ALEXANDER HODZKO as adiscoverer of the Azerbaijan culture in the West


Image One of the most important components of national being is the factor of presence of its cultural heritage in the world’s historical and cultural context. In other words, one of the features that prove matureness of the Nation is its presence in worldwide culture. As for the young nations that have arrived late on the scene of world’s history (Azerbaijan nation belong certainly to this category), their procured their recognition by the means of long-term work of explorers of their history, traditions, folklore.

Due to the fact that results of these researches were published, the cultural and historical peculiarity of different ethnic community was “opened” for the whole world; and thus it contribute to the process of recognition of singularity and uniqueness of these communities from the outside. Sometimes, this “external” acknowledgement may contribute to the process of “internal” transformation of ethnic community into the nation, or, at least, to be a catalyst of the nation building intentions through the influence over the consciousness of educated circles of society that had access to the foreign publications devoted to their community.

Of course, in the most cases authors of theses publications was tied by “blood” with the researches subject, it means that they were representatives of the community under consideration. But, also, there are the cases that the conscientious foreign researchers became “pioneer” of unveiling of different national cultures, at least for Western world.

Thus we shouldn’t underestimate the role of the scientific activities of native of Kryvichy (today’s small city in Miadziel region of the Belarus) Alexander Hodzko (1804-1891) in the unveiling of the Azerbaijan culture in the West, and in that way, in the history of Azerbaijan nation building.

Alexander Hodzko was the sun of the famous polish-belarusian-lithuanian public man and writer – Jan Hodzko-Borejka; alumnus of Wilno University, poet and friend of the famous poet Adam Mickiewicz. In 1829 he had finished the Institute for Oriental Studies that was attached to the Asian Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affaires of the Russian empire in St. Petersburg, with the specialization: Persian and Arabic languages. From 1830 until 1844, he worked as a Russian diplomat, mainly in the Iran, where his highest position was the post of the consul in Rasht – administrative center of the province Gilan. The important part of his official activities was consecrated to the numerous travels not only round Iran, but also in this part of Caspian region that belong to the Russian Empire. He used these travels for collecting empirical materials for the future publications on the subject of the language, the culture and the folklore of Caspian peoples, including Azerbaijanis (“Persian Turks” in the terminology of this time).

Hodzko started to publish results of his researches after the retirement when he settled in Paris, working for some time in the Eastern Department of the French Ministry of Foreign Affaires and then lecturing for 26 years (1857-1883) in the Collège de France. His publications (mainly in English and French) brought to him the world’s recognition as one of the best specialists of the Orient.

The interest towards Azerbaijan theme became one of the central in his scientific work quite early. Probably an important role in all this was played by his main teacher in St. Petersburg, a famous Russian expert in oriental studies with Azeri origins Mirza Jafar Topchibashev. He started to work on it even before the “Paris period” of his life, when in 1830 – 1833 his ethnographic tales from the travels in Azerbaijan were published in Russia on the pages of Tygodnik petersburski (‘Petersburg Weekly’) and ‘Literary Newspaper’. The reader of these essays could build an idea of the Azeri’s way of living and traditions, an idea of the richness of their culture. Here in particular are quoted the legends of the Maiden Tower and ‘Legends of Aristotle and Plathon”. As far as the record of ‘Legends’ is concerned, Hodzko’s one happens to be the only known record of such a widespread at its times legend, which is being analyzed even nowadays in the works of contemporary experts in Azeri folklore. Thanks to the Hodzko’s essays one can imagine what were Baku and the life of its inhabitants like at the beginning of 1830 (according to the researches there were 1200 houses and 5000 inhabitants counted then.). Admiring the art of Baku’s craftsmen or the abilities of six-years-old boy Jamil, who at this age was able to write ‘quite decent poems’, Hodzko at the same time shows his surprise from the fact that among ‘the decent people’ (bearing in mind the local aristocracy) there are so many ‘ignoramuses, who do not realize the meaning of the monuments of the past that deserve to be respected by descendants.’ On the pages of these essays there is also a narrative about the fire worshippers, which used to live in Baku and their rich library, which was burnt in 1826 in war between Russia and Persia.

However, his most important contribution into the unveiling of the Azerbaijan culture in the West was a book, published in English, in London in 1842 for the Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland (republished in 1971 in New York). Its total title – “Specimens of the popular poetry of Persia, as found in the adventures and improvisations of Köroghlu, the bandit minstrel of Northern Persia; and in the songs of the people inhabiting the shores of the Caspian Sea. Orally collected and translated, with philological and historical notes, by Alexander Hodzko”. By the way, in this book appeared only 13 medzlis (parts) in English (out of 14) of the epos “Köroghlu”, collected by Hodzko by word of mouth from the Azerbaijan achug Sadykh, with scientific comments.

As far as I am concerned, this was the first ever translation of Azeri literature into English. Moreover, Hodzko’s work considerably contributed to further popularity of these works. In an year time, in 1843, in Jena appeared its full translation into German “Specimens of the popular poetry …”, written (made) by O. Wolf . Also in 1843 “Adventures and improvisations of Köroghlu” were already available to the French readers thanks to the French translation, published in “La Revue indépendante” and another separate reprint version of the annual . There are many reasons to think that the author of the French translation of Azeri’s epic was also Alexandre Hodzko. Later on the text from “La Revue indépendante” became the basis on which the famous writer George Sand built the French version of the epic character’s adventures. In the 50 years of XIX century in Tbilisi S. Peno accomplished from Hodko’s London book also the first translation of “Köroghlu” into Russian.

Thus, thanks to the academic work of the native of Belarus, Western Europe scientists and public for to know Azeri’s national literature translated into main European Languages.

1) Life and creative work of A. Hodzko still stands on the wings of its monographic research. See his background:: Chmielowski P., “Chodźko Borejko” in Wielka encyklopedya powszechna ilustrowana, T.XI/XII, Warszawa, 1893-1894; Zdziechowski M., “Aleksander Chodźko” in Album biografii zasłużonych Polaków i Polek w. XIX, T.1, Warszawa, 1901; Michalski J., “Chodźko Aleksander” in Sto lat myśli polskiej, T.3, Warszawa, 1907; Płoszewski L., “Chodźko Aleksander Borejko” in Polski Słownik Biograficzny, T.3, Kraków, 1937 etc.
2) Die Abentheuer und Gesänge Korroglus des Räubers und Dichters. Ein persischer Volksroman. Aus dem türkisch-persischen Original wörtlich in das Engl. übersetzt von A. Chodzko. Deutsch von O.L.B. Wolf, Jena, 1843.
3) Les aventures et les improvisations de Kourrouglou, recueillies en Perse (Extrait de la Revue indépendante), Paris, 1843.


Igor Lalkou,
Chairman of Robert Shuman Society in Belarus,
alumnus of Belarus State University (Minsk)
and Sorbonne University (Paris)