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Azerbaijani literature (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan ədəbiyyatı) refers to the literature written in Azerbaijani, a Turkic language, which currently is the official state language of the Republic of Azerbaijan and is the first-language of most people in Iranian Azerbaijan. While the majority of Azerbaijani people live in Iran, modern Azerbaijani literature is overwhelmingly produced in the Republic of Azerbaijan, where the language has official status. Three scripts are used for writing the language : Azerbaijani Latin script in the Republic of Azerbaijan, Persian alphabet in Iranian Azerbaijan and Cyrillic script in Russia.
The first examples of Azerbaijani literature date to the late 1200s following the arrival of Oghuz Turks in Caucasus and were written in Perso-Arabic script. Several major authors helped to develop Azerbaijani literature from the 1300s until the 1600s and poetry figures prominently in their works. Towards the end of the 19th century popular literature such as newspapers began to be published in Azerbaijani language. The production of written works in Azerbaijani was banned in Iran (Persia) under the rule of Reza Shah (1925–41) and in Soviet Azerbaijan Stalin's "Red Terror" campaign targeted thousands of Azerbaijani writers, journalists, teachers, intellectuals and others and resulted in the changing of the Azerbaijani alphabet into one with a Cyrillic alphabet.
Modern Azerbaijani literature is almost exclusively produced in the Republic of Azerbaijan and despite being widely spoken in Iranian Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani is not formally taught in schools nor are publications in Azerbaijani easily available.
Throughout most of its history, Azerbaijani literature has been rather sharply divided into two rather different traditions, neither of which exercised much influence upon the other until the 19th century. The first of these two traditions is Azerbaijani folk literature, and the second is Azerbaijani written literature.
For most of the history of Azerbaijani literature, the salient difference between the folk and the written traditions has been the variety of language employed. The folk tradition, by and large, was oral and remained free of the influence of Persian and Arabic literature, and consequently of those literatures' respective languages. In folk poetry—which is by far the tradition's dominant genre—this basic fact led to two major consequences in terms of poetic style:
Furthermore, Azerbaijani folk poetry has always had an intimate connection with song—most of the poetry was, in fact, expressly composed so as to be sung—and so became to a great extent inseparable from the tradition of Azerbaijani folk music.
In contrast to the tradition of Azerbaijani folk literature tended to embrace the influence of Persian and Arabic literature. To some extent, this can be seen as far back as the Seljuk period in the late 11th to early 14th centuries, where official business was conducted in the Persian language, rather than in Turkic, and where a court poet such as Dehhanî—who served under the 13th century sultan Ala ad-Din Kay Qubadh I—wrote in a language highly inflected with Persian.
When the Safavid Empire arose early in the 16th century, in Iranian Azerbaijan, it continued this tradition. The standard poetic forms—for poetry was as much the dominant genre in the written tradition as in the folk tradition—were derived either directly from the Persian literary tradition (the qəzəl غزل; the məsnəvî مثنوی), or indirectly through Persian from the Arabic (the qəsîde قصيده). However, the decision to adopt these poetic forms wholesale led to two important further consequences:
Azerbaijani folk literature is an oral tradition deeply rooted, in its form, in Central Asian nomadic traditions. However, in its themes, Azerbaijani folk literature reflects the problems peculiar to a settling (or settled) people who have abandoned the nomadic lifestyle. One example of this is the series of folktales surrounding the figure of Keloğlan, a young boy beset with the difficulties of finding a wife, helping his mother to keep the family house intact, and dealing with the problems caused by his neighbors. Another example is the rather mysterious figure of Nasreddin, a trickster who often plays jokes, of a sort, on his neighbors.
