Spring 1998 (6.1)
Reflections of a Russian Soldier
It was really a pleasant surprise to find an article related to the Arabic alphabet on your Web site ["Alphabet in the Boiling Pot of Politics" by Abulfazl Bahadori, AI 1.3, September 1993]. Actually, I found it quite by accident while searching for a clear explanation of the Arabic alphabet in relation to my interest in Islam, and my crazy idea of trying to read the Qur'an in its original form. What great news to discover an entire Web site dedicated to Azerbaijan!
In 1987, a few weeks before the Nagorno Karabakh conflict started, I was transferred to the Zyria Brigade of the Anti-Aircraft Defense, where I continued my service as a sergeant on one of the isolated points near the Damba settlement on the very tip of Absheron peninsula. Our staff was very limited and that's why we were never involved in any kind of operations related to the conflict (thank God!) but, rather, spent most of our time in front of the radar screen performing meaningless activities that the Soviet Army was so famous for.
In the fall of 1988, I was transferred to the town of Gousan (Russian "Govsany") where I served as a "drill sergeant" for almost a year, teaching hundreds of draftees. My commanders were very lenient and gave us drill sergeants freedom that the other soldiers and sergeants could only dream of. Each of us were allowed to leave the base and visit Gousan or Surakhani several times a week.
To tell you the truth, it was really sad to see towns in Azerbaijan flooded with arrogant "Spetznaz" soldiers. [Spetznaz was the acronym for "Special Purposes" forces, which included the most highly trained killers from all four branches of the armed forces (navy, army, marines and air force).]
At the same time, I was amazed by the hospitality and cheerfulness of the local people. My friends and I were always welcomed by Azerbaijani people and given pastries and fruits, in spite of our Russian origin.
Once, my commander organized a tour to Surakhani to see the ancient fire temple outside Baku. It was (and, I hope, still is) a beautiful masterpiece of pre-Islamic architecture. To my great surprise, I found numerous writings on the walls in a script that was neither Arabic nor (of course) Cyrillic. It was then that I started asking my Azerbaijani soldiers about the history of their land.
Unfortunately, all I could gather from them was the fact that Azerbaijan was divided between Soviet Union, Iran and Turkey, and some stories about the hero Babak who fought against Arabian conquerors in the 7th century.
It wasn't until today when reading your article that I got a clear explanation about the history of the Azerbaijani alphabet! Thank you very much for your article.
I wish your wonderful country freedom and prosperity and hope to visit it someday again-this time without a uniform.
Dmitry V. Leontiev
Wayne State University School of Medicine
From Azerbaijan International (6.1) Spring 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.
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