Terp notes
Unstoppable blogs here – Fear the turtle!


A yearend message from WordPress, summarizing my year in blogging revealed a depressing fact by stating “In 2012, there were 0 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 25 posts”. Even the wording of this automated message attests how unimaginably lazy writer I am.

My Hungarian friend said to me once “you – Turks are very good in sitting and telling beautiful long stories that fade away as a smoke of hookah”, while we were visiting him in Budapest back in March 2012. Indeed, I have so many stories to tell: conclusion of the story about my search for the fate of my grand-uncle killed in the World War Two, accompanied by his letters from the front that were stored in my father’s archive; an amazing story of soldier letters that were sent in 1941 but never did it to home; and a story of one of those followed through the nightmares of Nazi concentration camp with rare photos of prisoner life; a story of forgotten letters in stone abandoned in our old village cemetery; a story of one song, which spans over thousands of kilometres and five nations, even without them knowing about it; a story of Persia, which is not Persian and many more…

Used old book seller on Islam Safarli Street.

Used old book seller Google Maps pin on Islam Safarli (1923-1974) Street named after an Azerbaijani soviet poet. Called Mashadi Azizbekov (1876-1918) Street after one of the 26 Baku Commissars of the short-living Baku Soviet Commune till 1991, it was named Vorontsov after the Russian viceroy of Caucasus Prince Mikhail Vorontsov (1782-1856) till 1922-23, and Fonarnaya (“lantern” in Russian) Street till 1852. Baku, October 2011

All these stories wait for their turn in folders, full of hundreds of photos, maps and reference materials in the memory of my good old laptop, which greets me with an alarming message “1720 – SMART Hard Drive detects imminent failure (Failing Attr: 05); Please backup the contents of the hard drive and run HDD SelfTest in F10 Setup.” every time I start it up.

A curious post at Poemas del río Wang reminds about an important historical aspect of writing in the face of imminent end. And its title To write, to live suggests a rephrasing for the famous “Cogito ergo sum” by René Descartes (1596-1650) as “Scribo ergo sum” i.e. “I write, therefore I am”. So, here is my next post after a year of solitude and non-existence.

Instead of a prologue

If I give it a thought, what is lacking for writing down my stories can be expressed by one word in my mother tongue – qeyrət. Used often next to another word – namus i.e. honour, its meaning is somehow blurred.

Namus and qeyrət in Polyglot electronic dictionary.

Namus and qeyrət in Polyglot electronic dictionary.

In fact, it comes from Arabic غيرة – gheyrat, which has two meanings: one is jealousy, suspecting rivalry in love; another is passion, eagerness, fervour or zeal. Interestingly, jealousy and zeal also have same roots, and it is valid for Russian, too, with ревность and рвение.

Symbolically, Qeyrət was the name chosen by founders for the printing house in Tbilisi that started publishing the satirical Molla Nasreddin magazine in 1906. Against all odds, their passion stemmed probably from recognizing the historical responsibility to write and we already wrote about how they contributed to keeping up the torch of enlightenment for many nations in the region. And thinking about what my Hungarian friend said to me, I would agree that verses written some century ago by prominent Azerbaijani satirical poet Mirza Alakbar Sabir (1862-1911), who was an active contributor to Molla Nasreddin, are still valid today:

Biz qoca qafqazlı igid ərlərik,
Cümlə hünərməndlərik, nərlərik,
İş görəcək yerdə söz əzbərlərik,
Aşiqik ancaq quru, boş söhbətə,
Kim nə deyər bizdə olan qeyrətə?!
We are gallant men from Caucasus great old,
Each is a valiant, courageous dawg,
Where is a need for action we learn by heart words,
We are in love only with vain, meaningless talks,
Who has to say something against our honour?!

Bulldozing our past

A short post at Poemas del río Wang by Kinga this autumn has touched my heart. I believe, many would be amazed how precisely the author of To know a city described their own feelings:

I left my native city Budapest two years ago, and according to the state of things, forever. If I close my eyes, the images I preserve about her are just as fresh and vivid as if I were still living there… I had to realize that, despite my intentions, each new city can be some kind only in comparison to Budapest… This is not for homesickness or any similar feeling. In the course of thirty-five years, while I lived there, the city with all her beloved and hated details has become a part of me, just like my skeleton…

Yet one can experience the same feeling without moving anywhere, since comparisons can be made not only over the distances i.e. in space, it can be made also over the years i.e. in time. So thinking about my home city, I can say that Baku of my childhood, Baku of historical side-streets with green balconies buried in vine is fading away.

A beautiful mansion on Islam Safali Street.

