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Reader's Forum
The Real Hajibeyov?
Winter 2001 (9.4)

I note that on the new Web site there has been some recent discussion about who Uzeyir Hajibeyov really was. This becomes an especially interesting question when you realize that he was politically active writing in newspapers under pseudonyms attacking both systems - the czar and later the Bolsheviks. But later, after the Soviet system was established in Azerbaijan, he went on to become a member of the Politburo and his compositions were honored with both Lenin and Stalin Orders. Stalin himself gave the order for his musical comedy "Arshin Mal Alan" to be made into a movie. So was Hajibeyov a "good" communist? Or was he just a prolific musician minding his own business?

It's a very complicated question! Perhaps we should ask: Who are any of us? And who might any of us have been if we had been living in the Stalinist Azerbaijan of the 1930s? It's easy for us to talk about human rights today and criticize others from our vantage point of comfort in this period of independence.

Somehow, I feel sympathetic to Hajibeyov because I have known many people of his generation - my teachers, my grandfathers, my grandmothers and their friends. It's true that after the Bolsheviks came, Hajibeyov was not an active dissident, but neither was he what could be defined as a "good communist". I believe that Hajibeyov was a wise person who understood that the value of his own genius was to carry out a different mission. Stalin was short-lived, Communists and capitalists are also temporal, but music is eternal.

To me, the worst thing that Hajibeyov could have done was to have become a political dissident during the Soviet period. Had he done that, I think he would have been shot or sent into exile in Siberia. And what would the Azerbaijani people have gained? Nothing. We probably would never have had great operas like "Koroghlu" and "Leyli and Majnun" and musical comedies like "Arshin Mal Alan", "Mashadi Ibad" and others.

In my opinion, reason must prevail over feelings. Emotions might have urged Hajibeyov: "Rise against Stalin! Attack the crimes of the Soviet system! Don't be afraid of death!" But reasoning would have cautioned: "Don't do that. You have a much greater mission in life. Create brilliant music. This is your strongest weapon against Stalin and the Soviet system. They killed the Azerbaijani people with their politics. You must renew life with your music. Be wise and save your life for a greater cause."

As a genius, Hajibeyov was larger than politics. Consider how many genius composers and painters have lived in the kings' courts or under the patronage of kings and tyrants (Khagani, Nizami, da Vinci, Mozart, and so many others. Every talented person needs both the financial support and good conditions to work productively and express his or her talent.

Geniuses are rare in any country - perhaps they're born only once every century. So they must be protected and nurtured as national treasures. They must engage only in creative work. It's a great tragedy for them to burn out their lives in other ways (politics, rebellions, wars, whatever). Thousands of other people can carry out such missions.

Not all people should rebel like the Spartans did. Human civilization needs the Aristotles and Platos, too. Each has a place in history. So I don't blame Hajibeyov. To me, he was right when he decided to serve Azerbaijani people through his music, not through politics.

Farid Alakbarov

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