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Wavering Azerbaijani Literati Views of America: From the Russian Tsarist through the Modern Periods


The historical thoughts and opinions of one nation regarding another are useful both for the purpose of analyzing global events and for understanding both nations. Until modern times, the Azerbaijani people did not have contact with the USA or widespread knowledge of American people, but throughout the past two centuries elite Azerbaijani thinkers and scholars have expressed interest in America from various viewpoints, including the political, scientific, and educational fields. The article reviews statements about the USA as they are documented in the publications by Azerbaijani historians, journalists, creative writers, educators, and politicians from the 1830s through to contemporary times. Using these documents, and poetry of Soviet times, the article analyzes Azerbaijani perspectives on America, which over time have wavered, both upwards and downwards, but often reflected the prevailing political ideology towards the USA, particularly during the Soviet period.

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1 Katzenstein, Peter J. and Kohane, Robert O., eds., Anti-Americanisms in World Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007); Brendon, O'Connor, “A Brief History of Anti-Americanism: From Cultural Criticism to Terrorism,” Australian Journal of American Studies, 23 (July 2004), 7792.

2 Hamlet, Isaxanli and Anar, Ahmadov, “Azerbaijan,” in David Levinson and Karen Christensen, eds., Global Perspectives on the United States: A Nation by Nation Survey, Volume I (Great Barrington: Berkshire Publishing Group, 2007), 2933.

3 Swietochowski, T. and Collins, B. C., Historical Dictionary of Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999).

4 Altstadt, A. L., The Azerbaijani Turks: Power and Identity under Russian Rule (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1992), 1517; and Swietochowski, T., Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 17.

5 Bernard, Lewis, The Muslim Discovery of Europe (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1982), 34, 135, 157.

6 Hamlet, Isakhanli, ed., While Reading Abbasgulu agha Bakikhanov: Modern Problems of Azerbaijan History (Baku: Khazar University Press, 2000); and Ahmedov, E. M., ed., “Outstanding Azerbaijani Thinker,” preface toAbbasgulu agha Bakikhanov: Works, Notes, Letters (in Azeri) (Baku: Elm Publishing House, 1983), 659.

7 Bakikhanov was born in 1794, completed his education in accordance with the Muslim and Iranian cultural traditions of the Middle Ages, achieved fluency in the Arabic and Persian languages, and worked as a translator and interpreter in Tbilisi in the office of the Caucasian viceroy. A. Bakikhanov learned Russian as well, and through this language he grew acquainted with Russian and European cultures. He is the author of literary, scientific, and philosophical works written in Persian, Arabic, and Azerbaijani Turkic. He participated as a translator and interpreter in the negotiations of the Turkmanchay Treaty, which was signed in 1828 between Russia and Iran, effectively dividing the Azerbaijani people between two states and defining in advance today's borders between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iran. This man of the arts and sciences was not only one of the most educated men of his time, but was also an esteemed nobleman and a devout Muslim. In December 1846 he passed away as a victim of cholera in close proximity to Mecca while returning from hajj.

8 Abbasgulu aga Bakhikhanov, Kashf-al-Garaib, in Abbasgulu aga Bakhikhanov: Works, Notes, Letters (in Azeri), compiled by E. M. Ahmedov (Baku: Elm Publishing House, 1983), 196–250.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Swietochowski, 25–29.

12 Akhundov, Mirze Fathali, Works (in Azeri), Volume II (Baku: Elm Publishing House, 1987), 250–58.

13 It is possible that after beginning the work he became aware of Bakikhanov's complete work and abandoned his own.

14 Akhundov, Mirze Fathali, Works (in Azerbaijani), Volume I (Baku: Elm Publishing House, 1962), 5277.

15 Ibid., 253–56.

16 This is an abbreviated title accepted in Akhundov studies. The full title is “Three Letters of the Indian Prince Kamal-al-Dovle to His Friend the Iranian Prince Jalal-al-Dovle and Jalal-al-Dovle's Reply.”

17 It must be noted here that, according to the terminology accepted in the Middle Ages, “Iran” was general name which included both Persian Iran and Azerbaijan, as well as Persian-speaking and Turkic Azerbaijani-speaking people.

