A CHALLENGING LITERARY FIGURE

Who was Bakikhanov? He was a “universal” man: a thinker, an historian, a diplomat, a scientist, a military officer, a teacher and also a poet.

And what was his main philosophy? To encourage  his people to maintain their national history, culture and traditions, as well as to actively work towards integration into the greater society of the world. In the years since Azerbaijan’s independence, these goals and ideals have become even more the focus of the national spirit and are as topical as ever.

But what do any of us really know about this great man? If you ask anyone on the streets of Baku they may well know that there is a Bakikhanov Street. But you might be hard pressed to find out anything else of substance about a man who did so much to explain the country’s origins and place Azerbaijan on the regional intellectual map of the early 1800’s.

Abbas-Gulu Aga Bakikhanov was born into a family whose forefathers included Dergah-Gulu-bey who ruled Baku after the national uprising in the early 18th Century.

Bakikhanov’s father, Melik-Muhammed-khan II, was the third Baku khan. He ruled for only nine years: Fatalikhan, his powerful uncle who was the ruler of Guba, died and Melik-Muhammed-khan was obliged to hand-over his position in Baku to another relative, so that he himself could move to Guba and succeed his late-uncle.

In 1798 his beloved Georgian wife Sofia gave birth to a son Abbas-Gulu Aga. His father gave him the best education possible. Abbas-Gulu Aga studied Persian, Arabic, Azeri, Russian, French, as well as philosophy, theology, and history.

He also studied natural sciences, literature and music, and throughout much of his early life the young man was reading, learning, and thinking. But even though Bakikhanov was a descendant of the khans’ he had to work all his life to earn his position.

But whilst a good and loyal son, a fine officer and a loyal servant of the Empire, Bakikhanov was restless and ill at ease with how things were. He was always seeking ways to add creativity to his life and had a mind that was full of questions.

His military career blossomed around a core of academic thinking and writing. He was very successful at both, but his heart lay only in his research, his books and his thoughts.

Having attained the rank of colonel most assumed that it was only a matter of time before the respected officer Bakikhanov would become a general and a leading military figure. They believed this despite his rather liberal views on life and his often open criticism of many aspects of the ruling authority’s policy. But Bakikhanov had other plans. He wanted time out to chase new experiences. Always an intellectual challenge to authority and his superior officers, the young colonel asked unexpectedly for one year out to travel. It was a challenging and difficult decision for his masters.

Bakikhanov had already displayed signs of dissent and disagreement on major issues, such as warning his superiors against trusting the Armenians’ overtures towards Azerbaijan. They weighed up whether it was better to have him close-by and under control or let him go. Finally his request was granted and Bakikhanov went on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The story goes that on his way back from the pilgrimage Bakikhanov prayed to God that he might be rewarded for his efforts in life, not by means of more awards and medals but in a much more dramatic manner.

Bakikhanov had received many awards in his life: his collection of medals and citations was considerable and included the special “Iftikhar” order from the Turkish sultan and the “Lion and Sun” order awarded by the Iranian Shah.

But now what Bakikhanov sought was to die in the holy-land. His prayers were answered and death came to him at the hands of cholera, which struck his caravan. He was buried in the Vadi-Fatima Valley between Mecca and Medina, aged 50. It was a sad loss because of what he might have achieved, but Bakikhanov had already contributed much.

Perhaps most importantly there is his renowned historical work “Gulustan-i-Iram” (Paradise flowerbed), the first historical review of the Eastern Caucasus from ancient times up to 1813 when the Gulustan peace pact was signed.

It was a significant work not only for Azerbaijan but also throughout the East. The book included analysis to show that legendary country of gardens, meadows and sweeping valleys, was situated in Azerbaijan.

Bakikhanov presents a range of evidence including a number of geographic features and objects around Guba and Karabakh which bear the name of Gulustan-i-Iram.

History was Bakikhanov’s first love and he placed its importance above all the other sciences. “History shows our future in terms of our past,” he wrote. “She is a teacher who gives invaluable lessons to every human being.”

