Azerbaijan International

Spring 1999 (7.1)

Oil Boom Period in Azerbaijan
(1880s - 1918)

At the turn of the last century, Baku supplied more than 50 percent of the world's supply of oil. Proof of its concentrated wealth can still be seen in the lavish architecture of the period which dominates downtown Baku. The Oil Boom era was strongly influenced by Europe and the spirit of entrepreneurship. Writers concentrated on the deep social problems and the vast contradictions of the period-most of which are still issues today-national identity, the need for amicable relations with Armenians, social welfare and problems deriving from modernization.

Right: Political cartoon from the journal, Molla Nasraddin, published 1922, showing how countries were trying to "court" Azerbaijan (the attractive lady) for its oil.

Jalil Mammadguluzade

Jalil Mammadguluzade
This story was published in "Molla Nasraddin," a magazine of social satire, on November 27, 1917 ( Vol. 24). Jalil Mammadguluzade was editor of this journal for 25 years [1906-1931].

Left: Jalil Mammadguluzade, editor of the journal, Molla Nasraddin.

Mammadguluzade [pronounced mam-mad-gu-lu-ZAH-deh] points out the ambiguity of the word "Azerbaijan" , which still exists today just as it did a century ago. When people say "Azerbaijan," are they including the southern part of historical Azerbaijan that is located in Iran? Or is it just the northern part which was under the control of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and finally gained its independence in 1991?

Accordingly, the concept of a "Motherland" seems fuzzy when its official borders have changed. Mammadguluzade suggests that the elusive Azerbaijan will only be found once all of its people, not just its foreign-educated leaders, participate in the search.


Oh, my forgotten Motherland!
Oh, poor Motherland!

The world shook; the globe turned upside down, its orbit confused. The nations woke up and opened their eyes. Finding their native brothers scattered all over the world, they began to rebuild their destroyed houses.

But you, poor unlucky Motherland, what happened to you?

The world has changed, concepts have taken on new significances-that is to say, things that had lost their true meanings have now regained them. Everyone has achieved an understanding of Motherland, Language and Nation! There is no other way of salvation for the human being outside this circle.

Everything has been discussed. Every topic, exhausted. All our heroes have manifested their deeds! Still there is one concept that frustrates me. This word is connected with my Motherland-Azerbaijan.

Sometimes I place my hat in front of me and ask: "Who is my mother?"
I answer: "My mother was the late Zohrabanu."
"What is my language?"
"My language is Azerbaijani."
"So, where is my motherland?"
"My motherland is Azerbaijan."
"But where is Azerbaijan?"
"Most of Azerbaijan is located in Iran
1 with its center in Tabriz. The other part of Azerbaijan starts from Gilan2 and lies within the states of Russia and the Ottoman Empire, within the Caucasus and Ottoman Kurdistan and Bayazed."3

Guess why I remembered this conversation. The other week there was a discussion of an issue at the National Committee of Muslims in Tiflis [Tbilisi]. Disputes arose as to which language should be used.

Some said Russian. Some, Ottoman. Some, Armenian. Then they decided that since the majority of Azeri teachers could not speak Azerbaijani, they should be allowed to speak Russian. As for the members who were graduates of Russian universities, they were also allowed to speak Russian. Indeed, if I had spent years studying among giaour
4, shaking hands with them, would it have been fair for me to hide my knowledge and not speak Russian now? Never mind that many individuals represented at the meeting, including the akhunds,5 did not understand Russian - so what?


Oh, my beautiful Motherland - Azerbaijan!
Where are you? You, my brothers from Tabriz who eat moldy bread; you, my selt-cap
6 brothers from Khoy, Meshgin, Sarab, Gorus and Morus; you, my wretched brothers from Ardabil and Khalkhal7, come and show us the right way! I have lost my head. Everything has changed! Every concept has gained its true meaning. Let's sit down, with our selt hats in front of us, and find out where our Motherland has gone.

Come on, you poor, ragged sons of the forgotten Motherland! Come and let's see how the heads of the nations will set the course of our future-these leaders who have been raised on the milk of strangers, and who have become alienated from our native land and unaware of the spirit of the nation.

Why are you silent-you, my ragged, barefoot brothers?!

1 The area originally known as Azerbaijan and populated by Azeri-speaking people was divided between Russia and Iran in 1813 and 1828. The population of Azerbaijanis living in Southern Azerbaijan [Iran] is estimated to be at least three times that of the Azerbaijan Republic, which has a population of 7.9 million people.
2 Gilan - a province in Iran.
3 Bayazed - a town in Turkey.
4 Giaour - atheist or non-Muslim, meaning Russians here.
5 Akhund - a high Muslim title, similar to a bishop.
6 Selt-cap - Selt is a cheap material made of goat's wool. It symbolizes poverty.
7 The cities of Ardabil, Khalkhal, Khoy, Meshgin, Sarab and Gorus are now located in Iran. "Morus" is a non-sensical word-play crated to rhyme with "Gorus".

Translated by Jala Garibova

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