LIFE AND ACTIVITIES
MIRZA ALAKBAR SABIR
Mirza Alakbar Sabir, born Alakbar Zeynalabdin oglu Tahirzade, was an Azerbaijani satirical poet, patriotic thinker and public figure, widely regarded as both one of the greatest poets in the Turkic language and modern world poetry. He was always inspired by the works written by Azerbaijan’s classics, such as Khagani, Nizami, Fuzuli, Vidadi, Vagif, Akhundov and Seyid Azim, as well as the best traditions of centuries-old Oriental Poetry. His collection of poems, known as Hophopname, is a perfect example of literary realism and true architectural wealth of the Azerbaijan people’s artistic thought.
Sabir is one of the few poets to have gained iconic status among the peoples of Turkic-speaking countries. Sabir as one of the founders of Molla Nasraddin, an Azerbaijani satirical periodical, strongly influenced the potential for literature across the Muslim world and founded a school of poetry distinguished from others by its originality and excellent intellectual aesthetic power.
Sabir was born May 30, 1862, in the city of Shamakhy, Azerbaijan. The influence of Islam was very strong at that time. His grandfather, Haji Tahir, was also a man of great faith, who had taken his place in society. But the poet’s father hardly leaned toward tenets of Islam when he was young, choosing instead to have a good time. He also visited Mahmud Agha, a notable philanthropist and music lover, who often arranged musical-entertainment literary gatherings in his mansion… But soon he walked away from the kind of life under the influence of his father and other relatives, and started to live a calm family life, building a family. Zeynalabdin’s wife – Alakbar Sabir’s mother, Saltanat Khanim, was also part of a devoutly religious family. Soon they had seven daughters and two sons, of whom the second was named the would-be poet Sabir. Folk morality, traditions and religious tendencies played a significant role in the development of Sabir as a prominent personality in arts and master of words alongside with the centuries-old traditions of Azerbaijani culture.
His parents wanted Alakbar to follow in their footsteps through religious education. With this hope, his father took him to a Moslem ecclesiastical school when he was 8 years old.
The young Alakbar was beaten by the mullah he had been assigned to just because he began writing without finishing the reading of the Koran. His kind and caring parents encouraged their eight-year-old son to pray and fast. Sabir’s first poem in three verses described his spiritual torments stemming from this event.
When he was 12 years old, Alakbar moved on to the new-method school of Seyid Azim Shirvani, a poet and teacher of some fame, that helped him achieve spiritual development. Hebib Bey Mahmudbeyov, one of his schoolmates, later recalled, “Being younger and physically weaker than everyone else, Sabir was calm and quiet, very witty and fast.” Another comrade of his named Sultan Majid Ganizade acknowledged, “Tahirov (Sabir – Ed.) was more talented than many of us.”
Translations from Persian poetry on instructions from his teacher and his advice on his translations increased Sabir’s interest in arts, helping him achieve perfection in poetry. As a schoolboy, Sabir’s first-ever known translation was a line from the Gulistan of Sa’di (The Rose Garden), starting with:
“I saw bouquets of fresh roses
Tied upon a cupola of grass.
Seyid Azim favored Alakbar Sabir, reading and editing not only his translations, but his verses as well. With time, the relationship between the teacher and his talented pupil grew into a healthy and strong literary friendship. Shirvani was very heartened to hear about his pupil’s achievements and even gave gifts as a sign of gratitude, inspiring him to greatness. One of such gifts was the Khamsa of Nizami Ganjavi. His letter to Sabir accompanied by the gift said:
“Sabir, dear as the apple of my eye! The audacious and sweet-sounding reply you have written to my ghazal caught my fancy. For the lack of anything else, I send you that exact book. Accept this gift as souvenirs from your master. I convey to you my good wishes in future achievements in poetry.”
Such a quivering attitude and correspondence became a creative experience for Alakbar, preparing him for great literature. But one or two years later, his father, made him suspend from school and work as an assistant in his shop. The young man, whose passion for science and literature did not fade, continued to read and write. “Fed up with his son’s much more interest in reading and poetry than trade, his father urged him to work as fast and as hard as he could and even went as far as tearing his poetry notebook to pieces.” Influenced by his father’s actions, the young man wrote a piece of verse in Persian, which expressed his strong and urgent desire to pursue his poetry, and wished to leave Shamakhy.
From his first attempts at writing that have survived, we guess Sabir perfectly knew Eastern poetry and mythology from the books he read and his teacher Seyid Azim, showing greater interest in criticism and satire. Sabir’s friend Abbas Sahhat admitted that Sabir at that time”…. never really cared for laudatory kasida. The poet replied to those who accused him of his failure to write kasida: “I may have not my powers to write lies for money, but I am fearless to write a right lampoon.”
In 1884 Sabir, aged only 23, took a trip under the guise of pilgrimages. Abbas Sahhat stated, “Sabir travelled to Khorasan, Sabzavar, Nishapur, Turbati-Haydariyya, Turbati-Jami, Khoy, Samarkand and Bukhara, earning a living through trade.
In 1893, during his second travel through the Middle East, he met the Shirvanians, who once crossed into Ashgabat. From the memoirs of Salman Mumtaz, who personally knew the poet, it is evident that Sabir and one of his acquaintances from Shamakhy made soap together to fend for themselves. It was clear from the memoirs that he ridiculed some of his contemporaries (such Mushatagy, a poet from Shamakhy), and was well-known to the local population for his elegies.
Sabir left Ashgabat for Merv. The burdens of life, as well as the poverty and ignorance of the people living there made an impression on the poet. He met the most enlighted scholars and writers in Merv. He criticized the backwardness of the city of Hamadan in one of his satirical poems at the time…
After returning from his first travel, in 1887 the poet married a girl by the name of Bullurnisa, a daughter of one of his relatives, who gave birth to eight daughters during 15 years and an only son in 1908.
After the Shamakhy earthquake, Sabir built a small hut over the ruins of his destroyed house and did everything in his power to help the neighboring children who had been orphaned be properly fed and sheltered. As his family got any bigger, Sabir had to take all the chores on his shoulders to feed his family, by cooking and selling soap for a while.
Sabir deeply honored the word, calling it a yardstick for measuring the truth. For him, the artistic word is one of the most effective means of education leading to a bright future for mankind. Therefore, Sabir treated the word as a unique asset that makes human beings different from other living creatures, while the artistic word as an efficient tool for obtaining their education and achieving spiritual edification, bringing them closer to the truth.
Sabir equated poetry and poetic word with a single-grain, large and very valuable pearl that would never be worthless and end. Sabir tended towards satire (“pasquil” in line with the then terminology). However, his sparkling satire had been designed not so much to expose somebody, but rather to welcome healthy criticism, the exaltation of human dignity, as well as to ensure the triumph of the national ideals.
Thus, the poet managed to combine the facts of life with poetic currents. The first sentence of the poem “There were 319 troubles” dedicated to the Shamakhy earthquake, written on 31 January 1902, portrays the magnitude of the devastating natural disaster, the panic and fear of the people facing inevitable doom, the burning of the city, and countless lost lives.
Remarkably, the real descriptions in Sabir’s poetic paints about the earthquake overlapped with the facts reported in the press. All of that demonstrates the poet’s objective and realistic approach to developments set during that period.
He cultivated relations with his countryman Abbas Sahhat, who returned to Shamakhy after completing higher education in 1901. Together, they put on creative evenings on pressing issues in the presence of Aghalibey Naseh and Mahammad Tarrah and had conversations on poetry. He also kept company with Mahmudbey Mahmudbeyov, a graduate of Tiflis Alexander Teachers Institute and one of the leading intellectuals of that period, who copied his poems and spread among the local intellectuals.
Another aspect needs to be underlined here that Sabir, like Mahmudbeyov, Ganizade and other highly-educated, progressive-minded, contemporary young people, also actively participated in Shamakhy’s social and cultural life. Naseh, a fierce supporter of classical literary traditions, had some authority in the literary environment, while these intellectuals called for novelty, disseminating innovative trends. In one of his letters to Mahammadtaghi Sidgi in Nakhchivan, S.M. Ganizade called on young poets of Shirvan, including Sabir, Sahhat, Tarrah, and others not to be hostage to classic traditions, but strive to promote national-social thought, through re-upgrading folklore and folk tales, namely, giving preference to clear themes and works of ideological upbringing, keeping pace with the times, and inviting them to write works using plots. Nonetheless, Ganizade was convinced that “in this age of culture, sprinkled with brighter shades, the whirlpool of colors prevails and there is no room for allegoricality. In contemporary creativity, meaningfulness is more important and valuable than ghazals of praise. When versifying you don’t only gain fame, but also follow the dictates of the time!”
At first, the young poets in Shirvan coldly welcomed Ganizade’s call. However, the pioneering spirit of the age rapidly permeated them. It is no coincidence that writings by Sabir and Sahhat found theoretical and practical expression through new verse manifestos of the twentieth century – the principles of realistic and romantic creativity. And long distance friendships between Shamakhy poets and outstanding literary critic and scholar Firudin Bey Kocherli (1863-1920) and the latter’s letters to them on the issue of creativity had also played an important role.
There’s a reason that the poems – “Three Hundred Nineteen” and “Allah Almighty…” written by Sabir in the early twentieth century were mostly in a spirit to raise awareness. In these works, he paid tribute to Hasan Bey Zardabi for his contribution to the education and praised the newspaper Ekinchi (Ploughman), calling the publication of the newspaper Sharq-i-Rus (Russian East) as the birth of a new star in the sky of culture and enlightenment.
When Azerbaijan’s first satirical magazine Molla Nasraddin glued leading writers and intellectuals together, Sabir warmly joined their ranks. But he did not straightly switch from Sharq-i Rus to Molla Nasraddin. Before that, the poet closely worked with Hayat, a Baku-based newspaper. His poem, To Our Muslim and Armenian Citizens, was printed in a June 1, 1905 issue of the newspaper. It criticized Tsarist’s provocative national policy, calling on the people to live in a friendly atmosphere. The enormity of the social and ideological background of the policy of the Armenian dashnaks’ genocide against Azerbaijanis had not yet been fully understood. In terms of its contents, however, this work was a stark contrast to Sabir’s earlier poems, marking a milestone in the literary vision of the poet.
It should be particularly mentioned that before the publication of Molla Nasraddin (April 7, 1906), his satirical poem, Twelve Men Conversing in One Council, appeared in a February 10, 1906 issue of Hayat, Sabir seemed to be searching for a printing house, so to speak, a field of activity matching with his new-born creativity style. Despite the chosen name, the characters of this satire, in reality, do not talk to each other. Taking the stage of public-national disgrace, they acknowledge and show their true colors and stand on the sidelines before the time. In this sense, the satire, In One Council …, can be called a prologue to Sabir’s magnificent ‘poetry theater’. When these public characters go backstage after saying their own “monologue”, the audience clearly understand that in the subsequent parts of the ‘satirical spectacle’, the national-social groups represented by these characters will perform in all its glory, revealing their ugly faces.
These satirical monologues disclose the dramatic effect of the “performance” and the sharpness of the situations. At the same time, the spirit and ideologically artistic features of this satire also echo the demands and principles of realism. Therefore, Twelve Men Conversing in One Council should be regarded as a new realistic poem, a program of Sabir’s poetry school and manifest. The sufficiently precise purposefulness of the new realistic verse and the determination in choosing a style allowed Sabir “groaningly and deafeningly” (J. Mamadguluzade) to take over societal creativity. That was the moment when the characters, he had gathered in the ‘conversation’ and sheltered by hypocrisy, would expose their disgusting essence and face, appearing in a new capacity in front of an amazed public. As Sabir’s gallery grew through new characters, his pen displays on the paper a genuine riot of colors, playing a new palette and shades, enriching and improving the picture with bright and vibrant colors. One of the characters mentioned in the piece above would speak through verses (What do I Care?) in the magazine Molla Nasraddin:
Let my native people be plundered – what do I care?
Let them face hardships – what do I care?
This satire of Sabir attracted the attention of democratic public circles, as well as the newspaper Hayat, which had earlier published Sabir’s Twelve People Men Conversing in One Council. The “letter box” of the previous issue of the magazine:
To: Molla Nasraddin
We read the fourth edition of Molla Nasraddin dated April 28 “with more enthusiasm than the previous ones …”
Naturally, the poem “What do I Care?” had significantly contributed to that edition
Sabir’s ideological and spiritual affinity with Jalil Mammadguluzade and the literary school associated with the poet’s name reached its apogee in the pages of Molla Nasraddin, gifting an outstanding list of satirists, among whom are A.Nazmi, A. Gemkusar, M. Mojuz, A.R. Shamchizade and M.H. Zeynalov. This sharp satire, unleashing the pioneering power, founded its revolutionary essence so it can change frozen tendencies and the national-public consciousness of the people. This poetry, through dialogues and monologues, aimed to shake all segments of society, attracting and leading them to a new, bright and independent life. There were shades of inner dialogue and self-reproach in all his satires. The difference between these shades is equal to that between a social type, characters in the satire and the lyrical ‘I’.
Sabir’s publications in Molla Nasraddin, covering a not very long period of time (1906-1911), glorified him in Azerbaijan, as well as in the Near and Middle East, winning him the name of a great writer. Sometimes two of his poems were provided in one issue of the magazine, as the poet’s writings were so interesting and authentic.
Sabir in his realistic poems offered a deep, diverse, convincing literary picture of how daily life in Azerbaijan and the entire Middle East looked, as well as how to find the difference between friends and enemies and fight for freedom and national independence. The poet published his poems under pseudonyms to avoid persecution by the circles, whom he vehemently and sharply denounced in his satirical verses. Frequent changes of pseudonyms, sometimes even used once, corresponded to the content of satirical poems or characters involved, responding to the purposes of the satire. “Hop-hop”(hoopoe), “Guleyen”(Laughing)”, Aglar guleyen”(Crying and laughing)”, “Chayda chapan” (Galloping in the river), “Gabagda geden zenjirli”(The chained going ahead), “Yetim gizcig” (Poor little girl), to name a few, were satirical pseudonyms.
Despite the pressure and reproaches, Sabir never gave up his national-social struggle and ideas, he sincerely believed in, significantly expanding the scope of his activities, enriching it with new forms and content.
He portrayed himself as a poet and award-winning figure for his speech at the opening ceremony of the first Muslim library-reading hall, alongside his close involvement in the organizational work of this cultural center in Shamakhy on May 7, 1906, on one hand, and as an active participant for donations in Shamakhy made to victims of the Armenian-Muslim clashes in Karabakh in 1906 or staging the play Out of the Pan into the Fire (“Yagishdan chixdiq yaghmura dushduk”) by Najaf Bey Vezirov, or as a writer for papers covering public and cultural processes set in the country, on the other hand. … Not only Sabir participated in the preparation of theater productions, but he also composed poems alluding to enlightenment and progress in accordance with the content of the play and the spirit of that time in order to recite them to children backstage during intermission so that they can learn by heart.
The launch of the children’s magazines “Debistan” (1906) and “Rehber” (The Leader) (1907), the First (1906) and Second (1907) Congresses of Azerbaijan’s teachers in Baku, his articles and satires to cover measures adopted during the congresses, “Spring Days”, “The Child and the Ice”, “The Ploughman” and other classical poems for the textbooks – “First Year” (1907), “Second Year” (1908) and “New School” (1909), and the encouragement of his work by literary and teaching communities inspired Sabir to greatness in the name of national-cultural progress and development. “It is expected that a teaching post will soon be vacated in the Azerbaijani Department,” read a letter from his friends at the Transcaucasian Teachers’ Seminary in Gori, calling on the poet to take the initiative, and promising to help him. Sabir’s selling the grocery store where he traded his own soap and his efforts to learn Russian were related to preparations for teaching at the Seminary. In his letters, he repeatedly noted that he ‘makes efforts as soon as the time allows.’
Along with Molla Nasraddin, Sabir also closely cooperated with the Baku-based newspapers Hayat, Irshad, Taze Hayat, and the magazines Debistan, Rehber and Behlul which published his articles and satirical pieces. Sabir, who served some time as a special reporter for Hayat, Irshad and Taze Hayat in Shamakhy and worked hard for the development of the national press (Irshad for example), tried to encourage locals in Shamakhy to subscribe for the press, on the one hand, and in his poetic and publicist writings called on his compatriots to unite to promote the development of the national press, on the other hand. The satirical feuilletons “An answer from the answers”, “Debistan closed”, the articles “The press” and “The tacit consent” stemmed from civic activism. The poet in The Press pays tribute to the role of the periodical press in the prosperity of the people, stressing that the level of its development is indicative of culture and progressiveness. It was the assumption – The Press is voice and power that must be given to the people – that was anchored in Sabir’s aspirations for the development of the press.
Not only agonized the poet over the fate of Azerbaijan and his compatriots, but also the entire Islamic East. Because he did not imagine Azerbaijan’s progress and development isolated from the world and the Islamic East. Thus, in his article entitled “Qeyret”(Honour) in an October 13, 1906 issue of Irshad, he outlined his views on the problems of Moslems and the development of Islam, in particular, responding to the controversy that arose in the press as to what sciences we need.
To abandon and violate the spiritual and moral values of Islam will result in a spiritual and moral degradation and a loss of national identity,” warned Sabir.
The poet did not oppose the relevance to the advancement achieved by the peoples of the world and the preservation of national identity. On the contrary, he called, following the dictates of the time, to develop the centuries-old spiritual and moral foundations that shaped the mentality and traditions of our people and foster the national and religious unity. According to Sabir, this is the only way to avoid the risk of depersonalization, the loss of Islamic moral norms, without being dissolved out in other nations of the world. For the poet, the greatest threat to the formation of national self-consciousness was a sectarian society.
Sabir called on his compatriots to secure national and religious solidarity to shape national consciousness, protect national self-esteem, and exit in the world with our own voice and breath. He considered that strong national progress and development could survive together. The main point that saddened the poet was a lack of mutual trust, belief and loyalty between different sectors of society. All these were moral-ethical, social-political disasters that caused discrimination among the people. “You will not find two intelligent Muslims among several millions in the Caucasus,” he wrote.
