In a recent post I mentioned my encounter with Dr Tamás Sajó from Hungary and his fantastic blog. Occasionally I was commenting on his blog posts and we had few very interesting discussions. Eventually he offered to be a guest writer on his blog, a real honor for me, so here is my first posting at Poemas del río Wang.
Torch of Enlightenment from the Land of Fire
Recently there was an interesting discussion around a Poemas del río Wang post entitled The Little Prince about the last king of Qajar dynasty – Ahmad Shah of Iran (Persia). The beautiful selection of illustrations including old photos, postcards and postmarks with the young prince and royal family members would not be complete without the cartoons.
This cover page cartoon from one of the first issues of satiric Molla Nasreddin magazine depicts the prince passing through sirat – the hair thick bridge over the blazing inferno with müellim – teacher giving him a hand from Gardens of Eden while mersiyyekhans – elegy-singers are trying to pull him down.
Molla Nasreddin was founded in 1906 by a famous writer Jalil Mammadguluzade (1866-1932) a bright member of the early 20th century Azerbaijani intelligentsia. Born in Nakhchivan Mirza Jalil (as he was respectfully called by people) was at the front line of the struggle for enlightenment of society. With the Prince Ahmad depicting Iran this cartoon clearly represents the belief of many progressive people in Azerbaijan that the salvation for Iran as well as many other neighboring nations is in modern education, culture and literature as opposed to the rotten scholastic traditions and “elegy-singing”.
The magazine was named after a popular personage in the humoristic folklore of many nations from Balkans to China. Named as Anastratin by Greek, as Nasrettin Hoja by Turkish and Nasurdin Afandi by Uyghurs, this witty man is called Molla Nasreddin in Azerbaijan*. Just as this ingenious personage the magazine also earned popularity in a wide geography and is considered as the founder of tradition of satiric publications and cartoon art in many countries including Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey.
The first issue of Molla Nasreddin was published on 7 April 1906 in Tiflis (Tbilisi, Georgia) and in the spirit of this great cultural centre in Caucasus it was a product of highly intelligent and truly international teamwork. During the Tiflis period in the history of the magazine (1906-1917) cartoons were drawn by Oskar Schmerling (1863-1938) and Josef Rotter, two representatives of the Saint-Petersburg and Munich schools. Born in Tiflis, Schmerling was one of the founders of the art school, which in a sense was precursor of now famous Tbilisi State Academy of Arts in Gerogia.
Another Molla Nasreddin cartoonist, Baku-born Azim Azimzade (1880-1943) is considered as the founder of Azerbaijani satirical graphic art and Baku Art School where he lectured for more than twenty years is named after him. He is often called Sabir of Azerbaijani art after the poet Mirza Alakbar Sabir (1862-1911), who was famous for writing sharp satire on social issues. In fact many cartoons were illustrations to the poems by Sabir being published in Molla Nasreddin. The cover of the first issue well illustrates his satiric poem starting with the following verse:
Tərpənmə amandır bala, qəflətdən ayılma!
Açma gözünü, xabi-cəhalətdən ayılma!
Laylay, bala, laylay!
Yat, qal dala, laylay!
Don’t move, watch out, my dear, don’t wake up from unconsciousness
Don’t open your eyes, don’t wake up from the dream of ignorance
Sweet dreams, my dear, sweet dreams
Sleep and remain behind, sweet dreams!
Over the 25 years it did exist, through its 748 issues Molla Nasreddin touched upon all kinds of issues asking for urgent solution, but education and modernization were always its priorities.
The inscription on the locomotive says üsuli-jadid – new style, meaning new methods in education. Two persons staying on its way bear inscriptions köhne üsul, köhne elm, köhne adet – old methods, old knowledge and old traditions. The caption says Qoymariq qabagha gedasan – We will not let you go forward.
The struggle for enlightenment was stretching beyond the borders of Northern Azerbaijan, which then was a part of the Russian Empire, towards other Turkic nations of Russia.
The inscription on the patient says Bakharayi-Sherif that is Honorable Bukhara meaning Emirate of Bukhara (1785-1920) in Central Asia. The inscription on the doctor reads most probably as fireng hekimi – Frech (Western) doctor, and the label on medicine says anjaq zemane marifi – only modern education. Below is a dialog between the doctor and Emir of Bukhara:
Emir: Doctor, what is his illness? Doctor: The brains of poor man dried out long ago. He needs a cure at once, otherwise will be lost soon. Emir: What is the cure? Doctor: Should be cleaned with the medicine in this bottle. Emir: I should consult my ministers and clerics.
