The first humor magazine of Azerbaijan: Molla Nasreddin
We are challenged by making humor and seeing the life, politics or the world from an opponent perspective against heavy despotic administrations of today. The world we live in is not tolerant to varieties, differences or discrepancies. Whether made with a social or individual motive, the life is a time definition that we not only live by but also think about and discuss with others. Making this definition with humor other than generally accepted facts is a unique expression of courage. However, this is not only confined with today, some prominent names have emerged among the people of this land to be remembered with their authentic approaches to life.
Celil Mehmetgülüzade, born in 1866, is a person stuck in the middle, as with his city of birth, Nakhcevan. Half in the east, half in the west. He was faced with all the challenges of life and learned to use joy and humor as the best weapon against these challenges. Despite the connections of his family with the lands under control of İran, Anatolia nearby and Caucasia, Khazar and Russian lands ahead nurtured his thoughts. Every tree which grows in this land that has been struggling with ups and downs of being a historic corridor for thousands of years is used to the cold of the wind and the heat of the sun. Celil would do the same. He managed to develop resistance to joy and sadness of life.
Following his education in Nakhcevan, he continued his school life in Yerevan. He took classes on Georgian literature. He did not accept the Russian, Turkish and Iranian impact on the Azeri language. It was the biggest topic of discussion of Azeri literature people in that period and parties asserted development of the Azeri language under Russian or Turkish/Ottoman or Iranian language depending on their political/religious choices. Mehmetgülüzade supported an independent language rather than being included in a lingual family. This would reflect on his further literature works.
He left being a column writer in "Şarki Rus” newspaper in 1903 and started publishing a humor magazine called “Molla Nasreddin” in Tbilisi in 1906. Molla Nasreddin is a folk poet known by his sharp tongue, opponent attitude and humor we call Nasreddin Hoca in Anatolia. Mehmetgülüzade expressed his stance by naming this magazine. Everybody knows Nasreddin Hoca who is a common cultural asset in Anatolia, Caucasia and Iran. Almost everybody is impressed by his sharp tongue, integral critical power or creative humor. Let alone discussions on existence of Nasreddin Hoca, uncertainty about his being is a valuable asset itself. Nasreddin Hoca has both constructive and destructive impact on public, society, administrators and cultural assets and Mehmetgülüzade named the magazine after him.
Mehmetgülüzade was aware of the risk of using the name of such social value. However, the magazine proved it was worth the name. The magazine was published in Tbilisi from 1906 to 1919, in Tabriz in 1921 and in Baku from 1922 to 1931, read in a large Muslim society from Morocco to Iran and attracted great attention. The magazine was published in Azeri Turkish, Russian and sometimes Ottoman/Persian with Arabic letters. The main point of interest was the comics which told their own stories.
While strong authors Ömer Faik Nemanzade, Mirza Elekber Sabir, Neriman Nerimanov and Eli Nezmi contributed to the magazine with articles, essays and poems and O. Şmerling, J. Rotter and E. Eminzade and others gave life to the magazine with their drawings, Mehmetgülüzade was faced with pressure and intimidation. This magazine, named after the man with the sharpest tongue in the Muslim world, demonstrated great opposition and spoke its word against the developments in the world as well as social segments in the country.
The magazine was under pressure by the Tsarist Russia and Sheikh of Iran and the magazine staff frequently took refuge in brother lands because of problems with the Ottoman rule in the Anatolian geography. It drew attention for being a strong opponent voice from its first issue. Socialist perspective of Mehmetgülüzade allowed him to approach to the Bolsheviks. The magazine also supported the Russian Revolution and stated a revolution attempt in Caucasia and this point of Anatolia would bring freedom to people. This socialist attitude of the magazine brought a group of intellectuals. Especially, Azeri revolutionist, statesman and author Neriman Nerimanov’s presence in the magazine clearly expressed the stance of “Molla Nasreddin”.
