it looks like we made it to the "Turn of the Century".
No major mishaps. No Y2K crisis. No devastating natural disasters
nor terrorist acts marred the grandest global celebration known
to humankind though, no doubt, most of us were holding our breaths
as the fireworks ushered in the New Year. Let's hope that such
calm civility and camaraderie is a good omen for the years to
Photo: Editor Betty Blair, age 2.
I remember when I first
heard about this thing called the "Turn of the Century".
It was in the late 50s.
I don't remember whether my grammar school teacher mentioned
the Millennium or not. Maybe she did, but I was too busy trying
to figure out whether I would be around. How can a kid measure
out years and decades when just waiting for summer took an eternity
and anybody older than 30 was classified as "ancient"?
Time is always such an elusive concept. But I finally figured
out that, with any luck, my chances were pretty good that I might
welcome in the New Century. My grandma had already lived as long
as I would have to - to reach 2000.
Of course, as U.S. President Bill Clinton reminded us at the
countdown to the Millennium, this thing we call Year 2000 is
an artificial construct that depends on when one starts counting.
For Muslims this year is 1420; for Hindus, 1921; for Buddhists,
2543. Mayans honor the year 5119 and the Hebrew calendar reads
5760. Let me just add to Clinton's list, that in Iran, where
an estimated 25 million Azerbaijanis live, the year is observed
as 1378. To the north, in the Republic of Azerbaijan, CNN panned
its television cameras for the world to catch a glimpse of the
large digital clock announcing 2000, towering over the promenade.
In the background, fireworks lit up the Caspian.
Regardless of which calendar we follow, two other phenomena have
occurred this century that will never be repeated in any future
century or millennium. The first was Man's quest in space - especially,
Man's walk on the moon in 1969. Though the Soviets put Yuri Gagarin
into earth's orbit in 1961, the image of American Neil Armstrong,
lumbering across the cratered moonscape was unforgettable. His
words transmitted back down to Earth still echo in our minds:
"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
It made us believe that unthinkable quests were achievable.
Space exploration, of course, was inextricably linked to the
propaganda and arms race between the West and the Soviet Union,
each side claiming superiority for its respective politico -
The second phenomenon was the collapse of the Soviet Union in
1991. It was unimaginable for most Soviets, including Azerbaijanis,
even among those wishing for its demise [See "Unthinkable
- The Collapse of the Soviet Union", Autumn 1999, AI 7.3].
In an interview published here, President Aliyev recalls his
amazement that the disintegration took place so quickly, "virtually
overnight". This historical event proved the fragility of
political systems, even those seemingly deeply entrenched.
With the advent of the New Century and New Millennium, most of
us have been reflecting on our past as we anticipate our future,
like the Roman god Janus facing backwards and forward at the
same time. What are the biological, cultural, economic, political
and social forces that have shaped us? Where will these paths
take us in the future?
We've devoted numerous pages in this issue to asking Famous People
from Azerbaijan what their own childhoods were like, wondering
what influences shaped their own distinct careers.
Again and again, people told us that the most compelling influence
in their lives could be summed up in one word - Kindness. They
acknowledged the untiring concern and support of a parent, a
teacher, a family friend that nudged them down a particular path.
"I chose history, not math, because I liked my history teacher
more than my math teacher who was so strict," reminisced
Ramiz Abutallibov, who went on to develop a career in diplomacy.
Neither poverty nor privilege seemed to be the most determining
factor. That's an encouraging sign, given that hundreds of thousands
of young people in Azerbaijan have been thrust into the unwanted
status of homelessness this decade because of the conflict with
Armenia. These days refugees are totally occupied with inching
their way into new communities, new identities, new sources of
income, new access to education and opportunity. Undoubtedly,
their paths have been immensely frustrated and difficult. But
clearly, if history has anything to teach us, the damage does
not have to be irreparable.
Many of those we interviewed mentioned the power of reading in
their lives, crediting books with expanding their minds beyond
the limitations of geography, politics and history. Most mourned
the fact that young people today are not reading as much as they
Nearly everyone implored youth to keep their optimism and faith.
As Filmmaker Rustam Ibrahimbeyov noted, "Be assured that
love and truth and goodness do exist. If you don't meet the ideal
woman, it doesn't mean that there is no such thing as love in
life. When you are on difficult terms with your Motherland and
your government, don't get discouraged and think that you shouldn't
love your nation. If a friend betrays you, it doesn't mean that
there is no such thing as friendship. The most terrible tragedy
of life is cynicism or despair, so never lose your belief."
We agree. And so as we step out into the uncertainty of the New
Year, the new Century and the new Millennium, may that ageless
friend of mankind - Optimism and Hope - continue to be our strongest
Inspiration and Confidante.
From Azerbaijan International (7.4) Winter 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.
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