Autumn 2003 (11.3)
Milk Make a Difference?
by Betty Blair
the link between a Korean TV company, a small mountainous village
close to the Azerbaijani-Iranian border, and Baku's Institute
of Manuscripts? These days, it comes as no surprise that the
answer relates to the Internet.
Left: Dr. Farid Alakbarov
Specifically, in this
case, it was the article by Dr. Farid Alakbarov published by
Azerbaijan International three years ago in the issue, "Food!
Glorious Food!" called, "Nutrition for Longevity"
[See AI 8.3, Autumn 2000. Search at AZER.com].
It turns out that Korean filmmaker
Mi-Jin Lee of Beta-System Independent Television in Seoul sent
one of his producers Kyung-Soo Han, along with a cameraman, to
Baku on assignment this past August to seek Farid's assistance
in preparing a documentary. The topic? Something you wouldn't
easily guess for a viewership of Koreans. Milk.
Traditionally, Koreans do not include yogurt or other milk products
in their diet. The filmmakers had been hired to produce three
60-minute features about milk's nutritional and medical values.
Lerik, a region in the Talysh
mountains, along Azerbaijan's southern border enters into the
picture since it is home to many of Azerbaijan's centenarians.
In contemporary world literature about longevity, the Caucasus
and yogurt have been inextricably linked. The filmmakers thought
that the mountains of Azerbaijan would provide them with irrefutable
evidence that milk really is worth drinking!
Below: Kyung-Soo Han, producer from the Korea
Betasystem from Seoul (wearing white cap) and his cameraman along
with Oh Kwang Cheol, Technical Director of the Azerbaijan Taekwon
to Farid, the typical diet of Azerbaijani villagers consists
primarily of eggs, cheese, butter, yogurt, milk, curds (shor),
sour cream, bread, various vegetables, fruits and herbs. Also,
they make a traditional soup of yogurt with greens called "dovgha".
At the Institute of Manuscripts, Lee and his crew first interviewed
Farid showing them some of the medieval manuscripts, such as
"Tibbname" (Book of Medicine) by Mahammad Yusif Shirvani
(1712) that described the benefits of milk products, especially
Then together, the crew and Farid headed for Lerik, hoping that
with any luck they might be able to film some of the centenarians.
Along the way, they stopped at the restaurant "Jannat Baghi"
(Garden Of Paradise) in Saatli to film how Azerbaijanis prepare
food. The film team especially paid attention to milk products,
such as yogurt, yogurt dip with chopped garlic (sarimsaghli gatig),
soft white cheese (pendir) and a yogurt drink (ayran). They even
filmed how Azerbaijanis spooned yogurt over their "dolma"
(stuffed grape leaves).
Left: Reza Baba, 102, who lives in the Lerik region.
That evening, the team arrived in Jangamiran village where the
legendary 102-year-old Reza Baba lives. Under what kind of conditions
was he living?
Certainly, not the usual conveniences that most of us take for
granted. There was no gas, no telephone, no Western toilets,
and access to electricity was only sporadic. Even the water supply
People traveled by foot or road horses or donkey. Reza Baba himself
"drives" a horse. The roads were so steep, so muddy
and slippery from the recent rains that they were virtually impassable.
Reza Baba described his life and diet. It turns out that his
meals consist primarily of stale bread and butter, along with
tea or milk. The crew filmed Reza Baba with one of his grandsons
and great grandsons in the pastures with their cows, goats and
sheep. They documented how women in the family traditionally
prepare butter and yogurt - something new for them. All the children
in the village came running to gather around and watch. The filmmakers
wanted to film the milking process, but at the time the cows
were off in the meadows.
The filmmakers were also keen to show a wider selection of traditional
Azerbaijani national dairy and meat products. So they bought
a sheep for the Reza Baba's family. A fire was prepared in the
yard and after some time Reza Baba's family along with numerous
relatives sat and ate while the Koreans filmed them drinking
ayran, eating yogurt and cheese together with pilav (rice) and
Left: Korean team filming how villagers prepare yogurt.
But Reza Baba is not the oldest resident in the village: Gizil
Nana (Grandmother Gizil) is. Her family claims that she is 132
years old. It's quite an incredulous claim for a woman who doesn't
have a birth certificate until you realize that her grandchildren,
whose births were documented, are all in their 70s and 80s. Gizil
Nana's own children have since past away. For sure, that makes
her one of the oldest persons alive on earth.
At first, Gizil Nana's family wanted nothing to do with the film
team, complaining that they were tired of the stream of journalists
"always coming to interview and photograph them as if they
were some sort of museum exhibit." But it's not every day
that a film team from half way around the world comes knocking
at the door in the remote mountains of Azerbaijan, and so they
Gizil Nana, according to Alakbarov, was amazing agile. "She
moved around like she was a mere 70 year old," observed
After two days of filming in the Lerik region, the team returned
to Baku and headed back to Seoul. The features on Milk are tentatively
scheduled to air on Seoul Broadcasting Station (SBS) during the
first week of December 2003.
Recently Farid Alakbarov has
been named head of the Department of Translation, Information
and International Relations at the Institute of Manuscripts where
he works. A medical historian, Farid is in the process of completing
his book Secrets of Longevity (Russian). Farid found the subject
to be more complex than just eating yogurt. Many factors enter
in such as good genes, clean air and water. For example, wise
food combinations can counter some of the detrimental effects
of meat if you eat it with fresh raw greens like basil, mint,
tarragon, cilantro or squeeze lemon over it.
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AI 11.3 (Autumn 2003)
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