Azerbaijani folklore and literature, women’s rights and psychological analysis

There are several important factors that have a fundamental impact on human psychology, one of which is the language we speak. Scientists and linguists have conducted large-scale studies and extensive research on how language affects people’s way of thinking and behavior. Language is an integral part of a culture, and the words, sentences, and expressions used on a daily basis have a profound effect on our thinking and encourages our behavior.

The language we use very strongly conditions and draws up our judgments about social problems and processes. We use existing language to express ourselves and to convey the ideas in our minds to society, therefore, it is extremely important that our modern language corresponds to the times that we live in. Spoken language is a mirror of a society that speaks it and reflects not only the culture and history of that nation but also its values and beliefs.

The subject I would like to emphasize in this article is Azerbaijani folklore and literature, which are an integral part of the Azerbaijani language. The oral folklore of Azerbaijan has ancient roots and is replete with significant examples. It first started with labor songs and went on with dastans, epics, tales, legends, riddles, proverbs, etc. These pearls of oral folklore introduce us to the traditions, origins, history, position, and views of our people and also teach us heroism, honesty, humanism, kindness, conscience, and so on.

The most commonly used examples of folklore in our daily lives are proverbs. Proverbs and idioms are an important part of every language and usually contain wise sayings that have moral and educational value and guide people to live properly. Due to the fact that proverbs can be used in any situation, they have a greater impact on our subconscious than other forms of literature. They shape our worldview and way of thinking by reflecting on our culture and daily life. As the English poet William Penn used to say, “The wisdom of nations lies in their proverbs.” There certainly are proverbs and idioms that we all love to use which truly motivate people and remind them to keep away from bad deeds and destructive behavior.

Our ancestors have tried to pass on their life experiences to future generations through these sayings, and modern psychological research has confirmed that they are based on sound theory. As an example, I would like to list a few proverbs, which I use myself:

  • Artıq tamah baş yarar – Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  • Az olsun, saz olsun – Enough is as good as a feast.
  • Bağa baxarsan bağ olar, baxmazsan dağ olar – A good workman is known by his chips.
  • Dama-dama göl olar – A penny saved is a penny gained.
  • Dəmiri isti-isti döyərlər – Strike while the iron is hot.
  • İşləməyən dişləməz – No song, no supper.
  • Kamil bir palançı olsa da insan, yaxşıdır yarımçıq papaqçılıqdan – You cannot make bricks without straw.
  • Kor kora kor deməsə, bağrı çatlayar – Birds of a feather flock together.
  • Meşə çaqqalsız olmaz – A fly in the ointment.
  • Mərdi qova-qova namərd edərlər – Chase after a brave man and make him a fool.
  • Nə əkərsən, onu da biçərsən – You reap what you saw.
  • Rüşvət qapıdan girərsə, iman bacadan çıxar – Honour and profit lie not in one sack.
  • Tək əldən səs çıxmaz – The sound of one hand not clapping.

But, despite the abundance of wise and instructive sayings, there are some absurd and obsolete judgments also found in our literature, the use of which today casts a shadow on our thinking, harms our environment and people’s lives. As elsewhere in the world, some folklore examples that exist in Azerbaijani literature complicate the struggle for women’s rights, which is of great importance always and especially nowadays. The idea of updating some proverbs or refusing to use them irritates many literary scholars and other people in general because they find it strange and unnecessary to touch literary works that reflect our national traditions and origins. People trying to prove that the situation with women’s rights in Azerbaijan is better than in other countries cite the period of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic founded by Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh and his advisers in 1918. During that period Azerbaijani women were given the right to vote and be elected while in a lot of other countries it was still impossible. Both then and during the Soviet period, and also after Azerbaijan regained its independence, various state policies were implemented to ensure women’s rights and gender equality. However, such public policies and legal decisions are not sufficient to strengthen women’s rights and their role in society. All the factors affecting the subconscious of the Azerbaijani nation must be taken seriously so that people are free from stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination against women, and our society if free from violence and crimes against women. Just as archaisms are not used in our everyday speech anymore, aphorisms and proverbs that are outdated and incompatible with contemporary lifestyles should not be mentioned and applied. Being the product of their time and environment, they have a negative impact on our morale, psychology and the issue of human rights, hence, they do not correspond to our modern world.

Let’s look at a series of sayings that are often used these days, despite the fact that they harm gender equality and women’s rights:

