Author: Pompol Vahabova, Nariman Narimanov's great niece Baku
Nariman Narimanov has gone down in Azerbaijani history as a politician and also as a philosopher and playwright; he was one of the first qualified doctors in Azerbaijan. He was born in Tiflis on 14 April 1870, his father died young and his mother Halima had to raise her children on her own. Nariman's uncle, Alimirza Narimanov, was very influential in his upbringing.
Alimirza Narimanov dedicated all his life to education and teaching and taught at institutions of education in Tiflis, Iran and Baku for many years; he had a good command of several languages. Alimirza's home was frequently visited by Abdulla Saiq and Ordubadi. In 1885, Nariman entered the Gori seminary and, in 1902, he entered the Novorossiysk Imperial Medical University. His education was financed by Haci Zeynalabdin Tagiyev. After graduating from university, Narimanov opened a clinic in Baku; although politics took up most of his time, people still called him "Dr Nariman". The young doctor was known as "the doctor with a kind heart" by people who had no money to pay for medical services.
Everyone has his own mission in this world and Narimanov's mission was to live for his people. He wrote about this in a letter to his son Nacaf: "My dear son Nacaf. If you try to look into my life, you will see that, until 1925, I lived for others. What happens next? More of the same, because I can only find peace and satisfaction in work which is of benefit to society..."
Narimanov did not want to, and could not, live differently, although he had opportunities to do so. He did not become a politician for a career or power; from childhood he had fostered a responsibility to others, discipline, love of science and respect for adults. Narimanov's family never forgot the people who extended their hands to them in times of hardship and those who needed help themselves. Narimanov, who grew up in this environment, did not make any distinction between rich and poor; he valued people for their deeds.
Much has been written about Nariman Narimanov. There has always been an ambiguous attitude towards his personality. Under Soviet rule, an attempt was made to accuse him of nationalism and anti-Soviet activity and, in the early 1990s, he was even blamed for the Karabakh problem and for all the troubles of our people. Only after Heydar Aliyev came to power did the people learn the real truth about Narimanov. Heydar Aliyev said in one of his speeches: "Narimanov was a great personality and politician who made decisions according to the laws and requirements of his time..."
Nabat Narimanova, a cousin of Narimanov, often spoke about his meetings with ordinary workers: "He could communicate equally well with ordinary workers and representatives of the intelligentsia." Every time Nabat remembered anything related to Narimanov's family, her eyes watered: "He departed this world so early, not through illness; it was repression that broke him…" Nabat herself was saved from repression only by a miracle - thanks to the intervention of Qulam Vahabov, a maternal relative, who worked in the Baku mayor's office in those troubled years.
Persecution and repression affected all those who were even remotely connected to Narimanov's family. His cousins and nephews were exiled. A whole generation was separated from its roots and a whole generation of children was born in exile. After the exile, his relatives were not allowed to live in Baku. A document bearing the name "Narimanov" could have serious consequences. Nabat Nari-manova, Masuma Narimanova and Badam Narimanova were repeatedly summoned to various departments which suggested that they give up their surname. The family does not like thinking about anything from the past. A number of documents and photos which meant a lot to the parents were destroyed and their fond memories erased. In 1957, the Narimanovs were rehabilitated, but even then the family tried not to remember the past, and saying anything related to the memory of Narimanov was tantamount to death. Even in the early 1960s, they tried to hide their relationship to the family when they entered university.
There are many archive documents and historical works dedicated to Narimanov which show his loyalty to his own people. In 1920, when the Central Committee decided to send Narimanov to Baku, Azerbaijan was in a very difficult political and economic situation. The Kremlin was controlled by people who wanted to seize power in Azerbaijan at all costs in pursuit of the idea of "a greater Armenia"; it was not just the question of land and oil which played a decisive role in the fate of our country. Only wise policy and diplomacy could ensure use of the "black gold" for the good of the people. Under Soviet rule, just as under the Russian Empire, Baku was a "gold mine" which had to be looked after. Narimanov repeatedly proposed the allocation of some of the oil revenues to the republic's needs and, in 1924, he finally talked Lenin into a positive response.
