On January 10, Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev, prominent Azerbaijani industrial magnate and philanthropist, would turn 190.
Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev was one of the most famous and respected oil magnates not only in Azerbaijan, but also in Russia and all Muslim world. First of all he was known as a Maecenas. Here is one significant fact: Muslim, Russian, Armenian and Jewish charity societies of Baku elected him the honorary chairman.
Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev was born in 1821 in Baku. His father was a shoe-maker.
After his mother's death and his father's second marriage, he started learning masonry to help provide for his family of seven (sisters). Their family was not rich, so Zeynalabdin had to start working in the early childhood. He began as an apprentice of one mason in Baku and bricklayer at the age of six. His dedication to work ensured quick professional advancement and at 18, he was already a contractor. By mid 1873 along with two companions, Sarkis brothers, he purchased land near the oil-booming town of Bibi-Heybat, a few kilometres to the southeast of Baku. The intention was to discover oil, however all their attempts were in vain. After a while, Taghiyev's companions sold their share to him and returned to Baku. It was not long until oil gushed forth from one of the wells in 1877 leading to Taghiyev's instantly becoming one of the richest men in the Russian Empire.
Taghiyev invested his fortune not only in oil business, but also in many other projects such as a textile factory (one of the 28 textile factories functioning in Russia at the time) and industrial fisheries along the shore of the Caspian Sea. He arranged for the construction of a mosque and evening self-education courses for the employees of the textile factory, a school for their children, a pharmacy, a first-aid post and a mill. Taghiyev invested significant sums into the textile, food, construction and shipbuilding industries, as well as in fishery. Later, in 1890, Taghiyev bought the Caspian Steamship Company, renovated it and created a fleet of 10 steamboats.
Despite the decades of anti-bourgeois Soviet propaganda that followed his lifetime, Taghiyev is revered by Azeris for his charity work. He sponsored the construction of the first Azeri national theatre in 1883 (known as the Azerbaijan State Theatre of Musical Comedy) and helped to repair it after reactionists burned it down in 1909. In 1911, he covered all the expenses for the construction of what would later become the Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre.
Taghiyev provided 184,000 roubles to build the first secular Muslim school for girls in the Middle East in 1898–1900. He personally obtained the permission to build the school in his correspondence with Empress Alexandra. He also sponsored the construction of a school of agriculture in Mardakan in 1894 and the first technical school in the Baku Governorate in 1911. He helped to solve the water crisis in the city by helping to finance the Shollar water pipeline, which channeled water 100 miles away in the Caucasus Mountains, near Quba, via a ceramic pipeline. He provided scholarships for many Azeri youths who strived for higher education in prestigiuous Russian and European universities. Some of them, such as writer Mammed Said Ordubadi, politicians Nariman Narimanov and Aziz Aliyev, professor Khudadat bey Malik-Aslanov, and opera singer Shovkat Mammadova, later rose to prominence. Though illiterate himself, Taghiyev was a proponent of academic enlightenment for the young generations of Azeris. While the clergy created obstacles for the publishing of secularism-oriented literature such as that by Seyid Azim Shirvani, Taghiyev would assist in getting it printed in his private publishing house in Tehran.
Taghiyev also allocated 11,000 roubles for the construction of the head office for the Muslim Benevolent Society in Saint Petersburg; 3,000 roubles for the education of Armenian orphans; 5,000 for the St. Nina's School for Girls in Baku; 10,000 roubles for the construction of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Baku; tens of thousands of roubles for the construction and repair of mosques and madrasas throughout Russia and Persia., etc.
For his outstanding contributions, Taghiyev was twice-awarded with the Order of Saint Stanislaus, as well as with a number of other orders and medals from both Russia and abroad.
After Azerbaijan's Sovietization in 1920 the country's wealthy suffered severe repressions from the Bolshevik government resulting in the emigration of many of them. Taghiyev's house and his other possessions were therefore confiscated. Due to his past contributions and generosity, he was given an option of choosing a place of residence for himself. Taghiyev chose to stay in his summer cottage in the village of Mardakan, not far from Baku. He died there four years later, on 1 September 1924 of pneumonia. After his death, the summer cottage was confiscated and Taghiyev's family members were driven out of it. His wife Sona, once a wealthy, educated and charitable noblewoman of the Caucasus, died in misery on the streets of Baku in 1938.
The Azerbaijan State Museum of History is located in the former Taghiyev mansion in Baku. In 2005-2007 the mansion was completely reconstructed upon the initiative of the Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
There were industrialists much richer than Taghiyev, but no one is comparable with him by the scale of his charity and philanthropy. Unfortunately, the contribution he made to development and enlightenment of Azerbaijan and its nations is not appreciated at its true value up to now.