A border has divided the Azerbaijani people for nearly two centuries. To the north of the border lies the independent Azerbaijan Republic, while to the south lie the Azerbaijani provinces of Iran. The Azerbaijanis, or Azerbaijani Turks as they are also known, constitute the largest ethnic minority in Iran. Though exact figures are not available, there are thought to be some 25 to 30 million Azerbaijanis in Iran, three times the population of the independent Azerbaijan Republic. Dr Pervane Mamedli of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences takes a look at contemporary Azerbaijani literature south of the border and the problems it faces.
The language, art and spiritual values of the people of Southern Azerbaijan have been under pressure for the last 80 years. In literature this pressure is reflected in the recurring themes of rebirth, revival, separation and self-assertion.
National revival, which occurs periodically in Southern Azerbaijan, can always be seen first in literature in the mother tongue, Azerbaijani. The regimes of the shah and the mullahs have always tried to keep a lid on the language, literature, theatre, cinema and music of the Azerbaijani Turks.
Cultural life has advanced in Iran after every revolution and popular movement. The overthrow of the Pahlavi regime and establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran led to a brief spell of comparative freedom: there was a great revival in the publishing of books, newspapers and magazines in Azerbaijani Turkish and in the literary sphere as a whole. But unfortunately, this revival lasted for only a couple of years, from 1979 to 1981.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and gaining of independence by the Azerbaijan Republic to the north in the early 1990s had an impact on Southern Azerbaijan. The barbed wire at the border was removed and the separation of the Azerbaijani people came to an end. TV channels from Turkey and the Azerbaijan Republic were broadcast via satellite to Iran. Relations in art and literature had room to grow and develop.
IRANIAN AZERBAIJANI WRITERS IN THE SHAH’S ERA
Reza Shah Pahlavi (ruled from 1925 to 1941) introduced a policy of assimilation of the non-Persian peoples of Iran, which included bans on their languages. Since then, however, in the south the language has been used and preserved in folklore – in minstrels’ epics, fairy tales, ballads, ditties and funeral songs,wrote Mammad Amin Rasulzade, one of the founding fathers of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.
Conscious of the role of the written word in increasing national awareness, the government did not give permission for the publication of works of literature in Turkish. Azerbaijani Turkish authors had to write in Persian in order to get published, but there were some exceptions such as Sahand, Savalan, Habib Sahir and Mammadali Farzana. They managed to get their work published in small print runs, often in secret, or with the location and printing house not named.
In the 1920s Taghi Pifat, who followed modern Turkish literature in Iran, introduced innovations in both the form and content of poetry. With Jafar Khamneyi and Shams Kesmayi, other Azerbaijani poets who had studied in Europe, he started a literary revolution, laying the foundation for a new, free style of poetry. The poets published mainly in Tajaddud newspaper, whose name means ‘renewal’ in Arabic.
As Southern Azerbaijani authors have written widely in Persian as well as in their mother tongue, an “Azerbaijani style” has emerged in Persian literature. For a long time Azerbaijani poets in Iran had to write mainly in Persian and many of them produced work of the highest quality. Nevertheless, quite a few poets did not forget their mother tongue or came back to it after writing for a long time in Persian. The greatest of these was the immortal Azerbaijani poet Muhammad Huseyn Shahriyar (1906-1988). Considered one of the greatest writers of traditional Persian poetry, Shahriyar wrote the masterpiece Heydar Babaya Salam (Greetings to Heydar Baba) in his native Azerbaijani Turkish. In this long poem, made up of 125 five-line stanzas, the poet reflects on his happy childhood in a village at the foot of a mountain known as Heydar Baba (Grandfather Heydar). Heydar Babaya Salam was published in Tabriz in two parts, the first part in 1954, and the second in 1966.
“Speaking his people’s sorrow in Persian”, Shahriyar was banned from writing in his mother tongue for many years. However, when he wrote in Azerbaijani Turkish in the 1950s, it was as though he breathed new life into the language. Heydar Babaya Salam and other poems by Shahriyar caused a renaissance in Azerbaijani Turkish literature and awareness in Southern Azerbaijan. He had shown the language’s resistance to assimilation. Moreover, Shahriyar created a new literary current or school, encouraging the writing of new works in this spirit and style not only in Azerbaijan, but in several Near Eastern countries too.