Molla Nasreddin magazine published seven hundred seventy six issues in its twenty five years of publication life, albeit in periods due to conflicts in the region, and applicability of much of the criticism it asserted at the time to today’s conditions is a truly sad irony for the people of the Middle East. I hope people will quit ignoring the words of Molla Nasreddin magazine or Nasreddin Hoca himself and only laughing at the with while overlooking the main components of criticism. Below is a collection of issues of the magazine. As you can see, Turkish met Latin/Slav letters for the first time (through Azeri language).
First issue of Molla Nasreddin:
This first cover of Molla Nasreddin has a smiling and accessible Nasreddin Hoca profile against the gloomy and sullen Sufis, representative of the religious bigotry. The rhyme on the cover is as follows:
Tərpənmə amandır bala, qəflətdən ayılma!
Açma gözünü, xabi-cəhalətdən ayılma!
Laylay, bala, laylay!
Yat, qal dala, laylay!
A cover illustration named the Little Prince:
The challenging moments on the Straight Path of Ahmet, the last Sheikh of Kaçar Dynasty, the last Turkish royal dynasty which ruled Iran. Sheikh Ahmet is pulled down by "Mersiyehan" while he tries to pass the path by a Teacher who received western education. Molla Nasreddin defended the western lifestyle while criticizing many organizations and attitudes of the east and Islam.
The social segments who opposed to revolutionary and progressive attitude of Molla Nasreddin were the teachers and statesmen who represented bigotry in the form of obsolete procedure, tradition and discipline. As can be seen on the cover, progression is depicted by a locomotive and the driver tells that the road to development will not be abandoned:
- "Qoymariq qabagha gedasan"
Molla Nasreddin was also related to other developments in the region. Russia was willing to capture the Emirate of Bukhara in Khorasan. Bukhara Muslims were concerned. Molla Nasreddin tried to tell Bukhara Muslims the differences between Russian comrades and the Bukhara Emir. The pox doctor is in a dialogue with the Bukhara Sheriff beside a patient. The Bukhara Emir wants his ministers to take the medication prescribed by the doctor. He thinks only civilized medicine can solve the problems of Bukhara.
Gaspıralı İsmail is depicted by struggling with bigotry with his books and the famous Tercüman newspaper in his hands. The magazine also used role models in Turkish and Muslim world on its covers.
This cover is about the Rüsdiye Mektebi in Crimea and the magazine’s stance on modernism and enlightenment is obvious in arguments between two wings in Crimea. Molla Nasreddin and Mehmetgülüzade clearly supports western modern education.
Tolstoy is on the cover of Molla Nasreddin:
“This honorable person should be a good man that his Russian beard has turned grey”.
In the comic named “A Muslim Intellect and Woman”, one picture depicts Paris and one picture depicts Caucasia.
A censored page:
Molla Nasreddin was frequently subject to administrative and legal proceedings. It was sometimes censored and withdrawn. Thus, the publication center of the magazine was frequently displaced.
“This page has been left blank for reasons beyond our control”.
Molla Nasreddin also criticized the society. This comic criticizes different approaches to the gender of a new born baby. It is a sad example to the fact that social identity criticism has not changed much.
“when it is a boy, when it is a girl”
While the Ottoman, Russian and Serbian soldiers sleep at the back, the Austrian soldiers shake the tree to drop Albenia into its arms.
A Young Turk pulls the Ottoman statesmen of the past period:
- “It is enough you have been ruling the state for 32 years!”
Molla Nasreddin held the flag of modernism and revolution is Azerbaijan, Caucasia and Iran. The magazine battled with the eastern lifestyle, obsolete traditions, molla regime and religious bigotry. It is still remembered after a century with its courage. We can learn many lessons about our society and eastern world through the pages of Molla Nasreddin. The magazine expressed consistent and respectful opposition to developments, discussions and incidents in the country, the region and the world and thought a modern and western lifestyle would solve many problems of eastern people. It was reflected on its publications and brought it prestige.