A beautiful mansion Google Maps pin on Islam Safali Street – it has the city emblem with three flames, approved back in 1883. March 2013

The street I grew up is in the belt of historical buildings dating back to XIX century, surrounding the old inner city. During the decades of soviet rule most of the old houses on the narrow back streets were left to dilapidate slowly, the beauty of their facades were obscured by net of electrical wires and massive pipes. Most of the original owners probably fell victim to Bolshevik repressions. Inhabitants and new owners also did not seem to appreciate the historical value or architectural beauty of their houses much, building up awkward extensions, especially on balconies, drilling century-old walls to install their air conditioning units and satellite dishes. Yet from underneath the dust of time and neglect quite a few jewels are still shining.

We already touched upon “culpable historico-architectural negligence” accompanying massive construction work in central Baku. Back then demolitions were ongoing since 2009 to open up space for so-called Winter Park/Boulevard. Even before here or there historical buildings were falling victim to the construction boom in the centre, but this massive demolition was unprecedented by its magnitude.

The project was initially designed back in soviet 1980s, but envisaged covering a larger area and preservation of some 20 historical buildings. Decades after things went quite differently as few new skyscrapers were already built in the same area. While the central Baku is infamous for its astronomical property prices, the owners disagreeing with proposed compensations were simply thrown out of their homes, and journalistic investigations suggest massive misappropriation.

Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Baku in May 2012, put the forced evictions under the spotlight. The story made its way even to the UN in Action program #1320 back in November 2011 and was highlighted by Human Rights Watch in February 2012. While most of the reports highlight the violation of property rights of the citizens, the damage to historical heritage is in fact more dramatic and irrecoverable. The irony of the situation is that while historical houses were torn down, soviet buildings in the surrounding area were face-lifted to have “historical” facades. Baku is indeed “a city of contrasts”.

Demolition area in central Baku as seen in Google Maps.

Demolition area in central Baku as seen in an 1898 map of Baku. Demolition area in central BakuGoogle Maps pin as seen in Google Maps and the same area in an 1898 map of Baku

Looking at the 1898-1990 plan of “existing and projected disposition of governorate city of Baku”, you can see the old names in Russian of the streets affected by demolitions:

БалаханскаяBalakhany Street was renamed as Basin after one of the 26 Baku Commissars during the soviet times and currently is called Fuzuli Street after medieval Azerbaijani Turk poet Muhammad Fuzuli (1483-1556). This street was connecting the Quba bazaar square to highway leading to the Balakhany suburb of Baku, where the majority of oil fields were concentrated.

БондарнаяCoopers’ Street during soviet times was named as Dimitrov, probably after the Bulgarian communist activist and political leader. With regaining of independence it was renamed after Shamsi Badalbeyli (1911-1986) – famous Azerbaijani theatre director and actor. This street owed its old name to the first oil boom in Baku – the street was occupied by cooperage workshops riveting barrels for transporting the oil. This was also historical quarter of Mountain Jews in Baku.

ЧадроваяChadra Street took its name from Muslim women’s traditional full-body-length cloak. It is not clear whether the reason for it was existence of many chadra shops there. In 1920s, quite symbolically its name was changed to Emancipated Azerbaijani woman Street. Later it was renamed after Mirza Agha Aliyev (1883-1954) – prominent Azerbaijani actor.

Novruz bonfire in the demolition area.

Novruz bonfire in the demolition area. Photo by Tamás Sajó

Although there were neglectful voices claiming that the area was just one anti-sanitary dilapidating lumber, reactions to Winter Park demolitions in Azerbaijani internet were generally bitter – from open condemnation by veteran blogger Ali Novruzov to expressions of sadness by prominent member of Russian-speaking net Vyacehslav Sapunov. Despite all civil grumbles by spring of 2011, when the photo above was taken, the large part of the demolition was already completed.

Photo by Mubariz Mustafazade

Photo by Mubariz Mustafazade

I wonder who remembers now the lonely voice of artist Mir Teymur, a decade ago fighting a hopeless fight for Icheri Sheher – ancient Inner City of Baku. In 2009 the “Walled City of Baku, including the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower” was removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger, where it was put in 2003. Yet native of the fortress Mir Teymur testifies that its peculiar historical atmosphere along with many archaeological sites was destroyed by illegal construction even before December 2000, when it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. I should admit that I did not feel the magnitude of the loss until two years ago spent half a day walking through the back streets of Icheri Sheher away from the usual tourist routes.

Stopping the time in Baku

Collage of architectural elements showing construction dates. Photos by Anar Gasimov

Collage of architectural elements showing construction dates. Photos by Anar Gasimov

There is a saying that people tend to value things only after loosing them. Recently I find myself taking photos of the old buildings while walking along the historical streets of Baku. You often see beautiful details you never noticed before just passing by for years. And it seems that I am not alone: several blog posts by our compatriot Anar Gasimov, who currently lives in Russia, contain lots of amateur photos of buildings and architectural elements.

Photos by Dena Barmas

Photos by Dena Barmas

Photography is a great invention letting us stop the time and preserve images caught in a blink of shutter. Our friend as well has captured sweet moments of our small city tour before the wedding party back in June 2009. Old city walls of Baku are visible in the background and you can see a small gate on the right photo. If you get closer you would notice an inscription in Arabic characters and a stone clock right above this gate. Hour and minute hand carved in stone look like a nice metaphor for stopping the time.