This cartoon depicts Ismail Gaspiraly (Gasprinski) (1851-1914) a famous Crimean Tatar intellectual, educator, publisher and politician with the newspaper Terjuman – Translator and his textbook Khoja-i-sübyan – The Teacher of Children in his hand. Two men threatening him look like a Tatar and Azerbaijani clerics. Inscriptions on the papers they hold say Üsuli-cedide khilaf sherietdir – What is against the New Methods is Islamic Sharia law and Tekfir – apostasy, declaration of him as unbeliever.
This movement for enlightenment was irritating for Russian Imperial administration, too.
The caption of this cartoon says Qrimda Rüşdiyyə məktəbində – At the Rushdiyya School in Crimea. Director confiscating the equipment says: You can teach whatever you want e.g. The Holy History, but you have no right to teach science.
Almost the same topic is a theme for other two cartoons depicting Northern Azerbaijan. The caption for the first one says: “That is what it should be; I have nothing to say about it, way to go”. In the second soldiers remove desks from the school: “You don’t need such new schools. Dismantle this quickly”.
Political and social issues in the Russian Empire as well as in the world were often the themes for Molla Nasreddin cartoons, featuring many familiar faces.
This cartoon with Caucasians fighting with each-other in the background depicts Mikhail Menshikov (1859-1918) – a famous Russian intellectual, publisher and public figure, one of the ideologists of Russian nationalism as a Russian peasant lady with Novoye Vremya – New Age newspaper as her kerchief crying: “Disaster!.. Caucasus is getting away!..”
The caption in Russian for this cartoon with Kyrgyz family reads as The issue of settlers. Government official says: “Get out and move from here: our khokhols need some land”. The inscription for the people coming in background says rus mühajirler – Russian immigrants.
You have recognized the white bearded gentleman in this cartoon for sure. This is graf Tolstoy the world known Russian writer Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). One “religious” Azerbaijani in the background says to the other one: “Meshedi Pirvedi, this Russian sure would be a decent man would he have his beard colored, huh!” The cartoon probably refers to a not widely known fact that Tolstoy was taking interest also in Islam and had read some Islamic religious texts, even published a book with selected sayings from the prophet Muhammad.
In this cartoon the Ottoman gives demir yol qonaqlighi – a “railway party” to Germany and Austria. The caption on the saucepan says Osmanli memleketi – Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman says: “Be patient for the time being: I will give some to you, too” to Italy, Bulgaria and Serbia waiting in background.
Many cartoons also were criticizing different traditions and negativities in Azerbaijani society from domestic violence to social and political participation of women in community.
Forced marriage is the theme for the cartoon with caption in Russian Svobodnaya lyubov – Free love. One important note is that you should read the images from right to left as in Arabic script being used in Azerbaijan at that time. So the first picture in the right says: “Should you not want to go voluntarily, I will take you by force”. In the next picture the akhun – cleric says: “Lady, since you don’t say anything, it seems that you agree. By the order of God I marry you to this gentleman”.
The dialog between a passing-by old lady and gentleman is as below. – “My dear! Why do you keep a Russian wife leaving Muslim girls unmarried (avoiding single Muslim girls)?” – “Auntie! What should we do, to marry a Muslim girl I need at least a thousand manats, I would be down collecting that money”.
The caption for this cartoon says Müselman inteligenti ve arvadi – A Muslim intellectual and his wife. One image is “in Paris”, the other one is “in his village in Caucasus”. I suppose you can easily guess which one is which.
Molla Nasreddin was the flagship of the movement for enlightenment in early 20th century Azerbaijan, which left many remarkable achievements: 1901 – the first secular school for Muslim girls; 1908 – the first opera in the East combining the classical European music with national musical tradition; and eventually 1918 – Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, the first parliamentary republic in the Muslim East, with women having rights to vote and be elected even earlier than many modern democracies as United States (1920) and France (1944). Although it lasted less than two years before the Bolshevik Russia invaded in 1920, its fruits were reaped by many generations ahead.
This posting was inspired by Tamás Sajó of Studiolum and his postings at Poemas del río Wang. Most of the scanned cartoon images were found on the flickr page by Mohamad Tavakoli. Few images were taken from the website of Helix Art Center, San Diego.
Other interesting links
Century old Georgian postcards with drawings by Oskar Schmerling: http://kollekcia-art.ru/oskar_shmerling._29_otkritok..html#morepictures
Baku‘s Art School Named After Self-Taught Artist – an article about Azim Azimzade: http://azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/72_folder/72-articles/72_azimzade.html
Dr Altay Goyushov describes the historical period in his recent article in Russian Еще раз об истории формирования секуляристских тенденций в Азербайджанском обществе (Once again on formation of secular trends in Azerbaijani society): http://www.chechen.org/page,14,393-zhurnal-chast.html
Dr Bayram Hajizade writes about contribution of artists of different nationalities in the history of Azerbaijani cartoon art in his article in Russian Вклад художников различных национальностей в историю азербайджанской карикатуры: http://cartoonia.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=589&Itemid=1