Spring 1999 (7.1)
Baku's Multi-Culturalism - Vugar Seidov, Budapest, Hungary
Baku's "ABC's"- Afagh Mastanova (16) and Konul Khalilova (16), Baku Turkish Anatolian High School
Noruz in Texas - Rubaba Ismayilova, Graduate Student at Texas A&M University and recipient of a Pennzoil Student Scholarship
Tabriz Theater - Pirouz Khanlou, Publisher, Azerbaijan International
Theatrical Performances - Dr. Hasan Khanlou, Tabriz (Azeri-Arabic script)
Memories of Yesteryear - Hadi Shafaieh
Queen Recognizes Elizabeth Young, wife of Ambassador Thomas Young
Noruz stamp designs by Ismayil Mammad
While reading newspapers, browsing the Internet, watching TV, I often encounter materials that are deliberately aimed at damaging the image of my home country, Azerbaijan, in the eyes of the international community. For those who are somewhat familiar with the post-Soviet destiny of Azerbaijan, it is quite obvious which forces are pursuing this goal and for what ultimate purpose. They desperately create new myths and spread them throughout their propaganda network.
Unfortunately, ordinary people abroad know so little about Azerbaijan's dramatic history, rich culture and beautiful traditions. Therefore, these myths often take root and lead to negative stereotypes about our country.
In this regard, it is important to counter the misrepresentation of our country and nation by educating the international public through the available media channels. One area that has recently been targeted is Azerbaijan's treatment of its numerous ethnic and religious minorities. For me, it is particularly disturbing to hear about the alleged oppression of minorities in Azerbaijan, as I come from there and know these charges are not true. Ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity has made Baku a historical model of a multicultural society, so much so that one of our prominent writers, Magsud Ibrahim-beyov, is fond of saying, "It would as hard to create an ultra-nationalist group in Baku as it would be to form a local ice-hockey team."
Given this background, any attempt to suggest that Azerbaijan's minorities are oppressed is absurd. In my opinion, opening a discussion on this issue in AI would serve as a good channel to deliver information to those who would be interested to learn more about the diversity in Azerbaijani society.
For example, one of the most vivid manifestations of Azerbaijan's religious tolerance can be found in the architecture of downtown Baku where a Muslim mosque, a Jewish synagogue, and Russian Orthodox , Protestant and Armenian church buildings are all located within one square mile. When it comes to the Jewish community, Azerbaijan is one of the very few places in the world where this group does not experience anti-Semitism. A sizeable Jewish community has lived right alongside the indigenous population for many generations.
It's interesting to note the beginning of a trend that seems to be developing among Jews from Azerbaijan who emigrated to Israel for economic reasons in the early 1990s. Already a number of them have returned to Baku to open businesses. I was surprised to meet several old friends of mine in Baku recently who had left for Israel and who told me that once they arrived there, they had faced severe competition for the best jobs with other newcomers and earlier immigrants. And so some are returning to Azerbaijan.
Unfortunately, such examples of our open-mindedness and multi-culturalism are too frequently glossed over, leaving the negative stereotypes of the region to influence the minds of the international community
We read your magazine and like it very much not just because it gives us a chance to improve our English skills - it's more than that. It gives us a chance to learn more about our own country and culture. Every time we open it we find something new.
In the last issue about Architecture, we liked the article "Just for Kids" called "The ABC's of Baku" [AI 6.4, pg. 66-67]. Many times we've seen those letters - those monograms - carved on some of the old buildings but never realized that they were the initials of the original owners. Even though we know about the Oil Baron Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev, we never realized that his initials "ZT" could be found on his old buildings. Now when we walk the streets of Baku, we can understand more of our history. So, thanks.
Afagh Mastanova (16) and Konul Hilalova (16)
Baku Turkish Anatolian High School
Noruz in Texas
I'm an Azeri originally from Georgia and born in Tbilisi, so there are many things about the history and culture of Azerbaijan that I am not familiar with. That's why I always find something new in every issue of your magazine.
By the way, we just celebrated Noruz (New Year-Spring Equinox, March 21) here. There were about 15 of us from Azerbaijan in various departments of the university. Also, we found students from Uzbekistan and Kazakstan who also celebrate Noruz. Recently, we all got together and had a chance to wear our national costumes and present our national dances at the International Week at the university. It was a nostalgic occasion for all of us right here in Texas.
Graduate Student at Texas A&M University
and recipient of a Pennzoil Student Scholarship
In our last issue, we published an article about the Tabriz Opera Theater [See AI 6.4, pg. 68-69, "History Won't Forget"] in Azeri (Arabic script). This building was a unique architectural landmark built early this century. Although the architect is unknown, he is believed to have come from the Caucasus since he incorporated the same style that is found in so many buildings in Baku and Tbilisi-a combination of Italian Renaissance style with a highly ornamental interior of German Rococo.
In the mid-1970s, as an architecture student in London, I wrote my thesis on The Qajar Period Architecture of Tabriz and took photos, measured drawings of the building's floor plan and did a survey of the building. Unfortunately, this building no longer exists. To everyone's dismay, in 1980 a decision was made to bulldoze the building and open the space for Friday prayers in the center of Tabriz.