No contemporary writers can be compared to Shahriyar in terms of their role in the development of poetry in Southern Azerbaijan. He was a very fine poet and after the revolution was one of the most authoritative voices in the literary environment.
SAHAND AND MODERNISING POETRY
After Shahriyar, the second most important writer in Southern Azerbaijani literature was Bulud Qarachorlu Sahand (1926-1979). Sahand became known for his poems in Azerbaijani, written during the Pahlavi reign despite the ban. His best known work was Sazimin sozu (The Words of My Saz), based on the medieval epic Book of Dada Qorqud. Sazimin sozu inspired other authors to write narrative poems in Azerbaijani too. Both Shahriyar and Sahand encouraged the younger generation to explore national traditions and celebrate the national spirit.
The innovations in the work of modern poets Charles Baudelaire of France and Turkey’s Celal Sahir influenced writer Habib Sahir (1903-1988), who translated Baudelaire’s poetry into Persian and Turkish.
Sahir and Sahand also introduced innovation into their poetry; Sahir by writing poems in a new form, and Sahand by writing new content. Sahir’s poems were famed for their romanticism, while Sahand’s had political bite. Alireza Nabdil (Oxtay) abandoned the traditions of classical poetry, introducing free form and a new way of thinking. In a word, Southern Azerbaijan’s poetry became modern.
Ghazals have always held a special place here. These lyrical poems cover the traditional subjects of love or religion, but also refer to real life and social problems. Poets such as Savalan, Sonmez, Hamid, Mammadtaghi Zehtabi and Behriz Imani maintain the traditions of classical ghazals but at the same time renew them.
The 1960s generation of writers were aware of the difficulties encountered by their predecessors. Many of them remembered from childhood the year 1946 when the two Azerbaijans were united under communist leader Pishevari. Prominent among the 1960s writers were Samad Behrangi, Gulamrza Saidi (Govhar Murad), Alirza Nabdil (Oxtay), Merziye Uskil (Dalgha), Habib Sahir and Sahand.
A way of avoiding censorship of literature in Azerbaijani Turkish was to write folklore or children’s books. Samad Behrangi was one of this more nationally aware generation and made his name through collections of folktales assembled with his friend Behrouz Dehgani. Behrangi concentrated all his attention on the younger generation, as he wanted them to stand up against injustice more than the older generation had. His children’s story The Little Black Fish was translated into English after his untimely death. Samad Behrangi and like-minded author Merziye Uskuyi, who wrote under the pen-name Dalgha (Wave), can be seen as the founders of children’s literature in Azerbaijani Turkish.
Goulam Huseyn Saidi (also written Gholam-Hossein Saedi) was a writer of plays, film scripts, novels and short stories. Born in Tabriz, he became popular throughout Iran, but after the Islamic revolution had to spend the end of his life in exile in France. He wrote the scripts for some of the classics of Iranian cinema. One important aim in his film work was protesting at the government ban on the use of Azerbaijani Turkish. Goulam Huseyn Saidi was the founder of mystical realism in Southern Azerbaijani literature.
Protests against the banning of Azerbaijani Turkish during the Pahlavi regime tended to come in waves. Though our Iranian brothers have not studied our native language, they use it almost everywhere: in private life, at weddings and funerals, in fact, everywhere from the cradle to the grave.
The Iranian revolution of 1978-79 was unique. There were plenty of ethnic problems as Iran is home to different ethnic groups. Popular discontent with government policy led to demonstrations in the streets and squares. But, at a decisive point, this democratic, anti-monarchy revolution suddenly turned into an Islamic one. The slogans and speeches at the demonstrations changed.
Religion has always been strong in Iran. An influential religious figure like Khomeini could lead millions of people. The anti-imperialist and anti-monarchist people’s movement against the regime in early 1978 went down in history as an Islamic revolution.
Although the people of Southern Azerbaijan could not achieve their desires in the socio-political sphere, the 1978-79 revolution did lead to a revival of cultural life. There was a press boom in literary works, especially poetry, appearing in newspapers and magazines rather than books. Poetry has always been the dominant literary genre in Southern Azerbaijan, as in the East as a whole. Writers and poets, who began their careers in the 1940s, found the opportunity to publish their work in the variety of journals that appeared in Azerbaijani after the Islamic revolution.
