MollaPanah Vagif (1717-1797)
Vagif is prominent in the history of Azerbaijan due to his literary and political activities. He was a great poet, the founder of the new realism genre in Azerbaijanian poetry, and also an eshikagasi, the minister of foreign affairs in the Karabakh khanate.
Vagif was born in the Kazakh district of Azerbaijan but spent most of his life in Karabakh, which he was always associated with. Due to his knowledge and his talents Vagif became popular with and beloved among the Karabakh people. There was even a saying: “Not every literate person can be Vagif.”
Vagif’s work marked a new era for Azeri poetry. In his poems he praised and gave priority to mundane feelings and desires, rather than abstract divine ones. Mainly that distinguished Vagif from his predecessors and made him the founder of the realism genre in Azeri poetry. The language of Vagif’s poems was qualitatively innovative as well. It was vivid, simple, and clear. That’s why Vagif’s poems, or koshma, have influenced Azeri folklore and have repeatedly been used in the folk music of ashuks.
When he was eshikagasi Vagif also helped the Karabakh khanate flourish and grow politically. Further, he organized the defense of Shusha during the invasion by Shah Qajar from Persia in 1795 and 1797. Vagif died during the disorders that followed the last invasion in 1797.
Kasim bey Zakir (1784-1857)
One of the most prominent Azeri poets of the 19th century, Zakir was born in 1784 in Shusha, in the historical capital of Karabakh. He was one of the founders of critical realism and the satirical trend in Azeri literature. Zakir’s satires exposed the ugliness of Czarist rule, including the czar’s local corrupt advocates, social injustices, and the backwardness of the clergy. Because of his satires, Zakir was exiled from Shusha for several months.
Zakir also wrote many lyrical poems considered to be masterpieces of Azeri literature. While in exile he wrote one of his best poems: one called “Durnalar” (“Cranes”) that treated his longing for his homeland in Karabakh.
Khurshid Banu Natevan (1830-1897)
Daughter of the last Karabakh khan, Mehdi Kulu-khan (“khan” was a feudal title of the Azeri rulers in the 18th century), Natevan was one of the best lyrical poets of Azerbaijan. Her poems treated mainly the themes of humanism, kindness, friendship, and love.
Natevan was also an artist and philanthropist. To promote poetry she established and sponsored several literary societies in Shusha. One of them, Majlisi Uns, became especially popular and attracted the major poetic and intellectual figures of Karabakh of the time.
Mir Movsum Navvab (1833-1918)
Navvab was a famous and respected citizen of Shusha and of Karabakh. He was a poet, artist (“Flowers,” “Birds,” “Portrait of Tamerlan,” and so on), music historian, astronomer, carpenter, chemist and mathematician. He promoted literacy and culture in Karabakh. Indeed, he had a hand-made printing-press to print the poems of Karabakh poets, which he gave copies of to the people in Karabakh. Navvab is also the author of the bookTezkireyi-Navvab, which discusses a hundred poets and writers of Karabakh.
Navvab also recorded valuable information about the history of Armenian-Azeri conflicts in his book The history of Armenian-Moslem Fight (the word “Moslem” was widely used as a substitute for “Azeri” in the 19th and early 20th centuries). This book describes the Armenian-Azeri clashes during the years 1905-1906.
Navvab died in 1918 in Shusha not long before a new ethnic clash between Armenians and Azeris began.
Najaf bey Vezirov (1854-1926)
Najaf bey Vezirov of Shusha helped establish and improve theatre in Azerbaijan and to develop the Azeri dramatic art. He founded the realistic tragedy genre, was the first Azeri actor, was the first feuilletonist, and was a talented writer. And he exposed and criticized the remnants of the feudal-patriarchal system.
One of the best literary works by Vezirov was “Musibeti-Fahreddin (Fahreddin’s grief) written in 1896, which marked the birth of the tragedy genre in Azeri literature. Having created such plays as “The Stone Thrown From Behind Hits the Heel,” “From Rain To Downpour”, “Pehlevani-Zemane” (Hero of the Time), “Late Repentance Is No Use,” and so on. These plays made Vezirov a giant of Azerbaijani literature.
