Theater in Western Azerbaijan

Iravan State Azerbaijan Drama Theater (1880–1949)

Iravan Azerbaijan theater occupies a special place in the history of our national stage art. With its own form of creativity and style, it is necessary to present and study the Iravan theater in two stages, which underwent a complex and contradictory process. The first stage of the theater is related to amateur activity. The second stage was formalized by the Iravan State Azerbaijan Drama Theater collective’s creative process.

The city of Iravan, once the center of the Azerbaijani Khanate of the same name, was one of the major cultural centers of Azerbaijanis in the 19th century. In the 1870s, Turkish-Russian language schools were opened in the city. From time to time, poetry and art gatherings and musical evenings were held in the city. Square performances, “Kosa-kosa”, “Garavalli” and various ceremonial games were performed on Nowruz, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha holidays.

At the beginning of 1882, the teacher of the Iravan city gymnasium, Mashadi Ismayil, a well-known educator, prepared Vasag Madatov’s play “Greed wins an enemy” with his students. With this, the foundation of the professional Azerbaijani theater was laid in Iravan. The piece was performed for the second time on April 2, 1882 with new performers. Mizra Khalil Hajiyev (Mammadgulu), Rustamkhan Abbasgulukhanov (Fateli Mirza), and Mashadi Ismayil (Haji Faraj) performed the title roles. Both events were recognized as important events in the cultural life of Iravan, and many intellectuals joined this process of enlightenment. Mashadi Ismayil was the first who did everything for the development of the theater, and on March 10, 1883, he staged the one-act didactic play “Reluctant marriage” by Rzayev, a resident of Iravan. Two years later, Firidun Bey Kocharli, an outstanding educator, teacher of the Iravan city seminary, began to work hard to further revive the theater process. Thanks to his dedication, theater lovers have gathered together. They succeeded in showing Mirza Fatali Akhundzade’s comedy “Monsieur Jordan and Dervish Mastali Shah” to the audience.

Mirza Fatali Akhundzade’s “Sarguzeshti-vaziri-khani-Lankaran ” (March 21, 1888), “Monsieur Jordan and the Dervish Mastali Shah” (April 4, 1890), “Haji Kara” (October 20, 1894), Rzayev’s “Reluctant marriage” (February 17, 1890), Vasag Madatov’s “Greed Wins an Enemy” (May 10, 1892), “Girt-Girt” (November 30, 1893), Sultanmajid Ganizade’s “Dursunali and Ballibadi” (March 7, 1895) were staged and performed by Iravan theater lovers under the direction of Firidun Bey Kocharli. The city’s noble intellectuals, Tekinskis, Gaziyevs, Iravanskis, Panah Khan Makinski, provided close moral and material support to the gradually strengthening theater process.

Yunis Nuri, who appeared on the stage for the first time in 1897 and was able to show his talent soon, took the lead as a director and actor from 1890 and managed to further revive the professional theater and present more performances throughout the years. Panah Khan Makinsky organized performances in his palace to protect stage lovers from angry mobs. At the beginning of the 20th century, theater performances were also held in “Public gathering” (also called the “Intellectuals club”) and the Janpoladov brothers theater buildings. The troupe included amateur actors such as Huseyn Salmanov, Mammadaga Shahtakhtli (Shahtakhtinsky), Rza Sheikhzadeh, Mirza Mustafa Rajabov, Asaf Bey Shafibeyov, Karim Ahmadov, Ali Mazhun Akbarov, Mir Abbas.

In the years 1900-1917, the Azerbaijani theater in Iravan made significant achievements in terms of actors’ performances, director’s works, and composition of repertoire. During these years, the members of various theater troupes of Baku joined forces and went on tour to different cities of the Caucasus, including Iravan. The tours of Huseyn Arablinski, Abulfat Vali, Sidgi Ruhulla, Mirzaga Aliyev, Jalil Bagdadbeyov, composer Zulfugar Bey Hajibeyli in Iravan encouraged local enthusiasts to work more vigorously and acquire new professional qualities.