While past generations thought in Turkish but wrote in Persian, the subsequent generation did the opposite, they thought in Persian but wrote in Turkish. This was a national tragedy. In Southern Azerbaijan intellectuals in every era have had their function. In 1978-79 the intellectuals who came to prominence on the wave of the revolution, led by Javad Heyat, Hamid Nitqi, Mammadali Farzana and Mammadtaghi Zehtabi, taught the people to speak and write in their mother tongue.
There was a deepening of ethnic and Turkic feelings amongst creative intellectuals after the revolution. The scope widened for forms of literature that had remained in people’s memories – ashiq (or minstrel) songs and legends, epic poems and ghazals. A literary revival began in the 1980s with the arrival of a new generation or new wave.
Despite the terror and repression in Southern Azerbaijan’s literature, poems and stories in their native language reflected people’s discontent, hatred and anger. Of course, most of these works were never published and some were destroyed. Others, however, did see the light of day. In their work both before and after the Islamic revolution, poets tried to encourage national awareness and unity amongst Azerbaijanis.
The people’s revolution, which turned into an Islamic one, did not bring the people anything – this was the criticism made in the work of Habib Sahir, Hashim Tarlan, Chayoghlu, Firidun Hasari, Suleyman Salis and Mammadali Mahzun. The wave created by the revolution, the eight-year Iran-Iraq war and the defeat of the popular revolutionary forces were all reflected in literature. The period of openness lasted only a short time – two years – and in the early 1980s successful writers and poets were persecuted: some died, while others became followers of the government line. Satire remained strong, as often it was the only method of expression left.
Prose here is not as well developed as poetry. This is partly because of the traditional pre-eminence of poetry in eastern literature, partly because of the limited opportunities to publish prose and partly because of the relatively slow development of the literary language. Most of the prose work in Southern Azerbaijan, like the rest of the Near East, was written in the 20th and 21st centuries.
In the south, the increase in publishing of Azerbaijani Turkish newspapers after the revolution encouraged the development of prose language from the 1980s onwards. Stories, essays, memoires and novels were written in Southern Azerbaijan. Some of the more influential writers at that time were Ganjali Sabahi, Hamid Mammadzade, Aghchayli, Rahim Daqiq, Ismail Hadi, Nasir Manzuri, Nasir Merqati and Alif Nuranli.
Events in Southern Azerbaijan have proved a rich source of material for literary authors north of the border, many of whom have also influenced the development of Azerbaijani literature in Iran.
One of Southern Azerbaijan’s modern poets, Dr Hamid Nitqi, wrote that you must have modern language in order to write modern literature and sought to show this in his work.
A main role of literature is to turn a mother tongue into a literary language but there are many obstacles to this in Southern Azerbaijan. Traditions of writing and reading in Azerbaijani have weakened because of the lengthy ban on written use of the language and lack of education in Azerbaijani. As a result, mistakes do occur in prose.
Another problem is the many dialects. It is natural to speak in different dialects, but literature requires a common language and dialect. Moreover, in recent years literature in Southern Azerbaijan has been written in Anatolian or Istanbul Turkish, North Azerbaijani Turkish and “common Turkish”, a language proposed over 30 years ago by the late Professor Nitqi and Dr Javad Heyat. Anatolian or Istanbul Turkish is proving most popular amongst younger writers.
The lack of literary criticism has been another significant obstacle to the development of literature in Southern Azerbaijan. However, interest in criticism has been growing in recent years with several critics, such as Hummat Shahbazi and Jafar Bozorgamin now well established.
On 22 May 2006, the ban on the traditional march to the fortress of 9th century leader Babek led to popular protests in the major cities of Iranian Azerbaijan – Tabriz, Ardabil, Meyaneh, Meshgin Shahr, Maragheh and Urmia. That historical movement made itself felt in Azerbaijani Turks’ cultural life. The fight for the native language, for national self-assertion produced results. Literature has become very different since 2006. Authors, who were writing in Persian, returned to their mother tongues.
