Azerbaijani Fairy Tales

by Murad Jalilov

Growing up Goychay, Azerbaijan, I would always hear my grandmother telling tales of old, some more interesting than others. She always told them at night in her loud-yet-soothing voice. The ones that stuck out the most were the fairy tales that were meant to frighten, such as “Adamcil” (Man-Eater), a tale of a humanoid with long horns and claws, covered in fur, eating human corpses, and “Isah and Musah,” the tale of a bird that mimics the cries of two brothers lost in a forest. These tales had a certain eerie charm to them and always blended with the mysterious nature and sounds of the night.

One of the better ways of introducing the public to a new culture is through folklore, more specifically fairy tales. As an immigrant from Azerbaijan, I’ve seen the current trends in American society where diversity is being somewhat celebrated, despite the current political rhetoric. It made me realize that I have something of my own to bring into this country and to its culture.

Azerbaijan’s geographical position as a country between the Middle East and Europe, surrounded by countries such as Russia, Iran and Turkey, made it an ancient hub for cultural exchange, creating a relatively unique folklore. The story that reflects this the most is “The Tale of Malikmammad,” about a young prince who journeys into the Dark World and has to face creatures from European folklore, like ogres and dragons, and a creature from Turkic folklore called the Emerald Bird (Zumrud/Konrul). There are also Azerbaijani versions of western tales such as “Cinderella” (“Göyçək Fatma”) and “The Three Goats” (“Şəngülüm, Şüngülüm, Məngülüm”). There are also plenty of tales about animals, usually with human traits, such as “Trickster Goat,” which tells the story of a goat that outsmarted a bear, a wolf, and a fox.

Unfortunately, a very limited number of Azerbaijani fairy tales have been translated into English, one of them being “Jirtan: The Little Boy Who Fought Monsters,” published in Azerbaijan International Magazine in 1996. Beyond this example, it is almost impossible to find English translations for fairy tales in the language, even for those that are known well among the Azerbaijani people, and it’s a shame that so much folklore is lost behind the language barrier. Fortunately, the age of information has connected people from around the world, making it much easier for cultures to share their heritage online for all to read and translate. Other than websites dedicated to collecting fairy tales and folklore, for me personally the web makes it easier to stay in touch with my relatives in Azerbaijan on a much more frequent basis, which allows me to ask them for fairytales that have never been recorded online or in print.

It is essential that these fairy tales are translated into English and introduced to the wider public to add the voice of a culture that has been silent for years. Unfortunately, there is little interest in literarily translating Azerbaijani literature into English among those who speak both languages, and there are even fewer people versed in creative writing in English on a college level. Azerbaijani fairy tales will bring new ideas and enrich the literature that is available in English. For this reason, I have been inspired to add the cultural artifacts I brought with me, in the form of fairy tales, to the ever-growing melting pot that is the US, through literary translation.

Read Murad Jalilov and N.K. Valek’s translation of “The Trickster Goat” below.

Continue reading Azerbaijani Fairy Tales

Editor’s Note: Understanding Anarchism: The Stone Soup Tale

The media is awash with think pieces on anarchism. What a time to be alive.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought that within my lifetime I would see black bloc or Antifa become household words. But following the Inauguration Day protests in D.C., and in the aftermath of the white supremacist assaults and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, these terms are on the tongues of, or are at least being googled by, average Americans who never before have cracked the spines of a Bakunin volume, or even considered that anarchy has a meaning beyond its being maligned as a synonym for chaos.

The hot takes on the ethics of violence, and the vivisections of community defense strategies are riveting, the kind of sexy that scores the clicks. What’s missing from the conversation is an examination of what the overwhelming bulk of anarchist theory really looks like in practice. The vast majority of everyday anarchists have never slung a Molotov cocktail, and are far, far more likely to regularly wield a soup ladle as their weapon of choice. Your garden-variety anarchist is probably digging in your local community garden as we speak.

In my experience, most of what anarchists do is feed people.

In fact, one of the most elegant illustrations of anarchism is to be found in a pithy folk tale, old and widely known, about a collective feast that burgeons from nothing but a rock.

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

Two strangers come tramping into town. They are wretched and lumpen, and they are hungry. They ask the town-folk for something to calm their gnawing bellies, but are turned away, told at each house that there is nothing to spare.

Perhaps some of the householders turn them away because they cringe at the color of the skin the travelers wear, or because the lilt of their mother tongue sounds hateful to their ears. Perhaps some fervently claim that no human deserves food without first having earned it through the selling of their labor or the proving of their virtue. Maybe even most of the neighbors truly believe that they just haven’t got enough to share.

So the hungry two wander to the river, and at least slake their thirst. One of them pulls a soup pot from their satchel and builds a fire. They fill the pot with water and drop in a stone from the riverbed. Before long, there is a pleasant aroma. The strangers begin to laugh, they sing a little. A curious villager approaches, and then another.

We are making this fine soup, they say. If only we had just a sprig of herb to help the flavor.

If only one among you had just a stump of a carrot.

…just a scrap of potato, just a splash of oil, just a sliver of garlic…

a few beans

a golden onion

Soon, there is a lively crowd of villagers eager to make their small contributions to the bubbling pot.

Everybody eats.

Then perhaps somebody brings out their drum, another produces a fiddle. Perhaps there is dancing in rings and telling of stories and nursing of babies and braiding of hair. Maybe one neighbor fetches their hammer to fix another’s wagon. Maybe some older folks teach the children the names of the trees and fungi and wildflowers that grow along the bank.

 

Anarchism is non-hierarchical, non-coercive community organization for mutual aid and benefit. People, as equals, voluntarily sharing and helping and loving their neighbors so that every individual is cared for and the collective thrives.

It may sound like a fairy tale, but it’s happening right now.

 

In hundreds of autonomous chapters across the country, anarchists in Food Not Bombs have been, for thirty-five years, collecting otherwise wasted food from individuals, businesses, and even dumpsters to create free meals for the hungry in their communities.

They make a lot of stone soup, but that’s only the beginning.

Community gardens, medic collectives, Harm Reduction projects, Really Really Free Markets, organizing workers, outlaw road repair, rogue traffic patrols, prisoners’ advocacy, tenants’ unions.

All of these things are anarchy in action.

Prefigurative politics is often described as “building the new world in the shell of the old.”

Our new world has already begun, birthed from a stone in a pot.

We are making this fine soup we say.

If only we had just a sprig of herb to help the flavor…


This editor’s note was written by Tiny Donkey editor Anna Lea Jancewicz.