Author: Salatyn MIRZAYEVA
President Ilham Aliyev declared the city of Shusha, liberated from the Armenian occupation, the cultural capital of Azerbaijan. He ordered to restore the historical monuments of the ancient city, including the overhaul of the main mosque of Shusha. On the initiative of Mr. Aliyev, it is also planned to hold the Vagif Poetry Days and the Khary Bulbul international art festival in Shusha.
Theatre has always occupied a special place in the spiritual and cultural life of the city. The State Sovkhoz-Kolkhoz-Theatre with separate theatrical and circus companies was opened back in 1838. In 1873, Shusha became the birthplace of the Azerbaijani national theatre with Mirza Fatali Akhundov’s comedy Serguzeshti-veziri-khani Lankaran (Adventures of the Vizier of Lankaran) staged and performed in the theatre.
Artistic life has had its own demands: innovation and exclusivity. Thus, in 1893, Shakespeare’s Othello was translated and first staged in Shusha by the teacher, journalist and playwright Hashim-bey Vezirov. In 1917, Shusha also saw the first staged performance of J. Mammadguluzade’s tragicomedy Ölülər (The Dead). The event took place at the school for girls near the mansion of Khurshudbanu Natavan’s niece – Khanbike.
M. F. Akhundov was so impressed by the originality of cultural traditions in Shusha that he left his home city of Sheki to rewrite his manuscripts and distribute them in Shusha.
No wonder why in such a short time the theatrical art in Shusha reached artistic maturity. In 1943, the theatre was renamed to the Uzeyir Hajibeyov State Music and Drama Theatre.
Our guests are the Honoured Artists of Azerbaijan, Yadigar MURADOV and Azad MAMMADOV, heads of the Shusha Musical and Drama Theatre, who will give us some historical background about the development of theatrical art in Shusha and the fate of the actors after the Armenian occupation of the city. They are also going to share with us some of their plans for future.
"Why was the Uzeyir Hajibeyov State Music and Drama Theatre closed soon after the opening?"
YM: "Uzeyir Hajibeyov was a very influential person. During his lifetime, the Shusha theatre was untouchable. Soon after his death, in 1949, the Soviet authorities sympathizing with the Armenians shut the theatre allegedly due to the lack of funds. This raises serious doubts, since in the same year they opened the Maxim Gorky State Drama Theatre in Stepanakert (Khankendi). This means that the intrigues of our neighbours and the Armenians of Garabagh have not spared our theatre either. Armenian policy has always been aimed at the destruction of our culture and art."
"It turns out that before the establishment of the Shusha State Drama Theatre in 1990, the city had no theatrical life..."
AM: "Shusha has always been an epicentre of creativity. It was a host for many cultural events, such as poetry contests, performances of Niyazi’s symphony orchestra, an exhibition of carpets held by Latif Kerimov. In other words, everyone would bring something new to Shusha, trying to enrich this land with creativity.
“Theatrical life also ran its course as usual. There was a Cultural and Educational College in Shusha, where both the teachers and students would jointly stage Həmyerlilər, Arşın mal alan, Özümüz bilərik, İkinci səs. It was incredibly interesting. As an actor, I was also involved in these performances. In 1987, our theatre became a folk theatre. But in 1990, according to the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Culture, the Shusha State Drama Theatre was born. It was a product of endless care and work of all the people who loved Shusha. But, unfortunately, with the death of Niyazi, and the events around Daghligh Garabagh a few years later, the colours of Shusha began to fade...
“We tried to keep the theatre afloat rehearsing Arşın mal alan, the musical comedy of Suleyman Aleskerov and Shikhali Gurbanov Özümüz bilərik and the historical drama of Eldar Bakhishov Uzun Həsən. Technically,, it was difficult to work in the Public Hall, where the Shusha theatre was located. There were no necessary installations and lighting accessories. But it all seemed nothing compared to what we were doing... We had to continue working.
“However, the tragic events in and around Garabagh did not give us a chance to show our work on stage. The Armenian military intensified attacks every day, bullets replaced stones, heavy artillery replaced bullets. New deaths, new losses every day. The war was showing itself in al its ‘glory’... At that evil moment when we lost Shusha in 1993, our staff was on vacation. Our director, the Honoured Artist of Azerbaijan Yadigar Muradov, gathered the team and announced the decision to move to Baku.”
"How did Baku meet you?"
YM: Through all pains and hopelessness, we tried to hold on and not to break apart. I was desperately thinking of saying goodbye to what I’ve truly loved all these years. But a lucky coincidence predetermined our destiny. One day the late actor and director of the Theatre for Young Spectators (TYS), Hasan Abluj, the head of the department at the University of Culture and Art, Azad Shukurov, and I were sitting in a teahouse opposite the theatre. Hasan asked me about the future of our team. Many actors were in the districts, but most of them lived in Baku. "So what are you waiting for? Get your team, find a place and keep rehearsing,” Hasan said almost shouting. Indeed, we went through great difficulties not to give up. 41 years after the death of Uzeyir Hajibeyov and the collapse of his theatre Shusha was without a theatre, now officially. I gathered the team at TYS, and we started rehearsals. And in 1993 we took the stage in Baku with our first performance, same as we did after the opening of the drama theatre in Shusha.”
AM: "It was one of the snowing and windy days of February in Baku. I was feeling like in my home-town of Shusha... I still feel the pain of those days... Despite the bad weather, the hall was full of spectators. We took the stage in Baku with Arşın mal alan that we could not stage in Shusha. That’s how we began to work at TYS, which has been our home up until 2005.”
