The great Azerbaijan poet Imadaddin Nasimi (1369-1417), whose name, more than six hundred years later is still known as a symbol of bravery, selflessness and determination in Near Eastern Countries. Surprisingly, however, he was flayed and then killed, because of his beliefs and radical ideas. Indeed, with his last breath, this lover of truth was unrepentant regarding his philosophy, which is why he is praised to this day in the poems of other poets and by the music of ozans.
Nasimi was one of the greatest literary craftsmen of his generation, creating singular examples of metaphysical and mystic Azerbaijani verses. By nature, he was an iconoclast; on a linguistic, pedagogic and political level. Apart from his divan (which is best understood as a book of poems) in Azeri, he created a divan in Persian and some poems in Arabic, which has gifted an original lyrical legacy to a wide readership in both the Near and Middle East. He also, created the first Azeri – Turkish examples of Hurufist ideology. That is why Nasimi is revered as one of the seven greatest poets in two of the largest sects of Islam – Alevi-Bektashi culture.
Surprisingly, however, there is not much information about the poet’s life, demonstrating a clear need for further biographical research. Most of the historical sources mention his name as Imadeddin. But there are other materials, which indicate that, the name of this poet was Ali or Omar. Moreover, he appears to be most widely known by his non-de-plume Nasimi. In which regard, he was born in 1369 in Shamakhi, geographically in modern day Azerbaijan. Yet his birthplace, like his real name, are wrapped in mystery; some claim that he was born in a province called Nesim — hence the pen name — located either near Aleppo in contemporary Syria, or near Baghdad in present-day Iraq, even though no such province has been found to exist. There are additional claims that he was born in Baku or Bursa, or Tabriz, Shiraz, or even Diyarbakir. One reliable clue has been given to scholars in the fact that his father, Sayyid Muhammed (a well-known figure at that time), lived in Azerbaijan. What is more, he had a brother, who was also a poet, who went by the pen-name of Shah Xandan. Lastly, an extra clue is to be found in that, his brother was laid to rest in the Shah Xandan graveyard in Azerbaijan.
According to Azerbaijan scholars, Nasimi took his first steps in formal education at Shamakhi city. The poet then deepened his personal researches, showing a fascination in his learning of philosophical and religious texts. Clearly, he mastered Classical Eastern and Ancient Greek philosophy, as well as literature. Digesting the Great Classics of Nizami Gancavi, Rumi, Attar and others, the young metaphysician started writing poems in his early years. Accompanying this, he acquired a working knowledge of the medical, astronomical, astrological, mathematical and logical sciences. As a natural linguist, he was fluent in Azeri, Persian and Arabic languages, proving more than capable of writing poems on an equal level of intensity.
During this time, a new philosophical movement in the Near East – known to historians as “Hurufism”, had started gaining popularity. The creator of the Hurufism is Fazlullah Astarabadi Naimi. The source of Hurufism disappears into ancient ages. Some investigators have classified this ideology as an independent religion, while others describe it in terms of a mystical sect inside Islam. In which case, modern observes need to explore this school in two quiet distinct ways: Esoteric and Lettrist.
By the end of the 1380’s, Fazlullah Naimi came to the Region of Shirvan, and began to live in the city of Baku, continuing to find supporters. Baku city became the heart of this movement. Perhaps, that is why, when Nasimi met with Fazlullah, the latter accepted Hurufi philosophies. Most probably, Naimi gave Imadaddin the pen name of “Nasimi”, and as a supporter of “Ana-l hakk” ideas, Nasimi writes in one of his poems:
Bulmuşam həqqi, ənəlhəqq söylərəm,
Həqq mənəm, həqq məndədir, həqq söylərəm.
I found the truth, “I am divine truth”, I say,
I am the whole truth, the truth is upon me; truly I say.
Neither the political nor the religious situation, however, went in their favour. The State, for its part, became afraid of the rapidity by which the new doctrine was spreading. Moreover, highly placed Islamic clerics sensed a threat to their worldly power. Therefore, Naimi was captured and execute.
In his last will and testament, Fazlullah Naimi asked all of his family, friends and supporters to hide themselves and leave the region of Shirvan. According to Azeri scholars, Nasimi, probably, married one of Fazlullah’s daughters and the couple escaped to Iraq. Popular lore has it that, Nasimi then went to Anatolia, spending a great deal of his time walking between a number of Anatolian cities. It is said that during this period the sage definitely spread the word of Hurufism to all those who would listen to him. Also, he used this time to write a collection of poems describing the hurufi movement and the achievements of his master. In one of them he wrote:
Nagəhan bir şaha düşdü könlümüz,
Üzü bədrü maha düşdü könlümüz,
Ta ki, Fəzlullaha düşdü könlümüz,
Uş həqiqi raha düşdü könlümüz.
