Winter 1998 (6.4)
- Reader's Forum
Presidential Elections in Azerbaijan -Ambassador to U.S. Hafiz Pashayev - Azer,11
- My Name and Your Journal - Azer,11
- My Own Heritage - A. Marjani
- Open Letter to President Khatami - Javad Heyat and other Azerbaijani intellectuals in Iran
- Warning: No Band-Aids on Bone Fractures
- More than Information-Connections - Shovgi R. Agayev
Presidential Elections in Azerbaijan
Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev's letter was published in the Washington Post on November 3, 1998.
The Washington Post's October 17, 1998 editorial "Missed Chance in Baku," concerning the Azerbaijan presidential election, reminds me of the proverbial question about whether the glass is half full or half empty. The Post obviously has chosen to declare Azerbaijan's election half-empty. A more sober judgment, in my opinion, would have declared the election half full.
We did not expect perfect elections, but almost all observers agree that this election represented significant improvements over previous elections. Election laws were improved, censorship was abolished, each candidate received free time on national television, open campaigning was encouraged, opposition candidates flourished, and hundreds of election monitors and observers were invited to witness the election. And while irregularities were reported, no one really questions the outcome.
With reference to the oft-cited criticism of the International Republican Institute (IRI), it is worth mentioning that long-term monitors usually sound much more constructive and understanding. While we appreciate IRI's comments, we would have welcomed the Institute's full-scale participation in the educational pre-election process.
My Name and Your Journal
You have not seen me and you do not know who I am, but I know you and love you very much because you like Azerbaijan. When I look through Azerbaijan International, I see how great and sincere your love is. Besides, I like this journal because its title is related to my name which is Azer which means Azerbaijan. So this is my journal. I am 11 years old.
I would like to ask you to publish lots of children's pages with colorful pictures. I will send you mine. I am fond of Disney characters and always try to draw them. But doctors do not allow me to work more than two hours at a time. They are afraid that my blood pressure will fall. I have a blood illness since birth [thalassemia]. I go for blood transfusions twice a month.
Left: Azer, 11. "My name means Azerbaijan!"
Oh, I wish you knew how agonizing and dangerous those blood transfusions are. That is why whenever I go to the clinic for a transfusion, I kiss my father and mother and sister because anything could happen.
There is only one way out and that is to have a bone marrow operation. It is a very complicated process. I am sorry that there are no hospitals and no qualified specialists in my country. Such hospitals only exist in Italy and the U.S. Some children like me have already been treated in the U.S. and they will survive. Whether you can help me or not, I shall love you until I die because you love Azerbaijan.
Azer, Age 11
Editor's Note: Thalassemia is a genetic disorder that afflicts more than 2,000 children in Azerbaijan. With the fall of the Soviet Union came the collapse of the medical situation as well, which is especially difficult for families of children with chronic diseases like hemophilia, leukemia and thalassemia. Tragically, children with thalassemia rarely live past their teens in Azerbaijan. The frequent blood transfusions, which are risky in themselves, result in an excessive intake of iron which severely damages the spleen. To date, the only medical cure is via a bone marrow transplant operation [See "The Crisis of Beta Thalassemia in Azerbaijan" in AI 3:4, Winter 1995].
My Own Heritage
I was a student in Baku shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Azerbaijan began its journey to independence. Since I'm from Tabriz in Southern Azerbaijan (Iran), I can say up to that time, I didn't really know what Azerbaijan was, nor who I was as an Azerbaijani young person.
Azerbaijan used to be one large region until 1828 when it was separated into two parts between Russia and Iran. Beginning in the 1920s, when Soviet power was established, all communication and transportation was forbidden between Azerbaijanis in the North and South. People were separated from each other. There was virtually no contact even though many of us had relatives living on the other side, including spouses, brothers, sisters, children. With the passage of time-half a century-the gap became even wider.
From childhood, I remember my family driving up to the Azerbaijan border of the USSR and gazing across the Araz River into the forest of trees beyond. It was such a mysterious place for us. We wondered: "What is going on over there? What has happened to them?" But even lingering too long to stare and think on these things was forbidden. I've heard that people from the North used to have the same experiences as we did.
My parents are Azerbaijanis. They spoke Azeri at home but they wanted to give me all the advantages of becoming fluent in the dominant language of the country I was living in. Therefore, I didn't grow up learning to speak Azeri though I did understand it. In school, all instruction was, and still is, given in Persian. That's the reason why I didn't really have any idea what it meant to be an Azerbaijani and to have a culture of my own that was not Persian.
