Author: Zohra FARAJOVA
“This year I turned sixty-seven. I am sixty-seven years old! Long time huh?! Isn't it too much?..” He recalled the memories of past years full of difficulties and suffering. Ahmed-bey himself was amazed at the volume of truly impressive events that took place over these sixty-seven years.
An irreversible stream of time added days to weeks, and weeks to years, gradually dissolving into the abyss of History. But time was not the only unattainable barrier between the present and the past of Ahmed-bey. The land in which he was born was far beyond the many kilometres of long barbed wire carefully guarded by the Soviet government...
Ahmed-bey wrote about himself: “I was born in 1869 in the Azerbaijani province of Karabakh. My father’s name was Hashim-bey from the Aghaoghlu family. My grandfather had a land plot.” Ahmed-bey considered Karabakh, like Shirvan, "the cradle of Turkic culture, music, literature and nationalism in Azerbaijan."
His memories were like huge mountains standing in front of his eyes. On top of them always was the city of Shusha, the apple of eye of Karabakh... Shusha of the second half of the 19th century... A city, each quarter of which was famous for centuries-old poetic, musical, mugham and religious traditions... Ahmed-bey was born here, in one of the aristocratic families of Shusha. His father was Mirza Hasan-bey, a well literate man and a great connoisseur of folk music and literature, and his mother was a kind and gentle woman called Taze-khanum, the daughter of Rafi-bey from the Sarijally family.
Parents were not the only guides in Ahmed-bey's life. Ahmed-bey remembered his elder uncle Mirza Mohammed, who earned the respect and honour of Shushi residents thanks to his knowledge and vast life experience, as a man of strict and demanding character, as well as the one who would set rules within their huge family. Here is how Ahmed-bey recalled the early years of his life: “Every single day the wide living room of our house was filled with connoisseurs of knowledge and seekers of wisdom, who could spend hours talking on various religious issues between pilaf and hookah sessions... I was destined to spend my young years in the struggle for knowledge and wisdom. At that time, patriarchal customs and traditions prevailed in Azerbaijani families. My elder uncle Mirza Mohammed was a man of extremely harsh and heavy temper and was considered the patriarch of our family. His every word was a law for all members of the family, which consisted of at least forty people living together.” Ahmed-bey's childhood passed in between religious conversations of Uncle Mirza Mohammed with his friends; his education and all plans were predetermined. As the sole head of the family, uncle wanted this clever boy to become a mujtahid, an Islamic theologian. It was not an easy task to say 'no' to the will of Mirza Mohammed.
A school functioned in the city where students studied the Russian language and secular sciences. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of Shusha residents still preferred the old teaching methods. So Ahmed-bey, by the decision of his uncle, began his studies in mollahana. There, along with the study of the Persian language, he took a special course in the Arabic language. Thanks to the quick development of the material, talent and passion for knowledge, Ahmed-bey sometimes received praise from his cousin uncle. Mirza Mohammed proudly said: “You see, my son will become a mujtahid!” But very soon the mother of Ahmed-bey and his maternal uncle, who works as deputy head of the city municipality, took a step that completely changed the boy’s life. Secretly from Mirza Mohammed, they transferred Ahmed-bey to a real school in Shusha. When Mirza Mohammed became aware of this, he became very angry. However, Uncle Ahmed-bey, no less authoritative person in Shusha, was able to convince Mirza.
The real school gave a new direction, a new impetus to the views and future life of Ahmed-bey. There, he did not just study, but became a witness to Armenian enmity and injustice, which he will once again mention in his diaries and memoirs ...
Four more Turkic children studied at a school located in the Armenian quarter of the city, along with Ahmed-bey. Using a quantitative advantage, Armenian children often mocked them. Here is how Ahmed-bey describes those days at the school: “As soon as we, five Turkic children, took a break, we immediately rushed to lean our backs against the wall. Hundreds of Armenian children attacked us; some tore off the astrakhan hats from our heads, standing no less than four or five altyns, while others rolled them on the ground. Some clutched at the hem of our clothes, made of expensive fabrics and mostly camel hair, pulled them in different directions, tearing them to pieces, and when we resisted, they brutally beat us with fists. Sometimes they collectively slandered us and witnessed themselves. We were unjustly punished.”
There he first saw how being innocent could be punished, and realized the essence of slander. It was there that the will and spirit of the wrestler Ahmed-bey were tempered. The years spent at the Shusha Realschule were the first serious test, the first life lesson for Ahmed-bey. His classmates, Turks, who had not endured threats and torture, had already left school. In contrast, Ahmed-bey was more resilient and continued his education. This success was his reward for patience, perseverance and fearlessness.
Realschule opened new horizons for Ahmed-bey Aghaoghlu. After the sixth grade, he continued his education at the Tiflis (Tbilisi) gymnasium No. 1, graduating with honours and receiving three hundred rubles as a reward. He spent the summer of that year in Shusha on a pasture with his uncle.
Young Ahmed-bey was determined to get the best education for himself. The knowledge gained during school years, and most importantly, fluency in the Russian language, gave him even more confidence. With great hope to continue his education, he left for St. Petersburg and submitted his documents to the St. Petersburg Engineering Institute. However, his dream did not come true.
In 1888, Ahmed-bey went to France. First, he entered the College de France to study political sciences, and then continued his studies at the famous Sorbonne University in Paris. Thus, Ahmed-bey Aghaoghlu became the first Azerbaijani student in Europe.
Memories of those years of life were one of the most vivid... The French environment, acquaintance with world-famous orientalists Ernest Renan and professor James Darmsteter, as well as a meeting with prominent representative of the East Jamaleddin Afghani played a special role in shaping his worldview and socio-political views.
