Elements of Humor in Central Asia: 
The Example of the journal Molla Nasreddin in Azarbaijan  

H. B. Paksoy

     First published in:  Prof. Dr. Erling von Mende,
Editor, Turkestan als historischer Faktor und politische
Idee. Baymirza Hayit Festschrift. (Koln: Studienverlag,
1988).  Pp. 164-180.

     Humor can be considered a branch of the literary
traditions of a society.  Like literature, humor cannot
always be understood without knowledge of the society which
produces it.  This is a critical point.  Some observers claim
that in a given culture, country or nation, humor does not
exist.  This is a rather rash "judgement."  Rather, the
question ought to be"  "Are we properly equipped to
understand the humor of the people we are studying?"
     Translation of humor, in its many facets, is a thankless
task.  Even when the words of an anecdote are translated from
one language to another, it cannot be guaranteed that the
speakers of the target language can grasp its significance. 
The textbook or even speaking knowledge of another language
may be insufficient to comprehend the humor in that language.

The highest level of language competency, native fluency, is
attained when the humor is understood.
     Understanding humor, on the other hand, requires
knowledge of common reference points, among which are
history, current events, tradition and custom.  Therefore, a
comprehensive understanding of the original culture is the
minimum requirement.  
     Central Asia has produced humor throughout its history. 
We can at least begin to understand the nature of this humor
through a simultaneous study of history and current events. 
The specific example at hand illustrates this point.  The
journal Molla Nasreddin was published in Tbilisi, Tabriz and
Baku, in that order, 1906-1920.  It was a satirical
publication, taking as inspiration the widely-known Molla
Nasreddin, or Nasreddin Hoja.

The Historical Nasreddin Hoja

     The Historical Nasreddin Hoja can be considered a
populist philosopher, wit and wise man.  The contents of the
many anecdotes about him suggest that Nasreddin Hoja lived in
Asia Minor sometime between the 11th and the 14th centuries. 
The stories attributed to him display a biting sense of humor
and the anecdotes themselves have satirical qualities that go
immediately to the heart of the matter. Subtleties of his
pronouncements many not be apparent at first, but cannot be
dismissed off-hand even by the most cynical.
     Nasreddin Hoja stories are well known from the shores of
Aegean to the Eastern reaches of Sinkiang, where he is known
as "Effendi."  One of his statues adorns a city square in
Bukhara, depicting the esteemed Hoja riding his donkey
backwards, as told in one of his anecdotes.  Many a punchline
from his anecdotes have long since reached the status of
proverbs.  Mark Twain's Library of Humor of the late 19th
century includes a story attributed to Hoja and indicates
that Nasreddin Hoja stories also circulated in Baghdad. [1] 
There are several stories placing Nasreddin Hoja with Timur
(in Western literature, mistakenly called Tamburlane,
Tamarlane or other distortions) in Akshehir.[2]
     According to one story, Timur had ordered his battle
elephants to be quartered in the vicinity of his field
quarters.  Accordingly, one elephant was assigned to each
nearby village.  Since the elephants consume large amounts of
food and are fond of tree barks, they began to inflict
considerable damage to the crops, orchards and vineyards. 
The elders of a village, deciding that they could no longer
withstand the ruination, seek out Nasreddin Hoja and ask him
to be their spokesman, to relay their wish to Timur that
their elephant be withdrawn.  Hoja agrees on one condition. 
The entire delegation is to accompany him to Timur's throne.
     Members of the delegation agree.  Hoja takes the lead,
with the elders in tow, and they begin their trek to the
encampment.  As the delegation approaches the multitudes of
guards, some of which are mounted, others on foot, in full
battle gear and colorful attires, the members of the
delegation begin to have second thoughts.  One by one they
begin deserting the procession.  As Hoja approaches Timur's
resplendent throne, he realizes that he is alone.  Feeling
betrayed and becoming furious, he proceeds nonetheless.
     The Chamberlain announces Hoja.  Timur queries
-- State your business.
     After due and proper salutation, Hoja begins:
-- Your Highness, the residents of this village asked me to
relay their highest respects to you.  They are quartering one
of your battle elephants, but they have a small worry.
-- May they be blessed.  What is their worry?
-- Your Highness, they have noticed that the elephant in
their charge appears to be unhappy with his lot.  He may be
suffering from loneliness.  They desire a companion for him.
-- Let it be.

     Timur seems pleased and orders a pouch of gold coins be
given to Hoja. along with a new suit of clothes.  Hoja leaves
the Presence of Timur and on the way back, the delegation
reassembles the way it dispersed.  They are very curious of
the outcome and wish to share in the good fortune of their
Chief-Emissary.  Hoja observes wryly:
-- You harvest what you sow.[3]

     As Nasreddin Hoja becomes more known to Timur, he is
invited to the Presence more often.  At one point, Timur
wishes to examine the tax records of the nearest town.  The
official in charge of the collection is brought before the
throne and is asked to reconcile the revenues with the
written record.  The official is unable to please the
sovereign.  Timur orders:
-- Let him eat the tax books.
     The Chamberlains tear the books and present it to the 
(now ex-official)  for his culinary consumption.  Timur
gives another order:
-- Hoja, I hereby appoint you the new Tax Collector.
Timur's word is law, permits no choice.
     Time passes.  Timur is desirous of investigating the
performance of the newly appointed tax-officer.  Nasreddin
Hoja is sent for and enters the Presence with a stack of pide
(flat bread) in his arms, with slender lines of accounts
scribbled on them.  Timur, recognizing the local staple food,
-- What insolence!  You were ordered to appear with the tax
     Hoja Responds:
-- Your Highness, these are the tax books.  Might I not have
to eat them?

     Many other stories relate events closer to home.  On one
occasion, Hoja borrows a kazan (large cauldron) from his
neighbor.  When Hoja returns the kazan, the neighbor sees
that there is a small cooking pot in the bottom.  He asks
-- What is this?
     Hoja replies:
-- Apparently the kazan had been pregnant and it has given
birth to this small pot.
     The neighbor unquestioningly accepts the kazan and the

Some weeks later, Hoja wishes to borrow the same kazan.  The
neighbor is only too happy to oblige.  This time, a month
passes.  The neighbor calls on Hoja to inquire about his
kazan.  Hoja, with a concerned look, announces:
--  I am sorry, but your kazan died.
     The neighbor is puzzled.  Then becoming angry, he
-- How could it die?
-- You believed that it gave birth, why do you not believe
that it died?

     The wit and wisdom of Nasreddin Hoja never leaves him
tongue-tied.  One day an illiterate man comes to Hoja with a
letter he had received.  
-- Hoja, please read this letter to me.
     Hoja looks at the letter, but cannot make out a single
word.  So he tells the man.
-- I am sorry, but I cannot read this.
     The man cries:
-- For shame, Hoja! You must be ashamed before the turban you
wear (i.e. the sign of education)
     Hoja removes the turban from his own head and places it
on the head of the illiterate man, saying:
-- There, now you wear the turban.  Read the letter yourself.

     A final resting place was constructed for the "Hoja" in
the vicinity of Akshehir, near present day Konya province in
the Turkish Republic.  This "tomb" is a most unusual and
elegant structure.  It is protected against the elements by
a large diameter ribbed dome, supported by many slender
columns.  An imposing gate, leading to the area covered by
this dome, is most visible.  Two rectangular stone posts
provide the anchor for the tastefully designed wrought-iron
door.  The two wings of the ornate gate are tightly shut and
secured with an enormous padlock.  However, there is no
surrounding fence and the gate stands alone on its site.
     The tradition demands telling seven anecdotes from
Nasreddin Hoja, once his name is invoked.  Due to space
considerations, we will ask forgiveness from his soul and
strive to mention his name in multiples of seven instead.  I
am certain he would have understood our exigencies.

The Journal Molla Nasreddin

     The weekly journal carrying the name Molla Nasreddin
appears to have exerted an enormous influence on its
readership.[4]  Several other periodicals, in other languages
of the area, strove to emulate its style, philosophy and
satire.  Molla Nasreddin immediately attracted the attention
of Western observers as well.  Echoes of its contents can be
gleaned from dozens of contemporary periodicals, in various
     Moreover, the journal Molla Nasreddin, much like its
name-sake, continues to maintain its relevance to the life of
Azerbaijan and Central Asia in general.  In the recent years,
at least one attempt was made to re-publish the entire
journal.[6]  Even when these efforts to duplicate the entire
collection in facsimiles have been truncated after the first
few issues, the momentum has not been lost.  The contents of
the remaining issues have found their way into various books.
     The history of the journal Molla Nasreddin, as well as
the biography of its founder-editor have also appeared in
various editions.  Even if the cartoons, which constituted an
integral part of the journal, could not be reproduced in full
as yet.
     The founder of Molla Nasreddin was Jelil
Memmedkuluzade (1866-1932).[7]  He often signed his
editorials with the pseudonym "Molla Nasreddin."  Before
discussing the message of the journal Molla Nasreddin, let us
read the very first issue.  It begins with an editorial.[8]

     I am addressing you, my brothers.  I am especially
referring to those who do not like what I have to say, who
make excuses in order not to hear my words; like going to
have their horoscopes read; on their way to watch fighting
dogs; to listen to the tales of the dervishes; to lay in the
bath house and the like.
     I persist, because sages pronounce:  direct your words
to those who do not listen to you.
     You my brethren!  There are times you heard humorous
words from me, opened your mouths to the sky, closed your
eyes and noisily laughed so hard that your intestines were
almost torn, you used your skirts instead of towels to dry
your eyes, faces, saying "damn the devil."  But do not think
that you are laughing at Molla Nasreddin.  
     You, ny brethren! If you wish to know whom you are
laughing at, then place a mirror in front of you and take a
careful look to see your own faces.
     I have completed what I wanted to say.  On the other
hand, I have an apology: forgive me, Turkish brethren, I am
addressing you with the clear tongue of the Turks.  I know
that is shameful to be speaking in Turkish and it testifies
to the lack of one's personal knowledge.  However, it is
necessary to recall the days past:  remember those days when
your mother rocked you in your crib, she sang to you
lullabies in the Turkish language but you were not quieted. 
Then your poor mother said to you:  "Son, do not cry, the
bogeyman will come and take you away,"  and you stopped for
fear of your life.
     Every now and then in order to recall the beautiful days
gone by, what shame is there in speaking the Mother tongue?
-- (Signed) Molla Nasreddin.

     Admonitions To Those Wishing To Subscribe To Our
     First of all--it is necessary for you to ask God to
grant his permission, to be revealed to you through a dream
or omen.
     Second--you must write to our office with a reed pen and
in Tabriz ink.  By no means use an iron pen and Russian ink.
     Third--do not permit the hands of the postal clerks to
touch the (subscription) money you will be sending.  Because
if their hands have sweated, the money may be wet.  If this
rule is observed, it will not be necessary to wash the money
with water at the office.
     Fourth--Write your letters in such a fashion that they
do not contain a single Turkish word: it si a shame to write
in Turkish and implies that your education is lacking.
     Fifth and lastly--During the days listed below, we do
not deem it proper for you to become customers.  Any business
undertaken during such days will bring no good:
1. The 3rd, 5th, 13th, 16th, 21st, 24th, 25th days of each
month are inauspicious.  We deem it right to record
subscriptions during these days.
2.  We do not regard Tuesdays and Wednesdays as appropriate
days for customers.
3. Each month, 28th and 29th days are the Days of Light --it
is not permitted to begin a new endeavor.
4.  Two days each month the moon is in Scorpio --do not
become customer and do not begin a good deed.
5. Twelve days each month are regarded as the period of Eight
Stars.  Do not begin a new task on those days.

     Telegrams Of Molla Nasreddin:
     Petersburg--March 30.  All Russia is quiet and peaceful.

The wolf and the sheep are grazing together.
     Tehran--March 29.  His Excellency the Shah is preparing
for an European trip.
     Tabriz--March 30.  Freedom is promised to the people:
for example, the government will not stop the militia
(serbaz) engaging in "livering" (jigerjilik --to buy, stroke,
sell liver, or  --colloquial--   more likely in this
context: extortion of the highest order), butchery and
     Petersburg--March 30.  It is said that Senator
Cherivanskii will be appointed as the Orenburg Mufti (head of
the Moslem Spiritual Board there).  The Orenburg Mufti His
Majesty Sultanov will become a servant of the Orenburg
     Shemakhi--30 March.  Moslems are progressing.  A Russian
pharmacist has been granted permission to open a reading room
(where tea and coffee are also served) so that nothing in
Turkish could be read there.
     Nakchevan--30 March.  Cossacks are hoping that the
Governor-General would become their patron and allocate them
plenty of jobs.
     Tabriz--30 March.  Haji Gurban's sugar car was destroyed
by fire.  The loss is estimated to be two millions.

     News That Ought To Be Known:
     Molla Nasreddin vows to send the journal until the new
year to those individuals who can write answers to us on the
following questions:
     1.  Why is that, in whose main school, only one out of
twelve illiterate Moslem teachers can write his name despite
purposeful groan and gruntings?
     2. In order for a Shi'i to drink water from a cup, which
has been used by a Sunni for the same purpose, why is it
necessary to wash the cup first?
     3. Which is more plentiful:  Stars in the sky or the
gambling places in a Moslem bazaar?
     4. How can the bereaved wives of (recently) dead men
prevent the mollas from forcibly entering the house to
partake in the ceremonial meal given in honor of the
     5. How could necessary books be procured so that Moslem
boys can be taught in Turkish?
     6. Which country's enterprises are producing laziness
and lack of ambition?
     7. How is it that the snakes arriving in boxes from Iran
do not bite others besides the people of Iran?
     8. What kind of secret is it that the government
soldiers wounded during the Armenian fights are reprimanded
so severely that the doctors are not permitting them to
return to their duties?
     9. Where did the 400 rubles, collected in the theatrical
society in Yerevan and earmarked for the people of Ushi,

     Words Of The Forefathers:
     There is no better keepsake in the world than sayings. 
Because earthly possessions can be squandered but the words
remain.  Words of the past rulers and poets are still
enduring.  Accordingly, experiences and proverbs, proven by
trial and experiences from the Turkish rulers are written in
our journal under "Words Of The Forefathers" so that our
readers may make use of them at necessary times and
     -- If you tie one of your horses next to another, the
Khan will observe this and say: "Why do you not give me one?"
     -- At a place where there are possessions from your
ancestors, it is forbidden for you to personally to earn.
     -- The death of a man causes the idle to rejoice.
     -- Do not trust the horse or the woman --tie them up and
lock the door. 
     -- The hungry chicken dreams of Pilaf (rice dish).
     -- Nobody dies of hunger --do not commit a mistake by
giving away bread.
     -- An open mouth does not remain hungry --may God grant
abundance to the dust of our roads.
     -- Leave the chores of the evening to morning and those
of morning to evening.
     -- Man becomes a scholar by remaining idle.
     -- Things are said to a man a thousand times.  If he is
not persuaded, he is blameless.
     -- There is no remedy to what is going to happen.  Let
it happen.

     Molla Nasreddin's Mailbox:
     In Baku--to his majesty Molla G. zade:
     We can answer your question only in the following
manner:  Senator Cherivanskii's memorandum concerning the
Spiritual Board has not been approved.  However, according to
information reaching us, the Head of the Moslem Spiritual
Board will be subjected to an examination by the Tbilisi
Exarch (Leader of the Gregorian Church) to prove his
credentials of Religious Jurisprudence and then will have to
be approved by the police authorities.
     In Yerevan--to his majesty Ismail Bey Sefibeyov:
     We are very pleased to receive your hearty
congratulations regarding the publication of the first issue
of our journal.  We are not able to publish the poems you
sent us in our previous number.  However, we promise to
include them in the next...


     The first number adhered to a specific "content plan"
which the editor was required to submit, before publication,
for approval by the authorities.[10]  It was as follows:
1. Friendly conversations
2. Satire (atmaca--one meaning is hunting bird, the haws; it
is also means to nudge by words, in verse or prose, "thrown"
at individuals or groups to get their attention with a view
to engaging them in dialogue)
3. Commentary
4. Humorous poems
5. Humorous telegrams
6. Satirical stories
7. Jokes
8. Post Box
9. Humorous adverts
10. Personal ads
11. Cartoons and illustrations

     Several items on this list were not translated above;
most important are cartoons, satirical verses and serialized
satirical works.  A few words about them is in order.
     The cartoons appearing in the first issue, which
unfortunately cannot be reproduced here, were no less
satirical than other comments.  They carried short subtitles
and initially were largely the work of Smerdling (1877-1938),
an experienced German artist working in Tbilisi.  Another
cartoonist was Rotter.  Later on, native cartoonists joined
the staff.[11]
     Satire in verse was just as important.  Mirza Elekber
Sabir (1862-1911) was an early contributor to Molla Nasreddin
in this genre.  Sabir also wrote for numerous other serials
and desired the publication of his collected works to be
issued in a volume.  In one of his last letters to a friend,
A. Sehhat in Tbilisi, Sabir wrote:  "If I die, I will not go
in vain; because I know that you will publish my works."  His
friends honored Sabir's wish.  His collected writings were
issued under the title Hop-Hopname (i.e. to jump up and
     Another important contributor to Molla Nasreddin was Ali
Nazmi (1878-1946).  Like sabir, Nazmi also specialized in
verse-satire and published his works in various humorous-
satirical journals of the time.  Very much in line with
Memmedkuluzade's philosophy and approach, Nazmi also made
light of superstition.  The target was the local population. 
He strove to get and hold attention of the Turkish community
for the purpose of introducing  the readership to the
contemporary worldly events.[13]
     In addition, Memmedkuluzade did not hesitate to include
serialized stories or novels in Molla Nasreddin.  One such
prominent work was Ibrahim Beyin Seyahatnamesi: veya,
Taassubkeshligin Belasi (Travelogue of Ibrahim Bey: or, the
Curse of Bigotry), an enormously popular novel of the time. 
It was written by Zeynelabidin Maraghai (1837-1910), a
merchant of Azerbaijan origin (born in Maragha, died in
Istanbul), for a time living and successfully trading in
     This satirical multi-volume novel and its author has
attracted wide attention with the anonymous publication of
its first volume sometime between 1888 and 1897; apparently
in Cairo.  The second volume was printed in Calcutta during
1907 and the third volume in Istanbul in 1909.  The first
volume was at least translated once, into German, in 1903 and
issued in Leipzig.  As the premier editions of each were
quickly sold-out, reprintings rapidly appeared in various
locations, including Calcutta, Cairo and Istanbul.
     All three volumes were merged into one and issued in
Baku during 1911.  Extracts from this novel were included in
the pages of at least a dozen journals and newspapers in
almost as many cities  --on two continents--  throughout the
first decade of the 20th century.  Its contents must be read
with the Iranian Constitutional Movement of 1905-1911 in
mind.  Reflecting the ever growing interest in those events,
Molla Nasreddin included sections of the Seyahatname in five
different issues of 1906.[14]

Direction and Objectives of the Journal Molla Nasreddin--

     Memmedkuluzade had in mind several goals in publishing
Molla Nasreddin.  Some are clearly stated or readily
recognizable even after eight decades after their
publication.  Those are discussed below.  Some remarks are
not so readily deciphered.  This is solely due to our lack of
complete knowledge of the daily news.  Mirahmadov writes:
     We learn, from Memmedkuluzade's memoirs, that one
     of the matters which occupied him was the problem
     of the readers.  Through Molla Nasreddin's persona
     he wrote: "with various excuses, the brethren were
     running away 'from him,''not prepared to attach
     any value' to his words and 'paid no attention to
     newspaper or journal reading.'"  Therefore one of
     the objectives of Molla Nasreddin was to introduce
     the native population to pay attention to the
     press and its contents so as to sensitize them to
     world developments.  In order to be as effective
     as possible, Memmedkuluzade even "read the
     contents of the issue to may individuals prior to
     committing them to print." so as to try them on a
     sample readership.[15]

     Memmedkuluzade's language policy was an important part
of his message to his readers and is announced in the opening
editorial.  The policy was very much like that of Ismail
Gaspirali, as utilized in his newspaper Tercuman (published
in Bakhchesaray).  Memmedkuluzade, like Gaspirali, was going
to write in the clear Turkish mother tongue.  He ridiculed
those who looked down upon the use of Turkish.  His jibes may
have been aimed at the mollas using Persian or Arabic, but
was more likely directed at those who cavalierly used
     The section "Admonitions To Those Wishing To Subscribe
To Our Journal" represents a typical use of humor to make fun
of behavior which the journal seeks to change.  In the list
of admonitions, the journal ridicules waiting for "signs"
before taking action;  the belief in "inauspicious" days as
dictated by superstition or astrology; the use of Turkish;
and even (Admonition 2) the attachment to Iran or to the past
simply because it is the past ("the ink and pen do not matter
as much as the use to which they are put"  is perhaps the
message).  Lastly, all possible or imaginary reasons to avoid
subscribing are hereby quashed by sharp sarcasm.
     "News That Ought To Be Known"  hints at several
controversial issues of the day --the decline of the mekteb
education and the low educational level of the mollas who
taught in them  (Item 1);  the need for education in the
native language (Item 5) by qualified instructors (Item 1); 
the rapacity of the mollas (Item 4) and general malaise in
society;  sectarian divisions and their most minute
implications (Item 2);  the authorities' complicity in
communal clashes (Item 8); the dishonesty of "charitable"
work (Item 9).[17]
     Throughout the journal, the use of double, triple
reversed or opposite meanings delivers a clear message with
heightened emphasis.  In the "Telegrams," the first is a
clear example making use of such an exaggerated claim
(referring to the Empire's quiescence) that only its opposite
can be understood.  This "innocent" statement belies official
insistence that peace prevails.  Word Choice may be used in
the same way.  The Third Telegram illustrates the point.  The
word "jigerjilik"  has an innocuous connotation (as sheep
liver, prepared in a particular way, is a delicacy), in
addition to the bloody context which is actually intended. 
Both that "Telegram" and the other from Tabriz must be read
within the context of the Iranian Constitutional Movement
between 1905-1911, in which Tabriz was a major center of
opposition to the Shah.  The "serbaz" refer, apparently, to
the Shah's forces' behavior in Tabriz.  "Haji Gurban's sugar
car having been destroyed by fire" also seems to contain more
than one message.  First of all, "gurban" is the sacrificial
sheep.  This person may or may not have been a real
individual.  Secondly, the Shah's bastinadoing of the Tehran
sugar merchants in December 1906 is considered the event that
set off the movement, sometimes called a resolution.[18]  The
seemingly mysterious "loss of two millions" without providing
a unit of measure reinforces the message.
     In the category of "Word Of The Forefathers" Molla
Nasreddin takes a predictable turn.  Almost all of the
proverbs retain the traditional, easily recognized format,
but the messages are twisted "backwards."  What seems
incongruous at first sight, is indeed incredulous.  By means
of this simple device, Molla Nasreddin accomplishes the task
of nailing down the real message all the while forcing the
readers to think again.  It is also noteworthy that the
reference to the "Turkish Rulers of the Past" is very
reminiscent of Kultigin tablets and Kutadgu Bilig.
     Finally, the "Mailbox" catches the unwary reader off
guard.  In this, the first issue, the writer states, "Molla
Nasreddin was unable to publish a letter in its previous
issue!"  Also, Memmedkuluzade furnishes some background to
the Telegram concerning the Orenburg Mufti.  Like so many
other allusions in the journal, this referred to a long-
standing debate concerning the appointment of the Mufti of
Orenburg and the degree of his subordination to civil
authorities.  This issue received detailed coverage in the
Caucasus because of the implications of its outcome for
appointments in the Sunni and Shi'i Spiritual Boards in
     Memmedkuluzade apparently chose satire as the
educational and political vehicle, both for its power and to
circumvent the restrictions of tsarist censorship.  Imperial
Russia's strict censorship laws, even when relaxed for
Russians and other Christian populations, were maintained for
Turkish populations.  These laws were aimed at control
generally and sometimes at Russification and
Christianization.  Later, the modified laws were used for
political control.[19]  Zeynelabidin Maraghai may have
published his highly acclaimed multi-volume novel outside the
Russian Empire due to such considerations[20]
     The use of satire as a political tool has a long history
in the Turkish domains of Central Asia.  Throughout the ages,
satirical poetry has been used by many historical Central
Asian authors as a platform.  Alishir Navai, Shibani, Yesevi
are only some of the more prominent practitioners of this
     Molla Nasreddin  was widely quoted and "talked about" in
other contemporary journals, magazines and newspapers of the
time.  According to Gulam Memmedli, at least 150 such
publications carried quotations or extracts from Molla
     The wide popularity and republication of Molla Nasreddin
in the early 20th century (alluded to above) testifies not
only to the power and relevance of its message, but to the
shared common culture and language across Central Asia.  An
overwhelming majority of the following publications which
quoted from Molla Nasreddin were in various Turkish dialects:

Turk Yurdu[22]; Gaspirali's Tercuman in Bakchesaray; Jahan in
Tashkent; Ulfet in St. Petersburg; Adalet in Tehran;
Turkmenistan In Ashkabat; Hablulmetin in Calcutta; Tenbih in
Tabriz; Hurriyet in Samarkand; Uklar in Uralks, and scores of
others in the cities named as well as in Baku, Istanbul,
Tbilisi, Moscow, Ufa, Yerevan and the Revue du Monde Musulman
in Paris.

Present-Day Reflections in Central Asia--

     The present-day Central Asians are also following in the
same path, adapting the traditions to the conditions of the
day.  They employ the cartoon[23] genre as a vehicle of local
political expression.
     A case in point are the two cartoons which were
published in the journal Muhbir.  This publication is aimed
at Ozbek journalists, the masthead of which indicates it is
the organ of the Central Committee of the Ozbek Writers
     A haggard looking man, (purposely) reminiscent of a
dock-side "tough" in a southern French port, with his beard
in stubble, is standing in front of a bookstore.  He is
wearing a French beret, smoking the butt of a cigarette
holding open the left side of his jacket.  Inside his jacket,
large pockets holding some unspecified books are visible. 
The caption reads: "Branch of the bookstore."  This cartoon
was re-published in the West.[25]
     In another cartoon in the same journal, a librarian,
with the appropriately serious look on his face, is
depositing  books into a large strong-box, placed in the
middle of the library, through a slot on top.  The strong-box
is secured tight with an enormous padlock.  The caption
reads: "The booklover."[26]
     Like the materials in Molla Nasreddin, these cartoons
may not reveal their full glory at first sight.  Only after
an examination of contemporary literature in the environs
they were published we may begin to appreciate their meanings
and ironies.  As these cartoons are of 1980s vintage, this is
not very difficult.[27]
     Hence, Molla Nasreddin is not only a bearer of political
and social messages of the early 20th century, it is but a
one example taken from a long line of political and social
satire in Central Asia.  The tradition is centuries old and
still in use today.  There is continuity of form and, often,
of spirit.  Both are still relevant and more importantly, are
taken seriously.


1. See Samuel Langhorne Clemens, William Dean Howells,
Charles Hopkins Clark, Mark Twain's Library of Humor (New
York, 1887).

2. If the encounter of these historical figures is a
historical fact, the time must have been after Timur had
defeated the Ottoman Sultan Yildirim Bayazit ("Bayazit the
Thunderbolt") in the last decade of the 14th century.

3.  "Ne ekersen, o'nu bicersin."

4. The journal Molla Nasreddin also attracted the attention
of a number of authors and scholars publishing in the West. 
Among the most prominent, see J. Hajibeyli, "The Origins of
the National Press in Azerbaijan"  Asiatic Review (1930);  A.
Bennigsen Molla "Nasreddin et la presses satirique musulmane
de Russie avant 1917"  Cahiers du Monde russe et sovietique,
3, 1962/3;  A. Bennigsen and C. Lemercier-Quelquejay, La
Presse et les mouvement national chez le Musulmans Russie
avant 1920.  (Paris, 1964).

5. Gulam Memmedli, Molla Nasreddin (Baku, 1984).  Apparently,
this is the second edition of the 1966 printing.  Memmedli
provides such day-by-day comments, appearing in at least 150
publications, published in the Russian empire, which quoted
Molla Nasreddin throughout its publication span.

6. Our sample owes its existence to those efforts.

7. Transliterated from the original Azerbaijan Turkish.  For
details of his life, see Memmedli.

8. The journal Molla Nasreddin, 7 April 1906, Number 1. 
First editorial is also signed "Molla Nasreddin." (Written by
Jelil Memmedkuluzade).

9. This is very reminiscent of the admonitions contained in
Orkhon tablets (c. 732 AD) and Kutadgu Bilig (c. 1069 AD). 
By the time Molla Nasreddin began publication, both the
Orkhon tablets and Kutadgu Bilig were widely translated and
available in various languages in Europe and Asia.  For
example, the following is from the Kultigin funerary
monuments (early 8th c, which constitute a portion of the
Orkhon tablets) which goes on to enumerate further events of
the time:
     They (the Turkish Kagans --rulers) settled the
     Turkish people Eastward up to the Khinghan
     mountains and Westward as fat as the Iron Gate. 
     They ruled (organizing) the Kok (Blue) Turks
     between the two (boundaries).  Wise Kagans were
     they, brave Kagans were they.  Their buyruqs (that
     is, high officials), too were wise and brave,

See Talat Tekin, A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic (Bloomington,
1968).  Pp. 263-4.

Furthermore, Balasagunlu Yusuf's Kutadgu Bilig (c. 1069 AD)
echoes and indeed paraphrases the Orkhon tablets:
     If you observe well you will notice that the
     Turkish princes are the finest in the world.  And
     among these Turkish princes the one of the
     outstanding fame and glory was Tonga Alp Er.  He
     was the choicest of men, distinguished by great
     wisdom and virtues manifold.

Kutadgu Bilig was also translated into English.  See R.
Dankoff, Wisdom of Royal Glory: Kutadgu Bilig (Chicago,
1983).  P. 48.

10. Aziz Mirahmadov, Azerbaijan Molla Nasreddin'i (Baku
1980).  Pp. 241-242.  For the implications of the phrase
"approved by the authorities, see H. B. Paksoy, "Chora Bat▀r:
A Tatar Admonition to Future Generations."  Studies in
Comparative Communism (Los Angeles\London) Vol. XIX, Nos. 3
& 4, Autumn/Winter 1986.  Pp. 253-265; for an outline of the
Russian empire censorship laws and sources.  

11. Smerdling's and other Molla Nasreddin cartoonists'
biographies are also found in Mirahmadov (1980).

12.  Memed Memmedov, Editor, Hop-Hopname  (Baku, 1980). 
Apparently, this is at least the third publication of Hop-
Hopname.  As we learn from the introduction by Memmedov, Hop-
Hopname was first issued in 1912.  The second printing
appears to have been made between 1962 and 1965, issued under
the auspices of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences.

13. Firidun Huseyinov, Editor, Ali Nazmij, Secilmis Eserleri
(Baku, 1979).

14. Zeynelabidin Maraghai, Ibrahim Beyin Seyahatnamesi veya
Taasubkesliyin Belasi.  (Baku, 1982). Pp. 9-10.  Molla
Nasreddin included selected sections of this novel in its
nos. 9, 15, 17, 23 and 36 of 1906.

15. Mirahmadov (1980), Pp 243-244.

16. This issue was much debated in the press of the Caucasus.

See, for example, a commentary signed "Daghestani" in Kaspii
(Baku) 20 April 1913, cited in Audrey L. Altstadt,
"Azerbaijani Turks' Response to Conquest"  Studies in
Comparative Communism (Los Angeles\London) Vol. XIX, Nos. 3
& 4, Autumn/Winter 1986. 

17. Item 7 perhaps refers to spies sent to report on the tens
of thousands of Iranian Azerbaijanis working North of the

18. For a discussion of the Iranian Constitutional Movement
in Tabriz, see Nariman Allamoglu Hasanov, Revolutsionnoe
dvizhenie v Tebrize v 1905-1911 gg.  (Baku, 1975).

19. See note 10 above. The problem of the spread of the use
of Russian among Azerbaijani Turks and of the so-called
"russification" of that dialect was discussed  in the first
Muslim Teachers Conference in Baku in the summer of 1906. 
See Altstadt, "The Azerbaijani Bourgeoisie and the Cultural-
Enlightenment Movement in Baku:  First Steps Towards
Nationalism"  Ronald G. Suny, Editor, Transcaucasia;
Nationalism and Social Change (Ann Arbor, 1983).

20. Other prominent political and literary figures of the
period published "controversial" works outside the Russian
empire.  Gaspirali and Yusuf Akchura, for example, published
in the Cairo newspaper Turk items that would have been
unlikely to clear the censors in the tsarist domains.

21. See Note 5 above.  This volume is devoted solely to a
chronological documentation of these "quotations" of the
journal Molla Nasreddin.

22.  See H. B. Paksoy, "Nationality and Religion: Three
Observations from Omer Seyfettin."  Central Asian Survey
(Oxford) Vol. 3, N. 3, 1985.  Pp. 109-115, to place Turk
Yurdu in perspective.  

23. As the word cartoon was derived from the Italian
"caricare," originally meaning "to load a weapon," a term
devised during the revolutionary fervor of 1830s Europe, the
implications are bound to be more colorful.  See James
Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men (London, 1980), Pp. 314-

24. There are sister publications in every "republic" in
Central Asia.

25. See H. B. Paksoy, "Deceivers" Central Asian Survey
(Oxford) Vol. 3, N. 1, 1984.  The referenced cartoon
originally appeared in Muhbir dated February 1983 and is
duplicated at the end of the cited paper.

26. This second cartoon appears to be in the same mold as the
preceding one, was published in the same journal, the same
year, addressing the same or similar issues.

27. See the "Deceivers," referenced above, for possible
origins of the political events.

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