Spring 1998 (6.1)
A Cuban Perspective about Azerbaijan
Hello, my name is Ricardo Rodriguez. I'm 34 years old. I'm from Cuba though I have lived on the Canary Islands for the past six years. I just discovered your Web site, and it brought back many memories of the time when I lived in Baku.
Like thousands of other Cubans, I had the chance to get a free university education in the former USSR. There were many foreign students in Baku at that time-mostly from Third World countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In 1987, after five years of study, I completed a Master's degree in Persian Language and Literature in Oriental Studies at Azerbaijan State University. I had always loved oriental culture, especially Persian, so when the opportunity presented itself, I didn't hesitate to go there to study. I speak Spanish, Persian, English, Russian, Azeri and some German and Italian. Later on, I was able to get a job related to my profession in Cuba although so far here in Spain, I have no such possibilities until I gain my Spanish citizenship in a few months.
In the beginning it was quite hard for us foreigners studying in Azerbaijan because the society and traditions were so different. At the time, the general situation was quite bad in Baku. But after the first year, we got used to everything. I had a lot of Azeri friends among my classmates. Some of them even told me that the KGB had warned them to avoid contact with any foreigners, including me. Despite this, our teachers loved us like their own children and invited us to their houses during the traditional celebrations.
Soon I started learning Azeri, and by the time I finished my studies I was able to speak and understand it. Sometimes, when I would be walking down the street, people mistook me for an Azeri and would ask me questions. I would have to explain in Russian that I didn't understand what they were saying. They used to get very upset, wondering how an Azerbaijani didn't know his own mother language. It was clear that they hated this.
My first son, Farid, was born in Baku in 1983. Now he's 14. Azeri words were among the first he spoke because he was enrolled in the local day care center.
I named my son Farid simply because I liked that name. It's a Middle Eastern name and means "unique" or "the best." I could have named him an ordinary Spanish name but I never wanted him to forget where he was born. Nowadays, he is very interested in everything that is related to Azerbaijan and one of his biggest dreams is to go back and visit the city where he was born.
The political situation in Azerbaijan, in comparison to that of Cuba's, (as you can imagine), was hard to compare because these countries were radically different at the time. In Azerbaijan, there was a pervasive feeling among people that they had been invaded (by Russians). It was forbidden to say anything against the Russians or against the Soviet Union. Corruption was widespread at every level of society.
Cuba was a completely different situation. Castro gained enormous power and popularity with the Cuban people though he soon became a dictator, betraying the confidence and hopes of the people.
Thanks for the magazines. Farid is also reading them and is fascinated with the pictures. We'd like to keep in touch and stay informed about Azerbaijani issues.
Canary Islands, Spain
From Azerbaijan International (6.1) Spring 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.
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