Sabir wanted to see his countrymen, people among the real citizens who serve “nationalism”, national prosperity and development with a real civilian fire. When he saw opposite of this, he cried out, “Woe! Zeal curses us.” Those who were cursed by national zeal and morality, he exposed in his satirical poems. He had not accidentally published both satiric poems under the pseudonym “Mirat” (Mirror). Because in these pieces, he portrayed the social types that hampered and sacrificed our national progress and development by preferring personal well-being.
Sabir made fun of whose impeding national progress and development in his articles for Molla Nasraddin, Irshad and Hayat printed one after another.
Along with the poet’s friends, he had many enemies, too. The “national leaders”, targeted by his satirical poems, did their best to thwart Sabir. Although all this could not turn the civil poet out of his way, it made him take measures carefully in every step and be extremely attentive. From the letter of May 27, 1907, to the editor of Behlul, it becomes clear that Sabir also discontinued writing articles for important periodicals from February of that year (1907). He noted, “It’s been three to four months since I opened a shop and got engaged in business, and as it is known to the authorities, I am obliged to cease writing for the press.”
Sabir wrote no articles for the press from February 12 to June 15, 1907.
On April 11, 1908, the poet passed the examination in the Spiritual Council of Muslims of Baku Governorate and left for Tiflis. He was entitled for teaching Mother Tongue and Sharia Law under certificate No. 944 issued by the Caucasian Spiritual Council in Tiflis. But a letter from the Gori Seminary gave him hope to become a teacher at the Seminary. Sabir decided to open a public school in Shamakhy with his friend A.Sahhat, but the authorities did not support the initiative. He had taught at Abdulkhaliq Efendi’s school in Shamakhy for a while. From Sabir’s letter to his friend S.M.Ganizade on August 17, 1908, it is clear that his colleagues appreciated his profound knowledge and pedagogical skills. Interestingly, in his article entitled “Juma” (Friday) Sabir puts the issue of the nation’s religious and moral, spiritual purity and perfection, and sees one of the main ways to achieve the goal in the expansion of the school network. This article also touched upon another significant issue – the importance of the moral and ethical unity, cultural and scientific progress, enlightenment, and national education of the Islamic world highlighting the responsibility of parents and individuals who had already gained indisputable authority in the society.
In the summer of 1908, Sabir repaired two rooms of a caravanserai in Shamakhy with the support and assistance of his close friend – carpet-weaver Haji Agha-Ali, and in September of the same year, he opened a school named Ummid together with his compatriot Hajibala Zamanov. There were approximately 60 pupils attending this school where teaching was provided through advanced tools as in other new schools – the pupils sat behind desks, visual aids were used in the learning process, they went on excursions, took singing lessons, and spoke at festivities in the city. Here, they were taught some basic Mother Tongue (Turkic), Persian, Arithmetic, Geography and other subjects, as well as the Quran and Sharia. Hashim Bey Vezirov, a prominent literary figure and journalist, had also toured Ummid in Shamakhy riding all around Azerbaijan. Sharing with his impressions about the Ummid in his newspaper Ittifaq, he wrote: “… Children learn too much in Sabir’s school. Here, they are taught basic sciences substantively and regularly.”
As we have already noted, Sabir did not regard his mission finished with the exemplary teaching at Ummid alone. He organized the performance of his pupils at national and religious holidays (such as Novruz, Khum-Gadir), cultural events held in the city (Shamakhy). Pupils, trained by their teachers Sabir and Hajibala Zamanov, attended the mass celebrations where they recited poems and then appealed to the non-poor to initiate the opening of schools and other cultural and educational centers or to render moral and material assistance. Such a performance of the pupils was somewhat positive.
However, Sabir’s ever-expanding social activities ferreted some people day and night, and there were those who feared them. These people resisted the novelty in every possible way. In such circumstances, Ummid, which could have operated for only one school year, ceased to exist in the summer of 1909. Sabir, who was involuntarily without work, was deeply depressed about the biased and unjust attitude towards him and his hopes and desires for the future of the nation. In order to imagine the magnitude of his troubles, it is enough to read the letter he wrote to S.M.Ganizade in the fall of 1909. The letter says:
“Then last year (it embraces the 1908/1909 school year – A.B.), I was eager to help my countrymen. But they bitterly repaid for my efforts, upsetting me to my core. I’m running out of patience. My situation is not good and the pitiful sight moves me to tears.
Sabir understood that in such conditions he had no joy in Shamakhy. Opponents of the advanced ideas and good intentions of the poet resorted to various forms of vile tricks and subterfuges, blackmailed and demonized Sabir, distorting facts and events. All this further aggravated an already intolerable situation. In one of the letters, Sabir bitterly noted:
“I no longer have the strength to stay in Shamakhy. No one is helping me, no one is empathizing with me. Once again, I hope to you to share my grief … I ask you not to prolong my hard labor any further. I throw myself on your mercy! Give me a hand and break me out of the darkness of hell…. ”
Despite all the hardships, it was difficult to leave Shamakhy. He yearned for home in Baku where he was forced to work. However, the hospitality accorded to the poet by the range of progressive and caring admirers of his talent in Baku seemed to have been positively soul-enriching. Being surrounded by the sympathetic, cultured, loyal people in Baku and their acting together towards a common national aim satisfied and motivated Sabir to work with the greater enthusiasm. For a while, he was bringing his works to the public attention in the magazine Zenbur which was relaunched under Elabbas Muznib’s editorship after a temporary break.
Sabir’s increasingly close friendship and creative relations with caring and thoughtful art enthusiasts in Baku as well as the long-standing acquaintance and mutual communication between him and Hashim Bey Vezirov had inspired the poet to cooperate with the newspaper Seda.
By that time, Sabir’s poems and articles, as known, had been printed in the newspaper Taze Hayat founded and run by H.Vezirov where he worked as a special correspondent for Shamakhy. The newspaper praised Sabir’s poetic talent, while Hashim Bey in Ittifag cherished the poet’s pedagogical activity at Ummid school, his teaching ability and writing competence in his impressions during the trip. Besides, Mahammad Hady and Ebdurrahman Tofig Efendizade, Sabir’s compatriots and friends, worked in Seda. Owning to the departure of M.Hady to Istanbul, Sabir began to work at the Seda editorial office. At that time, in early February 1910, he was assigned to teach the Turkic Language and Sharia at the public school attached to the community called “Nashri Maarif” in the village of Balakhany with the support of his childhood and school friend, S.M Ganizade. The poet’s poems printed on Seda‘s issues from February 7 to 14 with such a signature “A.Sabir Tahirzade, a teacher from Balakhany School”.
Bakhysh Ahmadov, a representative of Balakhany school, wrote in his article titled “About Balakhany School” printed in Heqiqet and Seda on the same day – March 22, 1910: “Previously, the Sharia teacher at our school was Mullah Abdulla. Pursuant to the order by Judge of Baku’s Sharia Court Agha Mir Mahammad Karim Javadzade, he was dismissed. Under written and verbal instructions from the very Javadzade, as well as Mirza Majid Ganizade, Chief Inspector of Baku Schools, and Iskender Bey Melikov of the Nashri Maarif community, given to the school principal and me in person, we accepted and welcomed Mashhadi Alakbar nicknamed “Sabir” as Sharia teacher instead of him.”
Sabir could soon achieve significant success in training and educating his pupils, who passed all exams, including Sharia and Mother Tongue. Parents and teachers praised Sabir’s commendable work. Still, some evil people who envied him were on the watch here, too. At the beginning of the next school year, the former Sharia teacher Mullah Abdulla, with the support of other teachers, began to plot in the hope of achieving Sabir’s dismissal. They sent him nameless threatening letters demanding him to leave the school. The poet dramatically defused such intentions. The school’s management and most of the villagers supported Sabir and other teachers. We read about it again in Bakhysh Ahmadov’s article titled “A Response to Anonymous Letters”:
“… It would be better if you comprehend that Sabir or other teachers in our school are our true brothers and our children’s spiritual mentors. By the grace of God, we are their protectors at all times.”
As financial crisis hit the “Seda” newspaper Sabir quarreled with H.Vezirov while working at the Balakhany School. He on 10 June 1910 resigned from this post and started to work for the newspaper Heqiqet (The Truth) run by the Orujovs.
Meanwhile Uzeyir bey Hajibeyov also resigned as the editor of this newspaper and he was replaced by head of Balakhany community school Ahmad Kamal.
The new leadership of Heqiqet was pleased to introduce novelties and created new rubrics, such as “Literary Week” and “Science Week”. As a member of the contest commission for both rubrics, Sabir actively cooperated with the newspaper providing effective proposals and new writings …
Sabir also had broad cooperation with Gunesh published from August 14, 1910 as the continuation of Heqiqet. Almost every issue of the newspaper printed the poet’s writings. His poems and satirical pieces were edited on the satirical page Palanduz (Saddlemaker), a satirical supplement to Gunesh (was renamed “Yeni Heqiqet” from 1911). Interestingly, all the pieces in which Sabir appeared under pseudonyms in the supplement were satiric and mysterious.