Nasreddin also reflects another significant change that had occurred between the days when the Turkic people were nomadic and the days when they had largely become settled in Azerbaijan and Anatolia; namely, Nasreddin is a Muslim imam. The Turkic people had first become an Islamic people sometime around the 9th or 10th century, as is evidenced from the clear Islamic influence on the 11th century Karakhanid work the Kutadgu Bilig ("Wisdom of Royal Glory"), written by Yusuf Has Hajib. The religion henceforth came to exercise an enormous influence on Turkic society and literature, particularly the heavily mystically oriented Sufi and Shi'a varieties of Islam. The Sufi influence, for instance, can be seen clearly not only in the tales concerning Nasreddin but also in the works of Yunus Emre, a towering figure in Turkic literature and a poet who lived at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century, probably in the Karamanid state in south-central Anatolia. The Shi'a influence, on the other hand, can be seen extensively in the tradition of the aşıqs, or ozans, who are roughly akin to medieval European minstrels and who traditionally have had a strong connection with the Alevi faith, which can be seen as something of a homegrown Turkic variety of Shi'a Islam. It is, however, important to note that in Turkic culture, such a neat division into Sufi and Shi'a is scarcely possible: for instance, Yunus Emre is considered by some to have been an Alevi, while the entire Turkic aşık/ozan tradition is permeated with the thought of the Bektashi Sufi order, which is itself a blending of Shi'a and Sufi concepts. The word aşıq (literally, "lover") is in fact the term used for first-level members of the Bektashi order.
Because the Azerbaijani folk literature tradition extends in a more or less unbroken line from about the 13-15th century to today, it is perhaps best to consider the tradition from the perspective of genre. There are three basic genres in the tradition: epic; folk poetry; and folklore.
The Turkic epic has its roots in the Central Asian epic tradition that gave rise to the Book of Dede Korkut; written in Azerbaijani language. The form developed from the oral traditions of the Oghuz Turks (a branch of the Turkic peoples which migrated towards western Asia and eastern Europe through Transoxiana, beginning in the 9th century). The Book of Dede Korkut endured in the oral tradition of the Oghuz Turks after settling in Azerbaijan and Anatolia. Alpamysh is an earlier epic, translated into English and available online.
The Book of Dede Korkut was the primary element of the Azerbaijani epic tradition in the Caucasus and Anatolia for several centuries: 11th-12th centuries. Concurrent to the Book of Dede Korkut was the so-called Epic of Köroğlu, which concerns the adventures of Rüşen Ali ("Köroğlu", or "son of the blind man") as he exacted revenge for the blinding of his father. The origins of this epic are somewhat more mysterious than those of the Book of Dede Korkut: many believe it to have arisen in Azerbaijan sometime between the 15th and 17th centuries; more reliable testimony, though, seems to indicate that the story is nearly as old as that of the Book of Dede Korkut, dating from around the dawn of the 11th century. Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that Köroğlu is also the name of a poet of the aşık/ozan tradition.
The folk poetry tradition in Azerbaijani literature, as indicated above, was strongly influenced by the Islamic Sufi and Shi'a traditions. Furthermore, as partly evidenced by the prevalence of the still existent aşık/ozan tradition, the dominant element in Turkic folk poetry has always been song. The development of folk poetry in Turkic —which began to emerge in the 13th century with such important writers as Yunus Emre, Sultan Veled, and Şeyyâd Hamza—was given a great boost when, on 13 May 1277, Karamanoğlu Mehmet Bey declared Turkic the official state language of Anatolia's powerful Karamanid state; subsequently, many of the tradition's greatest poets would continue to emerge from this region.
There are, broadly speaking, two traditions of Azerbaijani folk poetry:
Much of the poetry and song of the aşık/ozan tradition, being almost exclusively oral until the 19th century, remains anonymous. There are, however, a few well-known aşıks from before that time whose names have survived together with their works: the aforementioned Köroğlu (16th century); Karacaoğlan (1606–1689), who may be the best-known of the pre-19th century aşıks; Dadaloğlu (1785–1868), who was one of the last of the great aşıks before the tradition began to dwindle somewhat in the late 19th century; and several others. The aşıks were essentially minstrels who travelled through Anatolia performing their songs on the bağlama, a mandolin-like instrument whose paired strings are considered to have a symbolic religious significance in Alevi/Bektashi culture. Despite the decline of the aşık/ozan tradition in the 19th century, it experienced a significant revival in the 20th century thanks to such outstanding figures as Aşık Veysel Şatıroğlu (1894–1973), Aşık Mahzuni Şerif (1938–2002), Neşet Ertaş (1938–2012), and many others.
