Autumn 2003 (11.3)
"Stories My Mother Told Me"
Tribute to Aziza Jafarzade (1921-2003)
See also her short stories
and books available free for download and printing at AZERI.org
The late Aziza
Jafarzade is remembered for her short stories and historical
novels. A teacher at heart, she was always concerned that young
people become aware of their deep roots of folklore. Invariably,
she would intertwine folklore into her narrative. Here is one
of her stories based on a legend that attempts to explain the
origins of the many stone figures of sheep found throughout the
Many brave and
courageous men have lived in this world, my dears, and now I'm
going to tell you about one of them. Even though his name is
not written down in any book, everyone speaks about his courage
and heroism. Anyone who has heard of his bravery never forgets
him. Nor can I forget him. Every time I hear about him, tears
well up in my eyes. You're not supposed to shed tears over brave
Left: Stone monument resembling ram figures.
19th century. Kalbajar region.
They say that this story took place at the time of Lame Teymur.
[In English, he is known as Tamerlane or Timur. Born near Samarkand,
(now Uzbekistan) in 1336, he died in Chimkent (now Kazakhstan)
Tamerlane conquered all the territory between Mongolia and the
Mediterranean Sea and is remembered both for his barbarity and,
ironically, for the cultural and artistic achievements of his
Lame Teymur was ravaging the land and killing the people in the
Shirvan region [northwest of Baku]. In those days, a very wise
king ruled the Shirvan region. He had persuaded Lame Teymur not
to attack [meaning that he bribed him, offering gifts to stave
off his troops].
"Agsaggals" and "aghbirchaks" ["men
with white-beards" and "women with white sideburns],
in other words, the wise, old leaders of the community - had
advised the king, to bribe Lame Teymur, insisting that even if
the people of the Shirvan region were stripped of all of their
possessions, at least the Motherland would not be destroyed.
It was during those years that a certain shepherd boy was tending
shexep on the plains of Kudru. He had heard from peddlers and
caravan merchants that Lame Teymur was somewhere in the region.
Even though he had heard about him, he had not seen him.
The plains of Kudru. Springtime. At that time of year, the grass
is very high, taller than one's knees. The shepherd was very
young; you might even have considered him a child. His father
had passed away not long before and so he had taken on the responsibility
of tending the family's flock and taking caring of his mother
By then, Lame Teymur's troops had reached the plain of Kudru.
I don't know if this story is true or not, but they say that
some of his troops had lost their way in the endless desert plains
and that Lame Teymur himself was among them. They were trying
to join up with the rest of their troops, who were somewhere
resting and waiting for them. Lame Teymur's men were very thirsty.
The sun was blazing hot and their horses were panting from thirst.
The animals and troops were sweating so much that their clothes
and saddlecloths had become salty.
The members of the troops were starting to have visions of murmuring
rivers, babbling springs and wind-swept lakes. But these were
only mirages. There were no rivers or springs. There were no
lakes on the Kudru plains; there were only small ponds. In the
summer pastures, the water from melted snow collected in these
pools. Both people and sheep drank from them.
Lame Teymur's troops had not found any of these pools, except
some that had dried up. Finally, when the troops were very tired,
they came upon the shepherd boy with his herd of sheep. Lame
Teymur told his people: "I bet this boy knows where water
can be found. Where would he water his sheep if he didn't know?
Go and ask."
One of the horsemen went up to the boy and asked: "Hey,
shepherd boy, is there any place nearby where we can water our
The boy looked up at the horseman and then started poking the
ground with his staff. He replied: "Where could there be
any water around here? There is no river, no lake, no spring."
Just then, Lame Teymur approached with his men. When he heard
the boy's answer, he asked: "Then where do you water your
The boy did not reply. Lame Teymur demanded again: "Didn't
you hear what I said? Where do you water your sheep?"
The shepherd boy pointed to one of the dry pools with the end
of his staff: "Over there in the pools..."
"Don't lie to me, shepherd boy, there is no water in those
pools. They've long since dried up."
The boy thought to himself: "Everything dries up whenever
you appear." But he answered: "The spring where I water
my sheep is very small. It wouldn't be large enough for your
The despot flew into a rage: "What's that to you, shepherd
boy? Tell me where the water is! I'll give you gifts. I'll give
you money - whatever you want..."
The shepherd boy replied again, poking the ground with his staff:
"I don't need any money. And I won't tell you where the
spring is or you will make it dry up, too."
"Do you know who I am?" demanded Lame Teymur.
"Of course, I know."
"Then who am I?"
"Do you know that I can have you hanged? That I can turn
you into food for dogs? I can butcher you into pieces. Do you
The shepherd boy looked straight into Lame Teymur's eyes and
said: "I know."
All of Lame Teymur's men and troop leaders were astounded at
the shepherd boy's courage. Could a child be so brave?
"Shepherd boy, show me where the spring is, don't make me
"The water is as sacred as the land, your Highness. One
isn't supposed to show it to strangers. I wouldn't want to do
anything to betray my country."
"This will cost you dearly, shepherd boy. I feel sorry for
you because you're so young."
"Don't pity me. Let me be the one to be afraid. I'm the
one who will pay with my life."
"Cut out his tongue...No, don't do that or he won't be able
to tell us where the water is. Beat him! Beat him until he tells
us where the water is!" ordered Lame Teymur.
Two of Lame Teymur's men stepped forward and started to beat
the shepherd boy. The blows struck, like a snake, hitting the
boy on his head, eyes, shoulders and back. But still the shepherd
boy would not talk. He was as silent as a stone. He didn't utter
a word. Lame Teymur's servants continued hitting the child. At
last they stopped, seeing and that the boy was completely dripping
in blood and that they couldn't force him to say a single word.
"Bastard! It's as if his body is made of stone rather than
Suddenly, Lame Teymur's eyes met those of the little shepherd.
He froze in astonishment. He lifted the shepherd boy's shirt.
Lame Teymur's troops held their breath in amazement: the shepherd
boy had turned into stone. They looked around and saw that the
boy's sheep had also turned into stone.
Lame Teymur's men became frightened. They quickly mounted their
horses, as if they had seen the devil himself, and they galloped
away from that mysterious, strange land.
Since those times, you can see sheep made of stone and other
stone monuments everywhere in those lands. They say that the
knowledge of the shepherd boy's courage spread throughout the
villages, hamlets, and even to the cemeteries. It spread everywhere
so that everybody could see what brave sons this land had. May
this country always be the Motherland of brave men.
from Azeri by Gulnar Aydamirova. This, and other short stories
along with several novels by Aziza Jafarzade and other Azerbaijani
and international authors can be found at Azerbaijan International's
Web site dedicated to Azerbaijani literature. Search at AZERI.org.
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