In the 1920s the Bolsheviks planned to Sovietize Azerbaijan and take total control of the republic. In his reply to the Kremlin, Narimanov wrote: "I think this issue can be left open until Georgia and Armenia join Russia, and then we'll see..." Narimanov knew that, given the conditions of famine and devastation in Russia, Azerbaijan had a chance to gain some independence and influence the use of its own resources. Narimanov wanted, and secured, real independence for his country in matters of political, economic and cultural development. Full subordination to the Bolsheviks not only implied death for the country in a political sense, but could also destroy the traditions and ancient history of Azerbaijan. At that time it was clear that the Soviets would not let Azerbaijan develop as a free and independent republic. In this situation, it was necessary to employ subtle diplomacy to prevent bloodshed and preserve the true values of the people.
Narimanov wrote in his letter to Lenin: "Dear Vladimir Ilyich! You cannot play with the feelings and values of a people. You should not see Baku as a city that is comprised only of Russian workers. There are a great many Muslim workers in Baku..." Narimanov often met workers in mosques and madrasas and was held in high esteem, both among the clergy and the ordinary people. In 1920, Narimanov persuaded the Central Committee to issue an instruction to preserve mosques and other artefacts belonging to Islamic culture as "monuments of architecture". For ordinary people, this meant a lot. However, at the same time, it was necessary to eliminate heresy and illiteracy, including in religion and spiritual education, in order to secure further development. The total illiteracy, naivety and narrow-mindedness of the people prevented not just development, but also the preservation of artefacts. Children did not know their own history, composers or poets. Narimanov understood that this played into the hands of those who did not want to see Azerbaijan as a civilized state and a player in the world arena. Of course the Kremlin did not like this. Ordzhonikidze, Stalin, Mikoyan and others assumed that Narimanov would defend their interests and would not interfere in the internal affairs of the republic, which were so troublesome and vital for them.
The media repeatedly accused Narimanov of political short-sightedness. Such an erroneous opinion can only come from people who do not know the history of those troubled years and who are not interested in Narimanov's life. Under Soviet rule, it was dangerous to pronounce Narimanov's name. The Narimanov family jumped every time someone knocked on the door. Members of the family were told to change their surname and "expose" Narimanov as "a nationalist engaged in anti-Soviet propaganda". All these facts, which do not appear in books, show that they were afraid of Narimanov's name, even after his death. The reason was his independent and patriotic stance and his covert conflict with the Kremlin authorities who sympathized with the Armenians and viewed them as allies in the process of securing control over Azerbaijan and its resources.
From Narimanov's memoirs about the events of 1918: "A gang of armed Dashnaks broke into my house. I ran away, and my brother was in prison. One hour later, Shaumyan saved me..." It is no accident that Narimanov described this incident in his memoirs. He did not have a shadow of a doubt that this intrigue, concocted by Shaumyan himself, was to assist the Armenians who were preparing a number of terrorist acts in Baku. The Armenians' purpose was to seize not just Azerbaijani land, but also the city of Baku and Baku oil. From Mirzoyan's letter to Ord-zhonikidze: "We need your consent and Narimanov will be no more..." Ordzhonikidze replied: "Do it!" Narimanov was an obstacle to the implementation of the plans which the Armenians needed for their political games. All the historical documents and facts prove once again that Narimanov was Azerbaijan's saviour at that difficult time.
In 1921, the Central Committee raised the issue of incorporating Nagornyy Karabakh into Armenia. There are genuine documents which testify to Narimanov's conversation with Stalin and Ordzhonikidze, in which he said, almost as an ultimatum: "I will not allow Karabakh to be handed over to Armenia. Today I will either return Karabakh or find a solution to this issue." Later, Narimanov had a telephone conversation with Lenin. They say that he warned that if Karabakh was incorporated into Armenia, Russia would get no more Baku oil. At a meeting of the plenum of the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (of Bolsheviks), a decision was made "to leave Nagornyy Karabakh as part of the Azerbaijani SSR, with its administrative centre in Susa". In April 1920, Narimanov sent a letter to the chairman of the Great National Assembly of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, in which he assured the Turkish people of his support in their fight against Dashnatsakan terrorist groups. While in exile in Astrakhan, Narimanov often met representatives of the Turkish intelligentsia and participated in their events. Their principles and world outlook were familiar and close to his own. Narimanov wrote: "Turkey needs peace with Russia if it is in favour of the freedom of the East." An ally was needed to retain Azerbaijan's integrity and Turkey could become that ally. Narimanov's ideas were supported by Mustafa Kemal who, in turn, also sought peace with Russia in the interests of his country. We should accept the fact that war with Russia has always been a utopian dream for Azerbaijan. In those years, the Kremlin was controlled by politicians who supported the Armenians; they did not conceal their interests and tried their best to prevent any intervention by Narimanov which could be of benefit to Baku. They were most afraid of an alliance with Turkey. In 1922, nine tonnes of kerosene and 350 tonnes of petrol were sent to Turkey on Narimanov's orders. He wrote in his memoirs: "Turkey should put an end to its past when it died under the yoke of European dictatorship. This state had its own roots and should revive. This is our salvation."