In order to write the book the author gathered together a huge number of manuscripts, notes, stories, and legends; he analyzed the data as he traveled and searched for other cultural and historical evidence.

His investigation employed astronomical and mathematical techniques as well. It was painstaking work. He paid special attention to the Caspian sea and makes reference several times to “the carts’ prints leading to the sea and disappearing under the waters.”

This was the same observation that the famous geographer E.C.Lents made when he examined the suburbs of Baku. Both Bakikhanov and Lent took an interest in this fact as it seemed to them to suggest proof of the existence of underwater historical monuments.

In 1840 Bakikhanov asked the Georgian Commander-in-Chief to organize an expedition in the eastern Caspian to find the ruins of an ancient city from the times of the Greek civilization (Shagri Yunan). The two ships that were dispatched searched in vein. Then later, in “Gulustan-i-Iram” Bakikhanov clarified the location of the city: “The underwater city is situated between Baku and Salyan, in 50 verst off shore”, the book reads.

Nowadays historians can find evidence more easily. Several settlements that were underwater in Bakikhanov’s time are now above the new water line as the sea has receded. These are Ilandag, Ag, Bandovan 1 and  Bandovan 2. But today’s scientists consider these to be the ancient cities of Gushtasfy, Nov-shekhr, Mugan and Makhmudabad. The existence or location of Bakikhanov’s Shagri Yunan remains a mystery.

Bakikhanov relates many events from history involving the country and its neighboring states. He explains the meaning of ancient names of the tribes, their settlements, the rivers of the region. The great Azeri scientist Ziya Buniatov wrote: “Bakikhanov was the last Azeri chronicler of the Middle Ages and the first chronicler of the New Time. As for “Gulustan-i-Iram” it is the book that showed us our great history and caused development of our national self0awareness.”

Bakikhanov wrote a wide range of subjects: Logic (“Ayn al-Mizan”), Persian grammar (“Kanun Kudsi”), many books on geography and religion including “Riyaz al-Kuds”-dedicated to the life and deeds of Islam’s greatest holy people, and his work on morals “Kitab e-Nasaekh.”

Moreover Bakikhanov was well known as a poet. As a youngster he could often be found studying Oriental poetry and under influence of the famous poet J. Rumi he developed a liking for pantheism. His early poetry “Riyazul Guds”, was dedicated to martyr death of Imam Husseyn. He used to add some tender lyrics to such serious  religious poetry and his style was extremely popular with religious worshipers and others. Indeed because of his gift of capturing religious stories and themes in poetry he was given the nickname “Gudsi” which means “holy.” But to some his liking of religion cast doubts upon his ability to be objective in his scientific or historical work. But Bakikhanov was able to answer his critics in a way that demonstrated  his own particular approach to life, study and religion. He would say: “A wise man polishes his looks to meet the Shariat’s needs and his mind to meet the needs of education.” Indeed, Bakikhanov was fascinated by the relationship between religion and science.

The man was a prolific writer and thinker. Apart from history, culture and religion, he wrote much about astronomy and the make-up of the universe. “Kashf al-Karaib” (Discover of wonders) and “Asran al Malakut” (Ecumenical mysteries) are two significant works.

The latter was presented to the Turkish sultan who had it published in all Turkish and German newspapers. It was a sensation at the time as it challenged traditional thinking on the Turks rejection of Copernicus’s theories as heretical. But Bakikhanov strongly supported the Copernicus analysis by presenting his own scientific investigation supported by verses from Koran.

Most people in Baku will never be able to come to terms with the enormity and significance of the short life of a man who gave his name to a street in the city. He was a thinker, an intellectual and a writer. He was also much more. He was an Azeri whose views and intellect made him a truly respected international figure.

Bakikhanov used to say of his work: “It’s the only science that can give us happiness in life and prolong our existence after death.” It’s certainly true of Bakikhanov himself.

Elina Kasumova

“Caspian Business News”, April 3, 2002

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2 thoughts on “A CHALLENGING LITERARY FIGURE

  1. Turan says:

    elaaa :) Somalideki veziyyetden yaz :)

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