The supplement Palanduz, multigenre pieces and letters published on it, as well as the “letter box” are the solid evidence of great respect and love for Sabir from colleagues (and readers), of the new works by other authors created under the influence of his poetry and talent, and of the large number of followers of the school founded by Sabir…
Sabir’s close cooperation with the newspapers and magazines in Baku weakened somewhat his creative collaboration with Molla Nasraddin, yet he did not completely severe all relations with the magazine. On the contrary, this connection continued with new content and quality.
Working hard at both school and the press as well as residing far from the house made him ill. The worsening of the disease forced him to resign from work in early December 1910 and move back to his family in Shamakhy. However, the poet was still in contact with Gunesh and other press organs in Baku. He also restored relations with the editorial office of Molla Nasraddin. Gunesh continued to print Sabir’s satirical pieces covering various social-national and cultural issues he sent from Shamakhy. But the attentive readers were worried because of not seeing Nizedar’s (Spearman) poems titled “Chuvalduz” (Awl) in several issues of Palanduz. In response to a reader by the pseudonym “Mersiyekhan” (Elegist), the newspaper had the following in Palanduz published on December 24, 1910:
“To Mersiyekhan: Our Nizedar effendi has left Baku for Shamakhy being a little ill. So he has not written for some issues. Hopefully, we will be able to enjoy his precious elegies again in the near future.”
And so it happened. The next issue of Palanduz on January 28, 1911 printed Nizedar’s new satirical piece entitled “Sleep” criticizing Duma elections, the election fraud, Duma members’ insincerity. The readers were so enthralled with this masterpiece that another work dedicated to this topic was published on the page. The content, theme and idea together with the pen name of that satirical piece titled “Being a Duma Member” made evident it had been written under the influence of Sabir’s “Sleep”. The article was signed as Balta Bizovich Nizadarov. In addition, a poem, by the pseudonym “Meber”, dedicated to the interpretation of “Sleep” was attached to Sabir’s satirical piece.
While in Shamakhy, Sabir made contact with Molla Nasraddin, sending his poems for publication in the magazine.
Two weeks ago, along with a special letter, I sent one of my poems previously published in Irshad. And last week, along with another letter to the Samedovs, I sent my new poem about Mamdali (Iranian Shah Mammadali- A.B.) to be delivered to you. I hope you have received them. Here, today I’m sending a new one too,” states a letter to Jalil Mammadguluzade written by Sabir on January 16, 1911.
At the end of the letter, he says: “Effendi! We should be joyous together that a nice change is taking place. I hope to please you with a considerable quantity of poems!”
In turn, Jalil in his letter invited Sabir to Tiflis for treatment. As Jalil, together with Hamida Khanum, were in Karabakh, he sent a letter to the temporary editor-in-chief of the magazine Mammadali Sidgi and tasked him to administer Sabir’s treatment. “Make sure to write to me about Sabir’s health at every possible moment,” Mammadguluzade noted with great concern.
Having received the letter, Sabir left Shamakhy for Tiflis at the request of his friend. He was met by Omar Faik Nemanzade, one of the founders of Molla Nasraddin and a passionate publicist. He placed Sabir in the editorial office and left for Akhaltsikhe. Sidgi was engaged in the poet’s treatment. Sabir wrote about it to the educationist Gurbanali Sharifzade, a friend of his in Nakhchivan, in his letter of February 6, 1911.
The letter infused with the poet’s yearning incurred as a consequence of his chronic illness also identifies the doctor who treated Sabir. His satirical piece Azrael’s Resignation, he had written while still in Shamakhy, was published in Molla Nasraddin as soon as he arrived in Tiflis. The piece unmasked ignorant, uneducated “doctors” who were the cause of patient’s death with their improper treatment methods, pointing to the Azrael’s shock because of the number of victims who died at the hand of the very “doctor”. That’s why Azrael wants God to let him take that doctor’s soul for the good of people, or to resign from his duty.
On the eve of Novruz holiday, Sabir wrote to Sidgi from the hospital: “…The holiday is coming soon and my life is about being over as well. I will not be able to get rid of this disease, I am sure. Let me publish some poems in the holiday release of Molla Nasraddin as a commemorative of me”… So Sabir wrote “You are a Bosom Friend of Merchants, Novruz”, “The Holiday Gift” and “Praise be to Allah, We are Lucky Today”. Due to the seriousness of his illness the last poem remained incomplete. Thus, he returned from hospital to the magazine’s office (Sabir there met with Uzeyir Hajıbeyov who was in Tiflis with some actors from Baku to perform his musical comedy “If Not That One, Then This One”). He left Tiflis for Shamakhy in late March. After staying at his home for a while, he returned to Tiflis again in late May, 1911 because of his illness. By that time, Jalil Mammadguluzade and his spouse Hamida Khanum had already returned from Kehrizli, Karabakh, to Tiflis. So, they were personally engaged in the great poet’s treatment. Regarding their endless reverence, care and attention to Sabir, the poet himself wrote to his friend Abbas Sahhat in his letter of 15 June 1911:
“My brother Sahhat!
I had not written to you since I arrived in Tiflis for treatment. I did not write, because I was unable to do on the grounds of my illness. I’m very satisfied with the way Mirza Jalil and Hamida Khanum behave towards me. If you only knew how they treat me with high regard. They took the trouble to look after me and did not allow me to stay at the hotel or hospital. They took me to their house. So I don’t know how I can thank them; may God reward them in a thousand folds. In short, here they take care of me better than in my family.”
Mirza Jalil and Hamida Khanum consulted with the doctors about Sabir’s treatment. The latter offered surgery, but refused to provide assurance, therefore, surgery was off.
According to Sabir’s letter of 27 June 1911 to Abbas Sahhat, his new doctor’s name was Kasparyants. Still, the poet felt embarrassed by the excessive care of the Mammadguluzade family towards him and their defraying the treatment costs. Therefore, he had secretly applied to another doctor surnamed Gandemirov and took the medicines prescribed by him to recover quickly for putting an end to his friends’ hardships. Sabir’s health condition deteriorated drastically. But he did not dare to tell Mirza Jalil of anything, out of shame.
Therefore, as Sabir wrote in his letter to Abbas Sahhat, he returned to Shamakhy from Tiflis in late June- early July. A few days later, he went to Baku as a last-ditch effort to heal. Regarding this visit, Mehdi Bey Hajinskiy wrote in his article “Sabir or Our Sick Poet”:
“… Our honorable poet has been sick for a while…
… Failing to find a cure in Shamakhy, our dear poet had to return to Baku for the second time …
If the doctors give their consent, we want them to do our dear poet Sabir’s surgery one of these days. The poet is staying in room 18 at the Islamiyye hotel,” the letter said.
However, because of his ongoing and debilitating illness that had weakened Sabir a lot, the doctors did not dare to perform the surgery. They advised him to have some rest in his summer house in Shamakhy before surgery. This fact is mentioned in the article called “The Poet in Bad Health” printed in the newspaper Melumat:
“A little while back, we informed people about our dear poet Sabir’s illness and his possible surgery and asked them to be patient.
By the recommendation of his doctors, our poet has left Baku for Shamakhy for a couple of months. After full recovery, he will be back and have an operation…”
But two days later, on 12 June 1911, Mirza Alakbar Sabir lost his life after debilitating agony. The bitter news about the poet’s passing by Abbas Sahhat was published in the press…
The poet was laid to rest in Yeddi Gunbez (Seven Copulas), a cemetery in Shamakhy. On the initiative of his friend and colleague Abbas Sahhat, a monument was established on the tomb of Sabir in his honor. Commemorative events were held to mark anniversaries for the late poet Sabir (it was reported in the press) as well as articles and memoirs by Abbas Sahhat, Jalil Mammadguluzade, Uzeyir Hajibeyov, Huseyn Javid, Abdurrahim Bey Hagverdiyev, Firudin Bey Kocherli, Haji Ibrahim Qasymov, to name a few, were published in the periodical press.
Yet in his lifetime, no collection of the poet’s writings had been published in book format. In his last letter of 27 June 1911 from Tiflis, he willed getting his work to the people to Abbas Sahhat: “I will not be sad in the face of death, because I know you will publish my works in a book.”
He was not mistaken. One year after the poet’s death in 1912, Sabir’s works were published in book format called “The Hophopname” thanks to the huge efforts of his wife Bullurnisa Khanum, as well as his friends Abbas Sahhat and Mahmudbey Mahmudbeyov through donations by people. In 1914, the updated and expanded edition of the Hophopname was issued. Articles written by A.Sahhat as the prelude to the collection laid the foundation for Sabir studies. And some efforts were made to print the new edition of the Hophopname under the rule of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). However, the course of time and historical circumstances had impeded the implementation of the initiative. It was only 1922 that saw the re-printing of a further extension of the book, compiled by Alisgender Jafarzade. In that year, on the initiative of Nariman Narimanov, a monument was erected in Baku to commemorate the outstanding poet.
