One of the foremost anthropologists of the Caucasus region of the former Soviet Union, Atiga Izmailova had a wide-ranging and distinguished career.

Atiga (Attika) Izmailova was born in Baku, the daughter of Gozel Sadykhova (of the Qazax region of western Azerbaijan) and Ali-Abbas Izmailov (of Baku), on March 19, 1932. Her parents were avid readers of Greek history, and named their daughter in honor of the ancient Greek city-state, Attika. Residents of Attika were famous for their strength, independence, and deep patriotism, qualities that Ali-Abbas and Gozel hoped to cultivate in their daughter. For passport and registration purposes, Attika became Атига in Russian, and Ətiqə in Azerbaijani.

Her father, who received his education through the philanthropy of oil barons before the October Revolution, and who rose in significant rank to become the Deputy Minister of Hydroengineering in an agriculturally pivotal part of the former USSR, was a strong proponent of universal education in the new socialist state. Atiga was a promising student. After graudating from Baku High School No. 133, in 1950, she went on to receive her undergraduate degree from the Soviet Union’s premier institution, Moscow State University. Following a number of years of fieldwork in the Lenkoran and Astara regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan, she earned her Candidate’s (Ph.D.) degree at the Institute of Ethnography at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1964.

In Moscow, she met and married Nuri Agassi, a military pilot and economist who had been raised in Tehran but whose Soviet birth and political activism made him unwelcome in Iran after the fall of the Mossadegh government. Returning to Baku, she spent the greater part of her career at Azerbaijan’s Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology where her research, published in some fifty articles, covered a wide range of subjects from the ethnography of Talysh people north of Iran, to the comparative study of ornament, and her foremost specialty, national dress. In turn, from gerontology to kinship to food and fine arts, she commanded a wide range of subjects. She produced a significant ethnographic study of internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan, among some of the hundreds of thousands of persons whose lives were overturned by conflict across the Caucasus following the break up of the Soviet Union. In 1996 she moved to the Museum of the History of Azerbaijan in Baku, where she headed their Department of Ethnography until the time of her death.

A woman of great character in a predominantly man’s world, she brought an accomplished skill as a negotiator honed over three decades of field research in rural border communities to a variety of non-governmental and human rights organizations in the last decade of her life. But from the very start of her career, she also served as a generous mentor to scores of colleagues, and, with the openings of borders north and south after 1991, as a host to foreign researchers.

She is greatly missed by family, friends, and colleagues. Ethnography in and of the Caucasus can not be the same without her.

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