18 Akhundov, Mirze Fathali, Works (in Azerbaijani), Volume II, 35164.

19 Although my concern is the Azerbaijani view of America, not awareness of some specific American society on Azerbaijanis, it is interesting to know that M. F. Akhundov's contemporary and a prominent Azerbaijani/Russian scholar in the nineteenth century, Alexander (Mirza) Kazim Bey (1802–70), who is considered to be “the father of Oriental studies in Russia,” was highly appraised and he became a member of some of the world's most prestigious scientific societies. Among them were the American Oriental Society (Boston), to which Mirza Kazim Bey was elected as an associate member in 1851, and the American Philosophical Society, long considered the most influential scholarly society in the United States, to which he was elected as a member on 17 January 1862. See Rzayev, A. K., Muhammad Ali M Kazim Bey (in Russian) (Moscow: Nauka Publishing House, 1989), 109–10; see also Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge, available at See “MIRZA Alexander Kasim Beg,” heading the list of 19 newly elected foreign members. Kazim Bey succeeded in learning flawless Persian and Arabic in addition to the native Azerbaijani Turkic of his childhood. Through the influence of Scottish missionaries he accepted Christianity in 1821, learned excellent English, and then managed to obtain a European education without attending any university thanks to his innate talent and the efforts of the missionaries. After a short time Mirza Kazim Bey (as he is known in scholarly circles) had mastered Russian and French, and aside from his work as a teacher he also displayed a great interest in scholarly research. He was subsequently appointed dean of the schools of Oriental Studies in Kazan and St. Petersburg Universities.

20 Zardabi is a nickname which means “from Zardab,” which is a region of Azerbaijan.

21 Used in the Russian academic system at that time.

22 Up until that point, the leaflets or newspapers that were printed in Azerbaijani were episodic and insignificant.

23 Hasan bey Zardabi: Selected Works (in Russian), compiled by Goyushov, Z. B. (Baku: Azerbaijan State Publishing House, 1960), 120.

24 Ibid., 204.

25 Ibid., 195–96, 199, 201, 205–6.

26 It should be noted that most of Hasan bey's writings beginning in this period were printed in Russian-language publications for the simple reason that Azerbaijani publications were nonexistent at the time. Censorship did not allow any newspaper or magazine in Azeri to start up for over eleven years, from November 1891 to March 1903, in spite of many attempts made by Azerbaijani thinkers and journalists.

27 Prosveshenniye moreplavateli, in Russian.

28 Hasan bey Zardabi: Selected Articles and Letters (in Russian), compiled by Goyushov, Z. B. (Baku: Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences, 1962), 170–71, 179–84.

29 Kavkazskiy Calendar for 1899 (Tiflis, 1898).

30 See Gramm, Marshall, “The Free Silver Movement in America: A Reinterpretation,” Journal of Economic History, 64 (Dec. 2004), 1108–29.

31 Hasan bey Zardabi: Selected Articles and Letters, 184–85.

32 Ibid., 287–89.

33 Henderson (1861–1941) was the director of the Pratt Institute High School in New York City and director of Chestnut Hill Academy, and he was known not only for his practical work but also for the fictional and educational works he authored, including Education and the Larger Life (1902) and What Is It to Be Educated? (1914).

34 Hasan bey Zardabi: Selected Articles and Letters, 287–89.

35 Chief of the Bureau of Entomology in the US Department of Agriculture, 1894–1927.

36 Compare with the title of an article published in the New York Times, 3 Aug. 1901: “War on Mosquitoes Begins: Dr. Doty Starts His Crusade against Those of Staten Island.”

37 Hasan bey Zardabi: Selected Articles and Letters, 310–13, 419–24.

38 Hasan bey Zardabi: Selected Works, 260.

39 Ibid., 434–35.

40 His poems, published mainly in the popular, finely illustrated Molla Nasraddin satiric magazine, made the magazine famous and made Sabir himself popular at the same time.

