Azerbaijan International

Spring 2004 (12.1)
Page 12

Passionate Pens: In Pursuit of Truth
by Betty Blair

Something there is about the human brain that loves a story - especially a story, well told. What is it about the wiring of the human brain that enables us to remember a story developed chronologically much better than simple facts presented in a straightforward manner? Scientists have yet to explain this phenomenon; yet, storytellers, no doubt, have known the power of their art since the beginning of mankind.

And thus, Azerbaijan International magazine, for the third time, is dedicating our Spring 2004 (AI 12.1) issue to literature - "Passionate Pens in Pursuit of Truth: Azerbaijan Literature". In the past, we featured "Contemporary Literature" in Spring 1996 (AI 4.1), and "Century of Reversals: A Literary Perspective" in Spring 1999 (AI 7.1).

Together these three issues comprise, by far, the largest collection of Azerbaijani Literature translated into English since independence (since 1991). With few exceptions, this is the first time that any of these works are appearing in English.

Why literature again?
One could argue that if you know a country's literature, you know much about that society's reality, practices, beliefs and world view. But great writers are able to transcend their own historical and geographic settings and delve into universals and issues that all mankind face. In that sense, literature plays an even grander role and makes us conscious that we are not alone as members of the human race.

But there's a more pressing reason why we chose literature for our Spring issue. These days in the West as we all scramble to put more locks on our doors, and our nations empty their purses, employing tens of thousands of people in non-productive security jobs, allegedly to keep out terrorists, we would do well to remind ourselves that the consequence of such frenzied decisions impacts upon each of us. Such policies breed suspicion, skepticism and lack of belief in humanity. As a result, as individuals we become even more isolated and lonely.

Left: Art by Gorkhmaz Afandiyev, visit for more works.

In such times, we need literature more than ever to remind us that, in truth, there are far more similarities, than differences, that we share with others who live beyond our borders, and it is friendship and respect for each other that will make the world a safer place.

In the case of Azerbaijan's literature, we think there is much to gain by carefully studying what was going on in the minds of those who were confined for decades in the seclusion of what we called "the Iron Curtain".

Perhaps, Azerbaijani and other writers of the former Soviet Union can offer us clues as to how to deal with this phase in our own history. If writers hold up a mirror to society, which most critics suggest they do, then, we sense in these short stories and poems that the average person living in the Soviet Union felt incapable of influencing government on a grand scale, and, thus, turned inward, exploring the psychological caverns of the mind over which he had some control. Many stories here are just that - basically, stories of character development. Many deal with the theme of loyalty: Who can you trust? Who can you turn to for help when your life depends upon it?

Curiously, perhaps, predictably, Azerbaijan's writers born in the 1930s at the height of Stalin's Repression - when hundreds of thousands of citizens were murdered, exiled, and imprisoned - are the ones recognized today as the most distinctive voices in the nation; for example, Anar (born 1938), the Samadoghlu brothers - Vagif (1939) and Yusif (1935-1998), the Ibrahimbeyov brothers - Magsud (1935) and Rustam (1939), Sabir Ahmadli (1930), Khalil Reza Uluturk (1932-1994), Akram Aylisli (1937), Mammad Araz (1933), Ali Karim (1931), Fikrat Goja (1935) and others.

As Anar, President of Azerbaijan's Writers' Union, has pointed out about his generation of writers, "We grew up surrounded by hypocrisy, falsifications, lies, ignorance, and misunderstandings in a State where any independent thought could be subject to death. We breathed: more accurately, we tried to breathe. We tried to express our thoughts, and feelings indirectly, between the lines, by way of allegory and symbols." Those enormous efforts under incredible pressure demanded sharp minds and the skillful use of words and storyline.

I've included a few of lines of my own poetry at the end of this volume. I make no pretense about being Azerbaijani, if blood and genes define one's nationality. But there's no doubt that the reality of Azerbaijan has shaped much of my thought, especially these past 12 years since we have been producing the magazine.

Preparing this issue has been an exciting journey for our staff. We've all gained spiritually from the process. Again, as in many of our issues, we apologize that we have merely scratched the surface, but we hope that our efforts serve to introduce a new world to many of our readers and that more Azerbaijanis will be challenged to contribute to the translation process, not only from Azeri and Russian into English but into other languages around the world.

Note also that this is the first time that most of these stories and poems are appearing in Azerbaijan's modified Latin alphabet, which was officially adopted in 1991. Originally, most of these literary works were published during the Soviet period in the Cyrillic script. We've worked hard to make them available in the new alphabet as well.

Visit - "World's Largest Web Site Dedicated to Azerbaijani Literature". You'll find short stories, poems, novels, biography, music lyrics and articles - in Azeri Latin and English translation. This Web site includes everything that we have published in these three literature issues and more. A whole new world is waiting to be discovered. Enjoy!

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