Akhundov, Mirza Fath Ali

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(18121878), celebrated Azerbaijani author, playwright, philosopher, and founder of modern literary criticism, who acquired fame primarily as the writer of European-inspired plays in the Azeri-Turkish language.

Akhundov was born in Shaki (Nukha), Azerbaijan, and initially was tutored for the Islamic clergy by his uncle Haji Alaksar. However, as a young man he gained an appreciation for the arts, especially literature. An encounter with famed Azerbaijani lyricist and philosopher Mirza Shafi Vazeh in 1832 is said to have profoundly influenced his career as a writer. In 1834, he relocated to Tbilisi, Georgia, where he worked as a translator in the Chancellery of the Viceroy of the Caucasus. Here he was further influenced in his social and political views through his acquaintance with exiled Russian intellectuals, including Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky.

Akhundov's first published work was entitled "Oriental Poem" (1837), inspired by the death of famous Russian poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin. However, his first significant literary activity emerged in the 1850s, through a series of comedies that satirized the flaws and absurdities of contemporary society, largely born of ignorance and superstition. These comedies were highly praised in international literary circles, and Akhundov was affectionately dubbed "The Tatar Moliere." In 1859 Akhundov published his famous novel The Deceived Stars, thus laying the groundwork for realistic prose, providing models for a new genre in Azeri and Iranian literature.

In his later work, such as Three Letters of the Indian Prince Kamal al Dovleh to His Friend, Iranian Prince Jalal al Dovleh, Akhundov's writing evolved from benign satire to acerbic social commentary. At this stage, he demonstrated the typical leanings of the nineteenth-century intelligentsia toward the Enlightenment movement and its associated principles of education, political reform, and secularism. Akhundov's secular views, a by-product of his agnostic beliefs, stemmed from disillusionment with his earlier studies in theology. He perceived Islam's hold on all facets of society as an obstruction to learning. Although assaulting traditional institutions was seemingly his stock in trade, his biting satires were usually leavened with a message of optimism for the future. According to Tadeusz Swietochowski, noted scholar of Russian history, Akhundov believed that "the purpose of dramatic art was to improve peoples' morals" and that the "theater was the appropriate vehicle for conveying the message to a largely illiterate public."

See also: azerbaijan and azeris; caucasus; enlightenment, impact of


Azeri Literature. (2003). "Mirza Faith Ali Akhundov." <http://literature.azner.org/literature/makhundov/makhundov.en.htm>.

Swietockhowski, Tadeusz. (1995). Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition. New York: Columbia University Press.

Swietockhowski, Tadeusz, and Collins, Brian. (1999). Historical Dictionary of Azerbaijan. New York: Scarecrow Press.

Gregory Twyman

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