Spring 2003 (11.1)
of Wisdom for Life
by Gazanfar Pashayev
Other articles by Gazanfar
to Turkmen in Iraq - Azerbaijanis in Iraq - Little Known People (Spring 11.1,
The following proverbs were gathered
from Azerbaijani people living in Iraq who are known as Turkmen,
and sometimes called Turkman or Turkoman. They are believed to
have first immigrated to Baghdad around the 7th century. An estimated
2.5 million Turkmen live in Iraq today, and speak Azeri as it
is spoken in Southern Azerbaijan (Iran), where an estimated 25
to 30 million Azerbaijanis live.
Though proverbs may appear to be about the nature of objects
and animals, these pithy traditional sayings are really meant
to show others how society expects them to deal with fundamental
dilemmas and struggles in life. Rather than reprimanding someone
directly about their inappropriate behavior, Azerbaijanis prefer
to draw from their large repertoire of conventional folk wisdom.
This is perceived as being a gentler, more effective way to get
one's point across. Many of these time-tested proverbs or "Fathers'
words" ("atalar sozu", as the Azerbaijanis call
"proverbs") published here would suggest that the Turkmen
living in Iraq have had a long history of suffering and, consequently,
have grown very cautious and circumspect.
Photos: (Below four books)Folklorist Gazanfar
Pashayev collected Karkuk Turkoman (Karkuk) while living in Iraq
in the 1960s and 1970s. He has since published 10 books in Azerbaijan.
Here are a few of the proverbs compiled by Azerbaijani folklorist
Gazanfar Pashayev and published in his book, "Anthology
of Azerbaijani Folklore of Iraq-Turkmen," Vol. 2. Aghridagh
Press: Baku, 1999. All of these proverbs of the Turkmen / Karkuk
people living in Iraq are identical to or have only been slightly
modified over the centuries from the sayings used by Azerbaijanis
in the Azerbaijan Republic today. AI staff member Aynura Huseinova
provided the interpretations and the translation from Azeri into
Don't sleep in a place so
low that a flood can carry you away.
Don't sleep in a place so high that the wind can blow you away.
(Be moderate and cautious.)
Stretch your legs [only to]
the length of your blanket.
(Don't expose yourself to harm and insecurity. Stay within your
Walk barefoot and the thorns
will hurt you.
(If you don't live according to societal norms, you may regret
After the cart is broken,
many people will offer advice on how to fix it.
(Similar to the English expression, "Hindsight is 20/20."
It's easier to see the appropriate solutions for problems after
a catastrophe, not while you are in the process of experiencing
If you get burned while drinking
You'll even try to cool your "ayran" drink more.
(This is similar to the English expression, "Once burned,
Azerbaijanis prefer drinking milk that has been slightly warmed;
however, they drink "ayran", a traditional drink on
summer days, chilled. When you get hurt in a way that you don't
anticipate then you become very cautious about ordinary situations.)
The snake hates mint
But the mint grows at the entrance of its home.
(Sometimes you have to compromise and deal with circumstances
that you aren't very happy about.)
Whatever you put in your
pot comes to your spoon.
(Similar to the English expression, "You've made your bed,
now lie in it." You must live with the consequences of your
First God looks at the mountain,
Then He sends the snow.
(You get what you deserve.)
If you don't step on a snake,
it won't bite you.
(Similar to the English expression, "Better safe than sorry."
Avoid trouble and it will avoid you.)
The person who spends time
with people who are lame,
Learns how to limp.
(Your environment influences your behavior.)
If you go to the bathhouse,
you will sweat.
(Know and accept the consequences of your choices.)
Save your wealth for days
Save your youth for old age.
Hold on to the straws [hay],
one day you will need them.
(Similar to the American aphorism, "Waste not, want not."
Conserve resources: don't be wasteful.)
The fish rots from the head.
(Corruption starts from the top -the key decision maker.)
Blood is dripping from his
(His actions hurt others.)
Don't swear in the name
of my grandfather who was a slave,
And I won't swear in the name of your grandfather who was a wealthy
(A person's ancestry is sacred, no matter what reputation they
When you're sitting in a
Don't quarrel with the ship's owner.
(Similar to the English expression "Don't bite the hand
that feeds you." If you are benefiting from someone, don't
abuse them, or there may be dire consequences.)
A donkey with a load is
still a donkey.
(The true character of human beings who are evil is still evident
even if presented as respectable. The proverb is used in a negative
way about people of bad character.)
A wolf cub will become a
(A person's roots will determine who he becomes.)
Grass grows from its own
(Things resemble that which they originate from.)
He eats with wolves and
bleats with the sheep.
(He is hypocritical and two-faced.)
Studying is as difficult
as digging a grave with a needle.
(Knowledge comes with hard work.)
[If] You are a master, [and]
I am a master.
Who will milk the cows?
(Similar to the English expression, "Too many chiefs, not
enough Indians." If everyone is a supervisor, none of the
work will get done.)
Drop by drop fills the lake.
(Similar to the meaning of the English expression, "A journey
of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Progress
takes place in small increments.)
If a tree is not consumed
by insects from within,
It can live for a thousand years.
(Internal struggles, not external ones, are what destroys a nation
The goat is struggling against
But the butcher thinks only about the fat.
(Each person has his own agenda and personal interests. Here
fat is viewed positively because it makes the meat tasty.)
Unless the fish is in the
There is no bargain.
(Similar to the English expression "Don't count your chickens
before they are hatched." You must have something tangible
to offer if you expect to have any advantage in bargaining.)
Everybody laughs at the
person who falls down.
(Don't expect people to be sympathetic when you fail.)
The enemy of trees is insects.
The enemy of human beings is pain.
A wall is destroyed by humidity,
A person is destroyed by sorrow.
When you are hungry, you
don't think of honor.
Azeri version: A hungry person is not afraid of the sword.
(Desperate times call for desperate measures. When it's a question
of survival, there are no rules, regardless of dire consequences.
What is there to lose?)
The person drowning in the
sea will even grasp at a snake.
Azeri version: A person drowning in water will grasp even at
a straw (hay).
(In desperation, you will do anything to survive.)
Just by saying, "Honey!
Honey!" doesn't make your mouth sweet.
Azeri version: Just by saying, "Halva, Halva!" doesn't
make your mouth sweet. (Halva is a traditional sweet prepared
from butter, flour and sugar.)
(Similar to the English expression, "Actions speak louder
than words." Words are empty: you have to work to make things
To learn more about Azeri proverbs
and expressions, visit AZERI.org,
Click "Learn Azeri" to find more than 120 proverbs
published in Azeri and English translation. The Web site AZERI.org is a creation of Azerbaijan
International magazine and features articles in Azeri Latin and
Azerbaijani literature in English translation as well as Azeri
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