SOAS University of London

Oric L’vov-Basirov (1937 - 2021)

21 July 2021

Oric L’vov-Basirov, who has died aged 83, was a renowned iranologist, archaeologist, and historian.

He was known as a master of dead languages with a particular expertise in funerary inscriptions. His knowledge of the Near East saw him in high demand for lectures, and expeditions, including Lord Archer’s famous 1992 effort in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the Turkish press he was known as Don Quixote for his battles with the government over a windmill he spent more than 40 years restoring.

Oric Pyotr Vladimir L’vov-Basirov was born on May 19, 1937, and was brought up on the Western shore of the Caspian Sea, in areas of alternating Soviet and Persian control. By the end of 1946, the Soviets had withdrawn to the current borders and the family found itself cut off from relatives in Azerbaijan until Glasnost in the 1980s.

Oric first landed in the United Kingdom in the 1950s where he completed a degree in economics at Queen’s University Belfast. He trained as an accountant, working for a number of accountancy practices and charities. His heart was never in accounting. He described his accounting exams as ‘soul destroying’ in a letter to HMRC when they queried his eventual long-standing freelance status. He claimed he had only chosen that career to please his practical-minded father who, on hearing of his true passion for archaeology and ancient languages, accused him of preparing prematurely for the afterlife.

For much of his life his archaeological work was as a volunteer and guide on various excavations in Turkey. This included Knidos in the 1970s with Iris Love as well as other expeditions to Ephesus, Caunos, Hattusa and Daskyleion. Eventually, he was able to formalise his status as an archaeologist first, and an accountant second with a degree in Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) quickly followed by a doctorate in 1996. His thesis was titled “The Evolution of the Zoroastrian Funerary Cult in Western Iran”.

He was appointed as a Research Associate at SOAS and lectured there extensively as well as at universities across the world. He continued his involvement in the research and survey of the Achaemenid funerary monuments in western Asia Minor well into his 70s and is a founding member of the Society for Iranian Oral Studies and co-founder of The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS), both at SOAS.

In 1992 he travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan with Lord Archer, ostensibly as an interpreter. The expedition was a fact finding mission to meet Kurdish leaders and refugees in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s October 1991 retreat and subsequent humanitarian disaster of embargo and continued internecine conflict. The expedition also hosted a search party for the body of murdered journalist Rosanna Della Casa to which Oric contributed. His travelling companions (known as “Lemon Kurd” and “Bean Kurd” to Archer) knew him as “The Professor” and remembered his frequent disappearances with Peshmerga fighters to conduct his research. Having made these connections, he returned to Iraq two months later without Archer and the retinue. His work there informed his thesis but unfortunately Della Casa’s body was not found.

Aside from work, his main passion, shared with his family, was the restoration of a historic windmill on Turkey’s Aegean coast, which he owned for more than four decades. He is survived by his wife Julia and by two daughters and two sons.