As far as we know, there has never been any other documentation of significance ever published about this building. Our article seemed to trigger a lot of bittersweet memories, especially among Tabrizis who used to attend plays and concerts in that elegant theater. Here are a few samples:
Your recent article about the Tabriz theater was developed from an architectural point of view. It would be a pity not to mention a few names associated with the dramatic works performed there, especially that of Mohammad Ali Roshdi and his colleagues. Roshdi was a brilliant actor who also served as director and prompter. Under his direction, a number of Uzeyir Hajibeyov's works were performed there. Later, Roshdi collaborated with the gifted actor Ali Sadeghi, Mr. Aminpoor and Fatima Zarghar. Thanks to their collaboration, the theater became quite popular in Tabriz in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mr. Roshdi taught Acting and Theater at the Teacher's Training College in Tabriz during the 1950s and often directed plays written by a local writer, Mr. Hossein Omid, a high school literature teacher. These used to be performed especially at notable events when officials came to Tabriz.
Dr. Hasan Khanlou
Tabriz (Azeri-Arabic script)
Memories of Yesteryear
My son subscribes to your magazine. I don't know English, but I read the Azeri articles both in Latin and Arabic script. I look at the pictures and I understand them very well! (I'm a professor of photography in Iran).
Thanks for your article about the Tabriz Opera Theater in your latest issue. Those rare photos had a deep effect on me, reminding me of my childhood when I was four or five years old. Now 70 years later, I can still remember the plays I saw and the décor of the theater because we used to go there quite often.
My uncle had a friend named Asadulla Khan. I don't know what his position was, but he certainly had considerable authority. He came from the Caucasus just as we had come from Tbilisi. He regularly sent us tickets for seats in one of the upper booths on the right-hand-side. You can see it in the picture. That was our regular place.
The first booth with the light-blue velvet curtain belonged to the Shah (the Royal Booth), though he never, ever attended! I remember so vividly the old Azeri plays that were performed there. Oh, those marvelous days!
Tehran (Azeri-Arabic script)
It's not every day that you get an audience with the Queen, much less a chance to tell her about something close to your heart. Last November, Elizabeth Young, the wife of Thomas Young, former British Ambassador to Azerbaijan (1993-1997), was able to do just that. Elizabeth was named Member of the Order of the British Empire for her charitable services in Azerbaijan and received the medal at Buckingham Palace from Queen Elizabeth herself.
The two of them discussed the current situation in Azerbaijan at length. Elizabeth recalls, "She [Her Majesty] asked me how things were in the orphanages in Azerbaijan, and I was able to tell her how much better off the children and care-givers are these days than before. I accepted the prize not just for myself but also on behalf of all the others who helped with everything I did there. I like to think the Order also came in recognition for all we spouses do to support our husbands during their Foreign Service careers."
Elizabeth's husband, Thomas, was the first British Ambassador to Azerbaijan. When they first arrived in Baku in 1993, one of the first things that Elizabeth did was to help found the International Women's Club of Baku (IWC) with a membership of 50% Azeri and 50% foreign women. The club's purpose is to foster friendship and mutual understanding between foreigners and Azerbaijanis. By 1997, when the Youngs left for a new assignment in Zambia, the club had grown to more than 150 members.
One of the IWC's main goals is to improve the quality of life for local handicapped children and orphans. Under the Soviet system, the State took care of everyone with disabilities. Beginning in the early 1990s, the conditions at most institutions worsened considerably. Facilities were run down, and there was no money to improve them.
The club's initial fund-raising efforts for children began with a raffle, which raised $5,000. The next year, they raised $12,000-the next, $20,000. Each year, events such as the Holiday Bazaar, held each December, raise more and more money for Baku-area children. By 1997, the total amount raised exceeded $100,000.
Most of the money is spent locally. The IWC provides many items to local institutions, including kitchen equipment, laundry facilities, blankets, educational materials and toys. Club members enlist the help of the local business community to improve the children's living conditions, such as heating, wiring and plumbing.
One particularly large effort was a children's circus party held in January 1997. With the cooperation and support of many companies and organizations, the IWC brought in 2,400 children to enjoy a day of circus performances. Elizabeth calls it "one of the most exciting and fulfilling things I've ever done. The look of delight on the children's faces will remain with me forever." When the Youngs first arrived in Baku in 1993 and set up the Embassy office in the Old Intourist Hotel, they comprised nearly 30 percent of the total British population in Baku-two out of a total of seven British expatriates. Today there are thousands.
The younger Young generation has also built up relationships with Azerbaijan. Their daughter Harriet, upon graduating from Oxford, came to Baku for 15 months and worked for UNHCR, World Bank, UNICEF and Save the Children. She and her parents served as UN monitors for the 1995 elections. The Young's son Simon visited Baku regularly during his breaks from university. The Youngs hope to visit friends in Baku this summer and also to see how the children in the orphanages are getting along.
From Azerbaijan International (7.1) Spring 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.