Azerbaijan International

Spring 1999 (7.1)
Page 19

Oil Boom Period in Azerbaijan
(1880s - 1918)


Questions and Answers
(Early 20th Century)

Mirza-Alakbar Sabir Tahirzade, known simply as Sabir, was known for his sharp social satire. He was a major contributor to the well-known progressive journal, "Molla Nasraddin" (1906-1931) [see AI 4.3, Autumn 1996-"Molla Nasraddin, the Magazine: Laughter that Pricked the Conscience of a Nation," page 22]. This publication challenged its contemporaries throughout the region, not just in Azerbaijan, to question traditional thought, especially ideas that were based on religion and superstition. Here, Sabir describes the mentality at the turn of the last century.

"My friend, what's the situation in your glorious city today?"
"Praise be to God, it's the same as Noah's day."
"Have you new schools for your country's youth?"
"No, we've only Madrassahs
1 which have stood since Adam's birth."
"Do the citizens in your land read the newspapers each day?"
"Some literate madmen do, but I don't, I must say."
"My friend, are there libraries in your town?"
"Young people have opened a few, but we've turned them upside-down."
"Are the hungry helped by others in your country?"
"God sees their sufferings Himself - so why should we?"
"Do you take care of widows and women in need?"
"To hell with them-let them marry again!"
"Is the need for unity discussed in your land?"
"Yes, indeed, for the sake of eloquence, it is."
"Is the nation still split into Shiites and Sunnites ?"
"What do you mean? For such words, young man, you ought to be killed."
"Well, there's nothing more to say, so goodbye."
"Good riddance! I hope you fall into a pit and die!"
"Just look at him! Look at his face - what a loathsome sight!"
"The way he talks! Why, he can't even put his cap on right!"

Madrassah - Islamic school that concentrates on providing religious instruction.
2 Shiites and Sunnites - the two major branches of Islam, based on rules of descent from the prophet Mohammad. Shiites believe in 12 Imams and the Sunnites, five caliphs. Sunnites comprise the majority of Muslims throughout the world. Shiites are confined primarily to Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan.

Sabir's two poems above were translated by Dorian Rottenberg for "Azerbaijanian Poetry-Classic, Modern and Traditional," edited by Mirza Ibrahimov. Progress Publishers: Moscow. No date (probably late 1970s).

From Azerbaijan International (7.1) Spring 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.

Back to Index AI 7.1 (Spring 99)
AI Home
| Magazine Choice | Topics | Store | Contact us