The years to follow witnessed a growing interest in Sabir’s literary heritage. His works were published repeatedly with prefaces, explanations and interpretations by Sayid Huseyin (1934), Habib Samadzade (1948) and Mammad Mammadov (1962-65; 1976, 1980, 1992, 2004). The final version of Hophopname, a one-volume book, with a preface and notes, was published thus far by Alkhan Bayramoglu to mark the 150th anniversary of the poet’s birth in 2012. Articles, monographs and dissertations on Sabir’s life and writings were written and published. Notably, the three-volume “The Hophopname Collection of Sabir’s Poems” published to mark the 100th anniversary of the poet’s birth is said to be the best publication. The three-volume serves as the basis to the book’s next editions.
Sabir’s works translated into Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Persian, English and other languages were published for wider dissemination in Iran, Turkey, the USA as well as in the FSU space.
Sabir is famous as a satiric poet. Sabir’s precious heritage also includes classic lyrical ghazals, funny topical satires, deep contented-scientific, critical and publicist articles, correspondence letters and poetic translations. All these writings, regardless of their genre and volume, attract attention as the work by a great talent, a poet whose heart was filled with national feelings. Because even in the smallest event and detail depicted by Sabir, the soul of time, people’s emotions and thoughts are felt. “Depending on the nature of the event and people, or rather, the fluctuation of revolution, Sabir’s words also sounded differently. In his works we can experience the feelings of revolutionaries’ victory, joy, merriment, worry about the possible danger, sorrow caused by.” In short, Sabir’s works depict the social-political, national-psychological, spiritual-moral and ideological-aesthetic rhythm of the era with its all diversity. This stems from the master’s perspective of idea, his sensitivity in terms of imagination, and his ingenuity in realistic depiction in point of ornamental features. Because, above all, as a poet of his era Sabir is the rhymer who lighted and wrote with the sense of national fidelity. Toward the end of the 19th century, the ideology of politicization, along with the enlightenment manifested itself in national-social consciousness. The formation of political circles was not a matter of chance at that time. In the early 20th century these groups began to turn into political parties. So, after the Russian Revolution of 1905, along with the enlightenment of national-public consciousness, the matters of strengthening democratization, national-spiritual existence and the spirit of Turkism on the basis of the European modernity came into the forefront. Media outlets, such as Molla Nasraddin, Hayat, Fuyuzat, Behlul as well as other publications clearly illustrated the innovation, politicization and national-social democratization. The Enlightenment Movement gained new momentum, and people began to struggle for national-democratic rights and independence… All these matters found their tentative forms of expression in Sabir’s works from the ideological-aesthetic and citizenship point of view. To imagine the role of sense of citizenship in Sabir’s poetry in the early 20th century, it will suffice to look at the letter he sent to the newspaper Hayat along with his poem “To Our Muslim and Armenian Citizens”.
Sabir remained faithful to his promise about public-citizenship service until the end of his life. He also published articles devoted to friendly neighborhood relations between Azerbaijanis and Armenians, as they had always lived in weal and woe throughout history.
Sabir believed that no tangible or moral motive underlaid this massacre ensued between the two neighboring peoples. According to him, leaving both sides behind the world’s peoples from the point of progress and development, exposing both sides to unprecedented disasters, physical and material damage by turning the Caucasus region into a zone of war were the main causes of this slaughter. Therefore, he thoroughly illustrated the significance of steps towards eliminating the disaster in his articles “Humanism in Islam”, “The Caucasus Today…”, “The Courage of Karabakh War …”
In his article “On August 3, at the Salmanovs’ House…” devoted to performance analysis of the play “Coming out of the Rain, Falling into the Squall” by Najaf Bey Vezirov performed in Shamakhy, Sabir intentionally cited the dialogue between Haji Gambar and Gydy Kirve, calling on the peoples to live in peace and prosperity. All this proves that Sabir tried to intervene in the important social and political events of the era, to put these processes in the right direction from the active and aware citizenship position. This made a splash in his articles such as “The Media”, “Morality”, “At Your Disposal”, “The Time versus Us”, and “Friday”. “The Media” and “At Your Disposal” as well as his satirical poems “Ay jan, Ay jan”, and “Debistan” written by the great poet mirror the national media’s role in the progress and development of the people and the importance of maintaining its continuity. Sabir drew attention to the ways to benefit from the cultural and spiritual heritage of the peoples of the world, to keep the national-human values at the center of attention while integrating into the world, and thereby to achieve the more systematic continuation of national originality and its specific features, rather than losing the national identity in his article “Morality”. The outstanding poet addressed the normal development of the society, the bright future of the people and the country, and the ways to solve this problem described in his works “The Time versus Us”, “Friday». According to Sabir, one of the main ways to achieve a perfect society and state in all respects is to educate the younger generation and raise them as true citizens. As an important matter to reach the aim he brought forward the idea of how to increase the number of modern schools and study fields as far as possible. Because he saw our national prosperity and happiness in educating the children at educational institutions meeting the requirements of the era and bringing them up in the national spirit. To his mind, as an important factor in the society’s well being and development, national schools are alike the soul in human body. “As the spiritless body is obliged to death, the nation and society, which does not have the national school, are also in vain,” he believed. The poet-publicist said that the reason why our youth turning into the useless living creation by idling their time away was their exclusion from the education and upbringing and their fathers were the only ones being in charge of it. In this connection he wrote: “..We neither raised, nor educated them. We even did not care about their happiness, morals, and did not make an effort to make them Muslim. We were unable to be a good father for them… Why do we think that they deserve it? And why do we let them be wasted? Why do we not open national schools for them and create conditions for their education?
… Long live the honorable people who strive and provide conditions for educating our children, reviving humanism and Islam, promoting enlightenment.”
We can hear the voices of the poet and citizens in these issues and calls.
The rhythm of time, the heartbeat of people and their anxiety are reflected in his articles, correspondent letters about theater performances and the creation of schools and cultural-enlightenment centers. Academician Mammad Jafar wrote: “These small articles are a great help to us to better understand Sabir. Thus, from these articles and letters, we can at least learn that there have been many reasons which made Sabir an outstanding master of the century and a great poet of the country, as well as called on taking care of the “peasants with saddle bags on shoulder standing around weighing machines to buy grain”, “Padar migrants exposed to natural disasters”, “poor people turning into the victims of awful floods in the spring, while rejoicing for their relief from the winter troubles”; lived with the desire of building a permanent bridge over the Girdiman river and hated those hindering modernity.”
He could not tolerate the condition of the masses and the hardworking people, their painful, backbreaking way of living, their cultural deficiency, their falling behind others in point of national-public consciousness, their fighting for life in the greedy paws of landowners, possessors, clergymen, intellectuals and other high-powered people who seek their own interests and in the marsh of religious fanaticism. Therefore, he raised his voice of protest gaining power from his citizenship fidelity and rage. So, to eliminate the social and moral problems he preferred satirical poetry which was more active and ideological influence on the people’s consciousness in comparison with science writing.
The loudest sound of heart-wrenching, stinky chorus of the people deprived of sacred goals declared that they wanted their compatriots to keep being in the state of wool gathering and prayed God for help to kill immediately “the ones being awaken”. They were also willing to destroy the “whole world” for their own comfort.
These horrid groups wanted the national-historical memory to become blunt. They thought that to be concerned about the bright future of the nation, to live and work with this aim were completely absurd. In fact, by leaving the nation behind other communities in all points, this evil voice wafted it hunger and poverty, ignorance and inertia, deprivation and disaster. As Sabir saw the truth with all the nudity and delicacy mournfully, he focused on the society’s wounds to heal them. Because, he wanted to open the nation’s eyes to show clearly them the truth, wounds, and moral-ethical contaminations of the life they lived and nudged them to heal them, and to renew their moral-psychological and mental thinking.
Sabir’s poetry undertook the mission of turning upside down the nation’s miserable lifestyle, bringing them to a bright future with a completely fresh, pure and healthy form. So he began to struggle with the invincible ambition and determination. To ensure the prosperity of the people and the country, he emphasized the necessity of raising children as the worthy citizen, preparing the nation mentally, intellectually and philosophically for the future life and struggles. To this end, he chose the gaps in children’s education and training program as the basic element of his satirical verses. In his satire beginning with the lines “The day when God gifted you a child, thank him with delight”, upbringing methods based on harmful habits, thoughts and system that ultimately lead to the misfortune of the child and the family are listed with sarcasm. The impossibility of facing such misery that seemed like glory by studying and learning was highlighted:
… By learning
The glory can’t be found!..
In other words, the only possible way to save the nation from such tragedies and disasters was to teach and educate the younger generation in a secular way. Sabir began to describe several aspects and characteristics of such perspective on life, the gradual realization of his ideals and desires and the public mood in his satirical pieces. An illiterate father who fears his child’s interest in science, education and learning exclaims, “I don’t know what our son found from learning.” When he realizes that he is unable to turn him away from his way, he advises his son in a mad manner to give “this habit” – learning up.
The illiterate father turns his back to his son who doesn’t follow his life philosophy and tries to keep up with the time. But then as described in the satirical verses titled “The education and learning”, “Father’s advice”, “Stay still, my child, don’t wake up” and others, he again tries to keep his son away from the development and learning meeting the demands of time.
But the father’s efforts were useless. Gradually, the number of open-minded young people trying to keep up with the time began to grow in society and even girls’ schools were opened. Sabir created the perfect envision of his era by describing not just a single manifestation of the protests and cries of the enemies of progress, but every wave, rhythm and swing.