Narimanov saw Azerbaijan as a free, civilized and Muslim state. Turkey, which was enjoying a renaissance at the time, led by its leader, became an example to the whole Muslim world. Mustafa Kemal wrote in his memoirs: "Azerbaijan is a people's state. In recent years Azerbaijan has become an example to other peoples. Taking account of Azerbaijan's geographical position, it may be regarded as a centre for dialogue between peoples and all states." The Turkish leader wrote these words at a time of great difficulty for Azerbaijan, when Narimanov was doing his best to save the country, not just from bloodshed, but also from the danger of losing its intelligentsia, without which it is impossible to develop the future of any civilized country.
"Dear Nacaf! I have some time to live, and I will try to raise you so that you will do as much as possible for mankind. But if I am fated to die, I hope that you will be able to do for your people as much as your father." These are Narimanov's words from his last letter to his son. Despite all the difficulties of his mission, he believed that his son would dedicate himself to the people. Egoism, hunger for power, fame and glory had always been alien to this man.
In 1920, 99 people were sentenced to death for anti-Soviet activity, among them were Uzeyir Hacibayov, General Mehmandarov, General Sixlinski and many others. Hacibayov went to Iran for a long time at Narimanov's suggestion. Narimanov also had a conversation with generals Mehmandarov and Sixlinski: "You served as generals in the tsarist army, and now you can serve in the Soviet army." This is how Narimanov managed to save not just human lives, but also the whole people from losing the pick of its intelligentsia. He learnt too late about the execution of Firuдdin Kocarli in Ganca and never forgive himself for this to the end of his life. In his letter to Mircafar Bagirov in 1949, Hacibayov wrote: "They have been trying to slander me and my work in the eyes of the people since 1924, but people who value and understand me have had a great influence on my fate; Narimanov was one of these people." With the arrival of the Red Army in Baku, the houses of Baku millionaires were to be looted and their owners executed, along with their families - following the scenario played out in Russia. But this did not happen in Baku, upon Narimanov's insistence. "Haci, all your property will be nationalized and it will be better if you move to your dacha in Mardakan. The government has changed but, as long as I am alive, no-one will hurt you." This is how the Baku millionaire, who had invested so much money in the development of Azerbaijani culture and education, was saved. Sara Tagiyeva and Nabat Narimanova were friends. Later, Nabat visited the Tagiyevs' home as a teacher of Russian and French. Sara Tagiyeva spent all her life in Baku Old Town - in a kind of basement without basic conveniences. My father said that Nabat often cried when she looked at the photo given to her by Tagiyev, and she could not talk about Tagiyev's family because it was too dangerous at the time.
Narimanov paid great attention to the restoration of historical monuments of culture. Upon his initiative, a monument to the great Sabir was erected in Baku. The location of Sabir's monument- Qosa Qala Qapisi - had its own history. There used to be a monument there to Tsitsianov, a tsarist army general who was killed by Huseynqulu Khan. It was no accident that Narimanov chose this place for the monument to Sabir - in the city centre, right next to the entrance to the castle. Narimanov was accused of "nationalism and propagation of anti-Soviet principles". Despite that, the monument to Sabir was unveiled. "Sabir was a poet with a prophetic mission who was loved by people, and you cannot find a poet like Sabir in Russian proletarian literature." Narimanov wrote in an article addressed to those who thought that the unveiling of the monument to Sabir was a "foolish" thing. Thanks to Narimanov, Azerbaijan became a state with its own history and culture, and its people were awakened to self-awareness, which worried the authorities represented by Mikoyan, Ordzhonikidze, Stalin and Kirov.
In 1922, Narimanov wrote a letter to the Central Committee in which he gave a candid assessment of the situation in Azerbaijan and openly pointed to those who were engaged in subversive activity "against the Muslims of the East". A commission was set up, of which Ordubadi was a member. Later Ordubadi wrote in his memoirs: "This was a trial of Narimanov." Narimanov's services to his own people implied "the failure of the party". They were afraid of him and did their best to remove him, not just from the party, but also from life.