When I was 20 years old, I transferred to the Medical School of the State University of Baku. I had long dreamed of becoming a dentist. During those years in Baku (1993-96), I spent all my time becoming immersed in this new culture which was really mine. I found Azerbaijanis so culturally rich and so talented in music. In my opinion the cultural development of Azerbaijanis on my side of the Araz (at least 25-30 million people) which is, at least, three times that of the Republic of Azerbaijan, has remained at a very primitive level although we share the same roots.
Now I'm back in Iran and I've set up my own practice as a dentist. I'm beginning to understand how precious and valuable my own culture and traditions are and how warm and hospitable my people are. It makes me proud to know that I belong to Azerbaijan now. I'm beginning to understand these things.
I keep in contact with my friends in Baku and try to understand the issues and incidents that are going on there. That's where your magazine comes in. I've been reading it for six years though I've never written you. Thanks so much for helping me become more conscious of my own heritage and identity.
The following letter in defense of the Azerbaijani language was written on May 5, 1998 and sent to President Khatami of the Islamic Republic of Iran after being signed by 54 Azerbaijani intellectuals living in Iran. Note that the population of Azerbaijanis living there is estimated at 25 to 30 million people or almost half of the entire population in Iran or, at least three times the population of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In Iran, the Azerbaijani language is called "Azerbaijani-Turki" or simply "Turki."
Letter to President Khatami of Iran
Azerbaijani-Turki speaking Muslims and compatriots comprise nearly half of the population of this country [Iran]. They have courageously participated in the historical creation of the Constitutional Revolution , the Islamic Revolution  and the war imposed by Iraq [1981-89]. Like other Iranians, their youth have shed their blood to protect the independence and the honor of this country.
Turki language and literature is a major part of the culture of this land, and it deserves to be protected like any other cultural heritage of this country. Nor is this language, like Persian, confined to the borders of Iran. It has spread to various regions of the world and is used both in oral and written discourse as the language of those lands.
As is known, Islam was spread throughout the world via three major languages-Arabic, Persian and Turkish. That is why Turkish is one of the languages of Islam. The Azerbaijani-Turki language spoken by the majority of Turkic Iranians is substantially the same as the Azeri used in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Essentially these lands were part of Iran until the Gajar period, when they became separated due to the unlawful treaties of Golestan and Turkmenchai [1813 and 1828] when the Northern part [now Republic of Azerbaijan] became part of the Russian Empire.
All Azerbaijanis view the Persian language as the cultural bridge that connects them to all other Iranians. Azerbaijanis have been the creators of several literary masterpieces in the Persian language throughout history. An Azerbaijani style has even been identified in Persian literature.
However, one of the vestiges of the era of the Pahlavi Dynasty is the cultural prejudice related to the use of the Turki language in Iran. It is the reason for the present-day indifference by officials to one of the most integral parts of the culture of our country. Outside Iran's borders, thousands of books are published in the Azerbaijani language.
Despite the fact that this language is taught in so many countries, unfortunately, in Iran, it is not taught in a single educational center. For example, at the University of Tabriz, in addition to Persian, degrees and courses are offered in Arabic, English, French, German, Russian, Kurdish and even Esperanto but not a single course exists in the native language of the people of this city.
At the same time, other religious minorities, such as the Armenian community, have programs in two universities-Isfahan and Tehran-where the Armenian language and literature are taught. In addition, their children are allowed to study in Armenian schools in their own language.
Furthermore, community discourse is generally conducted in a language other than our mother tongue. Our media (radio, television, and press), our commercial signs, wedding and funeral announcements and even our grave markers are in a language other than our mother tongue. And if, on occasion, something is expressed in Turki on the local radio or television, invariably the style is incorrect and incomprehensible as it is written by people who, though well-intentioned, are not specialists in the Turki language.
Consequently, these programs are becoming more and more a humiliation to our people as they are destroying the grammatical structure of our language. In summary, our language is more properly spoken on foreign radio stations than on our own. It is a fact that Iran is the only country in the world where the mother tongue of millions of people is neglected.
Mr. President, some would suggest that Azerbaijanis themselves are indifferent to their own language and that some of them instruct their children only in Persian. This may be true for a few, who, for example, like some Persians, encourage their children to excel in English more than their own language. Nevertheless, the preservation of the Turki language has been encouraged tremendously by the attention and affection of the majority of Azerbaijanis, its intellectuals and its honorable clergy. All over Azerbaijani and other Turkic regions of our country, the clergy address their followers and lead the ceremonial prayers in Turki. Turki is one of the oldest languages in the world and has ancient roots in Iran.
