In 1906 a group of Muslim Azerbaijani and Georgian artists and intellectuals of Tbilisi (modern Georgia) published the periodical Mollā Nasreddin. Their journal reinterpreted the tales of the Middle Eastern trickster by the same name to construct a progressive anti-colonial discourse with a strong emphasis on social, political, gender, and religious reform. Using folklore, visual art, and satire, their eight-to twelve-page weekly, which had full-page lithographic cartoons in colour, reached tens of thousands of people across the Muslim world, impacting the thinking of a generation.
The editor Jalil Mamedqolizadeh, and several writers grew up in Azerbaijani-speaking Shi’i communities of South Caucasus with strong affinities to Iran. Several contributors traveled regularly to Iran to visit, to start new businesses, or occasionally to flee from dire political situations in the Russian Empire. Hence it is possible to think of the journal as a transnational diasporic journal that was heavily influenced by Iranian cultural and social practices. Like many other diasporans, the writers felt torn between their close religious, cultural, and ethnic bonds to Iran, their desire to assert their Azerbaijani language and cultural heritage, and the need to further assimilate within the greater Russian society to succeed professionally. This feeling of in-betweenness, of wanting so deeply and passionately to belong to one place or the other, and yet finding that there really was no one place where one could find oneself “at home”, vividly comes through in many columns, poems, and graphics.