Summer 1996 (4.2)
Pages 6, 67-68
What Really Matters
This morning the latest issue of Azerbaijan International arrived on my desk in London. Putting aside Qatar, Algeria, Namibia and the rest of my new world, I opened it. Turning the pages, memories of the effort, the frustration and the hardships of the last four years came pouring back-all warm, sticky and sweet.
The short story by Sabir Ahmadli is a glimpse at the "Azeri" soul. The calm poetic beauty of the writer's words convey the utter senselessness of the brutality that has been directed towards the peoples of this region-in Baku, Almaty, and Chechnya- which stretch back unchanged to the time even before the Tsars.
Amazing, no matter the frustration and personal inconvenience, I really loved what I was doing in Baku. I loved the people I was working with, and the idea that what Chevron is doing in Azerbaijan really matters. After four years, perhaps, I became too involved with Azerbaijan and too focused on Baku . . . perhaps.
To Azerbaijan International, thank you for causing me to remember. In the end, it is the memories of real people, of real effort, and of real friendships that really matter.
April 4, 1996
Editor: Michael O'Day commuted between Berkeley, California, and Baku for four years as Chevron's New Venture Advisor for Azerbaijan. He is now living in London and working for Chevron on new ventures in Africa and the Middle East.
Best Kept Travel Secret in the World
We are two Americans living in Saudi Arabia who have lived and traveled abroad for more than 15 years and visited more than 40 countries. Recently, we met some Azerbaijanis from Baku and pumped them for information about this area of which we knew so little. It resulted in a new friendship and a two week vacation to Azerbaijan (extended from one week because we were having such a good time).
Azerbaijan is one of the best kept travel secrets in the world. We want everyone to know it's worth the trip. Never have we visited a country in which we were so warmly accepted or which was so full of delightful surprises. Azerbaijan has a deep and fascinating history. The capital is a beautiful city, reminiscent of old Vienna. The surrounding countryside is rich in archaeology and agriculture. We stayed at one of the hotels that was within walking distance of a seaside boulevard park as well as the ancient walled inner city. Azerbaijanis love to celebrate culture and the Arts. There are museums, theaters and squares throughout the city as well as opera houses and concert halls. The food is great and taxis are cheap. For sightseeing tours we met Azerbaijan International's Contributing Writer, Fuad Akhundov, who calls himself "amateur" but we found him the best and most knowledgeable guide we had ever had in any place in the world.
Please help us encourage travelers to go and see this unspoiled corner of the world. We're definitely going back!
Hank and Sonja Scharles
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
March 25, 1996
Nobel Prize Funded from Baku
I recently checked the Nobel Foundation Web Page and found nothing about our homeland, Azerbaijan, in connection to the world recognized Nobel Prize. Well, I complained. Here's the letter I wrote and the result...
"I recently saw the Nobel Foundation Web Page and the article about Alfred Nobel, benefactor of the Nobel Prize. The article is very well written except that it omits that Nobel acquired much of his wealth in Azerbaijan, specifically from oil fields in Baku at the turn of last century. This money is still being used to honor Nobel Laureates and their great contributions to modern society. Please contact me if I'm wrong, however I would really appreciate if additional material about the life of Nobel in Azerbaijan could be added to your Web Server."
The reply I received came from Hans Mehlin of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm who wrote, "You are correct. Especially Alfred's brothers, [Robert and Ludwig] were involved in the oil business in Azerbaijan. We are planning to make extensive changes to the Server this summer. Plans are already being made to include this kind of information. Several relatives of the Nobel Family will be traveling to Azerbaijan this summer to visit places that relate to the Nobels. They will provide us with photos and text after the trip."
Northwestern Michigan University
April 30, 1996
Editor: Azerbaijan International wrote about the relationship of the Nobel Prize to Azerbaijan (AI 2:3. Summer 1994). Alfred Nobel was the largest single shareholder in the Baku oil fields and factories owned by his brothers, Robert and Ludwig. When Alfred died in 1896, much of his legacy went to fund the Nobel Prize. Swedish historian, E. Bargengren, who had access to the Nobel family archives, insists that it was this "decision to allow withdrawal of Alfred's money from Baku that became the decisive factor that enabled the Nobel Prizes to be established." This year, 1996, commemorates 100 years since the Prize was established, although the first awards were designated in 1901.
