The people of Shusha made it the pearl of the Caucasus, the cradle of our culture, the mugham-singing heart of Azerbaijan
Khurshidbanu Natavan (15 August 1832, Shusha – 1 October 1897, Shusha) was a female Azerbaijani poet and philanthropist. She is considered one of the best lyrical poets of Azerbaijan. Her poems are in either Azerbaijani or Persian languages.
Natavan was also the daughter of Mehdigulu Khan, the last ruler of the Karabakh Khanate (1748–1822).
Natavan was born on August 15, 1832 in Shusha. His father was Mehdigulu Khan (1763-1845) and mother Badir Jahan Begüm (1802-1861). Being the only child in the family and descending from Panah Ali Khan, she was the only heir of the Karabakh khan, known to general public as the “daughter of the khan” (Khan gizi). Her name Khurshid Banu originally comes from Persian language, which means “Lady Sun”. She was named after her grandmother – Khurshud Begüm, daughter of Javad Khan.
After her father’s death, she inherited vast amounts of lands from her father including 1,315 households, 41 nomadic territories and 7 villages at age of 14. She was put in care of her aunt Gawhar agha who taught her music, poetry and painting. She married Kumyk noble Khasay Utsmiev in 1847. She inherited additional number of 9 villages from her mother Badir Jahan Begüm in 1861 after her death. She founded and sponsored the first literary societies in Shusha and in the whole of Azerbaijan. One of them called Majlis-i Uns (“Society of Friends”) founded in 1864 that became especially popular and concentrated major poetic-intellectual forces of Karabakh of that time.
Natavan was closely engaged in philanthropy, promoting the social and cultural development of Karabakh. Among her famous deeds was a water main that was first laid down in Shusha in 1872, thus solving the water problem of the population of the city. The local Russian “Kavkaz” newspaper wrote at the time: “[Khurshidbanu-Begum] left an eternal mark in the memories of the Shushavians and her glory will pass on from generation to generation”. The aqueduct built by Natavan from famous Shusha white stones were called by the population of the city as “Natavan springs” and were also considered historical monuments under protection.
Natavan also did a lot for the development and popularization of the famous breed of Karabakh horses. Natavan’s Karabakh horses took part in the Exposition Universelle (1867), agricultural exhibition in Moscow (1869), in Tbilisi (1882) and were awarded golden medals and certificates of honour. Karabakh horses were also awarded at the Second All-Russian Exhibition in 1869: Meymun – silver medal, Tokmak – bronze medal. At the Exposition Universelle (1867) in Paris, Khan got a silver medal.
Humanism, kindness, friendship and love were the main themes of Natavan’s ghazals and ruba’yat. These sentimental romantic poems express the feelings and sufferings of a woman who was not happy in her family life and who lost her son. Many of these poems are used in folk songs nowadays.
Natavan died in Shusha in 1897. She was buried in Aghdam in a family burial vault. After the occupation of Aghdam District by Armenia during the First Nagorno-Karabakh war of 1991-1994, her tomb was destroyed and bones were stolen.
Along her grave in Aghdam, the Soviet-era monument of Natavan in Shusha by sculptress Hayat Abdullayeva, and other famous monuments of Karabakh Azerbaijanis including Uzeyir Hajibeyov and Bulbul, which once decorated the central streets of Shusha, were severely damaged and dismantled by Armenian occupying forces. Polad Bulbuloghlu, then the Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan bought the bronze busts from a Georgian scrap metal yard and transported them to Baku.
The British journalist Thomas de Waal, who saw the monuments in Baku, wrote:
“I saw the three bronze heads, forlorn and pocked with bullets, lying in the courtyard of the headquarters of the Red Cross in the center of Baku: the poet [Natavan], an earnest girl in a head scarf reading a book, missing a thumb; the composer Hajibeyov, a bullet-ridden gentleman in double-breasted suit and broken spectacles; and [Bulbul], a famous singer with a serious domed bronze forehead”.
The monuments were kept in the yard of the Azerbaijani Museum of Arts in Baku for many years, with Natavan’s bust finally returning to Shusha on 16th January 2021 after the liberation of Shusha by the Glorious Army of Azerbaijan during the Second Karabakh War.