A new generation with a new way of thinking emerged. It was the new generation that laid the foundations for contemporary literature. Some had a stronger national identity than their predecessors, others were oriented more towards Western or avant-garde poetry. The abundance of subjects and styles, the free-thinking spirit, are the most striking qualities of this literature.
The poetry that was inspired by the streets and trenches tended to consist of slogans and exhortations. The new generation who began to write in the 1990s tried to sweep away the old principles. Sahar Raiszade was one of the leading lights in the new poetic movement. Young poets Suleymanoghlu, Nadir Azhari, Ziba Karbasi and Arastu Mujarrad have subsequently managed to create a new style in Southern Azerbaijan’s poetry.
Today “rebirth literature” predominates with mother tongue and homeland its main themes. Other subjects include freedom, the search for identity, and dissatisfaction with the political and cultural situation. In all styles of prose, the world, life and death, love and cultural dissatisfaction also remain popular themes.
While Southern Azerbaijani authors write novels, memoires and essays, the most popular genre is the short story. This lends itself well to writing about daily life and the most important issues of the day. “Flash fiction” or “short short stories”, which have gained ground in Europe since the 1960s, is a popular format. Some of the best-known authors of flash fiction in Southern Azerbaijan are Murtuza Majidfar, Hamid Arghish, Toghrul Atabay, Maliha Azizpur and Mohammad Subhi. In flash fiction they kill two birds with one stone – by keeping language concise they avoid some of the unresolved problems of literary Azerbaijani and at the same time develop succinct language to express deep meaning. Flash fiction has been a godsend for Southern Azerbaijan’s writers.
Ruqayya Kabiri is a writer known for the expressiveness of her prose and her variety of themes. From time to time she revives episodes from Kafka’s Metamorphosis in her stories, but her character subject to metamorphosis is an emotional woman, full of life.
Despite the popularity of flash fiction, the novel serves as a mirror of Southern Azerbaijan, with the work of Guntay Ganjalp and Sayman Aruz reflecting the way of life, social policy and religious problems.
Difficult though it is, a new literary generation has taken shape in Southern Azerbaijan over the past 10 years. Writing in their mother tongue, they reach the new generation of readers through the Internet, including a variety of literary portals and blogs. Authors living in the USA and Europe are part of this new generation too. Think global, write local, could be the slogan for many of these authors who keep up with the trends in world literature but choose to write in their mother tongue.
There is a generation problem in the literature of both parts of separated Azerbaijan. It is natural for older writers to express their nostalgia in their work, while the younger ones want to break the old literary clichés and templates. The latter see themselves as postmodernists.
Each writer of the new generation has their own distinctive style. Young generation writers don’t write about longing, separation and tears any more. Their main themes are urbanism and postmodernism. Literature is developing at full throttle in Southern Azerbaijan.
About the author:Dr Pervane Haji qizi Mamedli is a lead researcher at the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences’ Nizami Literature Institute. She has lectured at the Baku State University’s Faculty of Journalism and the National Aviation Academy. She is the author of several books and winner of the Hasan bey Zardabi and Samad Bahrangi prizes.//Text Box// TRIGGERS FOR AZERBAIJANI TURKISH PROTEST IN IRAN
The student movement –Although more work was published in Azerbaijani Turkish in 1997 after Mohammad Khatami became president of Iran, failures in tackling the problems of ethnic minorities prompted the start of the student movement. When the parliamentary candidacy of Azerbaijani activist Tabrizli Chehregani was rejected, this gave a further impetus to the student movement. A new generation of writers emerged in this heightened atmosphere. The birthday of Babek has become a symbol of national freedom. (Babek, also known as Babak and Babek Khorramdin, led the 9th century freedom movement in Iranian Azerbaijan against the Abbasid Caliphate – Ed.) Marked every year with a march to Babek castle in north-west Iran, Babek’s birthday is the focus for popular gatherings and expressions of internal discontent and national self-assertion. Although the government has banned these meetings, expressions of discontent are made in other ways. Insults against Turks in Iranian TV programmes,and especially a newspaper cartoon published in 2006 which led to mass protests, have all been reflected in literature. Every match of the football team Tractor,which is from Tabriz, capital of the East Azerbaijan Province, is a platform for Azerbaijani Turks to demand their rights. Moreover, Tractor are one of the best supported football teams in Iran, often with crowds of 80,000 at their games. Protests over the falling water levels in Lake Urmia have had an international resonance. Azerbaijani intellectuals and experts warned about the impending environmental disaster, while people protested about government inaction on the problem. Popular feeling was summed up in the slogan “Lake Urmia is dying by government decree”. This environmental threat has already attracted the attention of the international community and last year the UN Development Programme and Iranian Department of the Environment drew up a plan to save the lake.
