev, there is a certain asymmetry in the cooperation between our countries. The Russian-Iranian political and economic cooperation is steadily intensifying, while cooperation in the humanitarian sphere is clearly underperforming. Our countries have signed many cooperation agreements in the areas of culture, science and education; yet, they mostly remain on paper. In 2018, the University opened the Centre for the Study of the Islamic Republic of Iran at St Petersburg University in order to assist in developing and fostering relationships with Iranian universities and government agencies. Currently, among the University’s partners in Iran are over ten universities, foundations and research institutions, including: Sharif University of Technology; the University of Tehran; Iran University of Medical Sciences; and the Institute for Iran-Eurasia studies (IRAS) to name but a few. During the round-table discussion, Artem Andreev spoke about what had been achieved since the Centre inception in 2018 with the support of Iranian partners.

In 2021, in cooperation with the Ibn Sina Islamic Culture Research Foundation, St Petersburg University published the album "The Treasury of Mysteries". The book contains descriptions of 35 unique manuscripts from the Persian manuscript collection of the M. Gorky Scientific Library of St Petersburg University. Many of these manuscripts were presented to the scholarly community for the first time. Russian and Iranian codicologists, academics and librarians contributed to the publication.

In 2019, St Petersburg University became the only institution in Russia that holds the Persian language proficiency test (AMFA) based on the agreement with the Saadi Foundation. The AMFA is the only official international test of Persian language proficiency for non-native speakers, held on the basis of the order of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution of the Islamic Republic of Iran of 2018. Candidates who passed the AMFA exam are awarded an internationally-recognised certificate, required for obtaining a residence permit or a work visa in Iran. Now, everyone who is interested can test their level of Persian. ‘Strengthening the economic cooperation between Russia and Iran will lead to a high demand for Persian language specialists who are well-versed in technical vocabulary. This demand is already present, while there are few such specialists at the moment,’ Artem Andreev noted. ‘Cooperation in the field of culture will soon follow suit.’

On the OpenEdu website, you can fine online courses authored by St Petersburg University that will help you study Farsi on your own: "The Persian language for beginners: speaking" and "The Persian language: speaking. Part 2".

Then, there are other research projects in the field of Iranian studies that are being implemented at St Petersburg University. Firstly, a project aimed to verify authorship of Persian and Afghan medieval poetry texts using the digital stylometry method is currently in its final stages. Stylometry, or computational stylistics, is an interdisciplinary field of research at the intersection of linguistics and computer science. A neural network helps to study specially prepared handwritten manuscripts in order to verify their authorship attribution. The theme of another project supported by the Russian Science Foundation is "The Documentary History of the Russian Strand of Safavid Diplomacy (1501-1722)". Artem Andreev shared some of the project’s findings. Thus, having studied the documents from the Collection of the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts, St Petersburg University researchers discovered interesting historical parallels. In particular, Shah Abbas the Great was the only supporter of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov among the closest neighbours of the Muscovite state. Shah Abbas the Great provided the first Russian Tsar of the House of Romanov with a loan when there were not enough funds in the treasury after the Russian Time of Troubles.

‘It was a whole century of cordial relations between the Safavids and the Romanovs. In the diplomatic correspondence, it was called "loving friendship",’ explained Artem Andreev, Director of the Centre for the Study of the Islamic Republic of Iran at St Petersburg University. ‘Agreements were established on many issues. If one side was in need of something, the other would help with it.’ For example, in the middle of the 17th century, saltpetre, essential for a warring country, was supplied to Russia by Persia.

A third project in the field of Iranian studies is a project implemented by St Petersburg University in cooperation with the Institute for Iran-Eurasia Studies (IRAS) headed by Professor Mehdi Sanaei, former Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Russian Federation (2013–2019). An online Encyclopaedia of Iranian Studies is designed to provide information about the Islamic Republic of Iran — its economy, sociology, mass media and many other aspects of life in modern Iran — to the Russian-speaking audience.

Among the participants in the round-table discussion were: Irina Zviagelskaya, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Head of the Centre for the Middle East Studies, The Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO RAS); Adlan Margoev, Research Associate in the Centre for Middle East and Africa Studies, Institute for International Studies at the MGIMO University; Abbas Aslani, Editor-in-chief of the foreign language service, Iranian News Agency IRNA; Zahra Mohammadi, Associate Professor in the Department of Russian Language and Literature, Head of the Russian Centre at the University of Tehran; and Rahmat Hadjimineh, Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations at Islamic Azad University, East Tehran Branch, Iranian Association for West Asia Studies (IAWAS).

This round-table discussion is part of a series of educational and expert events "New Horizons of Russia’s Cooperation with the Countries of the Middle East and Africa". The project is being implemented in alliance with the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and the Autonomous Non-Profit Organisation "The Centre for Implementation of Humanitarian and Academic Programmes".