It is 4:00 on the stone clock at the Inner City gate.

It is 4:00 on the stone clock at the Inner City gateGoogle Maps pin.

I wonder how many people passing under this inscription notice it, let alone know what it says. Years ago I came across a group of tourists when their quite reputable guide was claiming that “this memorial indicates exact time and place where general Tsitsianov was killed”. But I already knew that it is not so.

Russian commander of Georgian origin Pavel Tsitsianov (1754-1806) was raised to the rank of infantry general for capturing the fortress of Ganja city in 1804. Governor of Ganja Javad khan Ziyadoghlu Qajar (1748-1804) was killed in the bloody battle, the city was renamed as Elizavetpol in honour of Emperor Alexander I’s wife and Ganja khanate was abolished. Some other khans were more tractable, as in 1805 two of them signed treaties making khanates of Garabagh and Shirvan protectorates of Russian Empire.

Reproduction of the illustration by M.Andreev “Assassination of count P.D.Tsitsianov in Baku” in the book “Conquered Caucasus” published in 1904 in St. Petersburg.

Reproduction of the illustration by M.Andreev “Assassination of count P.D.Tsitsianov in Baku” in the book “Conquered Caucasus” published in 1904 in St. Petersburg. Source: Online Library Tsarskoe Selo.

Similarly, in February 1806 Huseynqulu khan of Baku met Tsitsianov with his small delegation outside the second city walls (that were destroyed later in 1886) near Shamakhy gate to hand over the keys of the fortress. Suddenly one of the khan’s people shot the general dead from his pistol. Caught unawares in a subsequent skirmish Russian detachment retreated, yet it postponed capture of Baku only for seven months.

So, in fact general Tsitsianov was killed in a quite opposite side of the old cityGoogle Maps pin, where in 1846 a memorial pyramidal column was erected by order of the Russian viceroy of Caucasus Vorontsov, currently near the statue of a great poet Nizami of Ganja (1141-1209).

“Plan de la forteresse de Bakou en Perse, avec lattaque des Russiens - Scheme of the Baku fortress in Persia, with attack of Russians”. Second city wall of Baku is visible on this XVIII century map, describing bombardment of the city preceding capture of Baku in July 1723.

Plan de la forteresse de Bakou en Perse, avec lattaque des Russiens – Scheme of the Baku fortress in Persia, with attack of Russians”. Second city wall of Baku is visible on this XVIII century map, describing bombardment of the city preceding capture of Baku in July 1723. Source: National Library of France.

Coming back to the inscription under the stone clock, my father showed it to me when I was a child. Although I knew the symbols, the only thing I could clearly understand there was the date, since the inscription was seemingly in Persian. When after years my father bought the Volume I of the Corps of Epigraphic Monuments of Azerbaijan by venerable archaeologist and epigraph Meshedi-khanym Nemat (1924), the first thing I looked up in the book was that very inscription. This volume published in 1991 in Russian contains more than 400 specimens read by the author during her field work over the previous 40 years, as well as collected from different archives and museum collections. This one is at page 109 under number 346:

به اشاره علیه جناب امپراطور اعظم و قیصر افخم

آلکساندر سیم و بسعی جناب مجدت همراه کلانتر شهر باکو ستانسلاو

ایوانج دمیون یویج و بدستیاری همت … سمیونیج کاندیناوف

آقا تعمیر داروازه قدیم بعمل آمد ۱۴ ذیقعدة ۱۳۰۷

By the highest order of the greatest emperor and most glorious Caesar

Alexander the Third and with efforts of glorious mayor of the city of Baku Stanislav

Ivanovich Demyunovich and with help of generosity of mister … Semyonich Kandinov

the repair of the old gate was finished on 14 Zu-l-qa’da 1307 (= 2 July 1890).

It seems that this memorial inscription passed unnoticed through the decades of soviet rule when many imperial monuments, including Tsitsianov column, were destroyed. Interestingly, it was not completely and correctly read. Not knowing Persian I hardly can do any corrections, yet in the unread part you can see the word “معمار” i.e. “architect”. The date also can be read as “۴ ذ.القعدة ۱۳۰۷”, and then it is 4 Zu-l-qa’da 1307, which is 22 June 1890. Finally, by knowing the exact names of both mayor and architect now we can correct it:

By the highest order of the greatest emperor and most glorious Caesar Alexandr the Third and with efforts of glorious mayor of the city of Baku Stanislav Ivan[ov]ich Despot-Zenovich and with help of generosity of …architect… Anton Semyon[ov]ich Kandinov the repair of the old gate was finished on 14 Zu-l-qa’da 1307 (2 July 1890).

“Muslim cemetery in Baku” – a cartoon in Molla Nasreddin magazine. Alexander Newsky Cathedral is visible in the background.

