Azerbaijan International

Volume 15.1
Page 22

Readers' Forum
Early Oil Shows of the 1970s

I remember the very first visit I ever made to the International Oil and Gas Show in Baku. It was in the late 1970s. Even back during the Soviet period, we had such expositions. My mom, who was working at the show as a translator, took me - a first-grader - to see it. Back then, the exhibition pavilion was situated on the Boulevard near the sea. It was a small hall compared to the large Sports Center where the Caspian Oil and Gas Show is held today. I remember the long line of visitors waiting outside to enter.

In preparation for the visit, mom had braided my hair and dressed me up in something quite pretty, at least in terms of the norms of the day. Somehow she persuaded me to wear those knee-high socks that I hated so much, but I remember drawing the line when she suggested that I wear a couple of fancy bows in my hair.

Above: Irada Aliyeva attended the Oil Show in her hometown Baku for the first time in the 1970s when she was seven years old.

Mom also reminded me to say my "hellos" and "thank you's" in English and cautioned me to be on my best behavior - no nagging, no whining, and absolutely NO running around. I vividly recall feeling so superior as we bypassed the long queue outside and sailed through entrance marked "Employees Only".

Thirty years ago, the oil show was a rather small affair by today's standards. Obviously, not many international companies were represented. I remember seeing toy-like models of rigs and pipelines. There were shiny booklets and buttons that were being given away at the booths. It was all very exciting for a seven-year old girl. More than anything, I was curious about seeing real, life-size foreigners.

You have to understand that back in the 1970s and well into late the 80s, we lived in a very isolated country. With the exception of a few Vietnamese, Cuban and African students, it was extremely rare to see a foreigner on the streets of Baku - especially an American or western European. And, even though my hometown had always been a cosmopolitan city, with various nationalities living side by side, we didn't know much about the day-to-day sensibilities of Western culture.

Sure, we read the literary works of state-approved Western writers, such as Jack London, John Galsworthy and Theodore Dreiser. We watched movies by Vittorio de Sica and Federico Fellini and listened to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.
But we were also constantly bombarded by state propaganda about the "horrors of the life in the world of capitalism". And though my family paid little or no attention, it left me, a curious child at such an impressionable age, quite intrigued about the life on the other side of the great divide.

So, for me, this first visit to the Oil Show was like looking through a peephole into the world of rugged cowboys, glamorous movie stars, fast and beautiful cars and delicious bubble-gum. Hey, I was only a first grader! Everything and everyone at the exhibition seemed unusual to me - men, and there were mostly men at the show, had different facial features from the people I knew. Their suits had slightly different cuts, their shoes were polished a bit brighter, and they smiled a lot. Even the paper booklets that they were giving away were unique - colorful, glossy, with beautiful photographs of smiling oil workers and turquoise seas. I was given a few little souvenirs - a button or two, perhaps a pack of gum or a candy bar - and these, too, were different.

It's funny, but I can still describe those buttons even now - their bright, shiny surfaces with the emblem of some oil company - the way they felt in my small hand, so pleasant, round and light. These buttons were like artifacts from a far-away land - tangible evidence of a life that was somehow different from ours. Surely, such shiny and fun-looking buttons could not, would not have been made by evil, greedy people, as they tried to convince us in our newspapers and on TV!

Naturally, when I brought all these treasures to school, I was the envy of all my classmates. I was in possession of something highly unusual and utterly cool. I had access to something foreign and, perhaps, somewhat forbidden. I was someone to be admired, held in high esteem and envied with great fanfare - if only for a brief time.

Much has changed since that memorable visit. I'm not as easily impressed with a few round button pins anymore. I've grown up and now have children of my own. A few years back, while on summer break from my university, I worked as a simultaneous translator at the Caspian Oil and Gas Exhibition, myself.

At that time, the exposition was being held in the large and spacious Sport and Exhibition Complex. Hundreds of companies participated. The place was abuzz with an awesome energy. There was a sense of certain camaraderie and excitement. Young, bright-eyed, smiling professionals were everywhere. Almost all of them spoke at least one foreign language, some were fluent in two or three!

To me it felt like the floodgates had been opened and all this lively, enthusiastic talent had come pouring in. What a change from the small and dark oil and gas exhibition populated mostly by men in dark suits that I remember from my youth! What a refreshing feeling of anticipation, thrill of opportunities to be pursued, hopes for the development of our nation!

And my beloved city, my hometown has changed as well. While taking a stroll on the Boulevard, or sitting in one of the many open-air cafes near Fountain Square, now one can hear conversations in many different languages. It's not uncommon to encounter foreigners taking their kids for a leisurely walk around our Venetia Park, or a group of South Asian girls boarding a city bus. We even have our own parades on St. Paddy's Day with proud Irishmen strutting around town!

And what a beautiful thing all this mixture of cultures is! Now, more than ever before, people from other countries can become familiar with the rich and fascinating traditions of my Motherland. More people can discover our great artists, our phenomenal opera and symphonic music, our folk singers and dancers, our fascinating countryside. And because of this, more people will come to understand the struggles, hopes and aspirations of our Azerbaijan. And what a great thing that would be!

Irada Aliyeva of Plano, Texas

Editor: Irada has written us in the past, describing what it has been like trying to instill Azerbaijani values in her children who are growing up away from her Motherland. See "Azerbaijani Lullabies," AI 12.3 (Autumn 2004) and "World of Shapes and Colors: Introducing Children to Art," AI 13.1 (Spring 2005). Search at


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