A Short Story from Southern Azerbaijan
Kuyulu Said Najjari
Kuyulu Said Najjari was born in 1973 in the city of Fuman in Gilan Province, Iran. His family is originally from the city of Kuyu in the Azerbaijani district of Khalkhal and moved back there when Said Najjari was five. He received his primary and secondary education in Kuyu. He started to write poetry in his early years at school and graduated in English language and literature from Allameh Tabataba’i University in Tehran. He is the author of poetry and stories in Azerbaijani Turkish, Persian and English, but in recent years he has written only in Azerbaijani Turkish. He has translated Chinghiz Aitmatov’s ‘Jamila’ and John Steinbeck’s ‘The Pearl’ into Azerbaijani Turkish.COMING AND GOING
The sun was setting. He no longer expected anyone to come and rescue him today. Around three hours had passed since the earthquake. In the distance he could hear commotion – shouting and crying. From time to time he could hear sheep bleating as they looked for their owners.
The world had turned upside down in a moment. He had never felt the earth shake like that. The beams of the house had danced, the ceilings had shuddered and the house had caved in on itself. Thick dust had risen in clouds; everything had disappeared in dust before his eyes.
His mother had been putting bread into the tandoor oven. The boy had arrived in the village four or five hours ago. Only his mother had been at home, his father had gone to the next village to see his aunt. Every month his father went to see one of his sisters. The boy hadn’t seen his sisters. They were each in their own homes. He would go and see them. The earthquake had not allowed him to see the villagers. He would rest for a little while, then go outside, but if things went on like this there would be no going outside. There was no sound from his mother at all. How many times had he shouted “Mother, mother, if you can hear me, say something,” but no answer came.
The boy’s nose twitched as wind blew smoke from the tandoor oven towards him. Above him was a pile of beams, plaster and bricks. He couldn’t move his legs at all, his left leg really hurt. By chance the thick beam of the house had fallen onto a stool, it hadn’t fallen entirely onto the floor. The boy had fallen onto his back and his head and shoulders were in the gap between the floor and the beam.
He had taken several of his mother’s loaves from the kitchen into the living room, as he was partial to fresh bread with creamy yoghurt in the afternoons.
“I love the smell of fresh baked bread. I’ve really missed your bread,” he had told his mother.
“If it’s what you fancy son, take some and tuck in. There’s creamy yoghurt in the living room. Take the bread and eat it there.”
He had taken several of the round, flat loaves into the living room. Bread in hand, he had been looking for the yoghurt when the sky fell in. He never did find the yoghurt. He and the bread were thrown to the ground. The house crashed onto his head.
The house was slightly set apart from the other houses in the village. There were 20 houses in the village. A lot of the villagers had moved to the city and visited the village from time to time. A long time ago there had been 100 houses in the village, but gradually the number of people in the village had fallen. One by one the houses became empty and fell to rack and ruin. Now the remaining houses had been flattened by the earthquake.
A din rose from the village, but no-one made their way towards these houses. They had forgotten that there were houses at this end of the village. It might take a day or two for rescue workers to reach this mountain village. It was mostly old people, women and children left there. The young people had gone off to the cities looking for work. So had the boy. Many of those who had left visited the village just once a year, some, like the boy, came once every few months, while others didn’t come at all.
He couldn’t believe that the house had collapsed in the blink of an eye. He was still tired from the journey. After a rest, he would go round the village, visit his sisters’ houses. Two months ago his older sister’s child had said when he arrived, “Welcome to the village, uncle.”
At first he thought he had died. His eyes clouded over. To start with his arms and legs had gone numb, but then little by little they had begun to ache and throb. Gradually the pain took over his whole body. He had never felt such pain: it was a sharp, hopeless, endless pain.