It was during that period that the repertoire of Iravan’s theater lovers expanded in richness, diversity and variety of genres. The repertoire included Nariman Narimanov’s “Nadir Shah”, Yevgeny Chirkov’s “Jews”, Jean Baptiste Moliere’s ” The Doctor in Spite of Himself “, Mirza Fatali Akhundzade’s “Hekayati Molla Ibrahim-Khalil Kimyagar” (1910. Director Yunis Nuri), Abdurrahim Bey Hagverdiyev’s “The Collapsed Alliance” (July 25, 1910. Director Huseyn Arablinski), “Unfortunate Young Man” (February 4, 1911. Director Yunis Nuri), Najaf Bey Vazirov’s “Tragedy-Fakhreddin” (May 10, 1911. Director Sidgi Ruhulla), Zulfugar Bey Hajibeyov’s “Fifty-Year-Old Young Man” (November 22, 1912. The director is the author himself), Alexander Ostrovsky’s “Who is to blame?” (July 25, 1913. Director Yunis Nuri), Uzeyir Hajibeyli’s “Mashadi Ibad” (August 19, 1916. Director Rza Sheykhzadeh) plays. The Azerbaijani women’s appearance on the theater happened earlier in Iravan, unlike Baku and Tbilisi. Tamara, the daughter of the butcher Asad, played the role of Gulchohra in Uzeyir Hajibeyli’s operetta “Arshin Mal Alan”, which was shown in 1916. This was great courage and unparalleled sacrifice for that time.

The years 1918-1927 were an important stage in the activity of the Iravan theater as a separate period in terms of the formation of interesting, valuable and professional features with aesthetic realities. Famous works staged at the beginning of the 20th century have been prepared for performance again and in more perfect production. At the same time, the repertoire included Huseyn Javid’s “Sheyda” (March 18, 1926) in Yunis Nuri’s production, Shamseddin Sami’s “Blacksmith” (June 7, 1924), Jalil Mammadguluzade’s “Corpses” (July 20, 1924), Abdurrahim Bey Hagverdiyev’s “Fairy Witch” (August 30, 1924), Uzeyir Hajibeyli’s “Asli va Karam” (May 10, 1927) in Bagir Jabbarzade’s production. The theater troupe performed in Zangezur, Goycha, Vedibasar, and Ulukhanli districts, which are the ancient ancestral lands of Azerbaijanis, in addition to Iravan. On March 15, 1928, there was a government decision “On establishing the State Turkish Theater in Iravan”. The work of organization was entrusted to Yunis Nuri, an experienced artist and a self-sacrificing champion of our national stage art. The core of the troupe was made up of local amateurs, as well as talented young people from various theaters of Baku and graduates of the Azerbaijan State Theater School in Baku were involved in the collective.

“The Doctor in Spite of Himself ” comedy by French dramatist Jean-Baptiste Moliere was chosen for the grand opening ceremony of Iravan State Azerbaijan Drama Theater as an institutional art center. The first performance of the comedy directed by Yunis Nuri was shown on April 14, 1928. With this artistically-aesthetically more important second stage of the Iravan Azerbaijan Theater began.

For ten years, the theater hosted Jafar Jabbarli’s “Aydin” (August 14, 1928), “Sevil” (December 16, 1929), “Almaz” (November 14, 1934), “Yashar” (1934), “In 1905” (May 13, 1935 ), “Bride of Fire” (1936), in translation “Pepo” (January 31, 1930), “Inga” by Anatoly Glebov (under the title “Inje”. November 7, 1930), “Namus” by Alexander Shirvanzade (December 25, 1934), Soviet “Plato Krechet” by Alexander Korneychuk and “Attack” by Boris Lavrenyov in interesting productions. Ashraf Yusifzade (Dovlat Bey) and Hamid Ibrahimov (Aydin) in “Aydin”, Ali Zeynalov (Elkhan) in “Bride of Fire”, Yunis Nuri (Allahverdi) in “In 1905”, Jamil Aliyev (Niyaz) in “Yashar”, Gafar Haggi (Babakishi) in “Sevil”, Khadija Ismayilova (Inje) in “Inje”, Ismayil Dagestanly (Rustam) and Ali Zeynalov (Seyran) in “Namus” are remembered for their high artistic performances. Several productions of director Yusif Yulduz, who was invited from Baku, strengthened the tendency of the theater towards monumentalism.

In 1938-1947, the Iravan State Azerbaijan Drama Theater further strengthened its professionalism and expanded the search for style and form of the national directorate. In the theater, Ali Shahsabahli, who came from Tiflis, and Bakhshi Qalandarli, who received professional education in Petersburg, strengthened the romantic and realistic style lines of the art center by preparing interesting productions, and were able to achieve the rich performance of the actors. The drama “In 1905” (February 14, 1935) directed by Bakhshi Galandarli became an artistic victory of the theater. Following, in the same year, the theater was named after Jafar Jabbarli.

