Mammad agha Shahtakhtinski
Life and career
Shahtakhtinski was born into an Azeri family living in Erivan (present-day Yerevan). He was raised Muslim and attended a religious school as a child. In 1869 he graduated from the University of Leipzig with a degree in philosophy, history and law. In 1873, he enrolled in courses at the École des langues orientales but was forced to return to Russia in 1875, after his father's death. Until the early 1890s he worked as a journalist publishing articles in the Russian newspapers Moskovskie Vedomosti, Novoe Vremia, etc. on various subjects ranging from linguistics and education to the life in Persia and the Ottoman Empire. In 1898, Shahtakhtinski returned to Paris to excel in Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages at the Collège de France and the École pratique des hautes études. His keen interest in these languages resulted in him being admitted into the prestigious Société Asiatique.
In 1902, Shahtakhtinski settled in Tiflis. Here in 1903, he founded the Azeri-language newspaper Sharg-i Rus ("The Russian Orient") dedicated to the academic enlightenment of the Muslims of the Caucasus. His articles propagated the necessity of Europeanisation, which he saw as the only possible way to stable and developed future. He sharply criticised Islamic fanaticism which in his opinion was a major obstacle in the development of Azeri culture and was incompatible with the idea of progress. He also dismissed Pan-Turkism, a popular theory among Turkic-speaking scholars and political activists of the time, and propagated the use of folk Azeri as a literary language, as opposed to the common practice of using Ottoman Turkish. In 1907, he was elected to the State Duma of the Russian Empire (second convocation). Between 1908 and 1918, Shahtakhtinski lived in various parts of the Middle East, including Anatolia, Iraq and Persia. In 1919, he returned to then independent Azerbaijan to give lectures at the newly established Azerbaijan State University.
Alphabet reform proposal
Shahtakhtinski was among the numerous scholars who had followed Mirza Fatali Akhundov in proposing an alphabet reform for Azeri, suggesting to reform the existing Perso-Arabic script. The unsuitability of the Arabic alphabet to Turkic languages in general was in his opinion a major obstacle in the spread of literacy among Azeris. Between 1879 and 1903, Shahtakhtinski designed several model alphabets for Azeri, some of them Roman-based, however none of them was implemented in practice. In 1923, Shahtakhtinski as member of a special four-member committee developed a new Roman-script alphabet for Azeri, apparently based on one of Shahtakhtinski's earlier models. The alphabet was put in official use on a par with the Perso-Arabic alphabet, which it completely replaced in 1928, and was used until 1939, when it itself was replaced by Cyrillic.
Notes and references
- Alternative spellings of the surname include Shahtahtinski, Shakhtakhtinski, Shahtakhtinskii, and Shakhtakhtinskii.
- The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History by Joseph L. Wieczynski, George N. Rhyne. Academic International Press, 1976; p. 145. ISBN 0-87569-064-5
- Towards a Modern Iran by Elie Kedourie, Sylvia G. Haim. Routledge, 1980; p. 57–59. ISBN 0-7146-3145-0
- Novaâ imperskaâ istoriâ postsovetskogo prostranstva [sbornik statej]. Biblioteka žurnala "Ab Imperio". Published by New Imperial History, 2004; p. 328. ISBN 5-85247-024-4
- Between Adaptation and Self-Assertion by Eva-Maria Auch. Sakharov Centre (Russian)
- (Azerbaijani) Famous Personalities of Azerbaijan: Mammad agha Shahtakhtinski
- Russia and Azerbaijan by Tadeusz Swietochowski. Columbia University Press, 1995; p. 113; ISBN 0-231-07068-3
- Early Alphabets in Azerbaijan by Farid Alakbarov. Azerbaijan International. Spring 2000 (8.1). Retrieved 1 October 2008
- Language Planning and National Development by William Fierman. Walter de Gruyter, 1991; p. 214 ISBN 3-11-012454-8