“Muslim cemetery in Baku” – a cartoon in Molla Nasreddin magazine. Alexander Newsky Cathedral is visible in the background. Source: flickr page by Mohamad Tavakoli.

So, this clock and short dedication carved in stone is probably the only memorial honouring these two gentlemen. During his Baku visit in October 1888 the Russian Emperor Alexander III (1845-1894) stayed with his family, including the last Tsar, then crown prince Nikolay II, in the Governor’s House very close to the restored old gate. It was the first and last visit of Russian monarchs to Baku. Among many other official ceremonies the imperial family laid the foundation of the Alexander Newsky Cathedral in the area of old Muslim cemetery. City community was against this plan, but their petitions and proposals of alternative areas were in vain. Called “qyzylly kilsa” i.e. “gilt church” by common people, it became a dominant building in the cityscape of Baku, once completed a decade later in 1898.

Two decades later House of Romanov perished in the turmoil of Bolshevik Revolution. The cathedral was blown up in 1936, and even the house they stayed in was demolished recently in 2006 to give a space for a new multi-store hotel. Yet the stone clock is still there showing the same time from centuries ago.

The stone clock on Kichik Qala Street shows 9 hours sharp.

The stone clock on Kichik Qala StreetGoogle Maps pin shows 9 hours sharp.

There are other stone clocks in Baku many probably pass by without noticing. One is just two turns away at Kichik Qala (Small Fortress) Street. The facade also has a beautiful inscription, but I could not find it in the book by Meshedi-khanym Nemat. It is easy to read the bottom line that contains shahada i.e. Muslim declaration of belief “بحقّ اشهد انلا اله الا لله” “Rightly, I testify that there is no god but the God”, yet I was unable to decipher the rest of the text.

It is 1:47 on the stone clock at Torgovaya.

It is 1:47 on the stone clock at TorgovayaGoogle Maps pin.

This stone clock overlooks the most popular promenade of Baku at Nizami Street, still often called by its old Russian name – Torgovaya i.e. Trade Street. The same building has another stone clock on the opposite facade on Tolstoy Street, called Gimnazicheskaya i.e. Gymnasium Street in the old map. There is also a small plate with the year 1890 and the name “Гаджи Раджабъ-Али Гаджиевъ” of the owner – a merchant from Shamakhy Haji Rajabali Hajiyev. Unfortunately, I could not take a good photo of that side of the building, since every time it was in the dark of the shadow of the new skyscrapers raised nearby.

Another stone clock on Haji Rajabali’s house   shows 2:57 hours.

Another stone clock on Haji Rajabali’s houseGoogle Maps pin shows 2:57 hours.

At the crossing of Tolstoy Street with Zargarpalan i.e. Jewellers Street you can see another building with a stone clock. This unofficial name of the street was restored in 1993, but officially in Russian it was called Spasskaya till 1929, when it was renamed after an Azerbaijani Bolshevik Qasım İsmayilov. A small inscription over the main door indicates the year both in Muslim and Christian chronology – 1305 (١٣٠٥) and 1887.

It is 12 hours, 20 minutes and 30 seconds on the stone clock at Zargarpalan.

It is 12 hours, 20 minutes and 30 seconds on the stone clock at ZargarpalanGoogle Maps pin.

While I was taking the photo a young gentleman, apparently living in the house, came to the doors. To my question about history of the building he answered that the elders say that this is Naghiyev’s first private mansion. This name is familiar to Baku citizens along with the name of Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev (1823-1924) – another oil baron, we shortly wrote about, who is remembered for his philanthropic work. Indeed, Musa Naghiyev (1849-1919) funded building of the city’s largest hospital and donated the beautiful Ismailiyya Palace to the Muslim Charitable Society. Yet his name survived decades of soviet rule, living in the city legends, portrayed as a tight-fisted, stingy millionaire, often appearing as Taghiyev’s antipode.

Our short conversation ended around demolition of old quarters in Baku, not surprisingly, since there are rumours that these streets also fall under the general reconstruction plan. The answer to my “Is it possible that they demolish this building, too?” reflected a bitter reality “Why not, it they already destroyed even more beautiful historical buildings”.

A small stone clock on Zargarpalan Street shows 12:20 hours.

A small stone clock on Zargarpalan Street shows 12:20 hours.

My interlocutor was not able to give any explanation about the time on the clock. So the secret of stone clocks of Baku remain uncovered for me. Are they showing the time when the foundation was laid, is it some other memorable moment such as birth of the first child or maybe some date is encoded on the clock dial? Or perhaps these stone clocks are symbols of belief in the foretold arrival of Mahdi the redeemer from the last prophet Muhammad’s lineage, perhaps they are signs of allegiance to Imam az-Zaman i.e. Leader of the Time as Shia Muslims call him in their prayers for start of his reign, which would end tyranny in the world, would bring piece and justice to the humankind?