The performance of William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello” (1944) directed by Ali Shahsabakhli played an important role in the theater’s creativity. Ali Zeynalov (Othello) and Abbasgulu Taghiyev (Iago) played the main characters in the play. During this period, the theater showed a number of previously played works to the audience in repeated productions. At the same time, new plays took an important place in the repertoire. Collective Mirza Fatali Akhundzade’s “Haji Kara” (Haji Kara – Ahmed Safayi and Yunis Nuri), Sabit Rahman’s “Wedding” comedies, Samad Vurgun’s “Vagif” (Vagif Ali – Zeynalov, Gajar – Ali Shahsabahli, Ibrahim Khan – Mammadbagir Karakhanov), Suleyman Rustam’s “Qachaq Nabi” heroic dramas, Abdurrahim Bey Hagverdiyev’s “Fairy Witch”, Jalil Mammadguluzade’s “Corpses” tragedies (in a new and artistically more perfect structure), Mirza Ibrahimov’s drama “Hayat” on a contemporary theme, achieved serious artistic success. The performances of Sandro Shanshiashvili’s “Anzor”, Alexander Pushkin’s “The Stingy Knight”, Alexander Ostrovsky’s “Innocent Culprits”, and Jean Baptiste Moliere’s “George Danden” have enriched the genre and style of the theater.

Although it was a dramatic art theater, Uzeyir Hajibeyli’s “Arshin Mal Alan”, “Mashadi Ibad” operettas, “Leyli and Majnun”, “Asli and Karam”, Zulfugar Bey Hajibeyli’s “Ashiq Garib”, Muslim Magomayev’s “Shah Ismail” operas were performed to the audience in different productions. The Iravan State Azerbaijan Drama Theater was moved to Basarkecher district in 1948 as a result of mass pressures against Azerbaijanis in Armenia. The theater, which switched to a self-financing principle, was closed in early 1949 due to financial difficulties.

At that time, professional actors and actresses such as Yunis Nuri, Mammadbagir Karakhanov, Ali Shahsabahli, Jamil Aliyev, Abbasgulu Taghiyev, Shavket Aliyeva, Aziz Suleymanov, Gazanfar Malikov, Naiba Aliyeva, Roza Huseynova, Zuleykha Babayeva, Mammadrza Ganizade, Khadija Ismayilova, Huseyin Araboglu, Asaf Alikhanov, Asgar Rahimov, Gulzar Rahimova, Midhad Rasulzadeh, Isfandiyar Huseynov, Nubar Alikhanova worked in the theater. Ismayil Dagestanli, Kazim Ziya, Ali Zeynalov, Ashraf Yusifzadeh, Ayyub Hagverdiyev, Ashraf Guliyev, Ataya Aliyeva, Gafar Hagqi, Ibrahim Huseynov (Shunasi), Hasan Agayev, Imamverdi Bagirov, as well as well-known actors Mammadsadiq Nuriyev, Kamal Gubushov, Zakir Shalibazov who were awarded the honorary titles of “People’s Artist of the USSR”, “People’s Artist of the Republic of Azerbaijan”, “Honored Art Worker”, “Honored Artist” worked as actors in Iravan theater in different years.

Rahim Mammadov prepared artistic design of the performances in the theater, and Eyvaz Eyvazov, the head of the orchestra, composed the music. In 1928-1934, the Iravan State Azerbaijan Theater operated in the semi-basement near the main square of the city. Since 1935, its plays were performed once a week in the building of the Iravan State Musical Comedy Theater. Bakhshi Qalandarli, one of the leading artists of the theater, was awarded the title of “Honored Art Worker”, Yunis Nuri, Ali Zeynalov, Mammadbagir Karakhanov, Ali Shahsabahli, Jamil Aliyev were awarded the title of “Honored Artist”.

Iravan State Azerbaijan Drama Theater (1967-2004)

In 1966, on the initiative of Yunis Rzayev, Gasham Aslanov, Israfil Mammadov, Akbar Iravani, and Sabir Rizayev, among the intellectuals living in Iravan, the issue of restoring the Iravan State Theater was raised before the Armenian government. The Azerbaijan government supported that zealous patriotic call. In February 1967, the students of the acting faculty of the Azerbaijan State Theater Institute were sent to Iravan to restore the theater together with their art teacher Nasir Sadiqzade. Devoted young people began intense rehearsals of Jafar Jabbarli’s drama “Sevil”. Experienced artists among the local theater lovers Jamil Aliyev, Abbasgulu Tagiyev, talented young people Elmira Ismayilova, Raya Gafarova, Samad Abbasov were accepted into the troupe. Tariyel Gasimov, Aydin Shahsuvarov from Nakhchivan theater, Zemfira Aliyeva, Nisa Aliyeva from Ganja theater, Zarnishan Fataliyeva, Tamilla Abdullayeva, Zemfira Sadygova from Baku were invited to Iravan theater. The Iravan State Drama Theater named after Jafar Jabbarli opened its curtains on April 28, 1967 with the play “Sevil”. The second life of this resurrected art center has begun. “Sevil” performance was arranged by Nasir Sadığzade. The main roles were performed by Zarnishan Fataliyeva (Sevil), Tariyel Gasimov (Balash), and Zemfira Aliyeva (Gulush).

