Author: PhD. Shahla ABDULLAYEVA
Shafiga Efendizadeh was the first female teacher of the Azerbaijani language in the South Caucasus and the first Azerbaijani journalist and publicist. As a teacher and a journalist, she has struggled since the beginning of the 20th century to strengthen the national consciousness of women, against their illiteracy, ignorance and the lack of rights.
Shafiga Efendizadeh was born on March 19, 1883 in the Georgian region of Akhyska, in the village of Azgur of the Akhaltsikhe Uyezd in the family of the famous teacher Muhammed Amin Hafiz Sheikhzadeh.
Together with her sister, she received her primary education at home from her father. Then she began teaching girls at the school opened by her father in the city of Nukha. This was her first step as an educator. Shafiga Efendizadeh officially started teaching in 1901 in the Russian-Muslim school for girls established by Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev.
In fact, religious fanatics among the population did not welcome the opening of the school. Both the students and teachers received threats and were frequently insulted. Shafiga Efendizadeh described the following scene in her memoirs:
“During a break between classes, the students went out to the school corridor and saw a large crowd at the other of Kommunisticheskaya Street (the former Nikolayevskaya Street). As the crowd approached, we could hear the deafening roar of voices and chain sounds. It was impossible to keep students calm at that moment. All of them rushed to the windows of the school hall. The street was filled with people. The crowd was moving right in the middle of the street, while the people was watching them from the sidewalks... When some of these fanatics saw our girls watching them from the windows, they started throwing stones at them and swearing. It was a real mess - the clatter of glass falling from broken windows, curses and abuse of girls, the cries of ‘Ya Huseyn! Ya Huseyn!’ As if it was not enough, the young people rushed to the doors of the school trying to break them with their feet. Our gatekeeper was a Tatar man in his forties. When he saw the crowd in the street, he quickly locked the door... The teachers were frightened trembling, the students were screaming. Haji [Z. Taghiyev] himself came to the school as soon as he heard about the event and hardly managed to calm down the students... We have suffered the same experience repeatedly over time. The girls could not even leave the school for months, in fact living in custody...”
After marrying Alaaddin Efendizadeh, also a teacher, in 1907, and the birth of their first child, Adil, Shafiga-khanim temporarily left her job. Shortly after the birth of her second son, Fuad, in 1909, she appealed to the chairman of the Baku School Committee with a request to accept her as a teacher of the Tatar (Azerbaijani) language. The commission reviewed the request and decided to appoint Efendizadeh as a teacher of the Azerbaijani language at the first Russian-Tatar women's school. In 1911, Shafiga-khanim was transferred at her own request to the second Russian-Tatar women's school headed by Sara-khanim Vezirova, where she has worked until 1918.
The events of March 1918 shocked the residents of Baku. Some moved with their families to Iran, Turkey, and Russia in hopes to return to Baku as soon as the situation improves. Until August, Shafiga-khanim's family has somehow coped with the difficult situation in Baku. But at the end of August they decided to leave for her homeland, Akhyska. Since the situation there was even more complicated, the family headed to Istanbul and decided to return only in April 1919.
Shafiga-khanim lost two members of her family during this trip. She writes about her loss in her letter from April 22, 1919 addressed to the chairman of the Baku School Commission: “... A week later, we reached my native village of Azgur in Akhaltsikhe, where my husband, the teacher of the Trade School, died of cholera. Because of the disturbances that started in Azgur two months later, we had to leave for Constantinople (Istanbul, R+), where my young sister Saida-khanim, who was also a teacher, died.”
Shafiga-khanim also asked for a job in this letter. However, there is no documentary evidence indicating a positive or negative response to her request.
Sh. Efendizadeh was also the first Azerbaijani woman journalist. Her first breakthrough article was To the Most Revered Muhammed-Agha Shakhtakhtinsky, the Illuminator, which was printed in the seventh issue of the newspaper Şərqi-Rus dated April 16, 1903. Her articles were later published in such newspapers and magazines as Həyat, İrshad, Açıq Söz, Azərbaycan, Dəbistan, Dirilik, Məktəb.
In her articles Shafiga-khanim touched on the most significant issues in the social and political life of her time: illiteracy among women, the refugee problem, the upbringing and education of children, etc. But instead of limiting herself to a simple description of these problems, Shafiga-khanim has always sought ways to eliminate them calling for solidarity and mutual assistance.
The articles of Sh. Efendizadeh complicated her own life. Once in one of the articles she told about the problems in a certain family. Incidentally, the fictitious names of the characters described in the article coincided with the names of a real family. The head of this family went to the school and made a terrible noise. After a while, someone wrote a threatening letter to Shafiga-khanim’s husband: “I think you cannot take down your wife. But we are good at it. You are dead.” This incident has forced Efendizadeh refrain from publishing for some time. This is what she wrote about it in her memoirs: “After that, I kept silence for several years not writing anything in the newspapers.”