Instead of epilogue

This April citizens of Baku witnessed a unique action, as a three-store historical building next to the Winter Park construction area, known as Hajinskys’ house, was “slid” for some 10 metres “instead of being demolished”. In Baku, it was the first structure relocation implemented, a process known to the history since 1455 relocation of St.Mark belfry in Bologna, Italy by Aristotle Fioravanti (1415-1486).

The city administration announced this as early as in December 2012, and many regretted that some other “unlucky” buildings in the same area had a different, tragic fate. Unlike those buildings, this “lucky” one was under spotlight of all the local televisions.

I visited the area in March, before starting to write this post. It turned out that a new wave of demolitions is to be started on Dilara Aliyeva (1929-1991) Street, named after Azerbaijani philologist and human rights activist (former First of May and Surakhany Street). There is allegedly another Naghiyev mansion among the houses destroyed.

Winter Park construction area. 22 March 2013

Winter Park construction area. 22 March 2013

There were few beautiful houses, seemingly inhabited, standing among the ruins. I took a picture of one with a tricolour national flag hung between balconies. One week after the residents of the same house were in trouble as their gas supply pipeline was damaged and they were said that there was an order to not repair it since the building is to be demolished, although they did not receive any official notification yet.

Many buildings are already demolished on Dilara Aliyeva Street. 22 March 2013.

Many buildings are already demolished on Dilara Aliyeva Street. 22 March 2013.

It was not immediately apparent to me that the construction of Winter Park is going with redoubled efforts just to get it ready by 10 May, so-called Gül bayramı – unofficial Flower Festival, which since year 2000 marks the birthday of the late president Haydar Aliyev (1923-2003), father of the current president. Father Aliyev is called no less than ulu öndər and ümummilli lider i.e. Great Chief and Whole Nation’s Leader by the official propaganda, and he is indeed the Saviour of the Nation, as the day when he came to power back in 1993 is the National Salvation Day – a public holiday in Azerbaijan.

It is not exactly known how much the Flower Festival costs the nation’s budget, as the eccentric mayor of Baku, claiming that “he will turn all devils into angels in the hearts” of those, who criticize the demolitions, just stated that “I don’t even think about finances, but this year we will have 2.5 times more flowers than in the last year”. Considering that the costs of the last year celebrations were estimated around $60-80 millions you get an impressive amount.

The cost of the marvellous “sliding” of the historical Hajinsky’s house also was not disclosed to public. The implementing company Bresser Eurasia BV that brought the Dutch Bresser to do the job has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the Azerbaijan Architects’ Union, which probably means more similar jobs in Baku. Mr Leon Sweegers, the chairman of Institutional Business Development BVBA, the company which owns Bresser Eurasia BV, unlike his Azerbaijani partner, readily gives interviews in Baku, claiming a world record with 18,000-tonne building relocated. At least, in this case money is spent to champion something, which preserves the historical heritage.

Meanwhile, with public not being clearly informed about reconstruction plans for central Baku, concerns grow about the fate of other beautiful buildings in historical quarters of the city.


Most of the historical materials about Baku were taken from Our Baku virtual encyclopaedia on the history of the city http://www.ourbaku.com.


Bir il əvvəl, 2010-cu ilin yayında Bakıya geri qayıdanda Yeni Yasamaldakı yeni evimizə gəldik. Onda başa düşdüm ki, 30 ildir İçəri Şəhər, bulvar, fəvvarələr meydanının əhatəsində yaşayıb, şəhərimizin qonaqlara göstərilən “açıqça” tərəfini görmüşəm.

Qınağəli "Qınıyıram!" deyir.

Qınağəli "Qınıyıram!" deyir.

Yaxın ətrafda istirahət etmək üçün nə bir yaşıllıq, nə bir park, havada ətrafdakı tikintilərin toz-dumanı, gecəni betonvuran maşınların qulaqbatıran taqqıltısını dinləmək, səhər tezdən isə əlacsızlıqdan bir-birini itələyə-itələyə avtobusa doluşub, əzik-üzük olmuş ləyaqətlərinin qalıqlarını dişlərində tuta-tuta, sürücüyə çəmkirərək “mehribanlaşmaq”dan gömgöy olmuş həmvətənlərimlə işə getmək – tamam başqa Bakıdır.  Zibil dolu torbaları günlərlə qapısının ağzına qoyub bütün mərtəbəni “ətirləməyə”, sevimli mahnılarını tükürpədici səslə başqalarına dinlətməyə ehtiyac olmadığını izah etməli olduğun qonşularla bir binada yaşamaq da tamam başqa aləmdir.

