Métro, boulot, dodo
My first steps in the country take me walking in beautiful Baku. Queen Tamar also wanted to come here but she did not make it. (Map) I can understand how Queens would want to set eyes on this beautiful city on the Caspian Sea. Sitting and eating caviar. But I am no Tamar and arrive here a little too late. The sea is now polluted and sturgeon fish is rare. The caviar that mothers used to force their children to eat by the spoon full is no more. The little left is for the 1%. That is until we, the citizen of this planet, take back, with respect, the earth that is ours.
To represent the country with a family in Baku would have been writing about daily life in all the large cities. Run, run, run. “Metro, boulot, dodo” – as we say in French. Aside from the specialists, people in the capitals and metropolis seem to forget what their country’s reality is. I want to know more, so I take the comfortable fast train to Ganja, the second-largest city, which is now on the front line of the 2020 conflicts.
How can this be? Ganja and “my” family there! I have met wonderful young people with dreams and the desire to know and discover. Some very active to inspire those who needed hope. Many think that the oligarchy running the country does not do much for its youth. They assuring that Baku is great and beautiful, competing with the capitals of the Middle-East. Ganja, I thought, needed attention and love. But not the kind of attention it is getting today.
Far away, I share the sadness and probably some rage. So many disappointments. One was when Azerbaijani saw that, in their neighbouring country of Georgia, people would be able to travel to Europe without a visa. Not them, They would be stuck in eternal paperwork to discover the world.
Who’s your neighbour?
If Europe would not include them, the country had no choice but to turn to its neighbours. What is life, when the other neighbours are Russia, Iran who when drawing the border lock in 20 million Azeris on their side and Armenia who takes over 20% of your land? Here in Canada, we want to assure the world that we are very different and not the Americans from the USA? We have the neighbours history has given us and we must develop life around that, like it or not.
Secular and calm
Azerbaijan is not a Muslim country has the media will tell you. Azerbaijan is a secular country and proud to be so. It is easier to speak of secularity here then it is in my home country of Quebec. After visiting Georgia, where religion revived after independence and religious leaders took over, government included, I find it quieter here. Secularity helps a people to be calm. Religions feed passion in their followers. Believe what you want at home, but out of the home let us live in harmony. I prefer to promote the “live side by side in harmony” then the “let’s live together” so much harder to accomplish, if ever possible.
Harmoney has been what this country has exercised throughout its millennium history of passersby, invaders and forced settlers. I feel safe here. I have walked the streets at night and I have never felt an aggressive glance or the usual insulting language toward women, I have heard on my travels. Calm, and polite they are, galant even. Ah, this lost gallantry that has left so soft and warm souvenirs. I even have a shock when returning to Montreal. I even hope that this confinement will bring back politeness in my society.
What does it mean to be Azerbaijanis?
Before so many people came to or were forced to settled here, before borders were drawn dividing people more than land, there were populations of Turkic-speaking ethnic groups that included Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Turkmens, Kyrgyz and Uyghur and Turkish people. Turkey was then the Ottoman Empire with its own many languages. So it’s possible to get lost when wanting to understand and have the picture of only Azerbaijan and sometimes the Azeris themselves wonder what it means to be Azerbaijani as their mind embraces so much of the world. This includes the 20 million Azeris within the Iranian just across the river-border. Independence in 1991, it’s not many 30 years to get an idea of what is one’s country but with 3000 years of history and more, it’s easier to know who our people are. Furthermore, to be lost a little more, names and calligraphies have been transformed and the Azeri language has changed alphabet three times in the twentieth century.
Missiles are falling
And now missiles have fallen on Ganja, killing entire families sleeping in the night. Killing dreams and hopes, surprising people who thought they were safe. Ganja is not part of the conflict zone but is only 60 km from the border. Hit by Armenia, the neighbours just there over the mountain. As one people they have mixed and cooked, dress, customs, and singing have coexisted for millennia. Today, if I have an Armenian stamp in my passport, I cannot get into Azerbaijan. History is too often a heartbreaking story. Sometimes I wonder if knowing the world will break me into pieces.
Until the Russain conquest in 1805, Nagorno-Karabakh was one of the most powerful principalities in the Caucasus that had been part of many empires: Georgia, Mongol, Turc, Persia, Russia and Soviet. A beautiful, fertile and fruitful land between arid plains where Armenians spoke Azeri and played Azerbaijani music. The predominantly forested and mountainous region is recognised under international law as part of Azerbaijan. Who it belonged to 387BC would be a little far fetched in today’s discussions. It might be time to leave behind the part of history that makes us angry and start building a peaceful world. I even find it urgent.