Shortly after the opening of the theater, Nasir Sadiqzade returned to Baku. Tofig Agayev, who just graduated from the Azerbaijan State Theater Institute, took the chair of the theater’s chief director. His first work in the team was the production of Sabit Rahman’s comedy “Aligulu is getting married”. The main roles in the play were performed by Aydin Shahsuvarov (Aligulu), Nisa Rzayeva (Govhar), Raya Gafarova Gumral), Shamil Demirchiyev (Khalil), Tariyel Gasimov (Rovshan), Zarnishan Fataliyeva (Yasamen), Sara Aliyeva (Humay), Vidadi Aliyev (Kamal), and Zemfira Sadıgzade (Saadat). The theater presented Najaf Bey Vazirov’s comedy “Out of the rain shower, into the rain downpour” in an interesting production. Rahim Rajabov (Haji Gambar), Raya Gafarova (Yeter), Tariyel Gasimov (Jabi), Zulfugar Abbasov (Ashraf Bey), Huseyn Ismayilov (Gidi Kirva), Jahid Hilaloglu (Major Khudaverdi) performed the main roles in the play. The Iravan State Drama Theater, which declared its realistic dramatic creative platform with the performances “Sevil”, “Out of the rain shower, into the rain downpour” and “Aligulu is getting married”, also showed that it is capable of the lyrical-psychological style, which has just taken successful steps in our national stage art, with Shikhali Gurbanov’s drama “Sensiz”(Without you) (December 25, 1968. Stage director Tofig Agayev).

Gradually, the lyrical-psychological style began to determine the main aesthetic principles of the creative face of the theater. The Iravan theater, which defined its poetic features at the junction of these two styles, by staging Uzeyir Hajibeyli’s “Mashadi Ibad” (March 2, 1970. Stage director Tofig Agayev), “Arshin Mal Alan” (May 20, 1981), dramatist Sabit Rahman and composer Emin Sabitoglu’s “Hijran” (December 9) 1985), dramatist Maharram Alizade and composer Agasi Mashadibeyov’s “Whose wedding is it?” (February 24, 1972), dramatist Majid Shamkhalov and composer Zakir Bagirov’s “Mother-in-law” (February 10, 1975) operettas gained competence and experience.

After the restoration of the Iravan State Azerbaijan Drama Theater, its creativity was divided into two stages: its activity in the city that bears its name (1967-1988); and the second stage after the brutal genocide committed by Armenians against Azeri Turks, the theater left Iravan and moved to Baku (from 1989 to the present day). Tofig Agayev did successful work in the formation of the Iravan theater in the direction of a new style, and in enriching the means of aesthetic expression of the troupe. He left the directorship in 1970 as a result of conflicts within the theater. The theater worked without a chief director until 1977. In 1973-1974, the venerable stage director Bakhshi Galandarli took over the creative management of the theater, but he could not overcome the stagnation in the collective. 

At the insistence of the theater members, Tofig Agayev returned to his native theater after a seven-year break. The director, who pays special attention to the elegance of form, variety of genres, and richness of repertoire, was able to create an opportunity in the creativity for powerful actors’ performances of the Iravan theater with his elaborate productions. Yusif Azimzade’s “Nasreddin” (December 25, 1968), “Baghdasar Dayi” (March 9, 1969) in translation, Imran Gasimov and Hasan Seyidbeyli’s “What are you living for?” (December 6, 1970), Huseyn Mukhtarov’s “My grandmother is getting married” (May 10, 1978), Anar’s “City’s summer days” (May 20, 1979), Anatoly Safronov’s “Don’t trust men” (December 30, 1980), Azad Abduli’s “The Thirteenth Chairman” (December 26, 1982), “One Servant of Two Masters” by Carlo Haldoni (December 30, 1983), “Sarguzashti-vaziri-khani-Lankaran” (March 15, 1984) and “Monsieur Jordan and the Dervish Mastali Shah” by Mirza Fatali Akhundzadeh, “The Man Who Fell from a Star” by Karl Witlinker (May 11, 1984), Aleksandr Makayonok’s “Tribunal” (February 20, 1986), Ilyas Efendiyev’s “Atayev Family” (May 5, 1987), Mar Bayciyev’s “Husband and Wife” (February 15, 1988) plays, despite certain shortcomings, ensured the main creative successes of the collective.