The explicitly religious folk tradition of tekke literature shared a similar basis with the aşık/ozan tradition in that the poems were generally intended to be sung, generally in religious gatherings, making them somewhat akin to Western hymns (Azerbaijani ilahi). One major difference from the aşık/ozan tradition, however, is that—from the very beginning—the poems of the tekke tradition were written down. This was because they were produced by revered religious figures in the literate environment of the tekke, as opposed to the milieu of the aşık/ozan tradition, where the majority could not read or write. The major figures in the tradition of tekke literature are: Yunus Emre (1238–1321), who is one of the most important figures in all of Turkish literature; Süleyman Çelebi, who wrote a highly popular long poem called Vesîletü'n-Necât (وسيلة النجاة "The Means of Salvation", but more commonly known as the Mevlid), concerning the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammad; Kaygusuz Abdal , who is widely considered the founder of Alevi/Bektashi literature; and Pir Sultan Abdal , whom many consider to be the pinnacle of that literature.
The two primary streams of Safavid written literature are poetry and prose. Of the two, poetry—specifically, Divan poetry—was by far the dominant stream. Moreover, it should be noted that, until the 19th century, Safavid prose did not contain any examples of fiction; that is, there were no counterparts to, for instance, the European romance, short story, or novel (though analogous genres did, to some extent, exist in both the Turkish folk tradition and in Divan poetry).
Safavid Divan poetry was a highly ritualized and symbolic art form. From the Persian poetry that largely inspired it, it inherited a wealth of symbols whose meanings and interrelationships—both of similitude (مراعات نظير mura'ât-i nazîr / تناسب tenâsüb) and opposition (تضاد tezâd)—were more or less prescribed. Examples of prevalent symbols that, to some extent, oppose one another include, among others:
As the opposition of "the ascetic" and "the dervish" suggests, Divan poetry—much like Azerbaijani folk poetry—was heavily influenced by Shia Islam. One of the primary characteristics of Divan poetry, however—as of the Persian poetry before it—was its mingling of the mystical Sufi element with a profane and even erotic element. Thus, the pairing of "the nightingale" and "the rose" simultaneously suggests two different relationships:
Similarly, "the world" refers simultaneously to the physical world and to this physical world considered as the abode of sorrow and impermanence, while "the rosegarden" refers simultaneously to a literal garden and to the garden of Paradise. "The nightingale", or suffering lover, is often seen as situated—both literally and figuratively—in "the world", while "the rose", or beloved, is seen as being in "the rose-garden".
Ottoman and Safavid divan poetry heavily influenced each other. As for the development of Divan poetry over the more than 500 years of its existence, that is—as the Ottomanist Walter G. Andrews points out—a study still in its infancy; clearly defined movements and periods have not yet been decided upon. Early in the history of the tradition, the Persian influence was very strong, but this was mitigated somewhat through the influence of poets such as the Azerbaijani Nesîmî (1369–1417) and the Uyghur Ali Şîr Nevâî (1441–1501), both of whom offered strong arguments for the poetic status of the Turkic languages as against the much-venerated Persian. Partly as a result of such arguments, Divan poetry in its strongest period—from the 16th to the 18th centuries—came to display a unique balance of Persian and Turkic elements, until the Persian influence began to predominate again in the early 19th century.
Azerbaijani poets although they had been inspired and influenced by classical Persian poetry, it would be a superficial judgment to consider the former as blind imitators of the latters, as is often done. A limited vocabulary and common technique, and the same world of imagery and subject matter based mainly on Islamic sources were shared by all poets of Islamic literature.
Despite the lack of certainty regarding the stylistic movements and periods of Divan poetry, however, certain highly different styles are clear enough, and can perhaps be seen as exemplified by certain poets:
The vast majority of Divan poetry was lyric in nature: either gazels (which make up the greatest part of the repertoire of the tradition), or kasîdes. There were, however, other common genres, most particularly the mesnevî, a kind of verse romance and thus a variety of narrative poetry; the two most notable examples of this form are the Leylî vü Mecnun (ليلى و مجنون) of Fuzûlî and the Hüsn ü Aşk (حسن و عشق; "Beauty and Love") of Şeyh Gâlib.
Until the 19th century, Safavid prose never managed to develop to the extent that contemporary Divan poetry did. A large part of the reason for this was that much prose was expected to adhere to the rules of sec' (سجع, also transliterated as seci), or rhymed prose, a type of writing descended from the Arabic saj' and which prescribed that between each adjective and noun in a sentence, there must be a rhyme.
