Mirza Fatali Akhundzade is an Azerbaijani writer, a realist, materialistic philosopher, and a public leader. He was born in Sheki on 30th of June in 1812 to a family of a small merchant. His family moved to Iran in 1814. When Fatali turned seven, his parents divorced and Mirza Fatali returned to Sheki with his mother to live with his uncle. His uncle, Haji Alasgar, became a “second father” for him and taught the boy Koran, Arabic and Persian, and also oriental sciences.
Not long, Haji Alasgar left for the holy Mecca, he left Mirza Fatali in Ganja, to the scholar Mullah Hussein. Mirza Shafi Vazeh, eminent Azerbaijani poet, was one of the teachers in the madrasa, where Akhundzade went in 1832. Vazeh noticed Fatali’s aptitude, and introduced the young Akhundzade to secular sciences. Under his teacher’s influence, Fatali continued his education at the Sheki Russian-Azerbaijani training school and moved to Tiflis (as the Georgian capital Tbilisi was called at the time) after a year. He started working in civil services as a translator from oriental languages into Russian at the chancellery of the Head administrative of civil, and then military unit of Caucasus.
Akhundzade’s first work of fiction was the “Shikayatname” poem. It was quite traditional content-wise, as the poet complained of his life. However, he became truly famous as he wrote the “Eastern poem on the death of Pushkin”, instinct with keen sorrow about the tragic death of the Great Russian poet. Mirza Fatali met Lermontov in Tbilisi in the autumn of 1837. It was Akhundzade, who helped Lermontov study Azerbaijani. He also recorded the “Ashig Garib” fairytale as Mirza Fatali spoke the words.
Akhundzade’s active literary activity started in the 1850s. He wrote six original comedies, such as “Monsieur Jordan, Botanist and Scholar and Dervish Mastalishah, the Celebrated Sorcerer”, “The Vizier of Lankaran Khan”, “The Bear that Caught the Bandit”, “The Adventures of the Mean Knight or Haji Qara”, “Defense Lawyers in Tabriz or the Eastern Lawyers”, and the “Deceived Stars” novella, the first piece of Realist writing in Azerbaijani prose. As he spoke European languages, Akhundzade introduced new topics and social dimension into Azerbaijani literature. He withdrew from traditional lyrical motives of Eastern poetry and turned literature into the speaker of progressive social ideas. He thus exerted great influence on further development of drama and literature in the country. He also founded literary criticism.
Akhundzade wanted his drama pieces to be staged in Azerbaijan, as he believed the theatre had a special enlightening significance. It was the time when majority of Azerbaijanis could not read, so had no access to written literature. This is why he promoted his enlightening ideas through the stage. His comedy “Vizier of the Lankaran Khan” was first staged at the hall of Baku August Gathering, directed by Hasan Bey Zerdabi on 10 March 1873. Some of the active participants of the staging were Najaf Bey Vezirov and Asgar Agha Adigozalov.
Akhundzadeh wrote and worked to develop available literacy. Even at that time, he promoted foregoing Arabic writing and adopting the Latin alphabet, as he thought that this would make knowledge available for ordinary people.
Mirza Fatali Akhundzade died in Tiflis on 10th March, 1878. There is Akhundzade’s house-museum in Azerbaijan, in Sheki – the poet’s hometown. There are also monuments to Akhundzade in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, in the Georgian capital Tbilisi and Russian capital Moscow. The opera and ballet theatre and the national library of Azerbaijan are both named after him.