41 Draper is the author of History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, and Life of Franklin. The second work, written in 1874, was translated into several languages. It is possible that Sabir saw the translation in Russian or Turkish, or became acquainted with Draper's thoughts in French through his very knowledgeable poet and doctor friend, Abbas Sahhat. Ahmed Midhat was an Ottoman writer, journalist, and translator. While highly appraising of Western science, art, and business, he simultaneously defended the preservation of moral values of Ottoman society, including religious affiliation (he was against religious devaluation). In order to disambiguate himself from renowned politician Ahmed Midhat Pasha, he went by the name of Ahmed Midhat Efendi.

42 Sabir, Mirza Alakbar, Hophopname (in Azeri) (Baku: Yazichi Publishing House, 1980), 300.

43 Hajibeyov, Uzeyir, Selected Works (in Azeri) (Baku: Yazichi Publishing House, 1985), 102–6.

44 Ibid., 104.

45 Ibid., 121–30.

46 Ibid., 124.

47 Uzeyir Hajibeyov, “We Don't Know Our Own Value” (in Azeri), Hagigat newspaper, 1 Jan. 1910.

48 Uzeyir Hajibeyov, Selected Works, 143.

49 Abbas Sahhat, Maghrib Guneshleri (Western Suns), Introduction; see Talibzade, Kamal, Selected Works in Two Volumes, Volume I (Baku: Azerbaijan Dovlet Neshriyyati, 1991).

50 Poets of the Islamic Middle Ages traditionally wrote many poems and sketches which were taken from previous famous poets, such as Ferdowsi, Nizami, etc.; these were accordingly called nezires to Ferdowsi, Nizami, etc. See Kamal Talibzade, 348.

51 Incidentally, the First Azerbaijani Republic was the first democratic republic in the Muslim world. The Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, 1920–90, was the Second Azerbaijani Republic (the period between First Republic and the time of signing a formal Soviet Union agreement among Sovietized republics, including Azerbaijan, at the end of 1922, can be regarded as part of the Second Azerbaijani Republic because of its Bolshevik nature); the third Republic is the new independent Republic of Azerbaijan beginning from 1991.

52 Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan, 56–103; Altstadt, The Azerbaijani Turks, 74–107.

53 Topchubashov (or Topchubashi) graduated from St. Petersburg University's School of Law, was the editor of Kaspi newspaper in Baku, and was actively involved in political activity on the eve of the First Russian Revolution of 1905, soon becoming the leader of the whole Muslim population of the Russian Empire, particularly as the head of the Muslim faction of the Russian State Duma. Elected the head of Parliament of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (in absentia), he also became head of the Azerbaijani delegation at the Paris Peace Conference. After the Bolsheviks gained power in Azerbaijan, he remained in Paris, was politically active within émigé circles, and died in Paris.

54 “Memoire adressé par le Delegation à la Conférence de la paix de République de l'Azerbaidjan du Caucase A. M. Toptchibacheff le Président Wilson. Paris, Le 28 mai 1919.” Bulletin d'information de l'Azerbaidjan, 1 (1 Sept. 1919), 6–7.

55 Topchubashov, “Письма из Парижа” (Letter from Paris) (Baku, 1998), 38.

56 Isaxanli, Hamlet and Ahmadov, Anar, “Azerbaijan,” in Levinson and Christensen, Global Perspectives, 2933.

57 Topchubashov, “Letter from Paris,” 50–51.

58 Hasanli, J., “Azerbaijani–American Relations from 1918–1920: A Page in Their History,” Caspian Crossroads, 2, 1 (Spring–Summer 1996), 19, 7.

59 Topchubashov, “Letter from Paris,” 72.

60 In the Russian period, Azerbaijanis living in the Caucasus were also called “Tatars” or “Azerbaijani Tatars.”

61 McCarthy, Justin, The Turk in America (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2010), 450.

62 Ibid., 277.

63 Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan; Shaffer, B., Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).

64 Isakhanli, Hamlet, “Political Leaders and Social–Political Ideals: Mammad Amin Rasulzade,” Khazar View (now Khazar Review), 174 (2004), 813, 175 (2004), 6–11, at 175, 8–9.

65 Pechatnov, Vladimir, Stalin, Roosevelt, Truman: Soviet Union and the US during the 1940s (in Russian) (Moscow: Terra-Knijniy Klub, 2006), 464–81.

