The Last Resting Place of Prominent Georgian Azerbaijanis

Pantheon of prominent Azerbaijanis of Georgia

Pantheon of prominent Azerbaijanis of Georgia

About 4 years ago, thanks to the efforts of the diplomatic mission of Azerbaijan in Georgia, a Tbilisi cemetery of prominent ethnic Azerbaijanis was restored. 

Despite the project and attempts to beautify the location, few are even aware of its existence.

“Unfortunately, people have lost an interest in history, and work to spread knowledge of this sort has been weak”, says the chairwoman of the Association of Active Azerbaijani Women of Georgia, Gultekin Mustafayeva. 

According to her, in several parts of the region of Kvemo Kartli, where the absolute majority of the population consists of Azerbaijanis, many have never even visited Tbilisi, nonetheless been the to the ‘pantheon of Azerbaijanis.’

“We have to tell our youth more about our prominent ancestors and forefathers. We have to write and talk more about them, about those who are buried in this pantheon and who played a large role in the history of both Georgia and Azerbaijan”, says native resident of Tbilisi, Farida Abdullayeva. 

Soon, she will be 70 years old, but she has not lost her memory of times from long ago.

“In my childhood, we’d often climb up into the hills, where there was the Muslim cemetery. My close relatives are still buried there. I even remember how in the 1950s the communists blew up a small mosque on the territory of the cemetery. This was pure sacrilege, but to give voice to one’s protest in those days was not something people could do…”, says Farida Abdullayeva.

She recounted how her mother, Masma, was deserted and left as an orphan when she was just 5 years old. Her grandmother, Pari and her grandfather, Suleyman, took her in and raised her. 

Her grandfather Suleyman was well - acquainted with Miraza Fatali Akhundov — one of the founding father’s of Azerbaijani literary criticism and drama — from his childhood. Salesman worked in a small silk production factory across the street from the house of the prominent writer. The young Suleyman often helped Akhundov with different errands around the house and he was very attached to him. He would never even accept to hear a bad word spoken of the man. 

Mirza Fatali was grateful for his loyalty, and helped the young man provide for his family, and bought him a small room and apartment where Suleyman’s family continued to live until recently.

The home of Mirza Fatali Akhundov in Tbilisi

The home of Mirza Fatali Akhundov in Tbilisi

It was March of 1878, but spring was in no hurry to usher itself into Tbilisi. There was a freezing cold rain outside, and a dank wind was tirelessly knocking at the door of the home of the Akhundovs, wafting a sad presentment. In this 2 story house on the bank of the Kura, Mirza Fatali Akhundov lived the majority of his life. Here, he wrote his plays that half a century later would become classics of Azerbaijani literature.

And in this same house the 65 - year - old writer was lying on his death bed with his children around him, Rashid and Nissa, and his inseparable wife, Tuba Khanim. Close friends stood by, one of whom asks the writer, where and how he wants to be buried. On the face of the ill-man lying in his deathbed appears a light - hearted smile, and into his dimming memory swims up the image of Mirza Shafi Vazekh, his dear teacher, from whom he heard his first lines of Omar Khayam:  

““I’m not afraid of death, and I won’t grumble at fate, I don’t search for comfort in the hopes of heaven, And without complaint I return my soul which was rented to me for some time.””

The spiritual leader of the municipal community of Muslims tried to prevent Akhundov’s burial in the Muslim cemetery of Tbilisi. They didn’t want to forgive him for his outspoken criticism of Islamic dogma and religious structures.  

The Georgian prince, general and poet Grigol Orbeliani, who was a friend of Akhundov, got involved in the matter. He was one of the most well - respected men of his time. His word was decisive, and the final resting place of the progenitor of Azerbaijani drama, Mirza Fatali Akhundov, was decided upon. And it later became the old Muslim cemetery of Tbilisi…

Statue of Mirza Fatali Akhundov on his grave site in Tbilisi

Statue of Mirza Fatali Akhundov on his grave site in Tbilisi

According to historical sources, the cemetery was founded in the 17th century, and was called “Korkhana” which in Persian means “Sepulchral Home”. Persia, which at the time included the Georgian kingdom, settled saids in the area, and that’s why the region began to be called, “Saidabad.” Since that time, Muslims in Tbilisi have been buried here. 

In the 19th century, when Georgia was already a part of the Russian Empire, the Muslim cemetery became severely overgrown. In the 20th century, when the Soviets came to power, so did the bulldozers. 

The road that leads to the pantheon of prominent Azerbaijanis of Georgia

The road that leads to the pantheon of prominent Azerbaijanis of Georgia

Few of Korkhana’s graves remained untouched. The territory of the cemetery was connected to the Botanical Garden and it was called the ‘pantheon of prominent Azerbaijanis of Georgia.’  

From the graves that remain, the oldest is that of Mirza Shafi Vazekh, the Azerbaijani poet and thinker, educator and teacher. He passed away in November of 1852, after a complication that resulted from an inflamed digestive system.  

Against the advice of doctors, he ate a great many number of grapes. There are a number of remaining notes from his contemporaries that describe the last day of his life. 

While he was finishing a last bunch of grapes, his old friend Mirza - Hasan came to him. Upon seeing that he was eating grapes, his friend tore the plate away from him. 

“Don’t you see that grapes are poisonous for your illness! And for that reason, you will lose your life!”

Mirza Shafi objected, “What should I live for? Did I not experience enough need and disturbance in my life? Or do you want me to wait around another 3 - 4 years to teach some stupid young boys?” 

That night, the poet passed away, who in life had received much fame and was loved by the people for his high moral standards and talent. 

Statue to Mirza Shafi Vazekh above his grave in Tbilisi

Statue to Mirza Shafi Vazekh above his grave in Tbilisi

On the morning of April 28, 1920, parts of the 11th Red Army entered Baku. The Parliament of Azerbaijan confirmed the transfer of power to the communists and, subsequently, the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic ceased to exist. The first chairman of the Council of Ministers of the deposed government, Fatali Khan Khoyski secretly escaped to Tbilisi, hoping to make it from there to Istanbul or into Europe. 

However, not even 2 months passed before he died. On the 19th of June, he was killed on Erivan Square by members of the Armenian Dashnaktsutyun, which in that period was tightly allied with Soviet power. His burial was carried out by the embassy of Iran in Tbilisi. Fatal Khan Khoyski was the first victim in a list of 41 Azerbaijani political figures who would be murdered and hunted down.

About one month later, terrorists from the Dashnaktsutyun murdered the deputy chairman of the parliament of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic, Hasan - bek Agayev, who also ended up in the same graveyard. 

Graves of the wife and son of Mirza Fatali Akhundov

Graves of the wife and son of Mirza Fatali Akhundov

In the pantheon there are but 11 graves. One of them has no name. Others buried here include members of the family and relatives of Mirza Fatali Akhundov.  

“After the reconstruction, interest in the cemetery grew. People purposefully come here to put down flowers on the graves of Azerbaijan’s prominent sons”, says Giorgi Kochishvili, who takes care of the cemetery.  

He has been looking after the territory of the cemetery for four years already. According to him, after the authorities closed down the cemetery, people were given the opportunity to re-bury their relatives in a different place and some took advantage of this opportunity. However, many burial sites were so old that they were unable to be identified. 

“The Pantheon is the remaining territory of what was once a large cemetery”, says Zhuzhuna Avalishvili, who has been working there for 53 years. The rose parterre that she manages is next to the pantheon. She remembers that in 1964, when she started to work, a bust to Akhundov was already on his grave. The other statues appeared later. 

“This pantheon is a piece of Azerbaijan within Georgia. If we want to further develop our relations, then we must act with respect to this place, moreover since the literary heritage of those buried here is of world importance. . .”

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