To: Dr Youssef Azemoun
Your future journal under the aegis of the name and glory
of the great Makhtumkuli. is undoubtedly a requirement of our time, the
new history of the peoples of Central Asia. In this sense you are showing
great sensitivity and readiness to promote the development of the
cultures of our countries in the most complex and important period of establishing an independent Central Asian contemporary society.
Every national culture at the end of the 20th Century is precious in its uniqueness, but at the same time every national culture achieves its peak in interaction with other cultures in the region and in the sphere of worldwide, universal values. This is shown by the experience of the history of the cultures of all parts of the world. This process does not flow spontaneously, it needs interpretation and analysis in creativity and spreading information.
I wish success to Youssef Azemoun's journal in Britain and beyond its borders, but primarily in our Asian Turkestan.
President of "ANKATSAZ" -
Assembly of cultures of peoples of Central Asia.
I am writing to tell you how I came to be involved with
Makhtumkuli. It started with a request from Dr Azemoun to "edit" his first
translation of the poet's work into English. This was the very first time
that any of his work had been translated into English. The poem was "The
Revelation". I took it home for the weekend and was completely captured
by the poetry and spirituality of it. I felt that a simple "editing" would
be insufficient. Here I was faced with a poem which is of world-wide significance,
a poem which transcends
national and cultural boundaries. I worked hard all weekend not just to "edit" the translation, but to try to put it into a poetic format in some way. I was delighted that Dr Azemoun felt that it was a good effort. Since then he and I have collaborated on about 30 poems of Makhtumkuli.
My guiding principle throughout has always been not to sacrifice authenticity for poetic license, and for that reason I have not sought to versify the poetry in English, merely to give the English-speaking reader a feeling for Makhtumkuli's poetry with a rhythmic flow that might help the initial perception.
Since my first acquaintance with this great poet, I have come to realize that I am dealing not just with a local genius, but with a poet of world stature. Sadly, he is a poet unknown to most of the "civilized" world. This is their loss. It may be that some of his poems are hard for western readers to understand because of cultural differences, but I think that the majority of his work is completely understandable to most people in the West on a human level, regardless of cultural references and religious connotations. It also seems to me that his
morality - again regardless of religion - responds to the deepest instincts of most human beings, whether from East or West.
I hope that your magazine will help spread awareness of and love for the poetry of Makhtujnkuli among the English-speaking world.
(see elsewhere in this issue for a
sample f Peter Hughes' verse
translation - Ed.)
A decade ago Makhtumkuli was unknown to me but the story
of how we became acquainted might well have inspired one of his epic poems!
In 1967, after two years spent in Damascus, we prepared to return to England. We would take home with us tangible reminders of our time there. We had acquired brocades, mosaic boxes, copper and brasswork, and finally, a rug.
It was this rug which was to lead me to the land of Makhtumkuli. it was a Turkmen rug of Tekke design. The owner, a man on pilgrimage from N. E. Iran to Mecca had, we learnt, sold it in Damascus to enable him to complete his journey.
Almost twenty years later I began work on a novel (my first) about the Middle East. I had intended to write about Damascus, but found myself being drawn backward in time and eastward, to a region where Iran, Turkmenistan and Mghanistan meet. The rug was to become an integral part of the story.
In the course of my research into the history of Turkmenistan and the Tekke tribe in particular, I met Youssef [Azemoun]., (This came about as the result of a chance encounter between my eldest son and an ex-colleague of Youssef's whilst they were both working abroad).
Youssef gave generously of his time and knowledge of Central Asia. It enabled me to give life to my Turkmen characters and how they must have lived. It was during this period that I heard Youssef give a lecture on Makhtumkuli at SOAS. His enthusiasm was infectious. When the lecture ended I knew Makhtumkuli must somehow be woven into my story. He was such a compelling figure whose tragic personal life gave great depth and insight to his poetry, a man who lit the fire of nationhood in Turkmenistan.
The novel took six years to complete. Writing had to be sandwiched between voluntary work and family duties! It is called KARAKUL (Turkmen for Black Rose). It is, as yet, unpublished, but with rising interest in Central Asia following the break up of the Soviet Union, I hope, one day, to see it in print.