Azerbaijan International

Winter 2004 (12.4)
Pages 72-73

Heirloom Book Published

Scary Tales Our Grandmothers Told Us
by Gulnar Aydamirova and Aytan Aliyeva

Fairy Tales - Tutu Publishing House

Above: The new Fairy Tale book, Mystic Tales (Sehirli Naghillar) published by Tutu Publishing House. Nusrat Hajiyev did all the llustrations. UNOCAL and STATOIL sponsored the project.

Finally, there's a fairy tale book published in Azerbaijan of such beauty and elegance, that it's worth passing down as an heirloom, generation after generation. Tutu Publishing House has just come out with a 240-page, oversize, full-color, fully illustrated, gilt-edged hardback volume called Mystic Tales.

This beautiful edition just won the top prize for "Craftsmanship" at the major Big Book Exhibition held in Moscow this past July. "This was an important victory for us and for Azerbaijan," said Tarlan Gorchu, Artistic Director and driving force behind Tutu Publishing. "It proves that although we are experiencing difficult times in publishing, we do have talented artists, writers, and designers who can produce books that win fiercely competitive prizes at international exhibitions."

Several years ago, when the Mystic Tales project was being conceived, Mike Barnes, Manager of Unocal Khazar in Baku, got involved and understood its unique legacy to folklore and artistic literary endeavors in Azerbaijan. Together with Statoil, these two oil companies provided the economic support, which gave birth to this milestone.

Fairy Tales - Tutu Publishing House
Left: Latest project of Tutu Publishing House: an heirloom gilt-edged book of fairytales in full color and fully illustrated.

Fairy tale books have always been very popular in Azerbaijan. Even during Soviet times when thousands of books were published each year, such books, even those of lowest quality were in high demand, according to Tarlan. Even when other books remained on the shelves, fairy tales sold quite easily since folklore is an integral part of life. Every child grows up listening to fairy tales told by their mothers and grandmothers.

"Our aim was to publish the most monumental book ever produced about Azerbaijani fairy tales," said Tarlan, when describing his vision for the book. "That's why we decided not to rush this job." Indeed, it ended up taking one year to select, rewrite and edit the 12 tales, and two more years to create the art work and design the book.

"Since there are so many fairy tales in Azerbaijan, we knew we couldn't publish all of them," said Tarlan. "That's why we decided to concentrate on 'mystic tales', which are full of supernatural elements, including divs (monsters).

That's when they consulted Maharram Gasimli, Director of the Literature and Folklore Department at the Academy of Sciences, along with Ilham Rahimli and Zeynal Mammadli. Most of these Azerbaijani fairy tales had been collected during the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, during that period, personal tape recorders did not exist that would have guaranteed the authenticity of the tales. Folklorists were sent off on expeditions to remote areas to collect the tales. However, their methodology was dubious. They knew that they would be paid according to the quantity of pages they produced so there's no wonder that they lent a hand to enhance and expand the stories themselves. On other occasions, some of the tales were modified or censored because they did not fit the strict guidelines of Soviet ideology, in terms of Socialist Realism where contentment was supposed to have spread throughout the land.

Fairy Tales - Tutu Publishing HouseOf course, the original version of such stories can rarely be traced, and it's only natural that each storyteller always injects his or her own vision of reality and world experience into the telling of these tales. These are natural processes that take place in any oral medium any place in the world.

Mystic Tales is based upon TUTU staff's own literary tastes. The twelve folk tales that were selected are: Bakhtiyar, Divbecha, Pari khanim (Mrs. Pari), Malikmammad, Dash uzuk (Stone ring), Shahzade Bandali (Prince Bandali), Tapdig, Ayghir Hasan (Stalion Hasan), Nar Giz (Pomegranate Girl), Guru Khala, Ibrahim, and Goychak Fatma (Pretty Fatma; an Azerbaijani version of the well-known fairy tale, Cinderella).

Tarlan based the design of Mystic Tales on the Koran. "It is our Holy Book and is always revered and treated with care; you can never knowingly allow it to get damaged. The most talented artists are always involved in the design. That's exactly what we wanted for Mystic Tales. We wanted to convey the importance of this book through its design."

Publishers in Azerbaijan have fallen on hard times these days. It's economically very difficult for them despite the desperate need for books to be printed in the new modified Latin script that was adopted a few weeks after Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union. Fourteen years later, there are still only a few books available in the new alphabet.

During Soviet times there were hundreds of bookshops in the city. Most have closed; a few dozen remain open. Demands for sales have declined dramatically. "We can't gain enough profit from sales to reinvest in new projects," says Tarlan. "Books are not being propagated in our country."

Fairy Tales - Tutu Publishing House
Left: Illlustrations by Nusrat Hajiyev. Visit:

Tutu Publishing has produced more than 50 books since they were established in the early 1990s. They had already published two beautifully illustrated series of fairy tales when they undertook this project. River of Fairy Tales is a series of 16 booklets (16 pages each), which feature tales collected from around the world. This series includes German, Chinese, Eskimo, Swedish, Indian (continental), Scottish, French, American and Azerbaijani tales. They are published in the Azeri language in the new modified Latin script.

Native Garden of Fairy Tales is a series of five tales representative of national minorities that make their home in Azerbaijan. This series includes tales from Talish, Avarian, Kurdish, Lezgin, and Jewish traditions. Each story is bilingual, published in its native language and script, along with an Azeri translation in the new Latin script.

Tutu Publishing is currently working on a large format coffee table book, featuring photos of the Shaki Khan Sarayi (The Khanate Palace in the town of Shaki located in the foothills of the Caucasus in northwestern Azerbaijan). Previously, they published an extraordinarily beautiful volume about Baku featuring the photography of Farid Ashrafoglu (2001). They also did the art work for the 6CDs and book written for the Vagif Mustafazade Mugham Jazz project. Tarlan has dreams for Mystic Tales to be published in English one day because he believes there is great interest among the Azerbaijani community within the country as well as those abroad. Native English speakers are also showing interest in the book as well.

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