During the period of 1967-1988, the Iravan theater was prone to creative searches. For this purpose, the theater has periodically invited both experienced and young directors, whose creativity they believe in, from various art centers of Azerbaijan.

In this theater Nasir Sadigzade directed “Elbrus Marries” by Georgi Khugayev (May 4, 1972), Hidayat’s “Love Lives” (February 1976), Zulfugar Abbasov directed “Flames” by local author Aziz Suleymanov (November 10, 1967), Jafar Jabbarli’s “Pale Flowers” (November 10) 1968), Najaf Bey Vazirov’s “Haji Gambar” (December 10, 1972), Hilal Hasanov directed Mirza Fatali Akhundzade’s ” Hekayati Molla Ibrahim-Khalil Kimyagar ” (November 15, 1971), Sabit Rahman’s “Wedding” (December 24, 1974), Vali Babayev directed poet-playwright Bakhtiyar Vahabzade’s “The Second Voice” (February 25, 1971), Agakishi Kazimov directed “Golden Chain” by Shamil Khurshud and Ashraf Hajiyev (July 10, 1978), Hidayat’s “Don’t blame me” (May 14, 1981), Nahid Hajizade’s “Life is not waiting for us” (May 31, 1982), Niyaz Sharifov directed Akram Aylisli’s “There’s a vacation to Baghdad” (March 19, 1979), Vagif Sharifov directed Rovshan Agayev’s “Seven males, one female” (March 7, 1983), Huseynaga Atakishiyev directed Nariman Hasanzade’s “Among the Signatures” (April 28, 1980).

In 1978, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Iravan theater’s functioning with state status, Abbasgulu Taghiyev and Shamil Demirchiyev were awarded the titles of “Honored Artist of the Republic of Armenia”, and the director of the theater, Hidayat Orujov, was awarded the title of “Honored Worker of Culture”. In 1978, the Iravan State Azerbaijan Drama Theater toured Baku. Actors Vidadi Aliyev, Tamilla Abdullayeva and Marietta Karimova were awarded the titles of “Honored Artist of the Republic of Azerbaijan” for the artistic achievements of the theater.

In 1967-1986, the Iravan theater was located on the third floor of the city secondary school named after Mirza Fatali Akhundzade. However, since there was no possibility to perform a play there, the theater performed its performances on rent in the building of the Russian State Drama Theater named after Stanislavsky. Touring performances were regularly shown in the regions inhabited by Azerbaijanis.

As a result of the brutality and ethnic cleansing committed by Armenian nationalists against our compatriots in Western Azerbaijan since 1988, the theater, whose property was confiscated, was deported from Iravan under the guise of being sent on tour to Neftchala region. However, the theater, which has braved such trials many times and did not lose heart, has proved its right and ability to live this time as well. In a few years, the collective rebuilt its theatre, which was destroyed to its foundations. After national leader Heydar Aliyev returned to power at the request of the people in 1993 and implemented the necessary measures, in 1995 he ensured that the Iravan Theater returned to the field of professional creativity in Azerbaijan for the second time with state status. Since then, a new serious creative process has started in the displaced theater.

As a result of the hard work of art devotees such as Elmira Ismayilova, Tamilla Abdullayeva, Vidadi Aliyev, the theater was able to maintain its uninterrupted activity and integrity until the year 2000.

From 2000 to the present day, with the attention of the Great Leader Heydar Aliyev and President Ilham Aliyev to the theater, the dynamic development and successes achieved in the Iravan theater have been increased by the intense, creative searches of the current team. New construction works carried out on the ancient traditions of the theater, strengthening of the material and technical base, bringing talented creative young people to the theater, enriching the repertoire in accordance with the long-term perspective activity program, the involvement of famous directors and well-known actors such as V. Asadov, H. Atakishiyev, B. Osmanov, M. Farzalibayov, O. Gurbanov, F. Maharramov, G. Omar in the preparation of new plays was important in revitalizing the creative process.


Ilham Rahimli, Azərbaycan teatr tarixi (dərslik) (Bakı: Çaşıoğlu, 2004)