Shafiga-khanim was also engaged in charity. During the First World War, or rather in late December 1914, the armed groups of Russians and Armenians began attacking the villages of Turks in Kars, Erzurum and Ardahan. As a result, hundreds of families were left without breadwinners; thousands of children became orphans, and lost their homes. Those who have escaped from the atrocities were trying to move to Azerbaijan - to their brothers by blood, language, and faith.
A powerful movement emerged in Azerbaijan to support the refugees. Women also took an active part in it along with the intelligentsia and wealthy people. Shafiga-khanim writes: “The war began in 1914. The Nicat charitable society opened its branches in our city to support the refugees. Understanding the need for women's care and warmth, Ünas charitable society was opened as one of the branches of Nicat. The chairwoman of this society was Liza-khanim Mukhtarova and her deputy was Rahila-khanim Hajibabayeva. I was a secretary... Our society was strong... We used to publish columns in newspapers asking for donations and held charity evenings. We organized the Mövludsociety and would regularly held the Novruz festivities. Thanks to these and other events, we have collected large donations. Thus, we have extended our helping hand to the outskirts of Sarigamish (in Anatolia, R+), who suffered from the war.”
Shafig-khanim has promoted the work of the society holding various events at different places. She has managed to raise considerable funds to assist refugees and the victims of war. One can find a detailed list of these donations on the pages of the Igbal newspaper: “[This is the] second batch of donations collected through Shafiga-khanim Efendizadeh to the victims of Kars...”. Through a number of her articles in various newspapers, Efendizadeh has tried to draw public attention to the numerous refugees and the victims of the war.
Shafiga Efendizadeh took part in various congresses including the First Congress of Azerbaijani Teachers (1906), the Congress of Muslims of Transcaucasia in Baku (1917), the All-Russian Congress of Muslim Women in Kazan, and the All-Russian Congress of Muslims in Moscow. In 1921, she became a participant of the First Congress of non-partisan women of Azerbaijan, where she was elected a delegate of the forthcoming congress of Oriental women in Moscow.
Undoubtedly, the most interesting among them was the Congress of Muslims of Transcaucasia held at the Ismailliya building in Baku. Shafiga-khanim Efendizadeh and Sara-khanim Vezirova were elected the representatives of Azerbaijani women at the congress.
The progressive women of the city followed the work of the congress from the balconies. On that day, the women's speeches caused a great stir. When the floor was given to the former qadi (a justice under the Islamic law, R+) of Baku, Mir Muhammad Kerim-agha, he expressed his negative attitude towards the women who took the floor before the men. His words provoked a protest among the intelligentsia, who interrupted the speech of the qadi, which, in turn, angered the young people supporting him. Women hardly managed to get out of the building.
A big campaign against women began in Baku after this event. According to Efendizadeh’s memoirs: “Students supporting women's freedom rushed to help the women delegates of the congress and took them outside through a backdoor. That was the only time we, the women delegates, took part in the general congress of Caucasian Muslims held in 1917. We were barred from attending the meetings afterwards. Later in the streets, Muslim women were forced to take off their shoes. The situation was worsening in the city...”
Referring to the passivity of the congress and the fact that qadi’s speech was interrupted, they gathered all mullahs of the city in the Tezepir mosque. There were many speeches about the Sharia, about the Quran. Matters have reached the point when the mullahs could adopt decisions that could paralyze the work of the All-Islamic congress, which had to decide the fate of the Muslims of the Caucasus and settle all the issues. This news spread rapidly among the people. Some strong-minded people hastened to settle the issue on location, while the rest went to inform the mufti and Sheikh-ul-Islam, if I am not mistaken, Muhammed Yusif Jafarov, asking for help. They went to the mosque, explained everything to the people and dispersed the rally. Although after this attack on women and the removal of their shoes the cases of women abuse have become less aggressive over time, everything went on for quite a long time.”
Efendizadeh's active participation in the political life of Azerbaijan was something new for ordinary Azerbaijani women. At the request of the Shamakhi National Committee, the Baku National Committee sent Shafiga-khanim to Shamakhi to guide women during the municipal elections held on October 3, 1917. She has later commented on the problems of organizing women's participation in these elections in the Açıq Söznewspaper.
In 1918, Efendizadeh was appointed as an assistant to the head of the office in a newly organized parliament. Incidentally, she was one of the six women employees of the administration staff consisting of 70 people.
In the years following the fall of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR), Shafiga-khanim re-appeared in the press with her articles. The first issue of the Şərq qadını magazine, a publication of the Women's Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, was published in November 1923 under the leadership of Ayna Sultanova, its first editor-in-chief. Shafiga-khanim was also included in the editorial board of the magazine, and was appointed the head of the department responsible for fiction literature. The first issue of the magazine described Shafiga-khanim as follows: “Shafiga-khanim is one of the first female editors and teachers recognized not only in Azerbaijan, but throughout the Islamic Orient.”
Shafiga-khanim continued teaching in the 1920s as well. She has worked in the first teachers’ school for girls, in the Ali-Bayramli Club. She has taught at a party school and left teaching only after retiring in 1930.
Shafiga-khanim Efendizadeh died in 1959. School number 13 in Yasamal district of Baku bears her name.
This text is based on contributions from the Archive of Political Documents under the Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan