In this section we discuss the key aspects of Azerbaijani literature that are unique to Azerbaijan, including forms of poetry and mythology and folklore. Stories often find themselves at the heart of society, they shape communities and inspire attitudes towards life. This is no different in Azerbaijan where there is a vast history of tales and stories which have claimed special places in the hearts of its people.
Azerbaijani literature, similar to many art forms, reflects the life and times of the country in its own medium; in script. In Southern Azerbaijan for example, language, art and spiritual values have been under pressure over the last 80 years, due to political and financial changes. Literature has tended to reflect this pressure in the recurring themes of rebirth, revival, separation and self-assertion.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and gaining of independence by the Azerbaijan Republic in the north, in the early 1990s, also had an strong impact on literary culture in Southern Azerbaijan. Notably, as a result of these events, TV channels from Turkey and the Azerbaijan Republic were broadcast via satellite to Iran. Undoubtedly, acts of freedom, such as the barbed wire at the border being removed and the unification of the Azerbaijani people, gave relations in art and literature room to grow and develop.
National revival has occurred periodically in Azerbaijan in parallel with key historical events. Consequently, in literature, the people have first expressed this in the mother tongue, Azerbaijani.
Nizami Ganjavi holds an important place in Azerbaijani literature history. He was one of the most influential Azerbaijani writers of all time and despite his works being published in the 12th century is vastly well known today for changing the poetry of that era. He is perhaps best known for his 5 long narrative poems written to address various rulers. He often wrote in Masvani style, a technique which here means double rhymed verses. His 5 narrative works were also known as ‘Five Treasures’ and each individually told a story. The first narrative ‘The Treasury of Mysteries’ contained varying amounts of philosophical and theological debate, his other narratives were largely focused around different romantic tales such as the classic forbidden lovers or the journey in search of love. There is also a narrative based around the life of Alexander the Great in the story called ‘Eskandar-nameh’. These poems are highly held in Azerbaijani society and appear as an essential part of literature history.
Azerbaijan has a national tendency towards the romantic. To this end poetry is very popular. Generally lyrics of traditional Azerbaijani poetry ranges between love and socio-political poetry, in keeping with both the turbulent history and shared preferences of the people.
The main types of poem writing style in Azerbaijan are commonly:
Poems dedicated to love. Some of the best examples of Ghazal’s have been written by: N. Ganjavi, M. Fuzuli, İ. Nasimi, S. Shirvani, amongst others.
Are longer in amount of ‘hemistichs’. Qasida poets write in solemn, flamboyant style and typically express public concerns and problems. In a ‘Minajat’ type of Qasida, the poet asks for spiritual aid and praises Allah. In the ‘Fakhriyya Ode’, the poet proudly speaks about himself.
A Qita looks is much like the short Ghazal but poets usually express more socio-political, moral and educational topics and thoughts.
This poem has social, philosophical content. Ruba poets write in a ‘hajaz bahr of aruz’ rhythm, and the type recall’s Omar Khayyam (X century), a great Rubai poet. Mehseti Ganjavi is also recognised as an outstanding representative of Rubai and noteworthy in Azerbaijani literary history.
This is a genre specific to literature of Turkic people. Tuyuq in Turkic means ‘ to feel’ / ‘feeling’. A Tuyuq consists of four stanzas, and is usually includes wise content. Tuyuq poets use the rhyme system ‘ramal bahr of aruz’. G. Burhaneddin is probably the most well known name associated with the Tuyuq in Azerbaijani literature.
In Murabbe, each section consists of four ‘hemistich’, in its first couplet of Murabbe, all ‘hemistich’s’ rhyme.
Each couplet of ‘mukhammas’ consists of five ‘hemistich’. Poems of M. P. Vagif, “I did not see” and G. Zakir’s, “Does” are perfect examples of Mukhammas.
The meaning of the word is six. It is genre of poetry having the six-‘hemistich’ in each couplet. It consists of 6-10 couplets. M. A. Sabir’s, “Sattarkhan” poem is the best sample of Musaddas in Azerbaijani literature.
Folklore & Myths
Folklore in Azerbaijan originates in the ancient layers of socio-ancestral culture. Originally, these were creative works with literal meaning on forming of the world, man and all we know – including Allah and gods ruling the world. This traditional Azerbaijani art-form is of particular importance for a culture of proud literature, romanticism and lyrical music.
Azerbaijan mythology runs in close parallel to Turkish mythology. For example, both Turkic and Azerbaijani mythology refer to the main mythic images like Tanry (Heavenly Tanri- main allah) and Humay (all of the earth).
Azerbaijani mythology is rich with old faith, beliefs, anthropomorphic and often zoomorphic meetings. Traditional stories that are passed through generations are, evidently, strongly integrated into culture and the expressive arts in Azerbaijan.
The Maidens Tower
The Maidens tower is a popular landmark within Baku’s old town entrenched in stories, often a symbol of legends within Azerbaijan.A popular tale tells the story of the naming of the Tower –
The people of Baku were being threatened by invaders, so they locked themselves in a fire fortress tower and prayed for salvation. A woman with fiery hair came down and assured their safety. The commander of the enemy army offered a proposition of one to one combat which would result in either them leaving or claiming all inhabitants of the tower as slaves. The woman accepted the challenge and in disguise won the battle. On the realisation that the warrior was a woman he cried of her beauty and power and asked for her hand in marriage she accepted allowing the safety of the people to be secured.
Thus, the tower was named ‘maiden tower’ after her bravery.
Another popular story of ‘The Maiden in The Tower’ depicts a king who falls in love with a maiden as he tries to apprehend her for marriage she kills herself by plummeting for the tower to her death. This well loved story was actually one of the first films that Azerbaijan made. It was filmed in the actual tower for this film but has been performed across traditional stage and word of mouth, as well as via new media mediums such as cinema.
This story has a number of different versions, though unfortunately the finale of the story is mostly tragic.
Stories are told to us from a very young age often forming from fairy-tales passed down through generations. One of the most well-known Azerbaijani fairy tales is of ‘Jirtadan’. Jirtadan is presented as a very small boy, much smaller than the other children of his age. This story teaches young children to be strong and full of wit despite their size and advantage as despite being presented as too small to do most things on his own, he eventually defeats a monster that has him and his friends trapped. Teaching children that no matter your size and your ability you must always be brave and that you always have some form of strength within you.
Silk Road Stories
The Silk Road also caused storytelling to thrive within Azerbaijan. In the early era Azerbaijan was part of the silk road trade route which expanded through out a lot of the middle east and Europe. Due to the long distance of travel and the often harsh conditions travellers had a large expanse of time to entertain themselves therefore stories were often passed down it from person to person. One story which can be noted is the ‘Lion and The Hare’ a traditional fable of cunning wits beating brawn. A lion rules the animal kingdom and would ask for animals to present them food or be eaten , when it was the Hares turn he instead tricked the lion into a well by claiming there was a rival inside. This would teach the lesson that intelligence can be used to overcome problems.