By Amina Nazarli
Azerbaijan’s Safavid Empire covering the entire territory of contemporary Iran, Iraq and parts of Turkey, and the Caucasus, was one of the biggest and strongest regional powers entered the world map in the 16th-17th centuries.
The great founder of the Safavid dynasty Shakh Ismayil Khatai I became one of the most powerful ruler in the Azerbaijani history.
Living between 1487 and 1524, Shah Ismail is considered as the starting point for the Safavid dynasty, who left a deep pace in the history of Azerbaijan with his sword and pen. Being a magnificent ruler and beautiful poet, he laid the foundation for a strong centralized Azerbaijani state, which his grandfather Uzun Hasan aimed to create embracing the territory of great Azerbaijan.
A great personality Shah Ismail declared Azerbaijani as the state language, and wrote beautiful lyric and epic poems under the pseudonym of Khatai.
"Three pledge left us wise ancestors, and I bequeath them to you -- our language, our honor and our motherland - take care of them as the apple of your eye,” Shah Ismayil Khatai said.
Safavi Sheikhs were adherents of the Shiite branch of Islam, believing that the Sunni caliphs have no right to power.
Ismayil’s father Sheikh Heydar also was an influential commander, and exactly during his reign a powerful army of Kizilbash was created, who was called so, because instead of the traditional Turkmen peaked caps, they wore a turban with 12 red stripes fabric -- in honor of 12 Shiite Imams.
Aq Qoyunlu state was very concerned about successes and conquests of Sheikh Heydar. Ismayil was only a year old when his father was killed by the Aq Qoyunlu, and six years later he lost his elder brother Sultan Ali, also martyred by the Aq Qoyunlu state.
For six years Ismayil was hiding from his enemies in Gilan -- in the palace of Mirza Ali, who was faithful to Safavids. Ruler of Aq Qoyunlu Rustam urgently requires the issuance of Ismayil, and sent threatening letters to Mirza Ali. Making sure in their futility, he sent 300 horsemen to the palace.
A legend says that Mirza Ali puts little Ismayil in a cradle, and hung him from a tree branch, and when Rustam’s people came for Ismayil he swore them on the Koran that “Ismayil is not on the ground of Gilan”. Thus, the attempt to stifle Ismayil in the cradle did not come true.
Within years of hiding, Ismayil studied science and military affairs before emerging at the age of 12 years to take over Azerbaijan. Young Safavid collected a huge force: faithful people from all over Azerbaijan, Asia Minor and elsewhere flocked to Ismayil.
Soon young Ismayil with thousands of devotees led his army in a war of conquest, fighting in the front ranks and inspiring his associates, thus gradually taking control of all of today's Iran, as well as Iraq, the Caucasus, parts of Central Asia, and western Afghanistan.
“In the very early years it was obvious that the teenager Ismayil thinks like an adult about the future of his people and unification of northern and southern parts of the homeland,” Historian Irshad Ibrahimov noted. “This quality of the young Ismayil was even noticed by European policies, in particular, Italian diplomats such as Konstantino Laskari and Giovanni Morosini, who held diplomatic talks with young Ismayil.”
After the capture of Tabriz in 1501, he assumed the title of Shah of Azerbaijan and declared his independence from the Ottoman Empire.
“Ismayil’s commanding abilities were observed since his boyhood. In his 13 years, having at his disposal just a 7,000-cavalry-army, he defeated the enemy army of 20,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry army. On this historic event, the commanding abilities and capabilities of the statesman abilities of young Shah can be compared with Alexander the Great,” the historian stressed.
When the Safavids came to power, Shah Ismayil was proclaimed ruler at the age of 14 or 15.
Most of present-day Iran fell under his control by 1510 and he took the title of Shah of Persia, proclaiming Shiism the state religion of his empire with Tabriz as the capital.
Later on when Shiism was declared the ruling faith on all the Safavi territory for strengthening their authority Shah Ismayil paid special attention to the idolization among the wide people masses.
During his rule the state became to be called Azerbaijan and Turkish for almost a century remained the state language.
Thus, the struggle for the unification of Azerbaijani lands ended with the establishment of the Safavid state -- the powerful country with Azerbaijani Turks tribes, composing the backbone of the state, enabled to compete with the Ottoman State in the next two centuries.
Shah Ismail I died suddenly in 1524, at the age of 37 in Ardebil, where he arrived to worship the tomb of his father. He was buried there in the Safavid tomb -- Darul-Irshad.
“In my short, tempered my God lives, I have done for you, dear descendants, all I could. I tried to combine the power of the sword to pieces our tormented region. That's what all my gains were sent,” he said.
The poetry of Shah Ismayil
“A handful of the native land, I assessed more valuable that handfuls of gold, one short word in our language is more expensive than any jewelry. In the name of the eternal life of both -- the motherland and mother tongue -- I did everything I could,” one of the Shah Ismayil’s poem says.
During his 37-year-long life Ismayil did not only create and stretch the great state of Azerbaijan, but also played special role in development of native literature. Shah was a great poet, who wrote under the pen-name of Khatai.
“Shah Ismayil Khatai was very fond of his native Turkic language as well as Azerbaijani people, creating brilliant epic work in his native language. His diplomatic letters to foreign (European) countries, he wrote in Azerbaijani Turkic language (Turkish dialect of Azerbaijan),” Ibrahimov noted.
He produced a large volume of lyric poetry in Azerbaijani, and also a number of didactic and philosophical works, among them the poems Ten Letters and The Book of Morals.
This is the first work written in Azerbaijani language on this theme. The poem presents ten letters from Lover to Beloved written in the form of epical-lyrical tahkiye. Gazels given in the text serve to disclose the mood of the heroes.
Khatai also wrote in didactic genre and created the epic 'Nesihetname', calling to breeding and training of younger generation.