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Molla Panah Vagif

Molla Panah Vagif

Molla Panah Vagif (Azerbaijani: Molla Pənah Vaqif, 1717-1797) was an 18th-century Azerbaijani poet, the founder of the realism genre in the Azerbaijani poetry and also a prominent statesman and diplomat, vizier – the minister of foreign affairs in the Karabakh khanate.


Vagif was born in 1717 in the village of Salahly in the Qazakh, but spent most part of his life in Karabakh. Soon after coming to Shusha, the capital of the Karabakh khanate at the time, Vagif became popular and beloved among the people due to his knowledge and talents. There was even a saying: "Not every literate person can be Vagif".

Vagif’s mausoleum in Shusha before occupation of the town by Armenian forces

As vizier, Vagif did much for the prosperity and political growth of the Karabakh khanate. Also, he played an important role in organizing the defense of Shusha during the incursions of Aga Muhammad shah Qajar of Persia in 1795 and 1797.

Siege of 1795Edit

The historian Mirza Adigozal bey records the following possibly apocryphal tale: during the 1795 siege of Shusha, which resisted stubbornly despite the overwhelming numbers of Aga Muhammad's army, the shah had the following couplet by Urfi, the Persian-Indian poet, attached to an arrow and shot behind the walls of the city:

زمنجنیق فلک سنگ فتنه می بارد
تو ابلهانه گریزی به آبگینه حصار؟

Lunatic! A hail of stones descend from the Catapult of heavens,
while you await wonders in walls of glass?

The shah was playing on the meaning of Shusha: "glass" in Persian(and Azeri). When the message was delivered to Ibrahim-Khalil khan, the ruler of Shusha, he called upon Vagif, his vizier, who immediately wrote the following response on the reverse of the message:

گرنگهدار من آنست که من می دانم
شیشه را در بغل سنگ نگه میدارد

If my protector is the one that I know,
[he] would protect the glass alongside the most solid stone.

Receiving the letter with this poem, shah Aga-Muhhamed went into a rage and renewed the cannon attack on Shusha. However, after 33 days, the shah lifted the siege and headed to Georgia.

Conquest of Shusha and death - 1797Edit

Shah Qajar invaded Karabakh a second time in 1797, after the Russian armies that briefly occupied the Caucasus were withdrawn on the death of Catherine II. This time, Karabakh was undergoing a drought and was incapable of resisting. Ibrahim-Khalil khan escaped Shusha and the city fell quickly. Vagif was imprisoned and awaited death the following morning, but was saved when the shah was assassinated that very night under mysterious circumstances.

The reprieve did not last long. The nephew of Ibrahim-Khalil khan, Muhammed bey Javanshir, came to power after the now shah-less Persian army returned to Iran. Seeing in Vagif a loyal follower of his uncle, he had Vagif and his son executed. At the time of his death his house was plundered and many of his verses were lost.

Vagif's remains were kept in Shusha, where a mausoleum in his name was built during the Soviet era in the 1970s. This mausoleum was destroyed in 1992 during the Nagorno-Karabakh War[citation needed]. The fate of Vagif's remains is unknown.


Despite the circumstances of his death, Vagif's poetry has persevered. His verses were collected for the first time in 1856 and published by Mirza Yousif Nersesov. Soon afterwards, his verses were published by Adolf Berge in Leipzig in 1867 with the assistance of M.F. Akhundov, a prominent 19th century Azeri playwright, .

Vagif's works herald a new era in Azeri poetry, treating more mundane feelings and desires rather than the abstract and religious themes prevalent in the Sufi-leaning poetry of the time. This was the main characteristic that distinguished Vagif from his predecessors and made him the founder of the realism genre in the Azeri poetry.

The language of Vagif's poems was qualitatively innovative as well: vivid, simple, and closely approaching the Azeri vernacular. Vagif's poems have had a great influence on Azeri folklore and many of them are repeatedly used in the folk music of ashugs (wandering minstrels).

An example:

Bayram oldu, heç bilmirəm neyləyim
Bizim evdə dolu çuval da yoxdur
Dügiylə yağ hamı çoxdan tükənmiş
Ət heç ələ düşməz, motal da yoxdur

Bizim bu dünyada nə malımız var
Nə də evdə sahibcamalımız da var
Vaqif, öyünmə ki, kamalımız var
Allaha şükür ki, kamal da yoxdur

It is a holiday, don't know what to do
All sacks are empty in household of ours
Rice long gone, butter exhausted too
No meat we have, nor cheese that's ours

In this world we own nothing that's ours
Nor does happiness grace our homes
Vagif, don't pin your hopes on brains of ours
Glory to God, our brains somewhere roam

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