Azerbaijan International

Spring 2006 (14.1)
Pages 32-33

Bayati Poetry
Laments in the Prison Camps
collection by Ahmad Jafarzade

One of the most popular forms of Azeri poetry is the "bayati", which is a traditional genre of lyrical poetry. It is considered to be a folk literary genre. The tone of bayatis here is reflective, introspective and mournful - like laments - which express the heartbreak and concerns of the people. Typically, bayatis are best known in oral performance - not written - form.

These bayatis were collected by Ahmad Jafarzade between 1955-1956 while he was imprisoned in hard labor prison camp in Siberia. Ahmad has identified the person who recited these works by name, date of birth, and village or town of origin. Unfortunately, we have no other information about these individuals. Nor do we know if they actually composed these bayatis, or whether they had merely heard them, memorized and shared them with Ahmad as poetic expressions reflecting their own sentiments. Ahmed collected all of these bayatis from men; though women, too, are very involved in the creation and recitation of this popular genre.

Bayatis follow very strict stylistic rules. Each verse consists of four lines with seven syllables. The third line is based on free verse, while the other three lines must rhyme. The main idea of the poem is always encapsulated in the last two lines.

Ahmad's collection was hand written in a copybook, which is now in the possession of his nephew Turan Ibrahimov who passed them to us. The cover reads (in Russian): "Materials of Verbal Folk Art" (collected from among the prisoners in Camp 137/52 of the Unjlag Ministry of Internal Affairs) 1955-1956.

Prison camp at Tayshet in Siberia, 1955. Ahmad organized an ensemble of song and dance in prison as he had a theater background from Baku. Later on, this Siberian performance group became well known in the Soviet Union but it started among prisoners led by Ahmad.
Left: Prison camp at Tayshet in Siberia, 1955. Ahmad organized an ensemble of song and dance in prison as he had a theater background from Baku. Later on, this Siberian performance group became well known in the Soviet Union but it started among prisoners led by Ahmad.

Fortunately for us, these bayatis passed censorship, despite how critical they are of the conditions under which prisoners were kept. The censor's notes read (in Russian): "No forbidden notes. Compilation is purely of amateur interest." June 17, 1956. Signed: Chief Censor I.S. Molafayev. Translator P.A. Avakyan [an Armenian who obviously knew Azeri and had translated these bayatis into Russian so that censors could understand their content].

This is the first time these bayatis have ever been published; therefore, we are making them available for both our Azeri and English readers. The translation from Azeri into English was done by Gulnar Aydamirova; editing by Betty Blair. Note that in English, these bayatis lose their rhyme and rhythm but still the reader gets an idea of the content.

The following bayatis were told by Aghamirza Vali oghlu Dadashov, a peasant born in 1916, who came from Padar village, Shamakhi region of Azerbaijan.

Azeri version of the following Bayatis

Siberia is a Land Far Away
Being there is like being in a grave
Many go there, but none return
Maybe it really is a grave.

Siberia is My Enemy!
My grief has reached its climax
May Siberia be destroyed!
This land of sorrows.

On the Roads of Siberia
Snow covers the bushes.
Who can't recognize the prisoner?
Whose hands are in chains.

The enemy captured us
And imprisoned us underground.
Russians helped me
In both bad and difficult days.

I'm like a leaf floating on water
Far from my Motherland.
Days pass, life passes.
I'm a prisoner all my life.

My gazelle can't walk.
It can't run gracefully
No one can tolerate
This misery I stand.

Poppies bloomed in the mountains
Flowers and poppies blossomed in the mountains
Hitler came as a misfortune from God
To us miserable people.

(Following source: Safar Gurban oghlu Aliyev, a worker born in 1910, who came from the Shuvalan district near Baku, Azerbaijan.)

No one comes from Baku
No one speaks or laughs
I am full of grief
There is no one
To wipe away my tears.

(Following source: Mahammad Zurabadze, a peasant of Turkish origin born in 1921, who came from the Akhalsk region of the Ajar Autonomous Soviet Socialistic Republic.)

Our king oppressed us,
Our sighs reached the sky,
But we didn't discover our entire lives
What our guilt was.

The following bayatis were provided by Asad Mammad oghlu Hasanov, born in 1905, an Azerbaijani shepherd from the village of Okhchuoghlu, Amasiya region of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.)

Sooner or later, the black pot boils over
And the road leads to Shirvan.
Don't worry, my cousin,
Those who are separated will be united again,
Sooner or later.

I'm in love with Arzurum.
A road leads to Arzurum
Life is so bad
Having to endure every difficulty.
(Note: Arzurum is a town in eastern Anatolia, Turkey.)

I faced God's fury
He had no mercy on me
He filled my cup with sorrow
And made me drink poison.

(Following source: Nuhbala Emin oghlu Gadirov, an Azerbaijani worker born in 1912 who came from the city of Darband, Daghistan Autonomous Republic.)

If only I could speak with God,
I would let Him know what He doesn't know.
I would break the pen
With which He wrote my fate.

(Following source: Misir Yahya oghlu Talibov, an Azerbaijani collective farmer born in 1914, who came from the Marneuli region of the Georgian Soviet Socialistic Republic.)

There is someone who kneads the dough
Someone who carries water and kneads the dough
I won't die in a foreign land
Someone is waiting for me.

(Following source: Jabbar Ali oghlu Allahyarov, an Azerbaijani collective farmer born in 1884, who came from the Garakhanbeyli village of the Garyagin region.)

Oh God, help me God,
Why am I so unhappy?
God, you should also taste
The poison that you have made me drink.

(Following source: Movla Dadash oghlu Omarov, born in 1912, an Azerbaijani accountant from the Baligli village of the Amasiya region of the Armenian Soviet Socialistic Republic.)

My Koran is in my hand
My Koran and my charaka.
I won't die in a foreign land
Someone is miserable, waiting for me.
(Note: "charaka" refers to a tiny booklet compiled of small suras (verses) of the Koran.)

Shaki has mountains
It has orchards.
Angel of death, don't touch this town
Shaki has people crying for it.
(Unknown source)

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