For the article and photos about Petrolea Park which surrounds the still existing beautiful stone structure of the Nobel Residence, visit our Web Site: (http://www.azer.com) Environmental Issue, Summer 1994.
Blood is Life for Thalassemic Children
We thank you very much for helping us search for a solution for such a very important health problem in Azerbaijan as Thalassemia-a genetic blood disease (see AI 3:4, 54. Autumn 1995, "The Crisis of Beta Thalassemia in Azerbaijan"). You gave us an opportunity to speak through your magazine to the world about the desperate situation that exists here when children are born with Thalassemia. It is so difficult for the families and medical personnel to see how much these children suffer and how often and how young they are when they die. This tragedy is even more painful when we realize how much more we could do to save these children if the country were not going through economic chaos and if the health care here in Azerbaijan were in better shape.
Your sympathy and sharing of other people's grief will be deeply remembered in the hearts of our people. After your article, we received several responses to help. We hope that acts of humanity from people like yourself will save the lives of many children.
Dr. Azar Karimov, Director
Institute of Hematology
and Blood Transfusion
Editor: Dr. Karimov was the co-author of the article he mentions (Reference our Web Page for all back issues of AI). The Institute of Hematology is in desperate need for all sorts of equipment related to blood transfusions including simple plastic blood bags ($5 each when bought in quantity) in which to collect blood. Presently, the city collects blood in glass jars and has very little available to meet the needs of the 2,000 Thalassemic children who receive transfusions once or twice a month, not to mention the needs of Hemophilic children, routine operations, traumatic accidents or the critical importance for the city to be prepared for any national emergency. Contact Dr. Karimov at the Hematology Institute, 87 Gashgai St, Baku 370000. Tel: (99412) 96-53-18; Fax: 96-63-34.
Clinging to Life Until the Turn of the Century
I'm the author of the short article "The Thalassemic Child: A Mother's Dilemma" which you published in your Autumn 1995 issue (AI 3:4, p. 56). Thank you very much for revealing our misfortune to the world.
I'm 33 years old, a physician by profession. Three years ago I was happy. I had a family, a husband. I loved and was loved. We had a healthy and handsome seven year old son. And then we decided that our son should have a little sister. From then on, my life turned into a nightmare. Our second child was a beautiful girl and when she was two years old, she was diagnosed with thalassemia-a hereditary blood disorder. The average life span for such children is 24 in the world, in Azerbaijan these days, it's only about 10-12 years. And so when we received the diagnosis, the meaning of my life was lost. No mother can reconcile herself to such a tragedy of seeing her innocent child slowly perish.
I feel the ground slipping from beneath my feet. In search of a way out of this situation, I am losing my head. I'm in despair. An ominous fate is hanging over me and my family but I will not give in. I will struggle for the life of my daughter and the happiness of my family which is unthinkable without Nargis (her name is the flower, "Narcissus").
My elder son, Farid, who is already ten and is aware of my sufferings tells me, "Don't feel so miserable, Mother. Everything will be OK with us and I will save my sister even if I have to sacrifice my health for her." Trying to support me morally, he cannot imagine how dangerous this illness is for his sister. A child is only a child after all.
The point is that the situation in Azerbaijan is desperate. Thalassemia is endemic here. Proportionately, we have more than our share of children with this disease-more than 2,000 children. The families with these children desperately need help. We can't even depend on getting sufficient blood that we need in Azerbaijan.
Scientists promise us that a cure is imminent by about the turn of the century. Our greatest task here in Azerbaijan is just to be able to help our children cling to life until such a cure is found. Our Institutes are so desperate for all the equipment and supplies, from blood bags to blood pumps that help filter out excessive iron when our children are transfused. It's so hard to find blood donors; there are so many problems linked with this disease. Every day we clutch onto life by the sheer force of our willpower.
Kind people do exist everywhere who take no heed of nationality or religion. Human kindness is immortal and I believe such people exist who can help us to until a cure can be found. I believe in miracles and await-both with fear and expectation.
Dr. Aida Hasanova
Tel: (99412) 95-55-43
Distinguished in the Entire Former Soviet Union
Of all the publications that cross my desk related to the Newly Independent States (NIS), "Azerbaijan International" provides the most thorough coverage of any Republic in the former Soviet Union in its depiction of the many layers of contemporary society. Such material in English is rare and difficult to find on many of these newly independent countries.
The interviews, features, business stories, literary contributions, letters and photos provide the most diverse and comprehensive coverage about Azerbaijan available anywhere in the world for the English language reader. To that end, I'm pleased to see that you now have an "Azerbaijan International Web Page" on the Internet and that the majority of your articles from all the previous issues are being made available there. This provides a wealth of material worldwide about Azerbaijan to those with computer access.
Extremely important are your articles in Azeri (both Latin and Arabic script) for those scholars, specialists and native speakers who rarely have such a forum for public discourse and expression through native languages.
Despite the difficult transition now taking place in Azerbaijan, your publication strives to present a balanced, forward-thinking depiction of Azerbaijan. With continuing hardships borne by the people, it is crucial to look to the future, focusing on the positive and constructive developments in international relations, politics, economics, social issues and on the individuals themselves who are working towards realizing these goals in Azerbaijan. Thanks for your commitment to the future of this region by publishing such a journal.
Rick Swanson, IREX
May 8, 1996
Editor: Rick Swanson is Senior Program Officer for the Eurasia Division at IREX and thus regularly travels to many of the countries of the NIS and Azerbaijan to promote academic exchanges and training programs for the region.
Medical Care - Primarily an Economic Problem
I just received the Literature Issue and was really impressed, as usual. One very descriptive word for AI is "classy," whatever the theme! It's not a particularly literary word, but apt just the same.
Since the Health and Medical Care Issue [AI 3:4, Autumn 1995], I've been on the lookout for more information about Azerbaijan medicine. I'm convinced that they could teach us quite a bit about TLC-"tender loving care," that increasingly rare, but most important of all medical services.
Their medical science may not be exactly the latest because of outdated equipment, but the hearts of so many of their medical personnel definitely seem to be in the right place. If true, that makes their initial problem more economic than scientific. It must be a real mind-boggler to make the transition from Communist to Capitalist economics!
I also have just read somewhere that Azeris have one doctor for every 875 citizens. If that figure is accurate, it exceeds the US ratio by quite a sizable margin and makes me wonder what happens to all the 8,000 medical students when they graduate. I'm looking forward to the time when the Azerbaijan Medical University has its own Web Page or Listserv. Hope that will come in 1996.
Dr. Paul Millikin
April 22, 1996
Azerbaijan - Bittersweet Portrait
Thanks for your terrific issue about "Contemporary Literature in Azerbaijan" (4:1, Spring 1996). I found it both interesting and inspiring as it provided a frame of reference showing how the Soviet period impacts literature and writing today. I was very touched by Rail Kuliyev's concern [Reader's Forum] about the need for materials in the British Library which reflect the true spirit of contemporary and independent Azerbaijan.
Jala Garibova's interview with writer Sabir Ahmadli [New Literary Voices] helped me more fully comprehend the short story, "Voice from the Sea," describing the tragic events of January 19, 1990, when Russian troops attacked Baku.
What really shocked me was Galib Mammad's article [Loopholes and Democracy: An Azerbaijani Diplomat Looks at U.S. Policy]. While I like to think of myself as a relatively well-informed person, I didn't know about Section 907 of the "Freedom Support Act" which denies direct aid to Azerbaijan's government. Nor did I know that Azerbaijan is the only single Republic among 15 of the Former Soviet Union which has been denied US financial support. I wish I knew more. I'd be willing to write a letter if I had more information.
Azerbaijan International, under your editorship, paints a bittersweet picture of what is, and has been, going on in Azerbaijan. Poignant because it shows an independent culture which has been throttled and which is trying to break out and establish its own identity. Best wishes for the continued success of AI.
