SABER, MIRZA ALI-AKBAR TAHERZADA
(b. shamakhi [Şemaxa], 30th May 1862; d. shamakhi, 12th July, 1911), famous Azerbaijani satirist and poet. He came from a middle-class religious family who seemed reluctant to provide him with a modern education. However, in his early adolescence he found a sympathetic teacher in Haaji Sayyed Azim shirvaani (1835-1888), a poet of some fame, who had started a progressive school where Arabic, Persian, Azeri, Russian and other subjects were taught. Encouraged by Sayyed Azim, Saber began translating Persian poetry and wrote poems in Azeri. His father, a grocer by trade, deemed a few years of schooling sufficient for him and wanted Saber to work in his shop but the son's strong resistance and his attempt to run away from home and join a caravan to Maæhad, forced him to relent and he allowed him to follow the literary career that he so coveted. He wrote many agazals in imitations of Persian poets, particularly Nezáaami and he found many friends among the literary circles of Shirvan. In 1885, he embarked on a tour of some of the cities of Persia and Central Asia. His travels greatly widened the horizon of his intellectual perception and later on inspired him to depict a vivid picture of the people of these lands. After his return, Saber married and settled down in Shirvan.
Saber had eight daughters and one son, and had to work hard to support his large family. For fifteen years he worked as a soap maker and humorously would remark: "I make soap to wash away the external dirt of my countrymen." He unsuccessfully tried to open a European style school. Also, on account of his criticism of the reactionary and conservative elements, he kept on receiving unsigned and threatening letters. According to some accounts these letters were sent by the journalist Hashem Beik Vezirov (1868-1916), whose nom de plume was "bir kas"(a person). Saber answered him in the journal Saada: "I am a poet, the mirror of my age/ in me everyone sees his own face/ As it happened yesterday, 'a person' looked at me /Seeing none other than himself in the mirror." (Ali-Akbar Saber, Hup-Hup-naama, Baku, 1962, p. 291.)
The first poem of Saber appeared in 1903 in sharq-e Rus (East of Russia) in Tiblisi. At the time the poet was not known outside his native city. Three years later and five months after the first issue of Mollaa Nasareddin, he began to publish in this journal. Within a few years Saber was known not only in Azerbaijan, but also in Persia, Turkey and Central Asia. He also created many bitter enemies for himself at home and abroad. Some of the conservative mullahs of Tabriz denounced Mollaa Nasareddin as heretical and called Saber an unbeliever (Arianpur, Az Sabaa taa Nimaa II, p. 48). The campaign against him became so intense that he defended his faith in a famous poem addressed to the people of Shirvan:
I am a Shiite, but not in the ways you desire
I am a Sunni, but not like the examples you like.
I am a Sufi, but not like the ones you describe.
I am a lover of truth, O people of Shirvan.
(Hup Hup-naama, p. 359)
Not being able to stay in shamaakòi, Saber left for the more cosmopolitan and progressive Baku, where he was employed as a schoolteacher in 1910. Here he wrote nearly all of his short satirical pieces called "Taziyanaler" (The Whips). Unfortunately his stay in Baku did not last long and a liver ailment curtailed his activities. Saber went back to shamaakòi for treatment while the weeklies Guneæ and Mollaa Nasareddin were publishing his poems. Mollaa Nasáreddin began a publicity drive to collect funds for his operations in Tiblisi, but the poet did not consent to the operation.
The satirical works of Saber embrace a wide variety of subjects, ranging from the defeat of the Tsarist armies by Japan to scenes of social and domestic life at home. Political satire was an important part of his work, and the butt of his satire ranged from Emperor Wilhelm of Prussia to Mohammad-Ali Shah of Persia, and from the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid to corrupt petty officials and ignorant mullahs. Frequently religious hypocrisy was a subject of his criticism, with superstitious and ignorant women as well as chauvinistic men as targets of his satire.
In the art of poetic satire Saber surpasses all others in Azerbaijani literature. According to his friend Abbas Sahhat, himself a writer of some significance, Saber created a revolution in Azerbaijani literature, and the difference that he created between old and modern poetry was such that after him hardly anyone dared to go back to old ideals and style (Hup-Hup-naama, p. xii.). Apart from his originality of theme and subject, Saber's poetic language was new and well suited to the topics he chose. It was conversational, witty and lively, and in this respect it greatly differed from the formal language of his predecessors. The famous Persian writer and lexicographer Ali-Akbar Dehkòodaa, himself a great satirist, writes: "Saber was a great innovator in Azerbaijani literature. He was a child of one night who traveled the way of one hundred years, and surpassed the thoughts and the writers of his age by centuries. He was incomparable in depicting political and social problems." (Logaat-naama, under "Taherzaada," p. 101).