Nevertheless, there was a tradition of prose in the literature of the time. This tradition was exclusively nonfictional in nature—the fiction tradition was limited to narrative poetry. A number of such nonfictional prose genres developed:
The earliest known figure in Azerbaijani literature was Izzeddin Hasanoğlu, who composed a divan consisting of Azerbaijani and Persian ghazals. In Persian ghazals he used his pen-name, while his Turkic ghazals were composed under his own name of Hasanoghlu.
In the 14th century, Azerbaijan was under the control of Qara Qoyunlu and Aq Qoyunlu Turkic tribal confederacies. Among the poets of this period were Kadi Burhan al-Din, Haqiqi (pen-name of Jahan-shah Qara Qoyunlu), and Habibi. The end of the 14th century was also the period of starting literary activity of Imadaddin Nesimi, one of the greatest Turkic Hurufi mystical poets of the late 14th and early 15th centuries and one of the most prominent early Divan masters in Turkic literary history, who also composed poetry in Persian and Arabic.
The book Dede Qorqud which consists of two manuscripts copied in the 16th century, was not written earlier than the 15th century. It is a collection of twelve stories reflecting the oral tradition of Oghuz nomads. Since the author is buttering up both the Aq Qoyunlu and Ottoman rulers, it has been suggested that the composition belongs to someone living between the Aq Qoyunlu and Ottoman Empire. Geoffery Lewis believes an older substratum of these oral traditions dates to conflicts between the ancient Oghuz and their Turkish rivals in Central Asia (the Pechenegs and the Kipchaks), however this substratum has been clothed in references to the 14th-century campaigns of the Aq Qoyunlu Confederation of Turkic tribes against the Georgians, the Abkhaz, and the Greeks in Trabzon.
The 16th-century poet, Muhammed Fuzuli produced his timeless philosophical and lyrical Qazals in Arabic, Persian, and Azerbaijani. Benefiting immensely from the fine literary traditions of his environment, and building upon the legacy of his predecessors, Fizuli was to become the leading literary figure of his society. His major works include The Divan of Ghazals and The Qasidas.
In the 16th century, Azerbaijani literature further flourished with the development of Ashik (Azerbaijani: Aşıq) poetic genre of bards. During the same period, under the pen-name of Khatāī (Arabic: خطائی for sinner) Shah Ismail I wrote about 1400 verses in Azerbaijani, which were later published as his Divan. A unique literary style known as qoshma (Azerbaijani: qoşma for improvisation) was introduced in this period, and developed by Shah Ismail and later by his son and successor, Shah Tahmasp and Tahmasp I.
In the span of the 17th century and 18th century, Fizuli's unique genres as well Ashik poetry were taken up by prominent poets and writers such as Qovsi of Tabriz, Shah Abbas Sani, Agha Mesih Shirvani, Nishat, Molla Vali Vidadi, Molla Panah Vagif, Amani, Zafar and others.
Along with Anatolian Turks, Turkmens and Uzbeks, Azerbaijanis also celebrate the epic of Koroglu (from Azerbaijani: kor oğlu for blind man's son), a legendary hero or a noble bandit of the Robin Hood type. Several documented versions of Koroglu epic remain at the Institute for Manuscripts of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan.
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Azerbaijani literature of the nineteenth century was profoundly influenced by the Russian conquest of the territory of present-day Republic of Azerbaijan, as a result of Russo-Persian Wars, which separated the territory of nowadays Azerbaijan, from Iran.
Under the Soviet rule, particularly during Joseph Stalin's reign, Azerbaijani writers who did not conform to the party line were persecuted. Bolsheviks sought to destroy the nationalist intellectual elite established during the short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, and in the 1930s, many writers and intellectuals were essentially turned into mouthpieces of Soviet propaganda.
Although there were those who did not follow to the official party line in their writings. Among them were Mahammad Hadi, Abbas Sahhat, Huseyn Javid, Abdulla Shaig, Jafar Jabbarly, and Mikayil Mushfig, who in their search for a means of resistance, turned to the clandestine methodologies of Sufism, which taught spiritual discipline as a way to combat temptation.
