Spring 2004 (12.1)
Pens: In Pursuit of Truth
by Betty Blair
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"
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.
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 AZgallery.org
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)
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 AZERI.org - "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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