In the early years of the twentieth century, Russian Azerbaijan and to a lesser degree Iranian Azerbaijan, enjoyed a remarkable literary revival and particularly in satirical journalism. The period between 1905 and 1920 was the "Golden Age" of Azerbaijani satirical newspapers. Of 405 journals and newspapers published between 1832 and 1920 in Russian Azerbaijan in Azeri, Persian, Russian and a few other languages, fifteen were satirical papers in Azeri. With two exceptions, the publication of all of them was in the space of these fifteen years. Mollaa Nasáreddin (1906-1932) under the editorship of Jalil Memedqulizadah was an exceptional driving force in Azeri journalism and its influence went as far as Persia, Turkey and Central Asia. S®aaber wrote for many journals under different pseudonyms, and from the early issues of Mollaa Nasáreddin until his death he was very closely associated with this journal. This period in Saber's life coincided with the Persian Constitutional Revolution (1905-11) and his vibrant and biting political satire was recited by the Constitutionalists in the trenches of Tabriz. His influence was considerably far-reaching: Sayyed Aæraf Gilaani (q.v.) freely translated or adapted him in his journal Nasim-e shemaal (Arianpur, Az Sabaa taa Nimaa II, pp. 46-77) and the poet Mujiz of shabestar (Nazim Akundov, Azerbaycan Satira Journallari 1905-1920, Baku, 1968, p. 346) was greatly influenced by him. Some of his political satire were commented on in the journal Azerbaijan and by Dehkòodaa in Sur-e Esraafil. On the occasion of the assassination of Ataabak-e Azáam (q.v.) in August 1907 Azerbaijan published a poem addressing "Mulla Amu," boasting how one of the enemies of constitution was killed. Saber answered (Mollaa Nasareddin, October 2nd, 1907) that "don't be so self assured. I don't doubt the assassination of Ataabak. There are still thousands of other Ataabaks left on your way." (Az Sabaa taa Nimaa, ii, p. 46) Such literary disputations (monaazaras) between Azerbaijan, Sur-e Esraafil and Mollaa Nasareddin were very common. Abu'l-Qaasem Laahuti in a letter to the biographer of Saber, Mir Ahmadov on June, 17, 1954, writes "Saber's poetry is so simple, fluent, intelligent, brave and well-liked by people and so imbued with a courageous spirit that it leaves a great impression on the minds of people desiring freedom." He went on to say that not only him but most Iranian satirists of this era were indebted to him. (Az Sabaa taa Nimaa II, p. 169-170). Nimaa Yuæij believed that Saber, with his lucid and popular style, enabled common people to enjoy poetry (Arzeæ-e ehásaasaat, Tehran, 1958, p. 126).
Though Saber was closely associated with Mollaa Nasareddin, he wrote for many other journals including Hayaat, Fiuzµaat, Rahbar, Dabestaan, Olfat, Eræaad, Haqiqat, Yeni Haqiqat and Ma¿lumaat. By publishing in newspapers he was able to reach a much wider audience than earlier poets. The topics that he chose for his satire were such that appealed to a wide range of people: reforms needed to improve the lives of his countrymen, criticism of superstition, male chauvinism, corruption of the officials, despotism of the rulers and sham piety of the clerics. From the point of view of satirical technique, Saaber uses almost all the forms and techniques employed by satirists before him. He exploits a large arsenal of forms and meters in his works, from qasáida to gaazal and from matònawi to robaai and bahár-e tawil. Saber sometimes parodies a well-known poem, or, to be more precise, he takes the first bayt and tags on a pastiche of the poem. He also made a fine verse translation of some passages of Ferdowsi's shaah-naama into Azeri, including the episode of Siyaavaæ. In one poem, imitating the style of the shaah-naama in a mock-heroic form, S®aaber makes a general in M ohammad-Ali Shah's army, who has been sent to fight Sattaar Khan and the Constitutionalists in Tabriz, boast of his valor. The poem turns farcical when he is defeated by Sattaar Khan, and he tries to defend himself in a letter to the king (Hop-Hopnaama, pp. 167-71).
In summing up the achievements of Saber in the development of Azeri literature in particular and as a poet and satirist in general, one should emphasize the originality of his themes, his versatility in using a wide variety of poetic forms in his satire and in adopting conversational and remarkably witty language. In the words of the Italian scholar Alessio Bombacci: "In Saber, the anger of Juvenal, the bitter remarks of Be‚ranger, and the infinite humanity of Nekrassov are gathered in one." (Ahmet Caferoglu, "Azerbaycanın mizah şairleri: Ali-Akbar Saber" Doğumunun 100. yılı münasibbetiyle, Türk kültürü, Ankara, no. 3, p. 15).
Bibliography. Nazim Akhundov, Azerbaycan Satira Jurnalları 1905-1920, Baku, 1968. Yahyaa Arianpur, Az Sabaa taa Nimaa, 2 vols., Tehran, 1973. Ali-Akbar Dehkhodaa, Logaat-naama, under "Taaherzaada." Asad Behrangi, Saber wa moaaserin-e u, Tabriz, 1979. Mirza Ibrahimov, Azerbijanian Poetry, Moscow, 1969. M. J. Jafarov, Akhundov va Saabir, tr. into Persian by Ahmad shafaai, Tabriz, 1977. Hasan Javadi, "Ali-Akbar Sabir, The Poet Satirist of Azerbaijan," in Sabri M. Akural, ed., Turkic Culture Continuity and Change, Bloomington, 1987.Idem, Satire in Persian Literature, Rutherford, 1988.Jafar Khandan, Sabir, Azerbaycan Elmler Akademisi, Baku, 1943. Idem, "Böyük Realist ve Axlaqi Satir yazan Sabir," Azerbaijan 6, Baku, 1952. Idem, "Sabir ve social realism xxinci Azerbycan edebiyatında," İnce Sen'et 27, Baku, 1956. Mohammad Payfun, Naşriye-e Mollaa Nasreddin payk-e enqelab, Tehran, 1979. Ali-Akbar Sabir, Hop Hop-nama, ed. Abbas Zamanov, Baku, 1962. Rahim Sadriniya, Hop Hop zabaani baraa-ye enqelaab, Tehran, 1978. Ahmad shafaai, Hop Hop Nama, Baku, 1965 (a fine translation of Hop Hop-nama into Persian). Abbas Zamanov, "Azadlıq ve demokrasiya şairi,"(on 45th anniversary of Sabir's death), Işçi 172, Baku, 1956.
13 November 2003