Folklore in Western Azerbaijan

Although the “Western Azerbaijan” ethnic-cultural areal is an organic part of the ethno-cultural system of the entire Azerbaijan, our compatriots living in this geography – the current Republic of Armenia – have been subjected to deportations and genocides many times in the last two hundred years. The national and moral values created here by our ancestors for thousands of years were converted into a part of  Armenian history, Armenian culture, and Armenian folklore through brutal destruction, greedy looting and treacherous assimilation.

However, Western Azerbaijani folklore exists not only in oral, but also in separate written sources, which can be grouped as follows:

1. Epigraphic monuments found in the territory of Western Azerbaijan and folklore motifs reflected on them;

2. Legends and tales, directly or indirectly related to the territory of Western Azerbaijan, told in the works of travelers and historians from different periods;

3. Samples of written literature that include examples of folklore;

4. Azerbaijani folklore images, motifs and plots used in Armenian sources.

Research proves that dozens of epigraphic monuments have been discovered in the territory of Western Azerbaijan so far, some of them are written in Turkish and Jewish languages with ancient Aramaic alphabet, others are written in Greek and Latin languages with Greek and Latin alphabets, and another part is written in Turkish with “Orkhon-Yenisei” alphabet. At least 3 of the epigraphic monuments written in the Aramaic alphabet are known to be in the ancient Turkic language. Two of them are inscriptions of malik named Artaksi (Artashes) with the same content, which were found on two border stones found near Lake Goycha, and these stones are currently kept in the Hermitage. The third inscription found in the village of Jujekand, Loru district, and the proverb on it saying “Hiding the truth in a net harms valour” is of greater importance in folklore studies. Another important written source is the Turkish runic script written on Gargadashi mountain near Nuvedi village in Mehri (Megri) region.

Among the written sources of folklore of Western Azerbaijan, legends and narratives related to the territory of Western Azerbaijan found in the works of travelers and historians who lived in different periods are also important. One of them is the story of Yafes’ (son of Noah) son told in the chronicle  “The Life of the Tsars of Kartli” by Georgian historian Leonti Mroveli, who lived in the 11th century, in Georgian sources, his name is Torgom (Torgomos), in Jewish and Christian sources, including Armenian and Albanian sources- Togarma, and in Muslim sources, thay person is identified as Turk and the area between Greater Aghrı and Lesser Aghrı is indicated as the ancestral home of his descendants. This is also confirmed by the legends collected from Western Azerbaijan.”Kitabi-Diyarbakriya” of Abubakr al-Tehrani al-Isfahani has a special place among the written sources of Western Azerbaijani folklore. The author by researching the genealogy of great-grandfathers of Uzun Hasan, the founder of the Aggoyunlu state, deduces that his 52nd great grandfather was Oguz Khagan. He lists the territories covered by the state headed by Oguz Khagan and finally writes that he (Oguz Khagan) died near Goycha Sea. Abubakr Tehrani gives more interesting information about Bayandur Khan, the grandson of Oguz, and shows that Bayandur Khan went to “Karabakh kishlak and to Goycha sea yaylak”. Here he convenes a great congress, gathers many people, holds a magnificent assembly, bestows a lot of gold and silver, five hundred embroidered belts, gold and silver swords, and finally divides his country among his children according to their abilities and “after a few days accepted the invitation of God”.

These statements show that Western Azerbaijan was included in the formation and spread of “Oghuznames”, local folklore traditions, especially legends and narratives related to the Oghuzs.

Jean Tavernier, Jean Chardin, Kerr-Porter, James Morier, Cameron, Lord Lynch and other European travelers who visited Iravan reported about the folklore of Western Azerbaijan in their notes. Among them, Jean Chardin, who introduced the Iravan beylerbey under the name of the Chukhursad beyearbey, shows that the Sharur sultanate and the Nakhchivan khanate were part of it. He also states that no Armenian family lived in Iravan.