He wanted to lift his head, but pain shot from his neck to his head and he felt dizzy. He tried to look himself over, but couldn’t see below his chest. More than half his body was underneath the rubble. He didn’t know what had hit him. In the distance he could hear the crash of collapsing houses, then shouting, crying, incomprehensible noise. He had heard about earthquakes from a distance, seen them on TV, read about them in the papers, but he had no direct experience of one. It had never occurred to him how frightening they were, how terrible.
Again he smelt smoke from the fire that was going out. It was the fire his mother had lit. “Mother, mother, can you hear me?” he shouted loudly. No answer came. Again he shouted and again no answer came. He called his mother five times, ten times, then he became hoarse and lost his voice. He tried to call but no sound came. It was like trying to shout in a dream and not being able to. He thought maybe he was dreaming and was glad. “What a relief that all this was a dream,” he said to himself. He felt a bit stronger and wanted to get up, but at that moment some of the plaster on top of him shifted, sending dust and earth onto his right arm, and the pain returned to his left leg. He knew this was no dream. It was very real. As though from the bottom of a well, he called his mother again but no sound could be heard. He waited for a voice, a noise close by. For the first time in his life he thought how encouraging another person’s voice could be.
He had left Tehran the previous evening. He had got in the car at 11.00 pm, it had been a bit late leaving Tehran looking for more passengers. Despite the displeasure of the passengers already in the car, the driver continued looking. He found several passengers and dropped them off in Qazvin and Zanjan. The car broke down on the road and they had to wait for more than an hour. He reached the city at around 10.00am and had things to do in the city. By the time he had sorted everything out and bought a few things for home, it was midday. He grabbed something to ease his hunger, then went to the stop for cars to the village. It took about an hour to find a car. Then as they climbed higher, another car blocked them on the road. It took more than an hour to reach the village.
Usually he telephoned to say that he was coming, but this time he had wanted to surprise them. He thought his parents and sisters would be even happier. And he was right – when his mother saw him, she flew over.
He stared up as he could see outside through the chimney above his head. It was already dusk and would soon be dark and cold. The scent of the wandering sheep and hens would attract wolves and jackals to the village. He remembered from his childhood how cold the village could be on summer nights. And as for winter! As God is my witness, everything froze, snow blocked the roads and cut off the villages. It took the roads department two or three days to clear the snow.
He heard dogs barking. A tragedy was unfolding before his eyes. He called his mother’s name, but no answer came. He didn’t know what had happened to his father, his sisters, his brothers-in-law. He didn’t know if they were alive or dead.
The shouts and cries that he had heard not long ago were dying down, but could still be heard. As though people were tired of crying, as though the boy’s ears were overburdened. Hunger hollowed out his stomach but was smothered by fear.
The ground shook again. It was terrifying but not as bad as before. The beams and bricks above him juddered. Some earth ran down onto his neck and throat. His body was even more tightly jammed in. He turned even paler.
“What’s happened? Why can’t I get up?” he asked himself. He couldn’t do anything. “So am I to be buried here tonight?” he said, looking up above his head to the outside world. It had gone completely dark. The sky was black. He rolled his eyes but couldn’t see anything. Then his eyes closed of their own accord. The night gradually got colder and the boy began to shiver. He couldn’t tell if his body was aching or had gone numb. His mouth and throat were parched. As night fell, fatigue and hopelessness swept over the boy. The expected cold slowly took hold. His head spun and his eyes were dark…
As he opened his eyes, he could hear howling and barking. The sound of bleating added to the clamour. At first he couldn’t make out what had happened. Then he realised that wolves must have attacked the scattered sheep and lambs and the dogs must be fighting the wolves. It was around half way through the night. The sound of the fight nearby got louder. Sounds were confused; the boy thought his time was up. Five or ten minutes later the bleating and howling died down, only the barking continued. But gradually that died down too. He didn’t know where the fighting was or if the wolves and dogs were still there. A distant whine could be heard again. The recent noise from the animals drowned out any human groans. Faint wisps of smoke from the tandoor fire now tickled his nose. Vapour came out of the boy’s mouth.