  1. The objectification of women
    • Arvadnan atı əmanət vermə– Don’t entrust your wife and your horse.
    • Qadın sözə baxmır, saxlamaq nə gərək– Get rid of your wife if she does not listen to you.
    • Qız gözəl gərək, oğlan igid– A girl should be beautiful, a boy should be courageous.
    • Qız dediyin ağacdakı almadır, kim salar, o da aparar!– Girl is like an apple on a tree, whoever picks it, takes it!
    • Qız alanın ya bir çuval qızılı gərək, ya bir çuval yalanı– If man wants to marry a girl, he should have a sack of gold or a sack of lies.
    • Arvad kişinin qoltuq saatıdır– Wife is husband’s watch.
  2. The insignificance of the role of women in society and humiliation of her intelligence
    • Arvad olan yerdə dava olar– Where a woman is there is always a
    • Analı qızın özü böyüyər, anasız qızın sözü böyüyər– Motherless girl is always gossiped by people.
    • Arvadın saçları uzun оlar, ağlı gödək– Women should be long-haired and shallow-minded.
    • Evlərə gedən qızın qulaqları kar, dili lal, gözləri kоr gərək– When a girl marries  she should become deaf, dumb, and blind.
    • Evlərə gedən qızın başı qоvğalı оlar– A girl who goes to places will always in a trouble.
    • İşin düşdü arvada, ölən günün sal yada– Better to die than to ask for a favor from a
    • Qadının gücü göz yaşındadı– Woman’s strength is in her
  3. Advocating that a woman’s role in life consists of marriage, early marriages, violence against women, and the depreciation of widows.
    • Dul arvadı qız adına almazlar– Marrying a widow is not the same as marrying a girl.
    • Dul arvadın boxçası qoltuğunda olar– A widow’s bundle is always packed.
    • Dul arvadın divarı alçaq olar– A widow’s wall is low.
    • Qızını döyməyən, dizini döyər– if you don’t beat up your daughter, you will beat your own knees
    • Qızı öz xoşuna qoysan ya mütrübə gedər, ya zurnaçıya– If you allow your daughter to choose, she will marry either a drummer or a
    • Qız qundaqda, cehizi sandıqda– Girl in a cradle, dowry in a box.
    • Alma arvadın dulunu, dalıynan gələr qulunu, satar sоyar pulunu, ayrı qоyar malını– Don’t marry a widow, she will come with children, steal your money and carry away your
    • Ana оlanda kişi anası оl– When you are a mother, be a man’s
    • Əmi qızıynan əmi оğlunun kəbini göydə kəsilib– Cousins should marry each other.
    • Ər arvadın tacıdı– Husband is a wife’s crown.
    • Ərə gedən qızların dili altında qənd gərək– Girl who marries should be smooth-tongued.
    • Gəlindən qız olmaz– Daughter-in-law can never be a
    • Qız anadan olanda gözünü açar, deyər: Bu bizim ev deyil– When a girl is born, she opens her eyes and says: This is not our house.
    • Qız evin qonağıdı, vaxt gələr, gedər– A girl is a guest of the house, when the time comes she leaves.
    • Qız onbeş yaşında ya ərdə gərək, ya da gorda– 15 years old girl should marry or die.
    • Qız özgə əmanətidir– Daughter is someone’s
    • Qızını qoy beşiyə, cehizini qoy eşiyə– Put your daughter to the cradle and start to prepare her dowry.
    • Ərsiz arvad – cilovsuz at– A wife without a husband is a horse without a bridle.
    • Arvadı əri saxlar, pendiri dəri– Wife is kept by a husband like cheese is kept in a skin.
    • Qız gedəridir, oğlan ürək başıdır– Daughter always leaves so son is the head of the house.

The listed examples are only a small part of the sayings in Azerbaijani literature that contradict the equality between men and women. Not only proverbs but also other examples of oral folklore, including the works of some of our poets and writers, include the categorization of men and women, as well as the determination of their behavior depending on their gender. This is found not only in Azerbaijan but in the folklore of all languages. Currently, the advanced world community is fighting to overcome the labeling and categorization of people into women and men, old and young, beautiful and ugly, rich and poor, etc. Instead of dividing people into categories, it is necessary to find out and understand their personal preferences and individualities and give them the opportunity to be themselves. Today, many international organizations around the world carry out major projects on “women’s empowerment” and allocating large amounts of money to these projects. Projects of this kind are aimed at creating opportunities for women to study, work, and choose their lifestyles without any restrictions. There are many barriers to women’s empowerment and equality, one of which is cultural norms. If the culture and society where the woman lives do not strive to empower women and are not ready to radically change several things, this struggle will be especially thorny for them. As mentioned above, given the fact that literature is one of the important factors shaping our culture, in contemporary literature more space needs to be given to the topics related to human rights, gender equality, and tolerance.

Of course, both in the oral and written folklore of Azerbaijan there are wonderful works dedicated to women. Teaching these works at schools, their regular recollection, and restaging can be a great motivation for creating similar works in modern literature. As an example, I would like to mention the writer, playwright, and poet Jafar Jabbarli, the author of outstanding works on the topic of women’s freedom in the early twentieth century. Many of J. Jabbarli’s works criticize the negative attitude of society towards women’s rights and promote the importance of the struggle of women for their freedoms.

Despite the fact that the play “Sevil” which emphasizes the importance of a woman’s moral freedom, was written about 100 years ago, it has still not lost its relevance and was called the “symbol of freedom” of Azerbaijani women. In addition to this, poems by Jafar Jabbarli such as “Mother”, “Protest from girls to men”, stories as “Aslan and Farhad”, “Dilbar”, “Gular”, as well as plays as “Withered Flowers”, “Bride of Fire”, “Almas” cover topics such as gender inequality and women’s helplessness. Mirza Fatali Akhundov was also not indifferent to the women’s issues of his time and in his writings, he included strong female characters, along with highlighting domestic violence and early marriages. It is essential to add Samad Vurgun and Jalil Mammadguluzade to this list, who in their works gave great importance to legal equality between men and women.

Unfortunately, most of the existing literature, uses the method of benevolent sexism, by representing women only as carriers of maternal functions and worship them for being mothers. Motherhood is certainly an important and complex responsibility. But those women who cannot or do not want to be mothers experience an inferiority complex and are driven into the framework of dictated behavior. Whereas, in order to see women as equal members of this society, we need modern, enlightening literature that strengthens them from within, motivates them to work, build a career, free themselves from fear and inferiority, and remind them that the reason they came to this world is not to get married.

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