The satiric character’s desperate, hopeless situation is clearly visible from his willful cries. He tries to conceal his secret and cunning intentions as much as possible, and try to make himself look like an Islamic fanatic. But his regret, sadness and threats as a continuation of his screams and complaints manifest the true predatory face and parasitic nature.
The satirical character who understands the severity of the situation for himself bestrews the influence of revolutionary processes that took place in the country during the years 1905-1906 on public consciousness by saying “god damn the two previous years!” (the poem was written in 1907). He regrets for missing the opportunity to halt them in time. He collapses by perceiving the fact that the youth tasting the flavor of innovation, science, wisdom, enlightenment and virtue will never give it up.
We can see in the satirical piece “Shikayet” (The Complain) another image of forces resisting progressive aspirations, which has nothing else to do but helplessly lament, having lost all hope resisting changes.
The satirical character’s feeling of nostalgia and regret for superstitious period show his social attitude. All of the satirical characters mentioned above have the same social attitudes towards innovation, but they express themselves in their own way. The difference in their expressions is related with their individuality and worldview. Therefore, all satirical monologues in Sabir’s poetry differ from one another. In a word, none of the expressions in Sabir’s satires is the same. They are as diverse and characteristic as the featured types themselves in the satirical pieces, such as “Oh destiny, your tyranny is apparent”, “Wish”, “Oh!…Is this a modern school?”, “I do not give!…” and others.
All this equally enriches the gallery of characters in Sabir’s poetry, its way of disclosure and way of expression. The poet’s methods of disclosure and its types are as many as satires and its satirical images. If we add his way of description and narratives, we can see how Sabir’s poetry is rich in styling and expression.
Sabir always had thoughts about education of young generation. In some way, he was involved in events, such as opening schools, preparing programs and textbooks as well as writing classical poems for the children’s press and primary schools, trying to help kids, who were prone to amoral behavior and did not want to study at school. His satirical piece titled “To Children” is a prime example of this.
At the beginning of the poem, the satirist paints a picture of parents who did their best to raise successful children and to provide them with moral, physical and economic comfort in their future life. However, some of them can find themselves in a deadlock as a result of their bad behavior, which later can be a big problem not only for society, but also for their family. Sabir described all this in his poets. As a teacher and citizen, Sabir called on the younger generation to be successful for their family and country. He accurately and properly selected figures of speech to describe the problem in his satires that created idea-aesthetic composition.
The poet did not show superficial and one-side attitude towards the problem he tried to tackle, describing it in his satire. He tried to comprehensively cover any matter and used various and effective literature methods. So, it is not difficult to see his poetic and observing talent as a psychologist and teacher in handling any issue. We can also see the same attitude towards the issue of preparing educated and decent young generation. Sabir dedicated a number of satirical pieces to this matter. However, he kept the originality of the subject and focused the public attention on different and core sides of the problem described in the satirical pieces, such as “To children”, “There will be no need”, “Lucky” and “Just a child”.
The satire “There will be no need” is about a father who is a bad example for his son with his behavior and counseling, while the piece “Lucky” describes an ignorant father, who is very happy to see his son as a victim of his bad admonition, shares his joyful impressions with his wife Khansanam. In this piece, the father is more active than the mother. He prides himself on raising an alcoholic and figurative son and giving an argument that school is not good for children. In the piece “Just a child”, the mother is more active. She warns her husband not to rebuke their 11-year old son for his disobedience (abuse, laziness, etc.). She thinks that her son’s bad behavior is normal.
Sabir tried to explain that in order to raise successful young generation, who will guarantee for the country’s future and independence, we need to avoid harmful habits we did in the past and have our finger on the pulse. The devilry what the satirical type calls in “The little ones” are reading and writing, studying mother tongue and other languages, astronomy, math, geography and other subjects. However, such a negation as a proof from the opposite side serves as an ideological and artistic recognition and propaganda of novelty. It was correctly noted “this negation is followed by recognition.” These “The little ones” – open-minded, open-criticism and honest “little ones” – are those who will guarantee the country’s future.
The poet appeared as a big supporter of the education and progress movement that began in the mid-19th century.
In his short notes of August 1906 about preparation for the 1st Teachers Congress, Sabir noted that Caucasus schools taught subjects without a program yielding no result, but after a while he was very happy to inform the public that the country’s leading public figures gathered and exchanged views on how to tackle the pressing issue. Finally, they developed a program and interpretations.
A year later – during the Second Teachers Congress held from 25 August to 5 September 1907, the poet became more involved in activities to cover fateful matters and translate them into reality.
Sabir’s satirical piece “Uchiteller” (Teachers), for example, widely covered in a poetic sense the problems on the initiative to hold the Congress in Ganja with a view to attracting more participants from remote settlements and the fact that Baku finally hosted it, and other issues. He drew the teachers’ attention on the fact that there were still forces against all kind of changes (who sought to put obstacles) and who had enough power, expressing his concerns by saying “Don’t make any noise, don’t let the nation wake up.” Assessing the possible denouement of all shuffles, Sabir advised teachers to become more active, and pointed to possible manipulation and incitement by various foes. The poet hoped that raising issues at the Congress, such as developing the alphabet, working out new teaching methods, providing more time to subjects – in particular studying math and geometry- and compiling textbooks in the mother tongue would allow ‘everyone to learn and gain scientific knowledge.
The poet denounced religious fanatics appearing to wield control over religion, among whom there was panic and confusion due to the weakening of discrimination on religious grounds – one of the important factors hampering national unity.
These figures, disguised as advocates of morals and religious dogmas, in fact, enjoyed the discrepancy in reading Islam for their selfish ends. They stated that the elimination of such difference and related initiative from the intelligentsia could constitute a blow to the holiness and inviolability of Islam. Sabir in his sparkling satirical monologues clearly mirrored the ugly disguise of those yellers, exposing them with the power of his poetry. In this exposure, there was Sabir’s feeling of civil pride, demonstrating his national and social position.
Sabir returned to the theme after the congress. His article called “What does the time want? But what …” reported whether the people kept up with the times, pointing to lack of national schools as the main cause of the nation’s underdevelopment. Sabir was convinced that both children and the elderly “need care and attention.” The poet put on the shoulders of the youth a load of responsibility to ensure a bright future for them. He addressed the younger generation who received education in their mother tongue, and were stick to their national and religious beliefs. He called to them as following:
“Worthily fulfilling your task, you will obviously free our people from the grip of illiteracy wallowed in ignorance, leading to a brighter future. Open schools, open many schools until literate, educated young people, who received education in their mother tongue and are attached to their homeland, become a general focus of attention. Keep pace with the times and don’t miss a day of work!”
In accordance with the decisions taken during the first two congresses of Azerbaijan’s teachers, national schools were opened in different parts of the country, related programs and textbooks were prepared, as well as the children’s magazines “Debistan” and “Rehber” were launched. Sabir was closely engaged in these issues as much as he could. He cooperated with the magazines, publishing some of his poems and translations adapted to children’s age and views, and w0ote poems for school textbooks.
In 1907, his poem “A Gift for Schoolchildren” was included in the book “Folk Songs”, while his poems “The Child and the Ice” and “Spring Days” in the textbook “First Year”, and other poems, “Conversation among Trees”, “The Ploughman” and “The Crow and the Fox” were included in the textbooks “Second Year” and “New school” in 1908-1909.
The ideological and artistic strength of the poems is in the combination of their conformity to children’s psychology and their tremendous civil liability and outstanding poetic expressiveness. It is no accident that they are still recited with pleasure, having a prominent place in school textbooks, even after so many years. His contemporaries – F.Kocherli, M.Mahmudbeyov, A.Sahhat, A.Shaig, A.Jafarzade and others spoke highly of Sabir’s enormous poetic talent and the children’s poems he wrote with great panache, when appealing to the poet throughout the preparation of their pedagogical works.
Over time, Sabir became more active in raising public awareness and contributing to the promotion of education through both his poetry and social activities. Sabir became more actively involved in preparing and implementing mass cultural events, opening cultural-enlightenment institutions, and dealing with the consequences of the Armenian genocide against Azerbaijani Turks in Karabakh and surrounding areas, and he sought to get a right to teaching starting in late 1907. Sabir collected all necessary documents, sold his grocery store in Shamakhy and moved to Baku where he successfully passed the exam and got a teacher’s certificate on 11 April 1908. But, unfortunately, his hopes to teach in the Azerbaijani Department of the Transcaucasian Teachers’ Seminary in Gori had not been realized: He intended to replace Firudin Bey Kocherli, who was expected to be elected to the post of Sheikh-ul-Islam, but since his candidacy did not pass, the post for the teacher in the Azerbaijani Department did not become vacant. Sabir opened the school Ummid through the efforts of his friends and his countryman Hajibala Zamanov.
Ummid could have operated for only one school year and ceased to exist in 1909. Along with the poet’s friends and followers, he had many enemies, too. With the expansion of Sabir’s social and national activities, not only the number of his friends was increasing, but also enemies. The former were supporters of novelty, progress and development, and the latter backwardness, stupidity and ignorance. Archive material and stories in the periodical press and memoirs of his contemporaries testify to the pressure on Sabir in connection with his active civil position, hardship and privation he had forced to face.
