Childhood & Early Life
Mirza Fatali Akhundov was born on July 12, 1812 in Nukha, now Shakhi, in Azerbaijan. Mirza's father Mirza Mammadtaghi was an ethnic Iranian from Tabriz Province in Azerbaijan and his mother Nana Khanim was a native of Nukha.
When Mirza was six years old, his parents divorced and he moved with his mother to Qaradagh Province, Azerbaijan to live in the household of his uncle, Akhund Haji Alasgar, one of the best-known Muslim clerics of the region.
Akhund was a highly educated man and taught his nephew Mirza how to speak and read Arabic and Persian and introduced him to great books in the region's literature.
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In 1832, Mirza's Uncle Akhund accompanied Mirza to Ganja to enroll his nephew at the madrassa attached to Shah Abbas Mosque. He wanted Mirza to study logic and Islamic theology.
While at the school, Mirza learnt calligraphy from the renowned Azerbaijani poet Mirza Shafi Vazeh. Shafi Vazeh discouraged Mirza to pursue religious studies and encouraged him to study the modern sciences. Mirza gave up his religious and clerical education and started studying Russian in order to learn about Russian and European culture..
When uncle Akhund learned that Mirza had dropped out of school, he surprised the family by supporting his nephew's decision. After uncle Akhund used his powerful connections to land his nephew a job, Mirza moved to Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1834, to work for the government as a translator.
In 1836, Akhundov became a teacher of the Azerbaijani language, a post he would hold for the next 13 years.
In 1837, Mirza published his first major poem in the Persian language, 'The Oriental Poem', about the death of the celebrated Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Akhundov translated 'The Oriental Poem' into Russian and it was soon being read by the leading lights of the Russian intellectual world.
In 1845, Russian theater came to Tbilisi, bringing both Russian and Western plays to the stage for the first time in the region.
In 1850, Akhundov wrote his first play, ‘The Tale of Monsieur Jordan the Botanist and the Celebrated Sorcerer, Dervish Mastali Shah’. The satirical comedy was tremendously successful and played to packed houses in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Tbilisi.
Mirza followed that up with a second hit comedy, 'Molla Ibragim Khalil, Alchemist, Possessor of the Philosopher’s Stone'. In the same year he also wrote 'The Vizier of the Lenkoran Khanate'.
In 1852, he wrote and staged his play 'The Miser’s Adventure'. Mirza also wrote 'The Defenders of Right in the City of Tebriz', which was brought to the stage for the first time in 1855.
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In 1857, Akhundov published his first book of prose, 'The Deceived Stars', single-handedly reinventing the genre of Azerbaijani historical writing.
Akhundov went on to publish six separate books on literary criticism, analyzing the works of literary giants in the Arabic and Persian world. Akhundov also penned a number of philosophical works, including 'The Sayings of Dr. Sismond' and 'Response to the Philosopher Hume'.
Mirza had compiled a new alphabet that better reflected the sounds of Azerbaijani Turkish and was easier for people to learn. He sent the alphabet to the linguists and heads of state of Iran and the Ottoman Empire.
In 1863, as part of his alphabet campaign, he went to Istanbul to meet the Ottoman prime minister, Faud Pasha. The matter was discussed in the Ottoman Society of Science and Miza's initiative was widely appreciated. But Iran’s chief ambassador to the Ottoman courts, Mirza Huseyn Khan scuttled the intoduction of new alphabet.
Akhundov petitioned the Turkish government to modify the alphabet once again, but he was again rejected. Returning home, he wrote 'Three Letters of the Indian Prince Kemal-ud-Doula to the Persian Prince Jalal-ud-Doula', a satirical piece that sharply mocked the Ottoman Empire.
Mirza came to global attention when 'The Oriental Poem', his evocative reaction to the death of Alexander Pushkin, was translated into Russian, in 1837.
His bitingly satirical play ‘The Tale of Monsieur Jordan the Botanist and the Celebrated Sorcerer, Dervish Mastali Shah’ still plays to packed houses in Azerbaijan.
With over 50 books on philosophy, religious and literary criticism, as well as his dramatic plays, the works of Mirza Akhundov form the backbone of Azerbaijani literature today.
Mirza's nickname was 'Moliere of the Orient'.
The modern Azerbaijani language is written in a script that Mirza Akhundov designed.
During the Crimean War of 1853-1856, Akhundov agitated for his people to join Russia and enter the war against Turkey.
In the Azerbaijani language, Mirza was called 'Akhund's son' or Akhundzadeh. In Azerbaijan today, he is known by the name Mirza Akhundzade. The closest translation of Akhundzade into Russian was Akhundov, the name by which most of the world knows him today.