His work in the French press, where Aghaoghlu regularly published articles in his student years, helped him gain his first journalistic experience. His first reports and articles showed him as a capable and serious author.
Ernest Renan believed in the success of the young intellectual and once told Aghaoghlu: “You can become a world famous scientist. Do not return to your homeland, the East will forget you.” The offer was indeed quite tempting and promised a comfortable life and glory in France. But how many educated intellectuals like Ahmed-bey Aghaoghlu, who were able to devote themselves to the prosperity of their people and country, did Azerbaijan have at that time? With a sense of responsibility and nobility, he answered his teacher: “The East also needs educated people. I will teach my fellow citizens what I had learned from you.”
In 1894, Aghaoghlu left the West that fascinated him and returned to his homeland, which he loved with all its values and shortcomings. But he returned not only as a well-educated young man. The changes also affected his clothes so much so that Shushians began calling him Ahmed the Frankish...
The first steps towards national liberation were to go through education and cultural development. Therefore, education was central to the activities of Ahmed-bey Aghaoghlu. After returning to Azerbaijan, he first worked as an official in the governor's office, and also taught French in Shusha.
One of the remarkable achievements of Aghaoghlu in Azerbaijan was his work as a newspaper publisher. In 1897, Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiev invited Ahmed-bey to the Kaspi newspaper, which he provided financial support to. In the same year, Ahmed-bey came to Baku and co-founded the newspaper with lawyer, diplomat and publicist Alimardan-bey Topchubashov. Then he began working as a French teacher at the Baku Realschule.
In April 1905, Aghaoghlu published the first issue of newspaper Həyat (Life). Since Aghaoghlu used to advocate Islamic values, ideas of national unity, he soon had many opponents. His articles in Həyat increased the number of Ahmed Bey’s enemies. So, he had to stop his work in the newspaper. In December 1905, the first issue of the Irshad newspaper was released, where Aghaoghlu acted as editor-in-chief and co-owner of the publication.
Since March of the same year, Armenians, using the full support of the tsarist Russian government, have committed mass killings of Muslim Turks. The patriots of Azerbaijan stood up to fight against injustice in order to put an end to the conflict and support the exhausted compatriots who were left alone. In February 1906, it was decided to convene the Armenian-Muslim Armistice Council in Tiflis. Among the representatives of this convention was Ahmed-bey Aghaoghlu, distinguished by his exceptional merits both before and during the event.
One of the greatest achievements of Ahmed-bey Aghaoghlu against the atrocities of the brutal Armenian party Dashnaktsutyun was the creation of an organization of self-defense, Difai. This was a very important step to prevent the Armenian-Muslim conflict.
Aghaoghlu was the eyes and language of his people, and his very existence troubled the enemies of Azerbaijan. Despite pressure and subsequent relocation to Turkey in 1909, Ahmed-bey was completely faithful to the work of his whole life devoted to Azerbaijan.
In Istanbul, Ahmed-bey began teaching at Dar ul-Funun (now Istanbul University). But he was alien to work in one particular area. Unaccustomed to a quiet life, he continued the struggle for justice in Turkey as an intellectual, political activist, Turkic patriot, teacher and journalist. Turbulent socio-political life in Turkey of those times soon forced him to join the social processes in the country, which he did, becoming one of the active members of the Unity and Progress party.
The declaration of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918 also meant the realisation of Aghaoghlu's ideas related to nationalism, Turkism and statehood. Therefore, he welcomed the establishment of republican authority in the country. In the same year, Aghaoghlu came to his homeland as a political adviser to the Turkish military commander Nuri Pasha as part of the Caucasian Islamic Army, created the newspaper Türk sözü (“Turkic word”) in Ganja, but could publish only two issues of the newspaper.
The young government of Azerbaijan was going through difficult times, trying to declare to the world its sovereignty and the voice of truth. Ahmed-bey was also included in the delegation to participate in the Paris Peace Conference. However, the British not only did not allow him to go to Paris, but even arrested him and exiled to the island of Malta. Years in exile passed in suffering for both himself and his family in Turkey.
After returning from exile in 1921, Ahmed-bey joined the founders of the young Turkish state. Upon his arrival to Ankara, he became one of Ataturk’s closest associates, was elected to the Turkish parliament from Kars in 1923 and 1927, and taught at the Ankara Higher School of Law in 1925-1930s. He was also a co-founder of the school.
In Turkey, Aghaoghlu also continued to work as a journalist, and became the editor of the newspapers Hâkimiyet-i Milliye (National Sovereignty) and Tercüman-ı Hakikat (Herald of Truth) and one of the founders of Türk yurdu (Turkic Territory).
The whole life of Ahmed-bey Aghaoghlu passed in the struggle. Bolsheviks, like the tsarist government, were irreconcilable with respect to this great son of the Turkic people, trying to betray the memory of Ahmed-bey Aghaoghlu. His works were banned because they emphasized the ideas of national thinking, national identity and national unity, which contradicted the policy pursued by the Soviet government. But Ahmed-bey had no doubt that one day Azerbaijan would be able to restore its independence, and then everyone would take a worthy place in the pages of History. He has strongly believed in the future of Azerbaijan up until the end of his life...
Ahmed-bey Aghaoghlu died in 1939 at the age of seventy. But for now he will talk about his eventful life for some time: “These sixty-seven years seem so long, although for me they flashed in the blink of an eye! Shadows that are not enough to fill the millionth of my brain. That's how it was.”