The newspaper Taze Hayat (New Life), which was published from 1907 to 1908 in Shamakhy, reported the moral and psychological atmosphere in the region and Sabir’s state of health. Correspondent of the newspaper Mahmud Nadim Garagezov and noted educationalist Abdurrahman Tofig Efendizade wrote articles for Taze Hayat and Irshad. Their writings reveal the increasing number of those who tried to discredit the poet’s prestige and cast a shadow over his progressive activity.
Moreover, there were a lot of such haters and they had plenty of the other, according to the authors. Although his haters pretended to be supporters of novelty and progress, they could hardly speak of Sabir’s activities, while curling their lips, casting aspersions on the poet and painting him as the bad one.
Such a case is also mentioned in Efendizade’s article titled “A Letter”. It says: “While in Shamakhy last summer (it embraces 1907 – A.B.), two cultural figures and I had a conversation on Friday about culture and progress set in the country. During our conversation, one of them handed a newspaper to me and asked to read it.
When I had a look at the first pages of the newspaper, I noticed a letter on page 3 written from Shamakhy with Sabir’s signature.
Gentlemen, listen up! I am reading a letter from our dear Sabir. I wonder who he unmasked then.
One of them objected:
“You don’t need it, man. Sabir’s words and thoughts are not useful.”
The other man went further:
“Apparently, now you know what kind of newspaper it is. Those who write for a newspaper are like Sabir. Honestly, a good man would never write for the newspaper.”
“Dear ones, whatever Sabir, I judge him by what he has written. It’s intriguing what he wrote is fact or fiction.”
But they claimed:
“Please, don’t read for god’s sake! Our own conversation is much more interesting.”
As I was bewildered by the answers, I looked down at them and folded up the paper. Thinking about what had happened, I suddenly recalled the saying: WE MUST BE HUMAN TO UNDERSTAND THE PURPOSE OF THE NEWSPAPER!
Apparently, although those two insisted on vying for progress, they hated people like Sabir, who worked in support of progress and prosperity in deeds and not just in words. Sabir was forced to reckon with such duplicity and hypocrisy and publish his satirical poems and pieces under secret pseudonyms.
The poet feared that his name and signature could be used for personal gain or a desire to become famous. He warned the editor of Behlul about it, calling for him to keep a sharp look-out. Sabir wrote in his letter: “There is a need, first of all, to pay attention to handwriting. I shall not put my name on the papers, but send it separately to your pillarbox (248).”
During that period Sabir covered the issues of elections to the Duma, a difficult struggle for freedom and democracy, the class and peasant movement, grievances and beefs of those alarmed at the socio-political awakening of the people, problems of educating the youth, the fate of the national press, the elimination of intra-religious trends, the national unity, the historical destiny of Turkic peoples and the need for their cohesion.
A satirical piece by the poet ridiculed the so-called Baku’s daredevils, strongmen, willing to take up arms for a single save word in his address. “The Muslims are killing each other,” Sabir lamented, condemning the bloody confrontation. The wildness of the children of his people worried Sabir, who wrote that “if this continues, Baku will be doomed to extinction.” The poet called on the Almighty to help stop this unnecessary bloodshed, dreaming of peace and tranquility in society. Sabir deeply worried that the so-called custodian of the nation did not rush to take advantage of the available landmark opportunities, but just ‘inspected.’
“That would be great if our people and leaders could finally become aware of great benefit of the guidance and true path,” Sabir wrote, calling on the people to awaken. Sabir denounced ignorance and superstition that impeded the realization of his civic dreams, condemned hatred, envy and defiance of the leaders on the way to novelty and development for the sake of their ambitions, urged the people not to stop fighting, trusting in the false promises of the government.
Sabir brilliantly caught all these thoughts and aspirations in his satirical pieces, such as “What good has my son found in school?’, ‘Sleep while you can’, ‘The child’, ‘To Baku workers’, ‘ The old warlock’s advice to young maidens’, etc.
Sabir represented the notorious custodian of the nation pursuing their own personal gain, putting own advantage above national and spiritual values, through their own monologues, emphasizing that they were the ardent opponents of social development. The satirical type dismisses even a hint of movement and development, change and renewal, expressing willingness to sacrifice them for their own benefit. Even realizing that new people who have won the respect of the people are much smarter and wiser than them, these so-called ‘guardians’ did not allow themselves to think about changing their views and positions. All this was due to the hobgoblin of little minds, the moral and spiritual paralysis of consciousness.
The poet described this kind of diseases of society in the mirror of his satirical poetry.
It is notable that the poet had published that satire exactly under the alias “Mirat” (Mirror) in Irshad.
As a mirror of his age, the satirist depicted a vivid picture of social and moral deformity, and he saw public awareness as a way out from this disorder.
Sabir called on the young generation to attend school and master science. He praised the intelligentsia, scientists and public figures who served the Native land and people, emphasizing the importance of honoring their great achievements, following their good endeavors and remembering them.
The poet, for example, devoted one of his elegies to the death of Qazi Haji Majid Efendi, the noted public figure in Shamakhy at that time. He called the deceased as a gift to the nation by God. And he paid tribute to Hasan Bey Zardabi as a great public figure in his memoirs and works dedicated to Zardabi’s merits and charity.
He gave a large view to his merits and noted the importance of immortalizing his memory.
Sabir wrote not only for promulgation, but also for the nation and young generation to master science and become educated, and to do their best for the country’s prosperity.
Sabir severely criticized and exposed ignorant parents who justified the idle way of life of their children hooligans and did not want them to obtain education, but were proud of the ability of their children to kill and drown the offender in a pool of blood, as well as the rich people for whom money and wealth were holier than all saints. He ridiculed spiritually poor people in the satire ‘Money makes someone human” , describing the tragedy of their destinies in his verse “A miserly father makes a prodigal son.”
With his wish for citizenship and the power of publicistic genre, Sabir cursed such people, but was hopeful that his dreams would be transformed into reality by progressive and patriotic compatriots. He further said:
“I have nothing to say to the misers! Let them take their moneybags with them to the grave. Let their children become heathens, but not the sons of my nation. I believe and trust in my glorious homeland, understanding Islam, humanism, national grandeur and enlightenment.”
Sabir reveals in his satire ‘The Miser” insatiable stupid people who love wealth more than their children. The request to fork out for opening schools and educating their children throws their lives into disarray and striking fear into their hearts.
To fully disclose the object of his criticism, Sabir again and again returns to it, exposing its spiritual and moral ugliness each time in a new way. They hold fast the accumulated wealth – to be more precise, without contributing one penny for the benefit of the people. “I do not give!’ they rudely exclaim, bristling and grinning. They cherish the ‘Dream’ about the fact that there had been no schools, no science, not wishing to understand them, if only their wealth did not decrease. They are ready to root out, once and for all, all the costly beginnings, just to save their wealth.
The poet was sure that the knowledge, drawn from the untold treasury of enlightenment, must first of all be aimed at awakening national and religious self-awareness. Only this form would correspond to the content, only so the people would not act on a temptation to sacrifice their national identity for the sake of scientific and technological progress. Sabir scientifically and logically substantiated his thoughts and views on this subject in his articles published in 1907-1908 under the headings The Honor, Friday, Shamakhy district of Baku province, etc.
Multidimensional historical facts and literary and journalistic testimonies about Sabir’s life and activities reveal that, as the poet was a religious person and sincerely believed in Islamic law, he wanted to see his people as God-fearing, believing and patient. In Sabir’s views, Islam wasn’t actually a ‘predatory tool’, but a place of worship in the soul of a believer. The poet despised those who sought to use Islamic law to satisfy their own interests, keeping the people in poverty and illiteracy. In his writings, Sabir strongly denounced such ones, and those unconsciously wallowing in the deep end of ignorance having accepted their tricks, and called on them to break out of chains as well as to open their minds and discharge stupid beliefs.
Sabir believed in true Islam, sharing national self-consciousness, glorifying the human, connecting people for prosperity and development, through promoting science and education. In his teaching, literary and social activities, he urged his compatriots to strive for spiritual renewal, to grasp Islam that ennobles the heart of man and exalt its religious and national-moral values.
The poet was distressed by the backwardness of his own people. Sabir wrote that while all other peoples strive to master the knowledge of science and technology, taking advantage of the best achievements of scientific and technological progress, ‘ours’ consider them to be crazy. According to Sabir, the rotten philosophy of antiquity does not lead to a better life, but to the decomposition of society.
The poet urged his compatriots not fall victim to provocation, wish away the outdated philosophy, which subjected them to humiliation and the object of ridicule, desecrating their human dignity and human rights. Plus, with his words ‘Be happy and tolerate helplessly when you are in trouble’, Sabir called on his fellow citizens to straighten their minds and recognize their own human dignity.
The poet wrote with deep regret and sadness that every nation was engaged in deepening knowledge and finding access to resources of knowledge, while ours – not only those who opposed changes but also scholars sought heir benefit from own people. As a result of the disorder, deformation of social and political consciousness, the rich hated the poor and the educated disliked the illiterate and behaved them abusively. The poet depicted the awkward situation in his satirical pieces “The Labourer”, “The Ploughman”, “The Beggar” and others.
