ii. POLITICAL AND SOCIAL WEEKLY
Molla Nasreddin (Mollā Naṣr-al-Din) was a political and social weekly in Azeri Turkish, which was published from 7 April 1906 until 1917 in Tiblisi (340 issues), in 1921 in Tabriz (8 issues), and from 1922 to 1931 in Baku (400 issues). This eight-page weekly had a tremendous impact on the course of journalism and development of ideas not only in Southern Caucasus but also in Persia, Turkey, and Central Asia. Its founder and chief editor, the celebrated writer Jalil Moḥammadqolizāda (Memed Qulizadeh; 1866-32) as well as his friend and colleague ʿOmar Fāʾeq Noʿmānzāda (1872-1940) along with a philanthropist merchant Mašdi ʿAli-Aṣḡar managed to finance its publications right from the beginning (FIGURE 1). The celebrated satirist Azeri poet, ʿAli-Akbar Ṣāber Ṭāherzāda (1862-1911), for the first five years of the journal contributed considerably to its fame. His biting satirical poems in praise of Sattār Khan were recited by the Constitutionalists fighting the Royalists in the bunkers of Tabriz (Āryanpur, II, pp. 46, 57). The paper was banned from Persia on account of its focusing on the inequalities and injustices in society (poverty, women’s lack of social rights, plight of the working classes, oppression, tyranny; FIGURE 2). It was, however, often smuggled in inside the bales of cloth. The reactionary clerics of Tabriz, who were afraid of its anti-clerical stand, ruled that it was a deceptive paper (awrāq-e możella) and “worse than the sword of Šemr [the villain of the Karbalā tragedy]” (Āryanpur, II, p. 45). The outstanding feature of Molla Nasreddin was its beautifully drawn color cartoons, which were the works of two eminent German artists in Tiblisi, Oscar Schimmerling (1863- 1938) and Joseph Rotter, and later on those of Aẓim Aẓimzāda (1880-1943). These cartoons were sharp satires illustrating the works of the writers of the weekly and were full of verve and caustic humor.
Moḥammadqolizāda was instrumental in every aspect of the journal right from the outset. He had written both in Russian and Azeri Turkish in liberal newspapers of Tiblisi before he published Molla Nasreddin. The time was very opportune. After the defeat of Russian army in Manchuria in 1905 and the disturbances of the same year, a certain degree of freedom was given to the press, and a degree of liberty among the Muslim peoples of Tsarist Russia coincided with the movement of the Young Turks in Turkey and the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 in Persia. It was a time of great historical change in the region, especially in Tbilisi where the exiled and mostly liberal Russian aristocracy met with the Muslim intelligentsia and with socialists of various stripes. According to Moḥammadqolizāda’s statement in the first issue (7 April 1906), the paper came into being as a result of a socio-political necessity. He further said: “Mollā Naṣr-al-Din was the creation of its own nature and time” (Moḥammadqolizāda, apud Āryanpur, II, p. 40). The plan of a revolutionary future of the paper in its literary, social, and political venues was laid down in the first issue. Molla Nasreddin did not limit itself to the enlightenment and education of Azerbaijani society but rather took the whole colonized or so-called independent societies of the East as its domain. It aimed at showing the pitfalls of Tsarist policies toward the nations under its control, criticizing absolutism and imperialism in the Middle East, fighting against superstitious beliefs and fanaticism, and spreading learning and culture, as well as friendship, amongst various nationalities (FIGURE 3). It was also stated that the writers of the journal would use every literary and satirical form in order to achieve those ends (Akhundov, p. 28). Moḥammadqolizāda was aware of the difficulties that he faced in this ambitious plan. He wrote in his memoires: “The despotism that had faced us like a mountain was the despotism of the king and the Sultan as well as the power and oppressiveness of those who had distorted the religion” (apud Ārynpur, II, p. 42).
The exceptional success of Molla Nasreddin was primarily due to the talents of its writers. Apart from Moḥammadqolizāda and Ṣāber, other contributors included the poets ʿAli Naẓmi (1882-1946) and ʿAli-oḡlu Ḡamgosār (1880-1919), the dramatist ʿAbd-al-Raḥim Ḥaqqverdiev (1870-1933), the famous composer and writer Uzeyr Ḥājibeyov (1885-1948), and the novelist Moḥammed-Saʿid Ordubādi (1872-1950). There were also many other artists, poets, and writers who joined in during the paper’s long history. For instance, Moʿjez of Šabestar (1874-1934), an Azerbaijani poet of some fame contributed poems when the journal was being published in Tabriz (FIGURE 4).
Moḥammadqolizāda wrote under different satirical names such as Hardam/Herdem-ḵiāl (whimisical), Dala (gluttonous), Serteq (stubborn), Qārinqoli (ever-hungry). He, however, was mostly known as Molla Nasreddin and was popularly identified with a character of the same name in a series of popular stories, whose acts and sayings as a wise fool were proverbial all over Middle East and Central Asia. According to Moḥammadqolizāda’s wife, illiterate women in Tiblisi would come to their house to meet the real Molla Nasreddin (Memedqulizade, p. 114).
Moḥammadqolizāda was an able playwright and short story writer. His plays like “The dead,” “My mother’s book” and “The gathering of the mad” are interesting literary works in their own rights, but he is mostly remembered for his short stories such as “Pocht qütüsi” (The post box), “Üsta Zeynal” (Ostād Zeynāl), “Iranda hurriyat (Democracy in Iran), and “Saqali üşaq” (The bearded child), some of which predate Molla Nasreddin. He reportedly preferred his journalistic experience to his creative writings. (Sardāri-niā, p. 144).
The main factor in the great popularity of Molla Nasreddin and the impact that it had upon the satirical press of the time was the poetry of Ṣāber, whose satirical poems were regularly published in the paper until his death in 1911. Alesio Bombaci described Ṣāber as an author who combined the wrath of Decimus Juvenal with the sarcasm of Béranger and the humanism of Nekrasov (Bombaci, tr., p. 217). He has been considered him “incomparable in depicting political and social problems” (Dehḵodā, Loḡat-nāma, s.v. Ṭāherzāda Ṣāber). Ṣāber’s originality of thought and form marked him as a truly great poet. The vivid realism of his poetry reflects the hardships of his own life as well as the corruption, superstition, repression, and ignorance prevalent in his society. He faced the opposition of the officials and various clerics and suffered greatly as a consequence. The same was true of Moḥammadqolizāda, who, after publishing an article on the freedom for women, had to take lodging in the Christian quarter of Tiblisi, away from Muslim fanatics.
The satirical works of Ṣāber embraces a wide variety of subjects, ranging from the defeat of the vainglorious czarist armies by Japan to scenes of social and domestic life at home. The butts of his satire range from Emperor Wilhelm of Prussia to Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah of Persia, from Sultan ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid of Turkey to very minor officials and clerics. His most fruitful years were those from 1905 to 1911, which coincided with the Constitutional Revolution in Persia. The struggle between the reactionaries and the Constitutionalists, the social corruption in Persia, the nature of the totalitarian government of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah, and many other aspects of the revolution are all depicted in the bitingly satirical poems of Ṣāber. Ṣāber depicted the monarch as a ruthless, hypocritical, and miserly tyrant. In one of his famous poems, Ṣāber depicts him as a man who has put Persia up for auction, including the royal treasures, the provinces, and the country’s heritage. All these poems on Moḥammed-ʿAli Shah and on Persia were freely translated in verse by Sayyed Ašraf Gilāni and published in his journal Nasim-e Šemāl without the mention of Ṣāber’s name. Although the original terseness, beauty, and some flair of Ṣāber’s tone are lost in the process, they were good rendition in Persian and created a sensation in Tehran upon publication (Āryanpur, II, p. 64 ff.).
The immense popularity of Ṣāber, Moḥammadqolizāda, and other contributors of Molla Nasreddin’s led to much imitation. For instance the humorous and sometimes cynical character Mollā Dāʾi or Mollā ʿAmu, which appeared everywhere in the paper as poet, or/and as the person who answered letters, advised the youth, parodied the viewpoints of the establishment and was ever present in the cartoons, was adopted by the weekly Āḏarbāyjān, which began its publication in 1907 in Tabriz. Āḏarbāyjān presented the figure of Ḡaffār Wakil in Molla Nasreddin’s or Mollā Dāʾi’s role. On the cover of the first issue of Āḏarbāyjān, Ḡaffār Wakil is standing before the Mollā, listening to him like a faithful disciple.
Similar characters appear in other Persian satirical weeklies, among them Ḥašarāt-al-Arż (Tabriz, 1908), Šeydā (Istanbul, 1911), Bohlul (Tehran, 1908), and Sheikh Čoḡondar (Tehran, 1911). The device was taken up also by Dehḵodā in his column in Sur-e Esrāfil, entitled “Čarand parand,” which contained some of the most telling examples of Dehḵodā’s satire. Two of the pseudo-names used by Dehḵodā were reminiscent of those used by Moḥammadqolizāda: “Damdamki” (Whimsical) and “Ḵarmagas" (Gadfly). Some of the satirical techniques used by the former in stories such as “Democracy in Iran” are similar to those used by Dehḵodā in “Čarand parand.” Karbalāy Moḥammed-ʿAli in the former story and Āzād Khan Karandi in the latter are very similar in their innocent ignorance and naiveté. Sometimes the questions raised by Ṣāber or Moḥammadqolizāda were answered in prose or poetry in Sur-e Esrāfil and other contemporaneous Persian periodicals.
Individual poems of Ṣāber were also frequently translated or imitated by writers of the Persian press. His famous poem that begins with “However the nation is plundered, what do I care?” was imitated in Persian by Mirza Mahdi Khan, the editor of the newspaper Ḥekmat, and the rendition appeared in the weekly Āḏarbāyjān (issue 10). Ṣāber’s influence can be also seen in the poems of Moḥammad-Taqi Bahār and Abu’l-Qāsem Lāhuti. Molla Nasreddin created a new style and approach in journalism in Persia, particularly during the period of the Constitutional Revolution, and had a profound effect on shaping the intellectual thought and ideas of the early 20th century Azerbaijan.
Nazim Akhundov, Azərbaycan Satira Jurnalalri, 1906-1920, Baku, 1968; repub. in Ar. script as Ṭanz ruznāme-leri, Tehran, 1979.
Ziyakhan Aliyev, “Azim Azimzade: Baku’s Art School Named After Self-taught Artist,” Azerbaijan International, Summer 1999, pp. 28-29.
Yaḥyā Āryanpur, Az Ṣabā tā Nimā, 3 vols., Tehran, 1972-95, II, pp. 40-60.
Azərbaycan Respublikasi Elmler Akademiasi, Azərbaycan Dövlət Nəşriyyati, Molla Nesreddin(1906-1931), 2 vols., Baku, 1996-2002 (the repr. of the complete series is expected to be in 10 vols.).
Alexander Bennigsen and Lemercier-Quelquejay Chantal, La Presse et l’mouvement national chez musulmans de russie avant 1920, Paris 1964.
Alessio Bombaci, La letteratura turca; tr. Irène Melikoff as Histoire de la Litterature Turque, Paris, 1996.
Edward G. Browne, The Press and Poetry of Modern Persia, Cambridge, 1914.
Isa Habibbayli, Molla Nesreddinchi kariktura ustasi, Naxchivan, 2002.
Turan Hajizadeh, Jalil Memed Qulizadehnin jenub seferi ve Mulla Nasreddin zhurnalinin Tabrizde neshri, Baku, 1991.
Hasan Javadi, Satire in Persian Literature, Ratherford, 1985.
Idem, “I Am A Poet, The Mirror of My Age,” in Sabri M. Akurai, ed., Turkic Culture, Continuity and Change, Bloomington, 1987.
Raḥim Malilzāda, Zabān-e borrā-ye enqelāb: Hop Hop, Tabriz, 1978.
M. Azim Azimzade Nejefov, Azerbaijan Azərbaycan Dövlət Nəşriyyat, Baku, 1972.
Ataxan Pashayev, Molla Nasreddin: Döstlari, Düşmənləri, Baku, 1982.
Nasim Qiyasbeyli, “Molla Nasreddin, The Magazine: The Laughter that Pricked the Conscience of A Nation,” Azerbaijan International, Autumn 1996, pp. 22-23.
Hamide Memedqulizade, Mirza Jalil haqdinexatirelərim, Baku, 1967.
Jalil Memmedqulizadeh (Moḥammadqolizāda), Seçilmiş əsərləri, ed. ʿAbbas Zamanov and Hamid Memedzadeh, Baku, 1967.
Hamideh Khanim Javanshir, Mirza Jalil haqdine xatirelərim, Baku, 1981.
Ṣamad Sardāri-niā, Mollā Naṣr-al-Din dar Tabriz, Tabriz, n.d. ʿAli-Akbar Ṭāherzāda Ṣāber, Hop Hop-nāma, ed. Abbas Zamanov, Baku, 1962.; tr. Aḥmad Šafāʾi into Pers. verse, as Hop hop-nāma, Tehran, 1978.
Abbas Zamonov, Sabir i sovremenniki, tr. Asad Behrangi as Ṣāber wa moʿāṣerin-e u, Tabriz, 1979.
Idem, Mulla Nasreddinchi şáʿerlər, Baku, 1986 (a collection of the poems by sixteen poets who contributed to Mollā Naṣr-al-Din).
February 9, 2006
Revised July 15, 2009
Originally Published: January 1, 2000
Last Updated: January 1, 2000