Autumn 1999 (7.3)
The First Car in Baku
by Manaf Suleymanov
Oil baron Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev (1823-1924) [pronounced zey-nal-ab-DIN TAH-gi-yev] was the first Azerbaijani to import an automobile to Baku. By 1911, there were 36 cars in Azerbaijan. (Ford Motor Company had just started selling cars in 1904.) Here writer Manaf Suleymanov tells a humorous anecdote about one man's encounter with this new contraption. Whether the incident is true or not, who knows? But the anecdote is believable and very well known. It was documented in Suleymanov's book entitled "What I Heard, What I Read, What I Saw", published in 1996 by Azerbaijan Publishing House, pages 35-36.
Photo: Manaf Suleymanov (1995)
Balakhani is an outlying district of Baku [located near Baku's present-day airport] where many wealthy people used to live. Every yard had its own oil well. People from Balakhani used to wear very expensive apparel with gold and silver jewelry to all the ceremonies. The men wore "Bukhara caps" [tall black sheepskin hats from Bukhara] and their swords and pistols were inlaid with precious gems.
Some of the men were known for picking fights with one another just to boast their strength.
Photo: The first car in Baku belonged to Oil Baron Taghiyev. National Archives.
They also had a tendency to be very careless with their money and drink too much. There are stories about how, after getting drunk, they would face the wall and insist on going home straight through that wall. Masons were called to open up a hole in the wall just so that person with the full pockets could go home as he wished.
One day, one of those naïve braggarts, who had gotten himself drunk, arrived at Hashimov Square [now Fountain Square] which is located near "Gosha Gala" [the Twin Gates]. It was here that he first laid eyes on a car-the first one ever to be imported to Baku. It belonged to Taghiyev. (Soon after, the Rothschilds brought one in, too.)
The guy, in a drunken stupor, approached the driver and asked to be taken to the neighboring village of Balakhani. The driver, wanting to shrug him off, replied: "It's too expensive. You wouldn't be able to pay."
To which the naive guy reassured him that he could. "Tell me, how much is it?"
The driver gave a preposterous answer just to get rid of him. "Twenty-five manats," he said. (At that time, for such an exorbitant amount of money, you could have purchased not only an excellent coach but two fine horses to go along with it !
But the man agreed: "I'll give you 25 manats!" and he climbed up into the car and ordered the driver: "Go ahead!"
So the driver set out. As the roads were crowded, he began to honk the horn to warn people to get out of the way. But when the road cleared out, he didn't honk at all.
The naive guy asked: "Hey, why don't you continue playing your zurna?" [A zurna is a traditional wind instrument that sounds similar to an oboe.]
The driver told him not to insist upon it. Otherwise, he would have to charge him for that, too.
But the naive guy waved off the threat: "Never mind, I'll pay for it. Go ahead!"
So whenever they passed beautiful, voluptuous women, he made the driver honk the horn non-stop.
As soon as they arrived in Balakhani, people gathered around the car. In order to show off in the presence of all the curious onlookers, the naive guy asked the driver: "How much do I owe you?"
The driver replied: "That will be 25 manats for the car and 35 manats for the zurna."
The naive guy paid the driver and let him go. The curious onlookers gathered round and started asking: "What was it like? How much did you pay?"
The naive guy replied: "Actually, the car itself was much cheaper than its zurna!"
From Manaf Suleymanov's book, "What I Heard, What I Read, What I Saw," translated by Gulnara Akbarova.
From Azerbaijan International (7.3) Autumn 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.
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