Ümumiyyətlə mən bütün mənfiliklərin günahını “xalq”da görənlərlə razılaşmıram, hər şeyin maarifləndirmə ilə düzələ biləcəyinə inanıram. Vaxtilə məktəblərdə Mayakovskinin məşhur şeirindəki kimi “yaxşı nədir, pis nədir” öyrədilərdi, böyüklər də kiçiklərə “ağsaqqallıq” edərdilər. İctimai qınaqla birlikdə vətəndaşları maarifləndirmək üçün müxtəlif təbliğat vasitələri istifadə olunardı. Yəqin məhz indi bu sahədə olan boşluğa görədir ki, Qınağəlinin simasında “Qınıyıram!” şüarı ilə başlamış İctimai Qınaq Hərəkatı qısa bir zamanda milli internet məkanında belə geniş populyarlıq qazanıb.

Uzun sözün qısası, bir maarifləndirici plakat düzəldib, binamızda vurmaq fikri çoxdan ağlıma gəlmişdi. Onu liftimizə vuracaqdım, çünki, liftimizin döşəməsi tum qabığından tutmuş, işlənmiş kontur kartına, tüpürcəkdən tutmuş, xarakterik üfunət verən sarımtıl mayeyə qədər hər  şey görmüşdü. Plakatın konsepsiyası da hazır idi – “Olmaz”: bunu etmək olmaz, onu etmək olmaz, axırda da, üzr istəyirəm, “adam eşşək olmaz”. Bu fikrimi Qınağəlinin dostu İlqar Mirzə ilə də bölüşmüşdüm, Bloqçuların və Yeni Media Mütəxəssislərinin Forumu “Bloqosfer 2011“ə gedəndə isə artıq dizayn hazır idi. Forumda şəklini göstərdiyim bir neçə nəfər arasında Vüqar Səfərov plakatı çox bəyəndi, hətta kampaniya başlamağı, video da hazırlamağı təklif etdi.

"Olmaz" posteri bizim evin liftində. 9 sentyabr 2011 "Olmaz" posteri bizim evin liftində. 9 sentyabr 2011 "Olmaz" posteri bizim evin liftində. 9 sentyabr 2011

"Olmaz" posteri bizim evin liftində. 9 sentyabr 2011

Forumdan qayıtdıqdan sonra bir gecə plakatı printerdə çap edib yapışqan lentlə liftin divarına yapışdırdım. Sonra isə şəklini çəkdim ki, sonrakı günlər qonşuların bu plakatın başına gətirəcəyi “müsibət”ləri qeydə alaraq, burada paylaşım. Adətən, “Bakıeletrikşəbəkə”nin işıq pulu barədə elanlarının başına çoxlu “müsibət”lər gətirilir, bizim plakat isə neçə həftədir ki, göz dəyməsin, sapsağlam divarda durur. Bir neçə nəfər hətta iddia edir ki, indi liftimizi daha əvvəlki kimi zibilləmirlər.

"Olmaz" posteri bir ay sonra. 8 oktyabr 2011"Olmaz" posteri bir ay sonra. 12 oktyabr 2011

"Olmaz" posteri bir ay sonra. 8, 13 oktyabr 2011

Əgər siz də bir neçə qonşunuzun pintiliyindən bezibsinizsə və bu plakatı bəyəndinizsə, onu buradan PDF formatda yükləyib, çap edin. Bilmək olmaz, bir də gördünüz rəhmətlik Məmmədbağır Bağırzadənin “Olmaz, olmaz, olmaz…” mahnısı ilə bir kampaniya da başladı.

P.S. Nəhayət ki, bu gün – 7 oktyabr plakatımızın başına iş gəldi. Qonşulardan kimsə dözməyib plakatın üstünə “Adam … olmaz” rebusunun açmasını yazdı.

P.P.S. Deyəsən gözümüz dəydi. Bir neçə gün sonra – 12 oktyabr plakatımızı cırdılar. Amma göründüyünə görə ya qoparda bilməyiblər, ya da kimsə yenidən yapışdırıb.


The following summary was written on the request of the Hungarian linguistic portal Nyelv és Tudomány (Language and Science), and it was also published in English and Hungarian, as well as complemented with some further illustrations on Poemas del Río Wang.

European Vision

I doubt if two years ago, when Hollywood actor Willem Dafoe and actress Ashley Jensen jokingly voted for Azerbaijan at the Graham Norton’s Eurovision Warm-up comedy show on BBC Two, anybody would imagine that this country with such a hard-to-pronounce name will win the Europe’s most watched song contest, which brought more than 120 million people to the front of the television screens past weekend on 14 May 2011.

Inspired by Italian Sanremo Music Festival the Eurovision Song Contest among European Broadcasting Union (EBU) member countries absorbs attention of the European audience every year since 1956. EBU member broadcasters organise selection of the national finalists and the contest culminates in a spectacular live television show, hosted usually by the last year’s winning country, during which every country cast votes for other’s entries to determine the winner.

Eurovision, which was started as a “light entertainment programme” to bring together the countries of post-war Europe, embraced new members since 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern Block. The most number of debuts was back in 1994, when Hungary also made its entry with Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet? (Whom can I tell my sins?), performed by Friderika Bayer. This song finished the voting race in the fourth place and it is Hungary’s best result at Eurovision so far.