Research proves that Western Azerbaijani tradition-bearers being scattered all over Northern Azerbaijan for obvious reasons are subject to memory loss since they find themselves in a different geographic environment, withdrawn from traditional life and their memories fade over time. Because folklore can be functional only in its local environment. After detachment from its environment, it very quickly turns into the passive background. However, during the scientific expeditions organized to the regions of Azerbaijan where the Western Azerbaijanis lived compactly, rich materials coulb be collected that have not yet been erased from the memories.

Thanks to the research conducted in the direction of studying the semantics of historical memory and epic thinking in Western Azerbaijani folklore, the followings are determined:

– As in the folklore of all regions of Azerbaijan, the folklore of Western Azerbaijan is rich in toponymic legends, and by perpetuating the names of our old homelands these folklore examples unequivocally confirm the historical belonging of the Turks to these lands.

When examining the ethno-regional features of Western Azerbaijan folklore, it is determined that folklore, myths and legends, fairy tales, poetic examples, which are the products of a rich imagination of the local population of Western Azerbaijan, are also an indicator of the worldview of the people who settled there. Apart from the myths and legends that reflect the traditional Turkish worldview, also survive stories that keep the history of each geographical name and holy place of this region alive. The population living densely in the area from Agbaba to Vedibasar, from Loru to Zangezur, from Goyche to Zangibasar has created examples of architecture and crafts with very ancient historical roots.

Regions such as Iravan city, Vedibasar, Zangezur, Derelayaz, Aghbaba, Shorayel, Loru, Pambak, Goycha, Garagoyunlu, Shamsheddin are a part of Western Azerbaijan and are closely connected with other districts. This region, which is on major trade routes, is connected with the Ottoman state, northern and southern Azerbaijan, Borchali district by inseparable wires. It is a historical fact that the Turks living in Shamshaddin, Garagoyunlu, Dilijan and Goycha districts are almost the same as the local population of Ganjabasar in terms of customs and household.

Historically, Zangezur district, which was a part of the Karabakh Khanate, is identical with the Karabakh Turks in terms of their customs and lifestyle. The western part of this area mixed with the Anatolian Turks was in close contact with them. It is also a fact that areas like Iravan, Vedibasar, Garnibasar, Zangibasar are connected with the cities of South Azerbaijan like Tabriz, Khoy, Maku, etc. This manifests itself prominently in dialects, crafts, and customs. This region, distinguished by its rich cultural heritage, folklore, literature and music, is an integral part of the entire Azerbaijani culture. The history, cultural heritage, and toponyms of individual regions show its direct connection with the history and culture of Azerbaijan as a whole. The concept of “Western Azerbaijan folklore”, derived from the concept of “Western Azerbaijan”, which began to be developed as a geographical-political term since the end of the last century, is a new direction of Azerbaijani folklore studies. West Azerbaijani folklore, which is an integral part of Azerbaijan as a whole and all-Turkic folklores, in other words, this local variant, can and should be studied in the context of Azerbaijani and all-Turkic folklores.

Regional features are also observed in ceremonial folklore, customs and traditions recorded in Western Azerbaijan. For example, Nowruz eve and Nowruz holiday are widely celebrated in Western Azerbaijan as well as in other regions of our country. The population’s participation in this national celebration has led to the formation of very interesting folklore examples.

Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice), which echoes with antiquity long before Islam, was always celebrated with great solemnity and regional peculiarities in Western Azerbaijan. Khidir Nabi, which is one of the oldest ceremonies, until recently was celebrated.

One of the most urgent issues is the study of musical form of tiringi and nanai, which are included in the folk songs and genres of Azerbaijan. Their content, as in all types of art, is reflected in the form features. The main theme of the songs sung at either weddings or gatherings were longing for the homeland and the motives of separation, so the songs were sung with special fervour.

Aziz Alakbarli
Chairman of the Board of the Western Azerbaijan Community
Member of the Parliament, doctor of philosophy in philology, associate professor