Molla Nasraddin (magazine)

For other uses, see Nasreddin.
Molla Nasraddin

Molla Nasraddin #22 (c.1910)
Editor-in-chief Jalil Mammadguluzadeh
Staff writers Omar Faig Nemanzadeh
Mirzəli Möcüz Şəbüstəri
Mirza Alakbar Sabir
Abdurrahim bey Hagverdiyev
Ali Nazmi
Əliqulu Qəmküsar
Mammed Said Ordubadi
Artistic contributors:
Azim Azimzade
Oscar Schmerling
Categories Satire
Founder Jalil Mammadguluzadeh
Year founded 1906
Final issue
— Number
Based in Tbilisi, Georgia (1906-17)
Tabriz, Iran (1921)
Baku, Azerbaijan (1922-31)
Language Azerbaijani

Molla Nasraddin (Azerbaijani: Molla Nəsrəddin, Russian: Молла Насреддинъ) was an eight-page Azerbaijani satirical periodical published in Tiflis (from 1906 to 1917), Tabriz (in 1921) and Baku (from 1922 to 1931) in the Azeri and occasionally Russian languages. The magazine was “read across the Muslim world from Morocco to Iran.”[1] It was edited by the writer Jalil Mammadguluzadeh (1866-1932), and named after Nasreddin, the legendary Sufi wise man-cum-fool of the Middle Ages.[2]


1910 cartoon from Molla Nasraddin

The periodical was founded by Jalil Mammadguluzadeh, a famous Azerbaijani writer, and published by Geyrat Publishing House owned by him. The name "Molla Nasraddin" was inspired by the 13th century Muslim cleric Nasreddin who was remembered for his funny stories and anecdotes. The main purpose of the magazine was to satirically depict various social phænomena, such as inequality, cultural assimilation, and corruption; and to ridicule backward lifestyles and values of the clergy and religious fanatics.[3] In their articles, the columnists in an implicit way called upon the readers to modernize and accept more advanced Western social norms and practices.

Bold and denunciative articles were the reason for numerous searches performed by the police and frequent bans of Molla Nasraddin (in 1912, 1914 and 1917).[4] After a three-year break, Mammadguluzadeh moved to Tabriz, Iran, where within the next year he published eight more issues of the magazine.[5]

The significance of Molla Nasraddin is in its development of the critical realist genre in Azerbaijani literature. It influenced similar processes in other literary traditions, primarily in Iran. Iranian cartoon art emerged as a result of publishing Molla Nasraddin in Tabriz in 1921.[6]


With an acerbic sense of humor and realist illustrations reminiscent of a Caucasian Honoré Daumier or Toulouse-Lautrec, Molla Nasreddin attacked the hypocrisy of the Muslim clergy, the colonial policies of the US and European nations towards the rest of the world, and the venal corruption of the local elite, while arguing repeatedly for Westernization, educational reform, and equal rights for women. Publishing such stridently anti-clerical material, in a Muslim country, in the early 20th century, was done at no small risk to the editorial team. Members of MN were often harassed, their offices attacked, and on more than one occasion, Mammadguluzadeh had to escape from protesters incensed by the contents of the magazine.[7]


Managing to speak to the intelligentsia as well as the masses, however, the magazine was an instant success and would become the most influential and perhaps first publication of its kind to be read across the Muslim world, from Morocco to India. Roughly half of each eight-page issue featured illustrations, which made the magazine accessible to large portions of the population who were illiterate. And like the best cultural productions, MN was polyphonic, joyfully self-contradictory, and staunchly in favor of the creolization that results from multiple languages (it drew on three alphabets), ideas, and identities (its editorial offices were itinerant between Tbilisi, Baku, and Tabriz). While it helped give rise to a new Azeri intellectual culture, Iran was arguably the country where it had its greatest impact: MN focused relentlessly on the inefficiency and corruption of the Qajar dynasty, and its essays and illustrations acted as a preamble of sorts to the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1910, which resulted in the establishment of the first parliament in all of Asia.[8]


During Molla Nasreddin’s two and a half decade run, the country at the heart of its polemics and caricatures — Azerbaijan — changed hands and names three or four times. By 1920, the Soviets had invaded Baku; the quality of the magazine’s editorial and art-direction suffered considerably as it was forced to toe the Bolshevik party line. Only three issues came out in 1931 and shortly afterward it shut its doors for good. Its impact, however, is difficult to over-estimate. Molla Nasreddin offered inspiration to similar pamphleteers from the Balkans to Iran and Serbia. The Azeri newspaper Irshad coined the term “Molla Nasreddinism” to describe the ability to tell things as they are.[9]


The features and columns of Molla Nasraddin were the following:[10]


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