Ell and Nikki from Azerbaijan celebrate with their co-performers after winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 on 14 May 2011 in Dusseldorf, Germany. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Ell and Nikki (L) from Azerbaijan celebrate with their co-performers after winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 on 14 May 2011 in Dusseldorf, Germany. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Graham Norton may ridicule it up, but for the countries in the coming wave of the new EBU members like Azerbaijan Eurovision became another chance for international visibility, which sometimes raised winning the competition up to the level of a national mission. This further aggravated the controversial image of Eurovision as an overly politicised, “wacky song contest”, which suffers clique voting syndrome. Debates about neighbour and diaspora voting resulted in decision to give the professional jury votes a 50 per cent say in the final results since 2009.

“We freed ourselves from the Soviet Empire through song, now we will sing our way into Europe!” allegedly said the prime minister of Estonia congratulating crowds of citizens after the country’s victory in 2001. Estonia as the first post-soviet country winning Eurovision was followed by Latvia in 2002, Ukraine in 2004, Russia in 2008 and lastly Azerbaijan in 2011.

Azerbaijan was also the last country of the new wave, making its debut entry only in 2008. The song Day after Day was a completely Azerbaijani production, composed by Govhar Hasanzade and written by Zahra Badalbeyli. The duet of Elnur Huseynov and Samir Javadzade were remembered by vivid scenic characters of angel and demon fighting “day after day”. The rock-style composition, starting with opera falsetto and culminating in a traditional Azerbaijani mugham, got top 12 score from Hungary, but came only as eighth in the finals. It is interesting that Azerbaijan actually is the top fourth country getting votes from Hungarian audience so far.

For peace we pray” was the opening line of the first ever Eurovision song from Azerbaijan. Peace indeed is very much needed in the troubled South Caucasus region, torn apart by interethnic conflicts since late 1980s, and especially in Azerbaijan, which suffers continuing occupation of 20 per cent of its territory, effectively controlled by the neighbouring Armenia, after a full-scale war over its Mountainous Garabagh region widely know under its Russian transliteration of Nagorno-Karabakh. The third South Caucasian country Georgia has got even two broke away ethnic regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Similarly self-declared republics since 1990s in 2008 however they were officially recognised by Russia that even more tightened the Gordian knot of South Caucasian conflicts.

As one of the visible international events Eurovision has become a scene for some political demarches. A vivid example is Georgia’s withdrawal from 2009 Eurovision hosted by Moscow after 2008 Russian invasion because of a controversy raised by Russia over the Georgian finalist song We Don’t Wanna Put In, which was allegedly referring to Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia.

Samir Javadzade singing in his scenic role of demon at the Eurovision 2008 in Belgrade, Serbia

Samir Javadzade singing in his scenic role of demon at the Eurovision 2008 in Belgrade, Serbia

As the first South Caucasian country joining Eurovision in 2006, Armenia’s first ever entry immediately entailed a scandal, because the birth country of the singer was indicated as Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia and Azerbaijan live in a “no war no peace” situation since the 1994 ceasefire and this leaves its mark on the festive atmosphere of the contest so much that their tense Eurovision relations were dedicated a separate Wikipedia entry. This is why showing flag of Armenia as presenting Azerbaijan at the recent Eurovision special of the most popular Russian talk show “Пусть говорят” (Let them speak) caused excessive indignations.

So in parallel with an arms race, costing Azerbaijan increasing portion of its annual budget, built mainly on the Caspian oil and gas revenues (an amount in the recent years far exceeding two billion US dollars), and pushing Armenia towards closer military cooperation with Russia, which apart from headquartering there its Trans-Caucasus Group of Forces, reportedly handed over arms in the value of almost two billion US dollars since 1996, two countries apparently became involved also in a Eurovision race.

It seems that starting from its second year in Eurovision Azerbaijan opted for leaving it to crack-jacks and it proved to be efficient with its songs coming third and fifth in 2009 and 2010. This year’s song Running Scared, crafted by a famous Swedish crew of Stefan Örn, Sandra Bjurman and Iain Farquharson, with more plain, down-to-earth lyrics and a “western-style, middle of the road R&B pop tune” was performed by the Ell/Nikki duo. The duet of a 21 years old international relations student Eldar ‘Ell’ Gasymov and a 30 years old housewife and mother of two children living in London Nigar ‘Nikki’ Jamal, both with apparently no professional vocal or stage experience, were selected by the national jury among five out of the unprecedented number of initial 77 aspirants, who made it to the local finals in February. But eventually this turned out to be a winning combination.

Running Scared got 12 points from Malta, Russia and Turkey, 10 points from Croatia, Moldova, Romania, San Marino and Ukraine, as well as solid 7 points from Hungary among other 30 countries, who sent their 1 to 8 points to Azerbaijan. So Ell and Nikki won the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf, which brought together 42 countries, and Baku won the right to host the competition next year.