The earth shook again, the plaster and beams crunched, cracked, a semi-collapsed wall crashed to the ground. Fragments of brick poured onto the boy. His head felt heavy, his eyes darkened from the pain, the weakness, from being covered in rubble. The night dragged on with groans and cries...
“Is there anyone here? Can anyone hear me?”
The boy didn’t know if he was asleep or unconscious. He opened and closed his eyes. Another voice could be heard.
“Brother Qudrat, sister Telli, can you hear me?”
The boy summoned all his strength. “I’m here,” he shouted.
Though his voice wasn’t all that strong, one of the listeners heard him.
“Over there. There was a voice from the rubble. There’s someone there.”
“There’s someone here,” one of the people shouted.
“I’m here in the room,” said the boy, his voice shaking.
The sun had not yet risen, but stars shed a pale light. There was no sign of the cocks crowing, maybe they were asleep; maybe the jackals had eaten them all. There was no sound from the sheep and lambs; maybe they had lost the night’s fight.
“Let us know where you are,” one of the men shouted. Two people at least had come to rescue the boy.
“I’m here, in the room. Mother’s in the kitchen, get her out first,” he cried.
“Go to the kitchen, I’ll get the one out of the room,” one of the men said.
“Let me hear where you are!” shouted a voice approaching the room.
“I’m here, near the window,” the boy cried.
One voice grew a bit more distant.
“Hey, sister Telli! Telli, say something,” the more distant voice said.
The boy strained towards the kitchen, waiting to hear his mother. He had no idea how things were. He was in a hurry to get out.
“Don’t be afraid, I’ll get you out,” said the voice nearby.
“I’m not afraid, look for my mother,” said the boy.
“Don’t worry, my partner will get your mother out now,” the rescuer said, encouraging the boy.
He couldn’t cry. All the accumulated exhaustion and fear stayed inside him. He was more afraid of what he would see when he got out. The fear of remaining beneath the rubble had abated. Its place had been taken by fear of what was outside. His body grew cold, he had forgotten all the pain, his heart pounded.
He could hear the breathing of the man working above him. The sound of his breath gradually got louder. The boy could feel the load above him getting lighter. It took almost half an hour before he could see the person. His rescuer was a middle-aged man. The boy didn’t know him.
“My mother, how’s my mother?” he said as soon as he saw the man. “Have you got her out?”
“Don’t rush, my partner is getting her out,” the rescuer said as he took a black beam from on top of the boy.
The man’s thick moustache and eyebrows were striking. He took the boy beneath the armpits and slowly pulled him from under the rubble. The light of the rising sun was dazzling. The boy closed his eyes, then opened them again. The man dragged him into the middle of the yard. The boy raised his head to look at his legs. He wanted to move his legs, but he couldn’t move the left one. The previous night’s pain in his leg was even stronger. He winced from the pain.
The man saw it. “Don’t move, don’t move. I think you’ve broken your left leg,” he said.
The boy turned and looked towards the kitchen. The man there had laid a woman on the ground. The man was crouching, motionless.
“My mother, what’s happened to my mother?” the boy shouted.
When he heard the voice, the man in the kitchen turned and looked towards the yard. The boy recognised him.
“Uncle Tariverdi,” he called. It was his childhood friend’s father, Uncle Tariverdi.
When the man in the kitchen heard this, he got up and went over to the boy.
“Is that you, Ismayil? What are you doing here? When did you come?” he asked as he came up to the boy.
He took the boy’s arm and kissed his forehead. On the verge of tears, the boy asked Uncle Tariverdi about his mother again.
Uncle Tariverdi bowed his head. Tears brimmed and fell to the ground. The boy’s eyes darkened all over again, there was a strange roaring in his ears, things started to spin in front of his eyes… When he opened his eyes, he could see he was on a stretcher. Four men dressed in white and red were carrying him. His left leg was in splints. He raised his head to look around. “Don’t’ move,” said one of the stretcher-bearers, pushing his head back down onto the stretcher. As he was moving, the tears started to flow. He looked out and saw the dismembered bodies of several sheep on the side of the road.
They put him in the back of a Vanetin 170. He saw Uncle Tariverdi near the Vanetin.
“Do you know what’s happened to my father and sisters?” the boy asked.