Autumn 2003 (11.3)
Mother of Azerbaijan
to Aziza Jafarzade, Writer (1921-2003)
by Betty Blair
Left: Aziza Jafarzade. Photo by Blair. June 2002
researcher, philologist, folklorist, writer and professor, Aziza
Jafarzade was one of those wonderful "aghbirchaks"
(female community elders) who we had been interviewing to feature
in our magazine. Since Summer 2002, Azerbaijan International's
staff had visited her five times to tap into her vast reservoir
of folklore and historical knowledge. Regrettably, our sessions
were always so short. After about an hour, she would apologize,
"Can you come back sometime; I'm tired now." She was
ill those days.
We had come to love Aziza (whose name in Arabic means "dear"
or "beloved"). It was a great disappointment that she
passed away before we were able to publish her work, but she
was aware that with the help of her son Turan Ibrahimov who now
lives in Alaska, we had succeeded in making three of her recently
published books in Azeri Latin available for download on our
Web site. She was the first Azerbaijani author that we had ever
worked with to put her full-length books in compressed PDF format
on the Web. Several of her short stories are also available,
some in English translation. Search at AZERI.org.
Aziza was blessed with a rich folklore heritage that she had
learned from her mother and stepmother. Rather than dismiss these
traditional roots, she combined them brilliantly with an academic
career. From 1956 to 1974, Aziza headed the Department of Manuscripts
of the Academy of Sciences. Her doctoral dissertation in 1970
was "The Folk Style of 19th century Azerbaijani Poetry".
Since 1974, she had taught at Azerbaijan State University, lecturing
on 19th century Azerbaijani literature.
Her youth was clouded by tragedy. In the 1940s, her youngest
brother was exiled after writing a critical poem about the Communist
system. He was quite young at the time, only 15-16 years old.
Exiled for eight years, he was released only after Stalin's death
in 1953. Aziza told us, "You need not have committed a crime
to have been arrested. It was enough that you were an intellectual.
Azerbaijanis have a proverb: 'Kill the cat to scare the bride'.
That's what they did, killed some to scare others." Her
brother later went on to describe those years in exile in his
memoirs, "The Enemy of the Nation" which is included
in the book "We, The Jafarzades", which is available
According to her own count, Aziza had published 15 scientific
research books and about 40 literary works. Her first short story,
"Angel of Death" was published in the newspaper Adabiyyat
(Literature) in 1937 at the height of Stalin's repression. She
was 16 at the time.
Her articles were so numerous she couldn't remember how many
she had written. "I've simply put them in a folder and named
it, 'My Mother Said That...' and asked my son to publish them
as a collection 'after I change my world'", she told us.
Turan is also hoping to publish some of her diaries and the materials
that she had prepared for radio and TV programs as well. Aziza
was a gifted storyteller. Her short stories didn't always turn
out "happily ever after", but they always revealed
human universals that made life worth living. In a quiet, calm
voice, she implores you to listen, lest you miss some ancient
nugget of wisdom. [See her short story entitled, "Stone
on page 17].
When we asked Aziza to name her favorite work, she replied: "If
you cut one of my fingers, it will hurt. They are all my works.
I can't say which one is my favorite. Two things I was never
able to do: I never knew how much salary I really deserved, nor
how to estimate the value of my work. It always seemed something
compelled me to write; I so desperately wanted my students to
know and appreciate their heritage."
The work which brought her the most recognition was: "I
Have My Voice All Over the World". It was the first book
in a trilogy, which discusses the literary life of 19th century
poet Seyid Azim Shirvani. The second work, "Return the Motherland"
is about 17th century Nishat Shirvani; and the third, "Remember
Me," describes the literary friendship between the great
satiric poet Sabir and the romantic poet Abbas Sahhat. All three
historical novels were written between 1971-1978.
Her other major works include: "Baku-1501", "The
Mountain Hun", "Trouble", and "Tahira Zarintaj".
She had just finished her last work - a historical novel about
the poet Fuzuli, before she died.
Aziza was interested in women's lives and did her best to show
the strength and contribution that they have made to the preservation
of the cultural heritage and national identity. It was Aziza
who initiated the study and popularization of the literary heritage
of women poets and ashigs in Azerbaijan. She was the one who
went out to the villages and documented their folk songs and
formed the Ashig Pari Ensemble, which is still popular with TV
Aziza was convinced that Azerbaijan's true history is contained
in its folklore. "For the past 200-300 years, Russia has
tried so desperately to change our history and to separate us
from the Turkish world. Our bayatis contain our whole history.
Azerbaijani folklore is very rich and the truth is: most of it
has been created by mothers." She was convinced that without
women, the Azerbaijani nation would have disappeared.
Despite her lingering illness those last years, Aziza remained
active and had just finished another historical novel about Fuzuli
shortly before she died. She told us: "For me to live is
to be active. If I write, that means that I'm alive. Life isn't
a faucet that you can close when you want to. I have to live
this life and give back this inspiration that God gave me to
my nation. I don't want to pass with any of it left within me."
Aziza Jafarzade was born December 19, 1921 in Baku and passed
away on September 3, 2003, when she was nearly 82. She was buried
beside the graves of her parents, her husband and brothers in
the village of Taghli, a village in Shamakhi region, according
to the instructions in her will.
Even if I die and am buried beneath the ground,
Never think I will forget you."
For a more comprehensive
biography and listing of her works, plus full-length books and
numerous short stories (including English translations) that
may be downloaded and read, search at AZERI.org.
Turan Ibrahimov (Aziza's son), Jala Garibova and Gulnar Aydamirova
(Editorial Assistant with Azerbaijan International) also contributed
to this tribute.
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