In conclusion, we apologize for our long letter, but we ask our honorable brother to consider our concerns and use his authority to eliminate the unfair and non-Islamic cultural discrimination and to follow justice in ruling about this matter. Without a doubt, neglecting our people's language and literature is against the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 15) which addresses the issue of ethnic languages. We trust that with your official help and consideration, the legitimate requests below will be achieved:
(1) The official endorsement of an obligatory educational program of Turki in all schools and high schools in regions where there is a Turki-speaking population. This should be carried out in parallel with the Persian language;
(2) The production and airing of radio and television programs conducted in Turki by people who are specialists in the language. Again, this should be carried out in parallel with Persian language programs;
(3) The establishment of Departments of Turki Language and Literature in universities;
(4) The encouragement to develop Turki literature for children via the Center for the Development of Children and Youth.
Signed by 54 of the leading Azerbaijani intellectuals in Iran, including:
Dr. Mohammad Taghi Zehtabi, Dr. Javad Heyat (1)
Dr. Gadi Golkariyan, Professor Hamid Mohammadzadeh
Karim Mashrootehchi, Manoochehr Azizi, Behzad Behzadi (2) Mohammad Farzaneh, Samad Sardornia, Nooshin R. Moosavi
(1) Dr. Javad Heyat is a surgeon who has edited and published the "Varlig" journal for nearly 20 years. This publication, which is in Turki (Arabic script), concentrates on Azerbaijani-related topics;
(2) Dr. Behzad Behzadi is an attorney at law who compiled and edited the first extensive Azerbaijani-Persian Dictionary (Arabic script), 1,144 pages, Tehran, 1990.
The Post's excellent coverage of the competition for the Caspian oil omits the extent of NATO's military involvement in the region ("U.S., Turkey Turn Up Pressure for Caspian Basin Oil Pipeline," October 28; "The Struggle for Caspian Oil," October 4; "No Peace in the Pipeline," September 2).
Azerbaijan and Georgia are using NATO's Partnership for Peace program as a vehicle to engage the alliance in protecting the Caspian oil pipelines against local insurgents. NATO's "Infrastructure Logistics & Civil Emergency Planning Division" has been providing advice to Azerbaijan on environmental security, i.e., handling oil spills and similar accidents.
The alliance now is considering a request from Azerbaijan to expand the cooperation to include "operational security," meaning cooperation on actually protecting or defending the Caucasus pipelines. NATO's role would consist of expert visits and consultations. Although NATO has no plans to offer actual military assistance to the Caucasus pipelines, the alliance may provide its expertise to local militaries. Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova are discussing a joint battalion tasked with protecting the pipelines.
Protection for oil facilities is needed because the Caucasus region-and Georgia in particular-is rife with secessionist rebellions that could target the pipelines. The coup in Georgia in October, for instance, forced a two-day suspension in the construction of the Baku-Supsa pipeline. The region's problems run deep, and for the West to offer military assistance for pipeline protection is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a bone fracture. Moreover, NATO advisers are likely to be viewed as provocation by Russia and Iran, which oppose U.S.-backed plans to build a pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey.
What is needed is a diplomatic effort to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts. Without a political resolution to these conflicts, the region never will be stable-not just for the pipelines but also for all the people living there.
More than Information, AI is Connections
I'm a 15-year-old senior at a private Christian high school in Phoenix, Arizona. I started reading your magazine before I came to the United States. For me, it used to be nothing more than just a chance to improve my English skills. But here I am now, on the other side of the world, very far away from my home and there's not much which lets me know what is going on over there.
Even the "small gossips" that I sometimes hear often turn out to be just that-gossip. There is no source that would give me a clear picture of what is going on in my country except yours.
You probably get a bunch of letters saying that you're an excellent source for keeping appraised of things going on in Azerbaijan, but for people like me, you are more than that. Through you, those of us who are away from Azerbaijan can create some sort of invisible connection with each other and with those who are back at home, and in that way we never let the Azerbaijani nation fall apart. Also every edition of your magazine is a new wonderful trip back to Azerbaijan.
Various circumstances have scattered our nation throughout the world. Often the connection between those who are away and those who are at home is missing. Each time, I read Readers' Forum, I see that you are the basis of this connection for so many people all over the world. Thank you very much for doing that for us. Way to go, guys!
Shovgi R. Agayev
October 26, 1998
From Azerbaijan International (6.4) Winter 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.