Author: Lala OSMANQIZI, PhD in Philology Archive of Political Documents of the Department of the Azerbaijani President's Affairs Baku
A book about the work of the celebrated socio-political figure and patriarch of the Azer-baijani periodical press, Hasan bay Zardabi, in the Baku Municipal Duma, was published recently. Finalized for publication by Esmira xanim Cavadova, PhD in History, and published by the M. Fizuli Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijani National Academy of Sciences, it paints a picture of Zardabi as a councillor of the Baku Duma.
In the Municipal Duma
Whatever sphere of Azerbaijani public life from the last third of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century one might choose to research, the name of Hasan bay Zardabi is bound to figure. At times it is difficult to imagine how one person could work and achieve so much. After all, at that time there were no mobile phones that now make it so easy for us to quickly arrange meetings, no Internet to instantly find information about a particular subject and no private cars to move quickly around the city. It really is hard to imagine today that all this was possible and this might be explained by his desire to do as much as he could for the benefit for his people and his beloved region…
The source book entitled "The work of Hasan bay Malikov (Zardabi) in the Baku Municipal Duma (1897-1907)" about the sessions of the Baku Municipal Duma involving Zardabi and gleaned from issues of the Kaspiy (1881-1919) newspaper, is a vivid example of this. Zardabi's image as a councillor of the Baku Municipal Duma, from one session to another, raising questions of the city's priority tasks - problems with the water supply, road and bridge building, creating hospitals and schools, etc - comes to life in this book.
Far removed from self-interests
Coupled with the enormous respect of his fellow writers and the love of the people for his paternal concern for everyone, Hasan bay, during his time as councillor of the Baku Municipal Duma from 1897 to 1907 - i.e. to the last years of his live - made a number of enemies. The reasons for this were his honesty and straightforwardness. This can be gleaned from the memoirs of that well-known journalist and editor of the Bakinets newspaper (1907-1920), one of the founders of the Baku Journalists' Union (1907), Grigoriy Dzhinoridze, which were published in the Kaspiy newspaper in November 1907 and dedicated to Zardabi's unforgettable memory: "Compromises in life were alien to Hasan bay and while at university he travelled life's treacherous path.. He told each and everyone the plain truth and without fear and this brought him many personal enemies who should have realized that Hasan bay was far removed from self-interests in all that he did and everything he said and did was for the good of society."
Soon after university, on 18 November 1869, Hasan bay was appointed teacher of natural history at the Baku Non-Classical High School. Two years later, his colleague at the school, a German language teacher from St. Petersburg, Christian Zink, published the Bakinskiy Listok newspaper (1871-72), laying the foundation for the periodical press in Azerbaijan. R+ has written about this in previous issues. It seems to us that this newspaper encouraged him to set up the first national newspaper, Akinci, whose editor - the patriarch of the Azerbaijani national press, Zardabi - was involved in the publication of Bakinskiy Listok and, one imagines, inherited much from his colleague Zink.
Only once in the pages of Bakinskiy Listok does one come across an article with the signature "Hasan bay Malikov" - a proposal to set up a charity to aid Muslim students in Baku. And it was indeed set up in 1871. "At first," Zardabi wrote in Bakinskiy Listok in 1872, "all society did was to create apartments in Baku where Muslims from other cities wishing to study could find shelter and thereby be able to visit the school here. Since charity is to be found in everyone and the one goal of a reputable society would be charity, then persons of both sexes and of any nation or faith could be members of this society."
On the water supply
Cavadova's book also fully exposes the question of Baku's water supply, starting from the first debates about this question in the Duma at the end of the 19th century until the opening of the Sollar-Baku pipeline in 1917. Judging by the content of this work, which tells of the Duma session of 17 March 1898, the question of drinking water in Baku remained open for another 20 years. "Two main proposals were put to the councillors," the researcher writes. "The first was proposed by a St. Petersburg engineer, Nikolay Yagnoy, and was about providing the city with distilled water using a generator he had invented. The second - to run a water pipe into the city from wells in the village of Zaqulba - was proposed by a Baku engineer and entrepreneur, Artemiy Adamov. The councillors had to discuss and choose the most advantageous proposal from the point of view of water quality and cost."
However, 20 years were to pass before the question of the Baku water pipeline was resolved, but with drinking water of quite a different quality and from quite a different source - the Sollar spring on the Samur River. A dream had apparently come true for Hasan bay Zardabi who, at a Duma session in 1898, said that "spring water is not just for drinking but for the nourishment of the organism…"
An expert on natural science, he knew the value of natural sources and advocated for an improvement in people's lives, their physical and cultural development and their education. Zardabi played an active part in sessions of the Baku Duma which debated questions of the construction and repair of free hospitals, schools, libraries, dwellings and so on. He exerted all his efforts towards the rational use of the Municipal Duma's budget. He regarded as priority spending on vital public needs covering requests from broad sections of the population and fought against the theft and useless wastage of budget funds. But, unfortunately, he was not always able to control the situation.
The "Lavrov Affair" and the Baku newspaper
On 6 November 1903, a session of the Duma was debating the land question. The Duma's evaluation commission could not come to a decision on the payment for disposable land plots. Two reports were tabled for discussion which led to lengthy debates. However, between the debates, a question was hastily examined about the fee of a collegiate councillor, A.N. Lavrov, who was the owner of a boys' college, where "poor students studied without charge because they were greatly loved by the local people". This was how it was presented in the record list by Lavrov to the Main Directorate for Affairs of the Press in 1901 in connection with a petition to open a newspaper called "Baku" in the city.
By the time of his fee by the Municipal Duma, Lavrov, a member of the gentry from Kaluga Region, who was working in Baku as a history and geography teacher, was the official publisher of the Baku newspaper (1902-18). The newspaper was virtually owned by Armenian merchants and oilmen. The application to the Main Censorial Directorate pointed out that the paper regarded its main task as a "counterbalance to the only weekly newspaper, the Kaspiy, which was owned by [Haci Zeynalabdin] Tagiyev and edited by Mardan bay Topcubasev", as well as "expressing the truly Russian interests of the region and the city".
However, the very first issue of the newspaper, which was published on 18 October 1902, demonstrated the true aims and intentions of this paper, which launched attacks on the former editor of the Kavkaz newspaper, V. Velichko. "We boldly and openly state that nationalism in the form implanted by Mr Velichko is repugnant to us," the newspaper declared. It was well known that the Armenians had mixed, not to say hostile feelings towards Velichko because of his views on the history of the Armenians in the Caucasus. In his book entitled "The Caucasus: a Russian cause and inter-tribal matters" (1904), Velichko says the Armenians are an alien people in the region, pointing out that "the Armenians appeared there in large numbers in the first half of the 19th century as refugees from Turkey, and not indigenous people".
It should be noted that Lavrov was his own man among the Armenians in Baku like, incidentally, the mayor Aleksandr Ivanovich Novikov, who served for a short time in Baku - from 1902 to 1904 - but who managed to feature several times in the pages of the Baku newspaper with long articles about city government. Service is one thing, but friendship has its own rewards. As a report on the session on the land question points out, the Lavrov affair "was bulldozered" between two sessions on the land question: "This rapidity and haste was noted at the end of the session by councillor Hasan bay Melnikov, who asked the mayor why he had allowed so many people to speak on the land question, and even hurried and urged the Duma during the debate on the question of Lavrov's fee. But there was no reply from the bench."
Cavadova's book on Zardabi's work in the Baku Municipal Duma is of interest not only to researchers into the legacy of this outstanding enlightener, but also for those studying the history of daily life, which is such a popular field in contemporary historical studies.