Google Maps was probably overloaded by requests for where on Earth Azerbaijan is. Sceptics inquiring in the Internet “Is it really in Europe?” are reminded that Azerbaijan is a member of Council of Europe since 2001. Besides EBU membership is not limited to geographical Europe, so even Israel hosted Eurovision three times, most recently in 1999. Another immediate concern was about Armenia’s participation in the next year’s contest. However Baku had hosted range of prestigious international events with delegates from Armenia, including the World Wrestling Cup with the neighbour country athletes participating.

But of course there were lots of positive sentiments and congratulations. Brits immediately claimed a portion of the victory – after all, Nikki lives in Enfield, North London since 2005 with her husband Luke and their daughters Jasmine and Saida. Charmed by Ell’s fluent knowledge of their mother tongue the German audience joke that Ell is almost a German after living there as an exchange student back in 2004 and 2008. Swedish did not brag much about their compatriots behind the scenes, anyway their song was third this year. And of course the Turkish audience, culturally very close to Azerbaijan, were extremely touched by the scene of Nikki, probably not deliberately, in the euphoria of victory coming to the stage for claiming their prize with a Turkish flag in her hands. Many who supported Turkey, which consistently gives its 12 points to Azerbaijan, most probably voted for Ell/Nikki after the Turkey song did not qualify to the finals.

Joyful screams of Azerbaijani team in Düsseldorf echoed in cheerful rally of young people back in Baku streets that were a “scene of mad joy”. One of these spontaneous gatherings ended up at the central Freedom Square, which was a scene for massive anti-soviet rallies bringing together half a million people back in 1988.

But it seems that the people of Azerbaijan, who paid a high price for getting free from the soviet totalitarian regime, could not really get rid of its negative heritage. Azerbaijan, which appeared on the political map of the world back in 1918 as the first parliamentary republic in the Muslim East, once holding torch of enlightenment for many other nations, today unfortunately has sunk into the disgrace of being among the most corrupt and least free countries, as the ruling regime does not do much to recognise the memory and vision of the founders of the first Republic.

“The power of victory! Freedom of Assembly in Azerbaijan right NOW. People on the streets and everywhere… NOW!” wrote in his Facebook status Emin Milli, one of the two youth activists, who were arrested back in July 2009 and were conditionally released last November after a strong international pressure. Another young intellectual, former parliamentary candidate Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was arrested this March and just last week on 18 May is sentenced to two years in prison on a charge that looks rather fabricated.

“There is no doubt that the Truth will shine one day, those on the side of the foundations of freedom, principles of the United Nations and human rights will win. The sun of this victory will rise over our dear motherland moaning under the tyranny of red despotism, as 28 May 1918 did once. You should have absolutely no doubts about it, dear citizens!” exclaims through the decades in a 1953 radio interview the voice, which belongs to Mammad Amin Rasulzade, one of the founders of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, who passed away in exile two years after this broadcast. 93 years after the 28 May 1918 declaration of independence his virtually only standing monument in Azerbaijan, some 20 kilometres away from Baku, is visited only by opposition groups, and no fireworks or big celebrations are visible throughout the country.

Opposition marks Independence Day at the Rasulzade Monument in Novkhani settlement. 28 May 2010. Source: RFE/RL

Opposition marks Independence Day at the Rasulzade Monument in Novkhani settlement. 28 May 2010. Source: RFE/RL

I don’t know whether Graham Norton, who presents BBC’s coverage of Eurovision for three years now, remembered his warm-up show back from 2009. But just days ago, on 12 May another Graham from Britain sounded as sarcastic, but not so comical, speaking about Azerbaijan during the recent debates on the country at the European Parliament in Strasburg. Graham Watson, Member of European Parliament for South-West England since 1994, brought up the fact that “The media in Azerbaijan is not free. Its elections are not fair. Its people are subject to arbitrary and sometimes violent treatment by officials. Peaceful demonstrations in recent weeks have met with repression more common to an Arab than to a European country, from an 18-year-old regime which has slowly stifled hope of progress.

Does Baku belong to progressive Europe or to outdated Orient?” was the very question faced by the protagonist of the world known novel Ali and Nino: A Love Story, taking place in the fascinating fin-de-siècle Baku of the first oil boom a century ago. It seems that the founders of the first Republic then answered this question: by establishing a functional parliament with equal participation of all ethnic or religious groups and with women having rights to vote and be elected even earlier than most of the modern democracies such as the United States or France, among many other progressive beginnings. Right between the sky Blue as recognition of Turkic roots and bright Green as a sign of respect to Islamic traditions, the blazing Red on the tricolour national flag, which rose again after more than seven decades of oblivion, is indeed the symbol of the progressive European values of freedom, equality and democracy. One can only hope that with Eurovision coming to Baku next year these values will also return to the country, now experiencing its second oil boom.

So, in four years Azerbaijan sang its way to the dream of Eurovision, but the question is how long will it take to sing its way to the realisation of European Vision?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.