Ahmad Javad Akhundzade was born on May 5, 1892, in the village Seyfali of Shamkir rayon. He got his primary education at home where he learned Turkish, Persian, Arabic languages and Eastern literature. In 1912, after graduating from religious seminary in Ganja, he worked as a teacher and was active in the literary and socio-political life of the city.
During the first Balkan war of 1912, he fought on the side of Turkey in the part of “Caucasian detachment of volunteers”. Being a member of the Charity Society he helped orphans and refugees in Kars, Erzurum and in other cities.
In 1916 and in 1919, a collection of Ahmad Javad’s poems “Goshma” and “Dalga” (Wave) were published respectively. The period which Ahmad Javad’s activity was famed as the poet of independence coincides with that of Mammed Amin Rasulzade. On the request of Rasulzade, the poet joined the party “Musavat”. The peak of Akhundzade’s poetry is connected to Azerbaijan Republic. Ahmad Javad welcomed the declaration of Azerbaijan Republic in the poem “Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan!” He also glorified the three-coloured flag of Azerbaijan in the poem “To Azerbaijan’s flag”.
After the declaration of Azerbaijan Republic the poet continued teaching and helping the minister of education, Nasib bey Yusifbeyli, especially in developing the cultural sphere of the country. He actively took part in the establishment of Azerbaijan University (former Baku State University). In the poem “O, soldier!” he glorified Turkish Army, which came to the aid of Azerbaijani people in 1918.
After the establishment of Soviet authority, Ahmad Javad continued his pedagogical activity. In 1920, he worked as the school headmaster and the teacher of Russian and Azeri languages in the village Khulug of Gusar rayon. However, from 1920 to 1922 he was Quba rayon’s public education branch manager.
In 1922–1927 he studied in the history and philology department of Azerbaijan’s Pedagogic Institute, and simultaneously taught at the technical school named after Nariman Narimanov.
He was repeatedly arrested for various issues pertaining to his allegiance to Azerbaijan. For instance, in 1925 he was arrested on suspicion of anti-Soviet propaganda in the poem “Göy-göl” in which he mentioned a star and a crescent moon, the symbols of independent Azerbaijan. Fortunately he was released because the commission in Moscow who veiwed his case did not find any subject of nationalistic propaganda.
In 1930 he moved to Ganja. From 1930 to 1933 he was a teacher, then an associate professor and the head of a chair of Russian and Azerbaijani languages of Ganja Agricultural Institute. In 1933, Ahmad Javad was conferred the title of professor. Afterwards he headed a literary department of Ganja Drama Theatre.
In 1934, Ahmad Javad returned to Baku, worked as an editor of translation department of “Azernashr” Publishing House (it was a major publishing house in Azerbaijan). In 1935–1936, he headed the department of documentary films at “Azerbaijanfilm” film studio. In March 1937 Ahmad Javad was awarded the first premium for the translation of Shota Rustaveli’s classic “The Knight in Tiger Skin” into Azerbaijani language. He was a talented translator, he translated into Azerbaijani such works as: “Copper Rider” by A. S. Pushkin; “Childhood” by M.Gorky; I.Turgenev’s proses; Shakespeare’s “Othello”; “Gargantua and Pantagruel” by F.Rabelais; and “Hunger” by K.Gamsun.
During the 1930s Stalin launched a political and ideological attack, especially against writers. Labels like “pan-Islamism” and “pan-Turkism” were attached to those who didn’t accept the tenets of “socialist realism.” As opposed to “critical realism,” socialist realism is a type of literary composition that embraces only the positive attributes of man and his society. Hence, Soviet authorities enforced rigid censorship on every publication. They believed that art and literature should be made “clear to the people,” that it should serve the “Proletariat Revolution”, as well as the “ideas of Lenin-Stalin.” Therefore, along with Ahmad Javad, many other talented literary critics, writers and poets, such as Husein Javid, Yusif Vazir (Chamanzaminli), Khuluflu and many other intelligentsias were repressed.
It was in this climate that Ahmad Javad was again arrested. During the first few months while he was in custody, he strongly denied participating in any counter-revolutionary organization. But after some “illegal compulsion methods” applied in Bagirov’s torture chamber, he testified that he led the sabotage on the “literature front.” On September 9, 1937, after somewhat recovering from his beatings, Javad once again declared his innocence regarding any participation in counter-revolutionary organizations.