Suddenly, to a King, we gave our hearts,
To his Lunar-like face, we gave our hearts,
When to Fazlullah we gave our hearts,
Then, to a Real God, we gave our hearts.
Favü zadü lama düşdü könlümüz,
Kə’bəvü ehrama düşdü könlümüz.
Eşqi-biəncama düşdü könlümüz,
“Cavidani-nama” düşdü könlümüz.
To Fa, to Zad, to Lam we gave our hearts,
As Pilgrims to Kabah we gave our hearts.
To love unrequited, we gave our hearts,
To “Javidanname” we gave our hearts.
It is clear from the documents that Nasimi converted a lot of people to the philosophy of Hurufism in Anatolia. With hindsight, it is easy to see how some of his prominent supporters even gained access to Ottoman seats of power.
After long time being imprisoned and persecuted in Anatolia, the poet eventually came to Halab city, and began to reside there. Once settled, he continued his work as a propagandist for the Hurufi cause. Because of these renewed activities his brother, (who worried about the poet’s life), asked Nasimi to be vigilant and stop his attempts to convert people to this new doctrine. But, the poet was firm:
Dəryayi-mühit cuşə gəldi,
Kövnilə məkan хüruşə gəldi.
Sirri-əzəl oldu aşikara,
Arif nеcə еyləsin müdara?
Universal waters became enraged,
Earth and Sky together joined
Eternal secrets became revealed
How can a Sage, make a decision?
By this the poet hoped to answer his brother, even though, his replay apparently declared that he would never stop fighting. But, Egyptian authorities, and Halab confessors alike, believed that Nasimi could be finally silenced; accusing him of atheism. Therefore, in 1417 by the order of the Halab ruler, Nasimi was imprisoned. Following a meeting of the cities religious council the poet was found guilty and condemned to death. Such a judgement, of course, needed the approval of the Egyptian Sultan who agreed with the sharia law-court, which gave orders to flay the poet alive and show his body for seven days in Halab city. Thus, Nasimi was executed in the most tragic, as well as grotesque, way imaginable. During his last days, the poet wrote deeply profound and rational poems in answer to the accusations of his persecutors. Furthermore, the strength and courage of his witness to the Truth quickly became the stuff of legend. Indeed, it is said that even as his torturers peeled the skin from his body, the defiant and logical answers he gave, both inspired and astonished those watching, these grim proceedings. Perhaps this is why, stories surrounding Nasimi’s death reached a mythic level. One tale in particular, deserves the attention of history.
While being flayed, Nasimi’s colour became yellow, due to blood loss. A confessor saw this and asked him with irony:
– If you are the Truth, why is your colour becoming yellow?
The poet replied:
– I am a Sun being born on the eternal horizon. When the Sun drowns, it will turn yellow.”
There is another point to this story: “The confessor, who had pronounced judgement on the poet said:
– He is damned. If his blood splashes anywhere, we need to amputate this body part.
Suddenly, a drop of Nasimi’s blood fell on the confessor’s finger. People then demanded that the Cleric cut off this digit.
In response, the hypocritical Confessor replied:
– This is not so much. We can clean it by washing.
At the very same moment, the flayed poet chanted his dying rebuke and said:
Zahidin bir barmağın kəssən, dönər həqdən qaçar,
Gör bu gеrçək aşiqini sərpa soyarlar ağrımaz
If you cut the finger of a hermit, he will abandon justice,
See this, truth lover, having been flayed, yet didn’t feel pain.”
Those assembled at this execution must have realised that Nasimi had spoken as the very mouthpiece of knowledge. It should come as no surprise; therefore, that he was himself influenced by the humanist ideas of the great poet Ganjavi, who introduced this ideology to Near Eastern literature. Indeed, Nasimi praised Ganjavi’s belief in humanity, dignity and human strength. He glorified each and every Human Being as the Creator of life; the original source of vital beauty. Certainly, the poet’s advanced ideas, had withstood all of the confessors assaults. Nasimi had been accused of being godless; but his pantheism had been deliberately misinterpreted. Yet his poetry was inspired by the beauty of life. Nevertheless, Nasimi did not shy away from the darker side of existence. As a true poet his work also reflected oppression, the injustice inflicted on the lower classes, the robbery by the political elite of social resources and the treachery of clerics who simply served them. This is why, Nasimi called on his people to learn the secrets of life and creation; to educate themselves and to look at existing cultural conventions with open eyes. He tried to wake them from their ignorant dreams. Moreover, his lyrics sound like hymns in admiration of the human condition in all of its glory. As we may read:
Səni bu hüsn-ü camal, bu kamal ilə görüb,
Qorxdular həqq deməyə, döndülər insan dedilər.
Seeing this beauty, this intelligence of you,
They were afraid to say the Truth,
That’s why they said, only Human, to you!
Yet this beauty, this power, is not the concern of everybody in the World, but only for those privileged few who have come to know themselves. That is why the poet called the theoretically perfect man: “the soul of my soul, the soul of my body”, and said it was important to bow before these men. On the level of humanity, Nasimi did not judge untutored, naive people, but called them to the challenge of finding themselves; to be proud of being human by upbringing, education, science, and knowledge. He even calls upon individual human beings to be “perfect man, perfectly human”. Perhaps, the deepest element of humanist thought in Nasimi’s verses is discovered in his contention of a universal Humanist Essence. Indeed, his most profound poetry exhibits the sweetness of folk-language, a rustic style with striking poetic rhythms: at the service of all humanity.
Nasimi’s work, nevertheless, represents an important stage in the evolution of poetry, not only in the Azerbaijan, but additionally in the Ottoman Divan poetic tradition. Following his death, Nasimi’s texts continued to exercise a massive influence on many Turkish language poets, and authors such as Muhammed Fuzuli, Shah Ismail Khatai , and Pir Sultan Abdal, all of whom can be counted among his followers.
Nasimi’s legacy, however, is a story of distortion. Before everything else, students of the poet, fully aware of his serious interest in Hurufism, made changes to his texts during the process of copying in order to protect the source of their inspiration. Another difficulty is to be found in the fact that not all of his poems were written in the same geographical area or at the same time: presenting potential publishers with almost endless variations of his texts. Be that as it may, the 600th anniversary of Nasimi’s birthday was celebrated worldwide in 1973 at the behest of UNESCO, with representatives from many countries taking part in the festivities held both in Azerbaijan and in Russia. Finally, a monument to the poet, in Baku city, was sculpted as a tribute to his genius. Further, commemorations include the Institute of Linguistics (at the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan), and an underground station, being named after him. Perhaps of particular note was the filmic tribute in 1973 of the Azerbaijan film, “Nasimi”, detailing his life and literature!
Еy müsəlmanlar, mədəd, ol yar pünhan ayrılır,
Ağlamayım nеyləyim, çün gövdədən can ayrılır.
Еy sənəm, hicran əlində nalеyi-zar еylərəm,
Gözlərimdən sanasan dəryayi-ümman ayrılır.
Ol səbəbdəndir ki, mən bimarü rəncur olmuşam,
Хəstə könlüm mərhəmi, şol dərdə dərman ayrılır.
Rəngi-çöhrəm zərd olubdur, qamətim həm çün hilal,
Ol günəş üzlü həbibim, lə’li-хəndan ayrılır.
Taqətim, səbrim tükəndi, yarsız mən nеylərəm?
Əqlimi şеyda qılan ol çеşmi fəttan ayrılır.
Məhşəri-yövmül-hеsab, qopdu qiyamət başıma,
Еy Yusuf surətli, məndən piri-Kən’an ayrılır.
Еy cigərsuz nari-firqətdən Nəsimi çarə nə?
Hər kimə nəhnü qəsəmna çün əzəldən ayrılır.
Hey, Muslims, from me, this secret lover is separated,
Shouldn’t weep! What to do? From body, the soul is separated.
Hey Idol, I’m yelling because of departure,
From my eyes, supposedly, universal waters are separated.
Because of these things, I’m suffering torments, grief,
Ointment for an ill heart, medicine for grief is separated.
My face colour became yellow; figure like a half-moon,
That Sun-face lover, a ruby smile is separated.
My strength, patience ended; what will I do friendless?
My mentor, with wonderful eyes, is separated.
The end of the World; Judgement day came to me,
You, Yusif face, from me, a sacred place is separated.
Hey coward, from regretful fires, Nasimi; what is the way out?
To everybody, our promise, from Eternity, he is separated.