Sabir appealed to his fellow-religionists at least to follow and adhere to the canons of the religion they profess and the tenets in the Holy Book of the Muslims – Quran. He noted with sorrow that no one obeys the rule of law. Due to this precise reason, the poet believed that “Muslims are often exposed to all kinds of external and internal libel and insults.” Is this how we preserve the glory of Islam? Wrote Sabir, noting that the people lacked national dignity, along with the absence of faith.
Sabir’s sorrow as a citizen, engendered by national-religious devotion and self-knowledge, was inescapable. Moreover, there was a handful of people, who were hanging on to the people like a leech, did nothing but violated social stability, resisting novelty in every possible way and resorting to various disgusting tricks. Sabir sarcastically wrote that all those ‘saints’ who considered Muslims to be their slaves sincerely believed that had a guaranteed place in heaven for their deeds.
In his satirical piece “Fakhriya”, Sabir, in historical perspective, poetically and with his sincerity as a citizen, wrote about Islamic peoples, including his own nation, that exterminated each other, foolishly throwing themselves into bloody tragedies at certain stages of history, which had resulted in the national and religious degradation.
The poet bitterly noted that even after many centuries, “we are the same as before,’ without changing at all, thus the enemies took advantage by plundering the property of the people. Sabir endeavored to recover the country’s historic memory, and called to learn the lessons of history previously experienced by our compatriots.
For the poet, the only right thing to get rid of all troubles was to educate and upbring the people.
Sabir viewed global trends, including those set in Europe, Azerbaijan, Persia and Ottoman Turkey from a political and scientific perspective. His conclusions about the processes and developments, because of their objectivity and accuracy, were significantly different from those of his contemporaries, among whom was the fiery romantic poet Mahammad Hadi. If Hadi, deceived by the beauty of veneer, exclaimed with inspiration “The future looks bright for us,” “Luck favors us, the future is ours!’, Sabir called his friend to understand the essence of events and objective conclusions. After analyzing the poems and notes of Hadi, Sabir answered them with his satires called ‘Our future is shaky’ and ‘The future is ours’. Naturally, the views of both figures on the brilliant progress have been reflected in many of their other writings.
In his works Sabir, unlike his friend, sincerely believed in the talent and ability of his fellow countrymen, that they were worthy of a brighter future, and, eventually, sooner or later would reach it. Sabir rejoiced that the truth had finally reached Azerbaijan. However, his joy was short-lived. Soon, Russian, British, French and other imperialist powers came to the assistance of Iran, which strangled the national liberation movements in Azerbaijan. When he saw the shameful games, the ringleader and contempt of the Iranian shah and high ranking officials, the imprint of the foreign imperialist powers, and any kind of humiliation, the hatred and rage of the people against them, the poet wrote satirical pieces, such as ‘I Sell’, ‘Count here!’, ‘Shahname’, ‘Mamdeli’s love adventures in Europe’, ‘Correspondence’, ‘Love Allah!’, ‘An Iranian speaks’, ‘Well, it’s time to serve,’ ‘Rejoice, Iranians: the Soviets have come ‘, ‘The Emperor of Germany speaks’, etc.
In these works, Sabir expressed his attitude to the domestic and international processes around the national liberation movement in Iran, the political situation in Turkey, calling on Young Turks to be vigilant. “Do not burn like Iranians,” warned the poet. He angrily condemned not only the Iranian Shah Muhammadali Mirza, who, to stay on the throne, prayed for help from one or another country, describing his shameful end and a new page of international political games, but also appropriately exposed the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid, who acted contrary to the interests of his people and the Motherland. In the pieces ‘Correspondence’, ‘The Truth Speaks’, ‘Abdulhamid speaks’, Sabir revealed the essence of the anti-people policy of the Turkish sultan, described his cruelty and stressed that it was not fit not only as a governor, but also as a person.
Sabir’s works reflect issues, such as elections to the Russian State Duma, electoral frauds of the empire, attempts by politicians to take advantage of the situation for the sake of their interests, electoral fraud, etc. This was reflected in the satirical pieces ‘And I thought …’, ‘What has become of your claims?’, ‘Discussion in the Duma,’ and ‘The Dream.’
Sabir knew exactly that all the games with elections to the Duma had been organized by tsarist Russia in order to silence the people’s struggle for independence. The poet noted that the sun had not risen over the head of the people, but ‘black clouds are overhead’, calling to see a way out. “It was necessary to smooth the curtain’, as everything was uncovered – both good and bad,” Sabir wrote.
While in Shamakhy, the poet wrote a satirical piece, called “The Dream” for the satirical page ‘Palanduz’, in which he revealed the vicious and under-the-carpet actions of those wishing to be elected to the Duma.
As rightly put in the scientific literature, Sabir’s school was formed and reached perfection on the pages of the magazine ‘Molla Nasraddin’. The scope of the literary school was increasingly expanded. “Behlul”, “Zenbur”, “Arı”, “Mazeli”, “Babayi-Amir”, “Mirat”, “Lek-lak” and other pieces were printed in the traditions of Molla Nasraddin. In addition to satirical magazines, Sabir’s poems were published in newspapers. Along with Gunesh as a supplement to “Yeni Heqiqet”, Palanduz, a weekly satirical page, was published in Baku. And Sabir’s writings with the signature of “Chuvalduz” and “Nizedar” were also printed in these editions. The choice of the signature was not accidental. It not only echoed the name of the page (‘Palanduz’ – ‘Chuvalduz’), but also was a kind of standard-bearer of all other signatures, such as ‘Niaz’ (Spear), ‘Biz’ (Awl), ‘Mismar’ (Nail), ‘Iine’ (Needle), ‘Aryg’ (Thin). The authors of ‘Palanduz’ considered Sabir their own master, respectfully speaking about him (referring to him as ‘Nizedar’), appreciating the artistic and social strength of his satire and the power of his pen, composing poems on the themes of their ideological inspirer.
It should be duly noted that Sabir was a close acquaintance of the then director of Balakhany school Ahmad Kamal, and as soon as the latter was invited to work for the newspaper ‘Hegiget’, he did not forget about Sabir, requesting him to work with them. The poet published several of his didactic works and satirical poems in the newspapers ‘Hegiget’, ‘Gunesh’ and ‘Yeni Hegiget’. They printed articles on Sabir’s work at Balakhany school as well as his satirical piece “The Complaint”.
With Sabir’s coming, Balakhany school that had fallen into disgrace due to certain reasons teemed with life. In a short time, the school’s reputation had risen so much that the number of pupils in the next academic year was more than expected. There was no room in the school building … Some of the black forces by using problems arising with the school leadership, including Molla Abdulla, the former Sharia teacher, organized slander and threats against the school teachers. Sabir also faced with such threats. Many intellectuals – in particular community lawyer Bakhysh Ahmadov – defended the poet as a decent educator and righteous man. Sabir in turn did not avoid threats in response to those who accused him of illiteracy, lack of teaching ability, not knowing Azerbaijani (Turkic) language, by writing satirical pieces he exposed Molla Abdulla and black-eyed people, black-minded, vicious and slanderous people. It should be noted that one of the teachers, who was the target of slander and intimidation during these events, was the director of the school Ahmad Kamal. Due to the respect for his personality and creativity, he had invited Sabir to the newspaper “Hegiget” to work at the editorial office, and published Sabir`s poem “My Soul!” in the magazine “Yeni Fuyuzat”, with a note calling him a close friend: “Sabir, the greatest hypostasis of your personality is patience. My dear, continue to live and create, show patience to your offenders. Do not you dare leave this world. Without you, it will be sad for me.” These lines express infinite respect for Sabir’s personality, calling for resiliency and determination.
These verses express love, sympathy and solidarity for Sabir, who was encouraged to be more persistent and steadfast.
The poet made no allowance even for his closest friend in key questions. For example, the newspaper Gunesh one the other day covered the translation of a work from Ottoman Turkish to Azerbaijani Turkish as follows:
“Ganja-based Publication and Education Society published My Dream by Mirza Mahammad Akhundov, while “Dram” Society published Nadamat (Repentance), translated from Ottoman Turkish by the said author. Both pieces were produced through a printing house owned by the Haji Hasanov family in Ganja.”
For his sensitive attitude to a literary translation, Sabir had returned to the issue in the satirical piece “Is That How You See It?…”, and did literary translations from different languages, including a poem “I Saw Bouquets of Fresh Roses”, a fragment from the poem “Shahnameh”, the article “A Rant” from Persian, two poems of the famous poet Sheikh Mohammad Abduh from Arabic. These works, which boast in terms of soundness and conceptual quality of ideas, artistic and aesthetic value and educational-moral essence, could hardly fail to escape Sabir’s notice, who gave serious consideration to literary translation like other spheres.
Sabir also addressed ghazals, a genre of lyric poems, during the period of 1907 – 1910. These ghazals with a high artistic-aesthetic level could be understood as another manifestation of his creative attitude and endless reverence to great ghazal master Muhammad Fuzuli, expressing lover’s noble feelings, quivering attitude, devotion and tolerance.