Abdulrehim bey Hakverdiyev (1870-1933)
Hakverdiyev contributed much to Azeri culture and arts. He was born in Shusha in a respectable aristocratic family. His interest in the dramatic arts began very early. In school in Shusha he participated in amateur theatre performances and even wrote a comedy, “Haji Dashdemir.” His plays would eventually include “The Ruined Nest,” “Unfortunate Youth,” “Peri-jadu,” and others in which the author exposes the negative sides of life in 19th century Azerbaijan. In the 1890s Hakverdiyev staged the first opera in Shusha and in the whole Karabakh province. Before then Azerbaijani opera had been staged only in Baku. Having gathered the famous singers and musicians of Karabakh, he also organized the first Azeri oriental music concerts.
In a literary career of 40 years Hakverdiyev wrote not only many plays but also stories and a number of scientific articles. And he was a great realist writer.
Firidun bey Kocharly (1863-1920)
Kocharly was one of the greatest literary critics and literary historians of Azerbaijan. He was born in 1863 in Shusha, the administrative capital of Karabakh of the time. He was a great critic, writer, translator, teacher, and public figure. He was one of the first members of the national intelligentsia to begin to struggle for clarity in the Azeri literary language. And he wrote a three-volume work, The Literature of the Azeri Turks, that discussed about 130 Azeri writers.
Yousif Vezir Chemenzeminli (1887-1943)
Chemenzeminli was a major novelist. He was born in and spent his childhood and youth in Shusha. Themes related to both Shusha and Karabakh are central to Chemenzeminli’s works. His novels Twenty Years of My Life, Copybook of a Youth, and others describe late 19th and early 20th century Karabakh.
Chemenzeminli’s masterpiece In the Blood is also dedicated to Karabakh and describes the history of the Karabakh khanate of Ibrahim-khan, as well as the heroic defense of Shusha from the invasion of Shah Qajar of Persia in 1795.
Chemenzeminli was also a prominent political figure, the first ambassador of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920) to Turkey. After the Soviet invasion he had to live abroad for several years. His yearning for Azerbaijan made him return after a while but the Soviet government always persecuted him. In 1940 he was arrested and exiled to the village of Sukhobezvodnoye in the Gorki (N. Novgorod) region of Russia. And he died in 1947 after a long period of illness while in exile.
Ahmed bey Agaoglu /Agayev/ (1869-1939)
Born in Shusha, Agaoglu was one of the most prominent ideologists of the Azerbaijan national liberation movement at the beginning of the 20th century. He graduated from the University in St. Petersburg and the Sorbonne University in Paris. He was also a famous journalist who spoke five languages and wrote articles on current affairs for many popular newspapers in Azerbaijan and abroad.
Ahmed bey Agaoglu considered cultural and educational progress to be the major condition for national liberation. So he was concerned about the situation of women in early 20th century Azerbaijan, too. He was the first member of the national intelligentsia to speak up for equal rights for women. In his book Woman in the Islamic World, published in 1901, he argued that without the liberation of women, there can be no national progress.
Agaoglu also was a prominent political and public figure. He helped prevent ethnic clashes between Armenians and Azeris in 1905. To prevent terrorist actions of the Armenian dashnaks Agaoglu established the “Difahi” (“Defender”) organization and gathered many members of the national intelligentsia. He exposed Armenian dashnaks in both his publications and speeches. The Difahi organization did a lot to prevent the Armenian dashnaks from acting against the Azeris of Karabakh and of other places in Azerbaijan.
During the years of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920) Agaoglu was elected to the Parliament (Milli Mejlis) and later became deputy for the speaker.
Unfortunately, after the Soviet invasion Ahmed bey Agaoglu had to leave the country. He moved to Ankara, Turkey and continued his journalism and political activities there, working as the director of the press bureau, as the editor-in-chief of the official newspaper Hakimiyyeti-Milliyye, and as a close advisor of Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic.