“An educated girl means an educated family”-Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev`s school for girls

Baku, January 25, AZERTAC

"An educated woman is an educated mother and she is able to provide her children with a broad outlook. On the other hand, an uneducated woman is an uneducated mother who cannot broaden her children's horizons", Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev once said.

Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev (1823-1924), the philanthropist Oil Baron, built the first boarding school for Azerbaijani girls in Baku - the Alexandrian Russian Muslim Female Boarding School which opened in 1901, what is now the Manuscript Institute. Up to that time, only boys were being educated.

Despite never having gone to school himself, nor learned to read and write, Taghiyev greatly valued education, especially for girls, which was a revolutionary idea at the time, since it was a traditional Muslim society. Taghiyev's father had been a boot-maker and he, himself, had apprenticed as a bricklayer at the age of six. Despite what might seem to have been a project worthy of much praise, Taghiyev had great difficulty in gaining permission to open the school. He met with vigorous resistance - both from Russian authorities as well as the Muslim clerics - according to the late Manaf Suleymanov, who wrote a book in the early 1990s about the stories and legends that circulated about Taghiyev during the Soviet period. Alexander who was czar at the time simply refused to grant permission.

But Taghiyev - who was in his late 70s at the time and who lived to be 101 years old - would not give up. When Alexander's son, Nicholas II, came to power, the oil baron sent a very expensive gift to Nicholas' wife - Alexandra Fyodorovna - imploring her help. This time he succeeded. In appreciation, Taghiyev named his school the Empress Alexandra Russian Muslim School for Girls.

To convince the local clergy, Taghiyev sent a trusted colleague to all the Muslim centers seeking written confirmation from all major theologists and authorities that the Holy Quran did not include a single word prohibiting women from getting an education. The entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist was not be deterred in his belief that an educated girl would become an educated mother and she could better provide her children with a broader perspective and better life.

Such were the origins that gave birth to a secular, European-style boarding school for girls - the first of its kind in Baku, and the first of its kind for Muslims any place in the world.

Construction began in 1898 and was completed in 1901. Building costs were said to be 184,000 rubles - a considerable sum for its day. Classes opened on September 7, 1901. The opening ceremony took place on September 9. Taghiyev received many congratulatory telegrams from places like Crimea, Uzbekistan, St. Petersburg and Kazan. In his opening speech, he conveyed his dream that "in the future, we must transform this female school into a gymnasium [high school]."

During that first year, 58 girls were accepted at the school, 35 of whom came from poor families. Taghiyev covered expenses for school uniforms as well as room and board. To finance the school, the oil baron invested 125 golden rubles (an inordinate sum for his time) in the bank as untouchable capital from which the annual interest provided the budget for the school. He then set out to hire the best educated women from all over Russia to staff it.

The school had a rich library, including the works of Azerbaijani, Russian and foreign classical writers such as Nizami, Fuzuli, Pushkin, Lermontov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Byron, Schiller, Moliere, Voltaire, Seyid Shirvani, Tewfiḳ Fikret, N.Kamal and others. Many magazines, including Molla Nasreddin, were delivered to the library.

In 1913 Taghiyev suggested transforming the school from a primary to a secondary educational institution, like the Mariinsky schools. He particularly emphasized the importance of teaching the Azerbaijani language at the newly established school. In the same year, he pushed for the opening of two-year pedagogical courses for Muslim women within the Aleksandrinski School. Both issues were resolved in April 1913, with Taghiyev donating 100,000 roubles. The pedagogical courses opened in 1915. Graduates from the courses worked as teachers in other Azerbaijani schools.

The school opened with four teachers – Hanifa khanim Abayeva (director), Maryam khanim Sulkevich (assistant director) and Asmat khanim Mammadamin Efendi gizi (teaching Shariah, native language, stitchwork and housekeeping) as well as Sakina khanim Akhundzade. It had seven teachers in 1908, there were eight in 1912-1913, and in 1915 eleven teachers were at work there. Most of them were in Baku at Taghiyev’s invitation, coming from Russia, Georgia, Lithuania, Uzbekistan, Dagestan and Tatarstan but linking their destiny to Azerbaijan.

The school was the dawning of secular education for Muslim girls. In 1901 a girls’ school was opened in Irevan, in 1902 in Ganja, in 1907 schools were opened in Nukha (now Sheki) and Eresh in the Yevlakh region, in 1909 a Russian-Azerbaijan girls’ school was opened in Baku. Later other girls’ schools were opened in Guba, Nakhchivan, Aghdam, Shusha, Shamakhi and even in several villages, including Zayamda (Goychay district), Salahli (Gazakh district), Balakhani (Baku district). Most of their teachers were graduates from Taghiyev’s schools or the two-year pedagogical courses.

These early graduates were active in the social, political and cultural life of Azerbaijan, worked in party and other Soviet organizations, providing invaluable service to the development of education and health care, and playing important roles in fostering new generations. Among them were women like Sona Akhundova, mother of the great Azerbaijani composer Gara Garayev, Sugra Mirgasimova, mother of the psychiatrist Aghabey Sultanov, Madina Garayeva, mother of children’s author Khanimana Alibayli, Shafiga khanim Afandizade, mother of the great medical figure Fuad Afandiyev, after whom Hospital No 4 is named, and many others.

Tragically, the massacres of Azerbaijanis carried out by Bolsheviks and Armenian Dashnaks in March 1918 forced the school to close.

Thus we can see that Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev’s girls’ school was not simply an educational institution, it was truly a bridge to the assimilation of knowledge of contemporary world culture from religious and national traditions.


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