Social Studies

Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev


Zeynalabdin, as all those who knew him as a little boy called him, was born on 25 September 1823 in Baku into a family of a shoemaker. Despite his disadvantaged and humble beginning, Zeynalabdin was destined to make history in Azerbaijan as one of the most established oil tycoons and philanthropists who later became the eminent Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev.
Zeynalabdin started working at the age of 10, first as the trainee of a brick-mason, later as a mason at the age of 15 and then progressed to become a master builder.
Meanwhile, Baku was experiencing the first oil boom. It was this period, in 1873, that he decided to lease land in Bibi Heybat along with two partners. They hired laborers and artisans, bought equipment, built a rig derrick and started boring wells in the hopes of producing oil. Their expenses grew by the day, but there was not even a trace of oil. Finally, his partners decided to sell their shares out losing all hope. Haji repaid their shares and became the sole property owner. One could envy his tenacity, as he continued to bore holes. And at long last, oil gushed at one of the four wells. Thus, the son of a poor shoemaker became the millionaire Taghiyev.
As he became rich, the first thing Taghiyev did was to construct a motorway from the city to his production field in Bibi Heybat and later extended it to reach the Bibi Heybat mosque. Taghiyev spent most of his earnings on charity, development and improvement of his hometown. Haji Zeynalabdin built a big palace in the center of Baku in 1895-1897, which became a home to his family. It now hosts the Museum of History of Azerbaijan.
Taghiyev made a great contribution in the development of education in Azerbaijan. He invested 300 thousand rubles in 1901 to open the first girls’ school in Baku. The construction of the school started in 1898 and finished in 1900. The building now hosts the Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences. The first headmaster of the school was Hanifa Malikova (the wife of Hasan Bey Zerdabi, the eminent enlightener and the founder of the first Azerbaijani newspaper, “Ekinchi”). They enlisted 58 girls and 35 of them came from poor families. They were exempt from tuition and Taghiyev personally volunteered to cover their expenses for food and clothing. We should especially mention the library. Taghiyev did not spare any expenses. The library included a magnificent collection of Russian, foreign and Eastern classics.
In 1895, Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev founded a school for gardeners and florists in the dormitory suburb of Mardakan (now school N23). He tried to lay a bosket in the sandstone, attempting to solve the problem of landscape gardening in Baku.
Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev built a theatre in Baku. The first ever opera in the east “Leyli and Majnun”, written by the founder of Azerbaijani classic music and the eminent composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov, was staged in that very theatre on 25 January, 1908. He also sponsored the translation of the Koran into Azerbaijani.
Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev lived on in the memories of the people not only as a generous philanthropist, but also as a person, who had a clear position on where and how he should spend the money he earned from producing oil. He invested his funds into fields, which could improve the wellbeing of Azerbaijani people. First and utmost, these were education, science, culture and developing the urban infrastructure of Baku and its suburbs. Construction of the railroad, laying the waterline and the establishment of firefighting services, all these facilities were available for all in Azerbaijan, thanks to Taghiyev, during he late 19th and into early 20th centuries. He allocated funds for schools, mosques in the entire Caucasus, for landscaping the Baku cemetery and building a madrasa in Teheran. He helped orphans, sick women and widows.
Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev sent talented young people to study at universities in Moscow, Kazan, Petersburg and Europe. He built school buildings and supported intellectuals financially. Everybody, Azerbaijanis, Russians, Armenians, Jews, Georgians, went to Taghiyev, as everyone considered him the most influential and authoritative figure in Baku. The local media described him as the “pride of Muslims”. People called him “El Atasi” (Father of the nation) for his kind heart and noble deeds.
However, the situation changed as the Bolsheviks seized power. They expelled Taghiyev from his own house and confiscated his property. When they were banished from their own home, Taghiyev told his family: ‘Take your personal belongings only, all the rest will be left for the people.’ Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev was allowed to live in his summerhouse in Mardakan thanks to Nariman Narimanov’s support. That is where he lived until the end of his life.
Taghiyev died on 1 September 1924, when he was almost 101. A great throng of people came to bid him farewell. Despite all the persecutions and deprivations that he subsequently suffered, including his family members, he was celebrated then and still celebrated today as a hero because people had not forgotten all the good he had done.

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