The works "Bahadur and Sona", "Nadir Shah" and "Nadanliq" were a great success in Narimanov's time and performances of his works brought together a great number of people. He wrote many tales which revealed the essence of the Azerbaijani people; the kindness and openness which actually made them suffer but, at the same time, win. In his work "Nadir Sah", Narimanov addressed historical facts and documents, dealing with the greatness not just of Azerbaijani culture, but also the traditions and morals of the Islamic world. Narimanov was certainly a phenomenal personality, applying logic and thought well ahead of his time. His works focused on the essential problems of the time and still retain their meaning.
Narimanov invested much effort in the preservation of the Azerbaijani language. Under tsarist Russia, the very idea of an "Azerbaijani language" was banned. After graduating from seminaries, qualified teachers, including Narimanov, were called "Tatar" language teachers. After graduating from the Gori seminary, he spent a long time working as a teacher in the village of Qizil Acili in Borcali district. Narimanov was a far-sighted politician and understood full well the grave implications of such an attitude towards a deeply-rooted language. At risk were not just the language, but the traditions and ethnic origin of the people. In August 1906, the first pedagogical congress was initiated by Narimanov and Zardabi. It made the following decisions:
- The teaching of the Azerbaijani language should be compulsory in institutions of education;
- Azerbaijani language teachers should be employed on the same basis as Russian sector teachers;
- All teachers must have equal rights and duties;
- Dismissal is possible only after the issue is discussed by the public.
Later, this made it possible not just to improve the status of the Azerbaijani language, but also to secure education for the poor. Schools for children from poor families, at which teaching was conducted in the native language, were also opened upon the initiative of Narimanov, Zardabi and Hacibayov, and thanks to financial support from Tagiyev. In his memoirs, Narimanov called Tagiyev a "highly-educated" person, although it is well-known that he did not attend higher education. Tagiyev made a priceless contribution to the development of education in his country and has gone down in history as a person who valued culture and education. Only an educated person could contribute to the future of his people in that way.
Narimanov married when he was about 40. Unfortunately, he was not fated to live a long and happy family life. When he died, his son Nacaf was only six years old. On 19 March 1925, Nariman Narimanov died suddenly on his way home from the Kremlin. It is difficult now to say anything specific about the cause of his death, but his family has always had a clear opinion. His sudden departure from life was regarded as a political "departure" from the Kremlin. The hasty funeral and cynical attitude towards his family, specifically his widower Gulsum, spoke volumes.
Narimanov's son Nacaf was drafted into the Red Army in 1938. In 1940 he graduated from a military college in Kiev and, in 1942, he went to war, participating in the Battle of Stalingrad and in the liberation of Donbass. He was awarded the Order "For Courage". The commander of a tank division, Nacaf Narimanov was killed at the age of 24, fighting for the liberation of the town of Volnovakhi. Nacaf Narimanov lived a short but active life and died with dignity, as his father had wished.
At one meeting, Mikoyan accused Narimanov of nationalism and received the reply: "I am not surprised to hear such words from someone who has the blood of innocent Muslim children and women on his hands and who still wears the Dashnak greatcoat." This reproof contains the answer to the question "whom did Narimanov annoy, even after his death?"
Narimanov's name was returned to the people after Heydar Aliyev came to power in Azerbaijan. In 1972, a monument was unveiled in Baku and books were published about him. The Mosfilm film studio started on a feature film about Narimanov which was shown under the name, "Stars Never Fade Away". It must be noted that it was initially called "Dr Narimanov", but censorship did not allow a film with such an "extremely personal" title. After Narimanov's death nothing remained of his life and work in Baku; only in the early 1970s did Heydar Aliyev revive Narimanov's name, which, in those years, was a courageous political step. After the unveiling of the monument, the newspaper 'Literatura and Iskusstvo' published an article with a photograph which aroused a storm of criticism: "It is unacceptable that the monument to Narimanov is higher than the monument to Kirov."
Narimanov's ashes lie near the Kremlin wall, and this great monument has become a place of worship for thousands of people. "We die in order to return for good," Narimanov liked to say, and these words turned out to be prophetic. Narimanov, who lived for his people, left them but remained in their memories for good.