66 Ibid., 482.

67 The translations of this and all the poems to follow are philological/literal, not poetic. These and all other translations in this article are by the present author, written exclusively for this article.

68 Samad Vurghun: Works (in Azeri), Volume III, Long Poems (Baku: Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences, 1961), 360.

69 Ibid., 362.

70 Ibid., 366.

71 Ibid., 366–68.

72 Samad Vurghun: Works (in Azeri), Volume VI, Articles, Lectures, Speeches, Congratulations and Essays (Baku: Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences, 1972), 115–32.

73 Samad Vurghun: Works (in Azeri), Volume III, 126, 129–30.

74 See section “World Congress of Intellectuals, Aug. 25–28, 1948,” in “Report on the Communist ‘Peace’ Offensive: A Campaign to Disarm and Defeat the United States.” (Washington, DC, 1 Apr. 1951), prepared and released by the Committee on Un-American Activities, US House of Representatives, 8–10.

75 Ibid.

76 Percivale Taylor, Alan John, A Personal History (London: H. Hamilton, 1983); Burk, Kathleen, Troublemaker: The Life and History of A. J. P. Taylor (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000).

77 “Lenin's Book,” Samad Vurghun: Works (in Azeri), Volume III, 438.

78 “My Oath,” Samad Vurghun: Works (in Azeri), Volume II, Poems (Baku: Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences, 1960), 246.

79 Ibid., 250.

80 Ibid., 252–56.

81 The Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was established at the end of 1945 in Iranian Azerbaijan under the shadow of Soviet intervention in northern Iran (and Great Britain's intervention in southern Iran) in the summer of 1941. It soon collapsed after evacuation of the Soviet Army from Iran in May of 1946. See Hasanli, Jamil, At the Dawn of the Cold War: The Soviet–American Crisis over Iranian Azerbaijan, 1941–1946 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006).

82 Samad Vurghun: Works (in Azeri), Volume VI, 136.

83 Ibid., 156.

84 Ibid., 199, 227–28, 237.

85 Ibid., 358.

86 Samad Vurghun: Works (in Azeri), Volume III (Baku: Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences, 1961), 578.

87 Ibid., 580.

88 Ibid., 545.

89 Rahim, M., Selected Works (in Azeri), Volume I (Baku: Azarnashr, 1967), 400–1.

90 Rza, Rasul, Selected Works (in Azeri), Volume III (Baku: Yazichi, 1981), 164–67 and 113–16.

91 Ibid., 36–37.

92 Ibid., 66–67.

93 Rza, Rasul, Selected Works (in Azeri), Volume II (Baku: Yazichi, 1980), 124.

94 Rza, Rasul, Selected Works (in Azeri), Volume V (Baku: Yazichi, 1983), 144–45.

95 Nazim Hikmet (1902–63), Turkish poet, was imprisoned in Turkey for a long period of time for his leftist activities and communist propaganda. Later, he escaped to the Soviet Union and spent the rest of his life in Moscow.

96 Rahim, M., Selected Works (in Azeri), Volume II (Baku: Azarnashr, 1967), 4243, 50–51.

97 Rahim, M., Selected Works (in Azeri), Volume I (Baku: Azarnashr, 1967), 344–45, 363–66.

98 Qurban, Teyyub, A Person Stronger Than His Enemies (in Azeri), Volume II (Shirvannashr, 2011), 430.

99 For a brief discussion see Isaxanli and Ahmadov, “Azerbaijan.”

100 Akçura, Yusuf, History of Turkic Nationalism (Istanbul: Kaynak Yayınları, 1998), 144.

101 Blue symbolized the Turkish identity; red, modernization; and green, Islam.

102 Swietochowski, Tadeusz, Russian Azerbaijan, 1905–1920: The Shaping of National Identity In a Muslim Community (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). 59.

I would like to express appreciation to the reviewers of this article; their insightful criticism and recommendations to introduce new elements have made it better rounded in both content and form. I am also indebted to Martha Lawry, Alison Mandaville, and Audrey Altstadt, who have given their invaluable support and assistance in reading the article and in polishing translations of original works into English.

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