Autumn 1999 (7.3)
Speaking - Part 4
Garibova and Betty Blair
As this issue of our
magazine, "Eyewitness of the Century," provides a general
overview of many of the major events that have taken place in
the 20th century, here we focus on some of the most fundamental
stages in the human life cycle-birth and death.
Photo: Maternity hospital
in Sumgayit near Baku.
Children are dearly loved in Azerbaijani society. There are many
proverbs that attest both to the necessity and the joy of having
A home without a child is [like] a mill without water.
[Without child + house + without water + mill is]
This conveys the idea: "This is the camel that is the most
strategic for acquiring wealth, and this is the grandchild who
is most valuable among children."
[Wealth + camel, children + grandchildren]
Photo: Newborn babies are
usually swaddled in Azerbaijan.
A child is the furnishings of a home.
This means that a home without children is bare and missing something
[Child + house + furnishings is]
A newly married couple
is expected to have a child during the first year of marriage.
Although this tradition is gradually changing among the young
people, they still feel pressure from parents and grandparents
to have children. Perhaps the strongest deterrent these days
is economic, since the medical system is no longer free as it
was during Soviet times. Every medical person who assists the
mother expects compensation for his or her part. In Baku, the
cost of having a baby can range from $1,500 upwards, despite
the fact that most government jobs (still the largest employer)
pay a meager $20 to $50 per month. It's more difficult for young
people to secure well-paying jobs.
House in Baku, 1913. Photo: National Archives.
Another reason for this trend of postponing families is young
people's exposure to outside influences via TV. People watch
Turkish TV, American soap operas, Russian programming, the latest
music videos, not to mention satellite TV. Young people now have
the opportunity to study abroad where they soon learn that many
young people in the West do not marry as young and do not always
take on the responsibility of rearing children during the early
years of marriage.
the gravesite in Baku's Shahidlar Khiyabani (Martyr's Alley)
where many victims of the Karabakh War are buried. Note the red
color which symbolizes martyrdom and the stones that have been
left to mark visits that have been paid to the site. Photo: Khanlou.
Asking About One's Children
of the first questions Azerbaijanis often ask new acquaintances
is, "Do you have children?" If someone does not have
children, people usually express sympathy and pity.
A: How many
children do you have?
B: I have one son.
C: I have one daughter.
A: Why only one? One child's not enough.
D: I don't have
E: Don't worry. You are still young.
E: It doesn't matter. You'll have them, God- willing.
are always curious to find out if a newly married couple is expecting
a baby. But they don't ask directly, "Are you pregnant?"
Rather, they might say something like, "Is there any news?"
pointing to the woman's stomach with their eyes, or "Are
you expecting a baby yet?"
are often set up in the middle of the street next to the apartment
or home of the deceased. Auto traffic has to be rerouted. Men
share their grief with family members inside the tent while women
go inside the home or apartment itself. September 1999.
At the Hospital
mothers usually recover in the hospital for five to seven days.
Traditionally, maternity hospitals do not allow anyone to attend
the birthing process, though this is likely to change. Childbirth
is generally considered to be a "woman's affair", so
men are not allowed to witness it. There's no such thing as video
cameras rolling in the delivery room, as there often are in Western
hospitals. The most that anxious loved ones can do is position
themselves outside the maternity ward and follow the process
from the woman's screams of pain.
When the baby is born, the person who first informs the mother's
relatives usually says:
Give me a reward. There is a boy (girl).
[Reward + give. Boy (girl) + there is.]
This is a phrase
that refers to a gift or money. (
means something given in return for good news.) This expression
can also be used when a person's son comes back from military
duty or when there is news from a family member who is abroad.
Close relatives and friends come to visit the mother after the
baby is born, but hospital policy prohibits visitors from entering
her room. Instead, the mother goes to the window and carries
on a conversation with her visitors standing outside, even if
she is on the second floor. If she has the opportunity, she'll
hold the baby up to the window for friends and family to see.
Visitors often bring flowers to the mother. These days, mixed
bouquets are popular, but always with an odd number of flowers.
An even-numbered bouquet is reserved for funerals. Never congratulate
a new mother with a dozen roses.
The day after the mother gives birth, her mother usually prepares
a dish that is considered to be very energizing. Called "guymag",
it's a thick porridge made of flour and butter with sugar and
cinnamon sprinkled on top. It is served hot and taken to the
mother at the hospital.
Baby Comes Home
After returning home, mother and child remain in relative confinement
for the first 40 days, at least in terms of being visited by
relatives and friends. It is thought that the baby should not
be exposed to any illness or bad omen-otherwise he might fall
ill. When people finally do visit after the 40th day, they usually
bring money or baby clothes. The preferred currency is dollars
and it may be slipped under the red ribbon that is tied around
the baby, who is swaddled in a blanket. It's not traditional
for guests to hold the baby.
[Congratulations + I am making]
May your eyes be clear.
[Eye + clear + be]
This last expression
is used when someone has made an immense effort and finally reached
his or her desired goal. In the case of a new baby, it would
be directed to the parents or grandparents. It can also be used
for other occasions such as marriage, being accepted to the university
[after difficult entrance exams], getting a new job or making
a major purchase such as a house.
[Hand + palm + let it remain]
May it remain in your hand and palm.
This is a wish
that the child will survive and not die. The expression wlindwn
[\xmaq means "to go out of one's hand"-in other words,
"to lose something".
May he / she grow up to be a big boy (girl).
[Big + boy (girl) + be]
May the day come that you see his / her wedding.
[That + day + be, wedding + see]
In Azeri, the
verb "to give birth" is .
However, as this word is the same verb used for the physical
process of animals giving birth, people are more likely to use
the expression, meaning
"to have a baby". Another expression that is mostly
used among old people is "to become free", which is
These days, the grandparents still have the strongest influence
in naming the baby. Often the grandchild becomes the namesake
of the grandparents, especially on the father's side.
In Baku, families usually don't have more than one or two children.
In the countryside, however, families are larger. In the past,
there was always a great emphasis on having a male descendant.
That's why there used to be girls' names such as Tamam (meaning
(from meaning "Enough!"-No
more girls!). Today, if such names are used, it's usually in
memory of a dearly loved person in the family who had that name.
This might be where the expression "Have you come with a
boy or a girl?" originated, which means "Have you come
with good news or bad news?" A boy signifying good news;
a girl, bad news.
What did you name (him / her)?
What will you name (him / her)?
May (he / she) live up to (his / her) name.
especially grandmothers, are perceived as loving and, naturally,
spoiling, their grandchildren even more than they did their own
children. It's not unusual for grandmothers to give up their
jobs to take care of a newborn grandchild so that the family
won't have to arrange for outside child care. Family members
often use a diminutive nickname for the child to show affection.
For example, Nigar becomes Niqush, Aynur becomes Ayka, Sevda
becomes Seva, etc.
Death is in between the eye and the eyebrow.
[Death + eyebrow + eye + in between is]
expresses the fragility of life, indicating that you never know
when you are going to die, that death can come without warning.
Azerbaijanis have a tendency to try to break the news of someone's
sudden death as gently as possible. For example, if someone's
husband has been killed in a car accident, the wife is likely
to be told that her spouse is seriously injured and is in the
hospital. They don't follow the pattern so common in the West
of abruptly announcing a close relative's death. They try to
cushion the blow as much as they can.
When a person dies, the body is carried to the mosque, where
it is washed and wrapped in a white sheet. Then it is returned
home, where it lies covered in the coffin. Friends and families
come to pay their respects. Usually, men gather in one room and
women in another. A male religious representative-a Molla-will
read verses from the Koran among the men; likewise a female Molla
will lead the women's service. If many guests are expected, a
temporary tent will be set up next to the residence where the
men will gather. In such case, the women will enter and pay condolences
inside the home.
It would be considered rude just to drop by to express condolences
and leave a few minutes later. You should stay at least two or
The funeral seldom takes place on the same day the person died.
Usually, it follows on the second day at around 3 or 4 o'clock
in the afternoon. On occasion, funerals are organized for the
Certain days following a person's death are considered sacred-specifically
the 3rd, 7th, 40th and sometimes the 52nd day. The 40th day is
considered the most sacred of all. Some people believe that the
disintegration of the bones begins to take place at that time.
Usually, special gatherings take place in the home of the deceased
on these days as well as on every Thursday (the day before the
Islamic Holy day, Friday) up until the 40th day.
Traditionally, something sweet is offered guests to take away
some of the pain and shock of the news of death. Tea is served
along with halva, a sweet made out of butter, flour and sugar
cooked on top of the stove (in a more solidified form than the
"guymag" offered to women after they give birth). In
the Republic, halva is served with bread, especially lavash,
a paper-thin bread, or tandir bread ()
that is baked on the side of a mud-clay oven.
You are expected to taste something or at least to drink a glass
of tea; otherwise, the family believes the spirit of the deceased
will be offended.
After you finish eating or drinking the tea, you should say:
"May God accept it," meaning, may God accept what has
been done to respect the memory of the deceased.
[God + accept]
On the morning
of the funeral, the casket is placed next to the entrance of
the house or apartment complex. An inner wooden box holding the
body will be put inside it later on. A cloth is spread over the
casket. For older people, this covering is traditionally black,
but for younger people, it is generally a brighter color-pink,
green, blue or even red if the person has died as a martyr.
Only men attend the burial in the cemetery. Women stay home and
usually gather there the following day. It is considered too
much of an emotional overload for women to watch as the body
is lowered into the grave and covered with dirt. Flowers, usually
red carnations in pairs-2, 4, 6, etc.-are placed on the grave.
People generally do not use the verb "die"
when referring to a person's death. Rather, the euphemism, "pass
away" is expressed as Rwhmwtw getmwk or the more literary
term vwfat etmwk is used. Another expression used in more formal
occasions is "change one's world" .
expressions of condolence include:
May God have mercy upon him.
[God + paradise + do]
Let his grave fill up with light.
[Grave + light fill + up]
May this be your final grief.
[Last + grief + be]
May his (her) place be in paradise.
[Place + paradise + be]
Azerbaijan International (7.3) Autumn 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.
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