Life in the theatre was in full swing. The team has proved itself in front of the audience, found friends and continued to develop the Shusha theatrical tradition, but having been far from home. In 2006, the theatre moved to the former building of the Savalan Cinema. Since 2013, the theatre has been under the control of the Ministry of Culture. In 2014-2018, the theatre was closed for repairs. In 2018, the official opening of the Shusha State Music and Drama Theatre took place in a new building. In March 2019, the theatre opened the theatrical season with the play Monsieur Jordan and Dervish Mastali Shah.
"What are the traditions of your theatre in Baku?"
AM: "Today we wait for the return to Shusha. We are not going to return to Shusha empty-handed. We have preserved and even increased the traditions we had brought to Baku from Garabagh. But we have also learned a lot here; the rich experience we will take home.
“We took part in various competitions and festivals: the pantomime festival, the Monotamashalar Festival, festival of experimental performances, the 2+1 festival, the 1st Sheki International Festival, etc. In 2013, we had a successful performance at the Navruz International Competition in Kazan, Russia. Our experience will revive the Azerbaijani culture in Shusha. It will be the second birth of our the theatre.
“And I’d like to thank everyone who helped us stay alive all these years: the late director of TYS Kamal Azizov, deputy director Naila-khanim Buniyatzade, the late administrator of TYS Fuzuli Mammadov, all the actors, technical staff, who with their warmth and willingness to help made us not lose hope and remain strong. I would especially like to note Hasan Abluj. He did not let us break up so that we stay in shape when we return to Shusha. His thoughts and desires came true.
“I remember the period we just arrived from Shusha to Baku. During the first two years, I kept repeating to myself that we were on tour in Baku. And now I can say with joy and trepidation in my soul: “Dear friends, our tour is over! We're going back home. We will revive our culture in Shusha. We will be waiting for you in Shusha. We will come to Baku occasionally, but for short tours this time”. (smiles).
"Today we are happy to see our lands liberated. As the natives of Garabagh, how did you hear the news of the liberation of Shusha?"
YM: "We’ve always been hopeful. And that day has finally come true. Azerbaijan has demonstrated its power and unity under the leadership of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Mr. Ilham Aliyev. All ministries and organizations, all the people rallied to Garabagh as a single fist. I heard the voice of my heart twice. First when I visited the occupied Garabagh as par of a delegation. Imagine what it feels like when an Armenian guide is telling you the false story of Artsakh, points to fictional Stepanakert and Shushi. There were no such names in history! I thought my heart would jump out. The second time it was when our lands were liberated. Words are not enough to describe my happiness."
AM: "No matter how good you are at articulating your thoughts, it is impossible to express the pain we have experienced over the years, and the happiness that we are experiencing now. The whole of Azerbaijan fought for this victory. It is a victory of our solidarity regardless of where we are from! It is great to feel the taste of victory and triumph after so many years of pains and troubles. First of all, I am grateful to our President and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, to our soldiers, who brought our Victory closer day and night. These people risked their lives for the unity of our country. Let the souls of the fallen soldiers and officers rest in peace. I wish the injured recover as soon as possible and return to their loved ones. On my own behalf and on behalf of our team, I bow my head to the parents who raised such sons. And I feel sorry for the children who lost their parents and relatives as a result of terrorist attacks committed by the Armenians."
"Yadigar, your son also volunteered for the war. And we owe him a big thank you for our victory too..."
"Thank you. Uzeyir (Muradzade, R+) is a doctor. He lived in the United States. But we heard about the shortage of doctors in military hospitals, he has registered himself as a volunteer and returned home. In fact, he joined the army not as a doctor, but as a shooter, but he absolutely does not regret it. After necessary training, he went to the front line to liberate our lands. The war ended with our victory, and he will be back soon!"
"What will be the first thing you do in Shusha?"
YM: "The walls of the Shusha Fortress are 50-100 meters from my home. I would kiss the stones of the walls, look around, kneel down, embrace the air of Shusha and sing Uzeyir Hajibeyov’s romance Sənsiz (Without You, R+). I hope to see the days when we revive our culture in Shusha. And we will keep our word: we will perform Arşın mal alan at the same place where once stood the Pubic Hall (the former building of the Shusha theatre)."
AM: "l spent my childhood and youth in Shusha. But time passes and takes its toll. My memory has been dusted over the years; colours and details are slowly fading... The films and music of those years, which I often listen to, have been my only resorts since my departure from Shusha.
“We had a large garden full of mulberry trees. I would lay in the garden and listen to music. If the Azerbaijani symphonies were my only tools helping me visit Shusha in my dreams, now I can return and stay there as long as I want. But still... I cannot imagine what I’m going o feel on my way back to Shusha (smiles).”
Elchin’s short story Şuşaya duman gəlib (Shusha is covered with fog, R+) is about happy and carefree summer evenings in Shusha. The city attracted the tourists from all corners of the former USSR. It had its own colours and lifestyle. The Shusha theatre led by Loghman Karimov has made changes to the plot and title of Elchin's story. The theatrical title of the story is Şuşanın dağlarını duman bürüyüb (Fog covered the mountains of Shusha, R+), where the approaching fog personifies the enemy that disturbed the peace in Garabagh. But it's good that everything ends well... Now the performance will be restarted with a completely new stage interpretation. What will be the new interpretation of Elchin's immortal story this time? A performance is worth thousand words... So see you in our native Shusha. Everyone is invited!