There were many violations in Javad’s case. Yellowed official documents vividly recount the tragedy of his case. From the archives of the former Azerbaijan People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (KGB) come many cases that are absolutely impossible to read without feeling pain in one’s heart.
In his case, there is a photo of prisoner Ahmad Javad, number 1112. The last sentence reads: “The death sentence of Ahmad Javad was death by execution. He was executed on October 13, 1937, in Baku”.
The KGB held the notion that he was the member of the Communist Party as well as the government of Azerbaijan Republic and its counterrevolutionary positions. His family was exiled, too.
On October 27, 1937, Shukruya Khanum (Mrs. Shukruya) was questioned in the infamous “inner jail” for the first and last time. On December 9, 1937, special commission made the decision to imprison Shukruya Akhundzade in a Siberian reformatory camp for eight years. She was to be among the “first leaving batch,” which meant that she was considered a dangerous enemy of the Motherland, and had to be quickly exiled before the other prisoners
Here are excerpts taken from her letter dated May 20, 1944, seven years after her arrest:
“I beg you, People’s Committee of State Security, for the examination of my application concerning my release . . . I consider myself not guilty . . . I was arrested because my husband, the Azerbaijani writer, Ahmad Javad Akhundzade, was arrested on July 4, 1937. Personally, I have never been charged with anything. I still don’t know why my husband was arrested. I think that his personal enemies were jealous of his fame and slandered him.
“I am the daughter of Suleyman Bejanidze, who was an old underground-revolution organization member and was of Ajar nationality (a nationality in Georgia.) He was a privileged pensioner who was in jail and was exiled for 14 years . . . I have four sons. Two of them are fighting for their Motherland on the front lines of the Great Patriotic War (WW II). Both were wounded, but after recovering, they both returned to the front. One is fighting on the Leningrad front (St. Petersburg). Because of his honorable services in battle, he was awarded the medal of the Red Banner. My younger son, Lieutenant Aydin Akhundzade, is fighting on the Khartov front and was awarded the medal of the Red Star for his services in battle. My third son, Tugay Akhundzade, 20, is working at Shamkhor. Yilmaz Akhundzade, my fourth son, 9, has been living with my third son since the death of his grandmother.
Shukruya also wrote to Stalin: “Please return me to my children . . . I will work to bring them up; they need to have an education… Pity my children, return them home to me, and return their mother to them… My last hope in life is to get an answer from you.” There was no answer.
In December of 1955, the Office of Public Prosecution of the Soviet Union reconsidered Ahmad Javad’s case. The military committee of the Soviet Supreme Court abrogated the illegal decision made by the special committee of the People’s Commissariat. Shukruya khanum was officially released that same day.
It took 18 years to rehabilitate the name of Ahmad Javad who was condemned as an “Enemy of the Nation” and shot to death despite his innocence. By that time, World War II had come and gone, and his two sons volunteered to fight in the front lines. By that time Stalin, too, had died. The truth is that only when Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991 that Javad’s name is gradually being restored. The words of the National State Anthem that Javad wrote when Azerbaijan won its independence the first time (Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, 1918-1920) were re-adopted in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ahmed Javad is invariably regarded not only as a poet, close to us, but also as a Turkic poet. He was a dedicated son, brother husband, and father to both his nuclear and extended family. “I am proud that he was my great-grandfather. But, despite all the stories, I remember him from the stories of my great-grandmother,” said his great grandson. When she returned from exile and received permission in 1955 to return to Baku, she told of a love story between them. She did not betray her husband as his “colleagues and friends” did, but choose to go into exile in Siberia. While still on the train, she, along with Yilmaz, a 5-6 month old son, was to go to Siberia, for which it would be a sure death. On the way to Shamkir, she threw the child into the hands of relatives at the railway station. Being very beautiful, she had to hide her face, wrapping herself with numerous sheepskin coats, hid her braids in a scarf, afraid to be molested in the Gulag, which was often for repressed women. In the Gulag, her nickname was the “Mother”. Moreover, during her imprisonment, she helped many women and children from Azerbaijan to move to camps in Kazakhstan, where the conditions were slightly better than in Siberia. However, she herself remained in the camp. When she returned, she helped to gather many members of her family. For the rest of her life she preferred to talk only about positive things. For many years she carried her love and was able to give it to her children and it’s passed on to the grandchildren. Despite all this, she retained her great love for Ahmed. This was the best proof of his virtue, courage, and greatness.