In the early 19th century, the Azerbaijani people began to expand cultural relations, not only with the Trans-Caucasian peoples but also with the people of Russia, Iran and other countries, and they had to struggle for many years to create their own national press.
It was the result of this struggle that in the second half of the 19th century a newspaper, ‘Ekinchi’ (Farmworker – ed.), appeared, which was connected to the destiny of the Azerbaijani people and which was to contribute significantly to their development and revival.
‘Ekinchi’ was the first national Azerbaijani-language newspaper. It first appeared in Baku on 22 July 1875. Undoubtedly, this very fact was a significant event in the public, political and spiritual life of the Azerbaijani people. The creation of a national newspaper is the strongest indication of the national existence of any people and is an important condition for progress and evolution. It is to Hasan bey Zardabi’s credit that he took the first practical step along this very difficult path. There is no doubt at all that by its very existence, ‘Ekinchi’, considered to be the “first swallow” of the Azerbaijani press, gave a powerful impetus to the formation of a national press.
Hasan bey believed that the lack of enlightenment and science, as well as limited opportunities for education, was behind the many troubles that afflicted the Azerbaijani people. He said in an article published in ‘Ekinchi’ that when discussing troubles and difficulties there had been no mention of general illiteracy, although that was the main cause.
The language and style of the Azerbaijani press began with ‘Ekinchi’. Now, when reading old editions of the newspaper, you cannot but be amazed by the language of Hasan bey and like-minded people: they wrote simply, in a clear and pure mother tongue accessible to a broad section of the population.
The tsarist government also started to express concern about ‘Ekinchi’s mission to enlighten. The Baku governor subjected it to extremely rigorous censorship. Zardabi himself was declared “politically dangerous and unreliable” and was subjected to both covert and overt persecution. Finally, in mid-1877, the only printing house in Baku with Azerbaijani fonts refused to print ‘Ekinchi’, on instructions from the governor.
Hasan bey was offered the choice of leaving or quitting state service. He thought it was pointless to live apart from his people, so he preferred to quit state service than leave Azerbaijan. In 1878 Hasan bey was dismissed from his post as teacher at the Baki Realni school and was unemployed for about two years. In 1880, together with his family, he moved to his native village of Zardab and lived there for 16 years. He advised the villagers on crop-related issues and, when the moment was ripe, he shared his enlightened and democratic ideas. Although Hasan bey lived outside Baku, he was still actively involved in the press.
Thus, from 1880-1890 he published many popular scientific articles in the Azerbaijani and Russian languages in the newspapers ‘Ziya’, ‘Kaskul’, ‘Kaspi’, ‘Novoye Obozreniye’ etc which were based in Baku and Tiflis. In the last years of his life he held an official post in the enlightenment department at the Baku city Duma and headed schools in Baku and surrounding villages.
Dispite all of these difficulties, at present, Azerbaijani press does not depend on the political ideology. As in all over the world, the press that meets the demands of political-social environment, is available in Azerbaijan.
As in democratic countries, the main target of 140-year-old press is to protect the state security, territorial integrity and the formation of a democratic society. Azerbaijani media propagandizes against all kinds of terrorism.
No doubt, a violation of the territorial integrity, political balance in our region and other factors hinder the development of democracy and the media in Azerbaijan. However, Azerbaijani media is committed to the principle of writing and protecting the truth as it was 140 years ago.
In this direction, it cooperates with its colleagues in the democratic society and builds relationship. Azerbaijani press does not only prefer freedom of speech and idea, but also continues to operate on the basis of the interests of its own state and society as in all democratic countries.