When Nikita Khrushchev came to power in 1953 following Stalin's death, the harsh focus on propaganda began to fade, and writers began to branch off in new directions, primarily focused on uplifting prose that would be a source of hope to Azerbaijanis living under a totalitarian regime.
An influential piece of post-World War II Azerbaijani poetry, Heydar Babaya Salam (Greetings to Heydar Baba) is considered to be a pinnacle in Azerbaijani literature was written by Iranian Azerbaijani poet Mohammad Hossein Shahriar. This poem, published in Tabriz in 1954 and written in colloquial Azerbaijani, became popular among Azerbaijanis in Iranian Azerbaijan and Republic of Azerbaijan. In Heydar Babaya Salam, Shahriar expressed his Azerbaijani identity attached to his homeland, language, and culture. Heydar Baba is a hill near Khoshknab, the native village of the poet.
In the early 1990s the Iranian government relaxed some of its restrictions on the publication of texts in Azeri which resulted in what Brenda Shaffer describes as a major Azeri literary revival. Azeri authors modified their Persian-Arabic script to better suit Azeri writing and added new vowel signs with the hope of increasing Azeri literacy and use of the written language. The Azeri-language magazine Yol was founded at this time but was shut down two years after its founding when the regime allegedly felt threatened by its popularity.
Persian and Arabic literature have greatly influenced Azerbaijani literature, especially in its classical phase. Amongst poets who have written in Persian and have influenced Azerbaijani literature, one can mention Ferdowsi, Sanai, Hafiz, Ganjavi, Saadi, Attar, and Rumi. Arabic literature, especially the Quran and Prophetic sayings, has also played a major role in influencing Azerbaijani literature. Amongst poets who have written in Arabic and have influenced Azerbaijani literature, one can mention Mansūr al-Hallāj who has had a wide-ranging influence in the Sufic literature of the Islamic world.
From writers of modern Azerbaijan, the most famous were the screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov and the author of the detective novels Chingiz Abdullayev, who wrote exclusively in Russian.
Poetry is represented by famous poets Nariman Hasanzade, Khalil Rza, Sabir Novruz, Vagif Samadoglu, Nusrat Kesemenli, Ramiz Rovshan, Hamlet Isakhanli, Zalimkhan Yagub, etc. Among modern Azerbaijani playwrights, F. Goja, Elchin, K. Abdullah, A. Masud, G. Miralamov, E. Huseynbeyli, A. Ragimov, R. Akber, A. Amirley, and others.
The framework of the new Azerbaijani prose is expanded by elements of the detective, fiction, anti-utopia, Turkic mythology, eastern surrealism. Among the writers working in this genre one can name such writers as Anar, M. Suleymanly, N. Rasulzade, R. Rahmanoglu. The new Azerbaijani realism began to gain momentum when young prose writers began to turn increasingly to national history and ethnic memory. In this regard, it is worth noting the historical and synthetic novel "The Thirteenth Apostle, or One Hundred Forty-First Don Juan" by Elchin Huseynbeyli and the historical novels "Shah Abbas" and "Nadir Shah" by Yunus Oguz.
After gaining independence in Azerbaijan, an important role was played by the liberation of the occupied territories, love of the Motherland and justice. One of the most famous books about Karabakh are: "Karabakh - mountains call us" Elbrus Orujev, "Azerbaijan Diary: A Rogue Reporter's Adventures in an Oil-Rich, War-Torn, Post-Soviet Republic" Thomas Goltz "History of Azerbaijan on documents and Ziya Bunyatov. The Karabakh war left its misprint in the modern Azerbaijani literature: such writers as G. Anargizy, M. Suleymanly, A. Rahimov, S. Ahmedli, V. Babally, K. Nezirli, A. Kuliev, A. Abbas, M. Bekirli turned to the themes of the fate of refugees, longing for the lost Shusha, Khojaly massacre, cruelty of war, etc.
To support young writers in 2009, the "Ali and Nino" publishing house established the National Book Award of Azerbaijan, which annually monitors novelties of literature, and awards awards to the most successful samples of literature and works released over the past year. The jury of the award includes well-known Azerbaijani writers, cultural figures.
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