Over the centuries the legendary love story of the Sassanid emperor Khusraw II (Khusrau Aparvez / Khusrau Parviz, 590–628) and the beautiful Armenian princess Shirin has gained immense popularity. Different versions of the romantic story later became some of the most widely known tales of Persian and Turkish literature. Although we have abundant historical records about the emperor Khusraw, but Shirin’s historical figure is lesser known. Prior to the Khusraw wa Shirin stories, the two are mentioned together only in Firdawsi’s (940? – 1020?) historical epic Shahname.

The first literary text relating the story of Khusraw and Shirin was written by Nizami Ganjawi (1141-1209), in 1080 as the second half of his Panj Ganj, a collection of the poet’s five works. The masnavi is filled with a variety of dramatic and literary twists and tragic events, but the story has a happy ending; after long voyages, overcoming many hindrances and agony, the Persian king and the princess are finally united.

The first Turkic translation of Nizami’s work was made by Kutb, the poet of the Golden Horde, in 1341. The work became known among the Anatolian Turks through the adaptation of Fakhri. He offered his work to Isa beg of Aydin in 1367. Sheikhi, who worked during the reign of Murad II, wrote the most well-known and widespread Ottoman-Turkish version.

The story was adopted with some important changes in Central Asian Turkic literature through the work of Mir Ali Sir Nevai (1441-1501). The Chagatai version, Ferhad wa Shirin, takes as its main hero Ferhad instead of Khusraw, the original main character. This version revolves around the love between Ferhad, a less prominent character of the original versions and Shirin. Instead of depicting the joy of love and the excitement of awaiting final union, the Chagatai version focuses on desperate, painful love and the hopelessness of desire.

The story has several known poetic versions in Persian literature. Apart from the above-mentioned work by Nizami, some of the best-known versions are Emir Khusraw Dihlavi’s from 1299, Arifi’s masnavi with the title Ferhadname (1369) and Bezmi’s Shirin u Ferhad from the beginning of the 17th century.

Among the Oriental Collection’s Turkish manuscripts there are ten different versions of Khusraw wa Shirin – most of which are based on Sheikhi’s adaptation – while there is only one version of Ferhad wa Shirin. Only two of these manuscripts have illuminated miniatures.