Edwin D. Lawson
President, American Name Society
April 29, 1996
The Youth Will Save Our Country
When I first opened "Azerbaijan International" in August 1995, I couldn't believe my eyes. This magazine contains everything an Azeri would be proud to share with people of the world-both happiness and grief, joy and sorry. Thanks for publishing it.
I'm an exchange student from Azerbaijan, completing my junior year at Klein High School in Houston. I've been here seven months. So much has happened to me during this short period. It has definitely changed my purpose for living.
Before I came to America, I was a simple Azeri schoolgirl, who was interested in the English language, American history and culture. I loved this country very much but could never dream about coming here. America was something great, but much too far away.
When the American Embassy opened in Baku in 1993, I used to spend hours visiting its library reading room with its magnificent books. One day I learned that United States Information Services (USIS) and World Learning were planning to sponsor an exchange program for high school students and 50 students would be selected to study in the US for one year. I was so thrilled just to be able to dream about such a possibility.
The competition was very difficult. Nearly one thousand students competed in the application process which included tests, compositions, interviews and cultural orientation. In the end I was one of the lucky few to be chosen. My family and friends say I was "born under a lucky star in a happy shirt." I think it's true.
I soon learned that even though Americans are very different from Azerbaijanis, they're still very easy to make friends with. When I first started school in Texas, my classmates-American teenagers-always asked where I was from. When I told them, they were surprised and showed skepticism on their faces. They would ask, "From Aza...what?" And then I would be bombarded with questions like, "Is it in Africa?" or "Do you have electricity, cars and TV sets?" Answering all these questions made me very sad and, to tell you the truth, a bit insulted. How could American students, who have all these wonderful books and all these wonderful opportunities to learn about every country in the world, not know anything about Azerbaijan?
That's when I decided to try to use every opportunity to tell my friends about my country. It wasn't long before my Sociology teacher asked me to address the class. I really wanted my classmates to know how people live in other countries-not having three or four cars in every garage, supermarkets always full of food, pharmacies brimming with medicine and malls full of beautiful clothes. But more importantly, I wanted them to know what it's like not having peace in their homeland.
A lot of students ask me if I want to stay in the US. I tell them I can't despite how wonderful life is here. If I stayed here, it wouldn't help my country one bit. I didn't come here just to enjoy my year in an American high school. I came to learn why American is great and how it works so I can go back help my country to grow strong so that one day when foreigners will say, "Azerbaijan! Cool! I've heard a lot about that great country!"
I've changed alot this year. I look at life much more seriously. I've learned that as a single individual, I can make a significant difference. Before I came here, my biggest dream was to become the interpreter to Azerbaijan's President. But now I'm convinced there is something more important for me to do. I want to be a simple teacher in a simple secondary school in Baku because it's the young people who will save our country.
Not long ago my father wrote me, reminding me that in the beginning of this century great companies like Nobel and Rothschilds operated in Azerbaijan. Had it not been for the 1917 Revolution and Russian intervention in Azerbaijan, today we would be among the most highly developed countries in the world. Instead, we're just the same as the other 14 Republics of the former Soviet Union, struggling through an enormously difficult economic crisis that affects every aspect of our lives.
Our legacy from the USSR is a ruined economy and an oil industry with old, worn-out technology. To restore all this will take a long time, even with the help of foreign investment. It is impossible to build new economic relationships based on ruined socialist economies. We must change the psychology of our people and raise up a new nation with a new entrepreneurial worldview. For this, our country needs specialists with broad experience in the fields of science and technology. I agree with my father. And that's why I want to be a teacher-the best teacher I can possibly be.
In closing, let me thank the government of the United States, World Learning Organization, Close-Up Foundation and all the kind and generous American people including our dear host families who have made these educational opportunities possible. Thanks for everything you've done for us.
Gunel Nasibova, 16
Azerbaijani High School Exchange Student
From Azerbaijan International (4.2) Summer 1996
© Azerbaijan International 1996. All Rights Reserved.