Autumn 1996 (4.3)
How the Dove Became the Bird of Peace
The following legend has been included in the latest version (1994) of the Literature (Adabiyyat) Series, printed in the new Latin script. Fifth graders (ages 10-11) in Azerbaijani public schools are being taught and encouraged to consider the consequences of war before entering into conflict.
This story is particularly significant, given the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, which has been going on entirely on Azerbaijani soil since 1988 and which has resulted in economic and psychological hardships for nearly every citizen. In 1993, when this school text was being prepared, the country was experiencing the greatest displacement of population in its entire history. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis were forced to flee their homes as Armenian military forces took about 15 percent of their territory (which they still hold today). And yet, in spite of all this, the implicit lesson that educators chose to emphasize at that time was "think peace".
Long, long ago, there were two Shahs (kings) who lived in kingdoms in the East and who held grudges against one another. Over the years, they became angrier and angrier and were constantly threatening each other.
Finally, one of them announced, "I'm going to make war!" Everybody prepare for war!"
Now, the other Shah had not been to war for 15 years. Therefore, he had nearly forgotten where his armor and battle clothes were stored. The day before the war was to begin, the Shah asked his mother: "Bring me my helmet."
His mother went away but soon returned empty-handed.
"Why didn't you bring my helmet?" he complained.
"I couldn't lift it. It was too heavy for me," she replied.
The Shah was surprised and decided to go and get the helmet himself.
But his mother stood in front of him, blocking his path. "Please, please, don't touch the helmet," she begged him.
"But mother, I am a Shah. How can a Shah go to battle without his helmet?"
So his mother told him the secret. "A dove has built a nest inside your helmet. And inside the nest there are three tiny baby doves lying so safe and secure. Don't touch them. Please don't touch them. Doves are the most peace-loving birds of all. They never harm anybody. Every day the mother leaves the nest and brings back food. She tries so hard to keep the babies safe. How could I dare destroy their home? If I as much as laid a finger on your helmet, the mother dove would get scared and fly away, and then the tears and sighs of the innocent baby doves might bring misfortune and disaster to our country. This time, son, why don't you go to war without your helmet?"
The Shah listened and decided he could not argue with his mother, and so he decided to go to battle, bare-headed.
A Shah at war without his helmet? The thought amazed the other Shah so much that he asked, "Where's your helmet? Why aren't you wearing your helmet? How can you go to war without your helmet?"
"A dove has built a nest for her three little chicks in my helmet. My mother didn't want me to destroy the dove's nest so I came to battle without my helmet."
The warring Shah could not believe his ears so he sent his advisor to check if these words were really true. After a while, the advisor returned and said, "Yes, it's true. There really are little doves nesting in his helmet."
The warring Shah was so astonished that after pausing for a moment, he extended his hand to the helmetless Shah.
"Let's make peace together. Let's make peace forever. Your mother didn't want you to destroy even the tiny nest of the three baby doves and the mother dove. How then can we destroy the homes of thousands of people?"
And so the two Shahs signed an agreement to keep peace forever. And from that day onwards, the dove had become known as the symbol of peace.
From "Adabiyyat 5," Baku: 1994.
From Azerbaijan International (4.3) Autumn 1996.
© Azerbaijan International 1996. All rights reserved.