Good for a Queen! 

Moment with Arzu in Ganja! 

The Caucasus

One year ago, I was preparing to leave for the Caucasus. From my young America, I was excited to head in a direction with so much history. What do thousands of years of history leave behind?   I was intrigued by what had Queen Tamar left behind after bringing her country’s history to its peak. What a surprise to learn that she was so great they called ‘King’ Tamar!  

That was a reminder that I was in a  macho-land and to keep my ears open to what women would tell me. 

Luckily, the Queen-King left her name to some women and it is one of them who really helped on the road to “my” family in Georgia. Thank you Tamar.  The Caucasus my heart is still with you 12 months later. However sorry to be short on Georgia, today  I want to write about Azerbaijan because my heart is upside down as war is changing the life of “my” family in the city of Ganja where I finished 2019. 

Azer, the Persian word for Fire

Not very many people know of Azerbaijan and I feel I need to write about what I have learned while doing my research there. I feel we need to be informed on both sides of the border and the news will speak to you most about Armenia.  Why is that? It is because there is a very large diaspora of Armenians all over the world. This way, they have a strong lobby to put the focus on their side of the story. There is always two sides to a story and when there is war there are suffering on all sides. If there is hatred, it’s often that it has been put in people’s heart, little by little, through time. One thing I know about this conflict is that young people do not want it.

Missiles dropping on dreams

Young people are saying: No Fuck..g war! 

Who wants what? 

Over the mountains from Armenia, Azeris or Azerbaijanis have lived their life without the world focusing on them.   That is except for those in history who have wanted their situation on the sea, and the oil moguls who have flirted with the world’s first oil-producing country. The last ones came by after the collapse of the USSR. They came after because during WWII the Soviet Union had destroyed all country’s oil facilities so that Hitler would not get at it. Then Russia developed its own oil wells in the Volga and Urals, taking care of its own economy leaving Azerbaijan helpless.  We could ask the question, does Russia want to repeat the destruction as now the industry has been rebuilt and an important pipeline brings its oil to Turkey and Europe. What does Russia want? Who wants what?

When a country of 4 million people attacks its neighbors of 10 million, it might be because someone came to help. Making them feel strong. Is this conflict more about Russia whose army base in Armenia is so well situated to assure continuity of all the small conflicts in the region? Keep control, sell arms, and keep the little ones indebted towards them?  Assuring its borders with Iran and Turkey?  Does Russia really care about Armenia’s quest for more land? Do they really mean it when they are joining the international community to ask for a cease-fire? 

Or is this about Albanians’ need for revenge from the conflicts of 1918 and all the small ones that followed? Is this about illusions 3000 years old?  Byzance, Babylone, Kingdoms, Dynasties, Empires have extended and shrank. Names and calligraphies have changed at pleasure. The Azeri language has been written in three alphabets in the twentieth century!   Wars do not need borders, they need people who want more and more. They need vanity, greed, beliefs, and hatred. The geo-politics of this world have kept all of us slaves. Are the governments of the region really representing the people?  

Here, with viruses, confinements, and the USA turning its back to the rest of the world, small wars can happen without the press having the time and the people’s interest in them.  Do we really want to know?  What is the world anyway at this time?  Do we really want to know what peace in the world could be? 



I have walk the streets at night feeling secured! 

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.

Not Ganja! 

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. 

    Do not let wars kill our smile!

    Let us live side by side in harmony millennium. Take your guns away from our lives! 

    Moving people

    In 1917, Stalin became Commissar of Nationalities.  He liked to move people around. Entire villages if he thought there was a traitor among them, were transported elsewhere. He moved minorities, religious groups throughout Central Asia, and some of them had to make Azerbaijan their home. Azeri learned to live with the forcefully displaced groups. That is how a group of Armenians was moved to the Azerbaijani mountains of Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijani would bring their herds grazing there in summer and go down the valley for the short cold months of winter.  Armenians settled with more stability and little by little took over the politics and declared the land as theirs. It was then given the status of Autonomous regions and its borders created to assured that over 90% of the population would be Armenians.  Was this the first stone to today’s conflict?  Was it a planned stone to a future plan of expansion?

    Since autonomy within Azerbaijani borders, three hundred thousand internal refugees have been displaced within the country. They are waiting to get their land back.  I wonder why there have been 30 years of dialogue refusal on both sides of the border. It seems long. Will this conflict give the land back? Will this conflict be the last one? How many people will be displaced again? How many will die? What does this conflict mean to a 20-year-old soldier?


    Population taking over another in numbers is not the first in history. That is what happened in Fiji when Indians who were brought there by the British to farm sugarcane, made sure their children were educated and when at 50% of the population elected one of their own as president, the Fijian army suddenly awaken. As a French speaker of the Americas, I have my eyes on these stories. When people settle here and refuse to learn my language, I feel the danger of something similar happening in future history if we do not stand for our language.  Mine is a population that stays awake to the foreign settlers.  The population of this earth has more than doubled since I have begun this project. Tripled since my birth. Numbers are important when we try to understand the world. 

    The longest conflict in the world. 

    Autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh was the first to demand independence, closely followed by all the other states. As a result, the USSR collapsed. Incredible what 140,000 people can accomplish. If the western press liked Gorbatchev, here in Azerbaijan, people get urticaria when they hear his name. During the Soviet era, the USSR invited Armenians to train as soldiers, but not the neighbors.  Azerbaijanis prefer and are good at trade.

    The fall of the USSR was happening under Gorbatchev’s rule. Two of his assistants were from Armenia and he stood by his assistants and a  Russian military base was set in Armenia. Russia said to Azerbaijan: “Do not even think of trying to get it back. We have a base and we will use it.”  With such a support Armenia took seven more territories around  Nagorno-Karabakh.  This has brought 300,000 internal refugees within Azerbaijan. Today the country seems serious about getting their land and home back. At what cost? 

    It seems that the world is run by many crazy and narcissists leaders.  Putin’s Russia strategy is  to ferment small conflicts everywhere. A base on the border with Turkey and Iran was the best thing to do. Turkey has a leader who dreams of bringing back some of the borders of the  Ottoman Empire.  In the name of friendship, will Turkey disguise its help to Azerbaijan to assure to take back Armenia? 

    I am worried about another Syria. Fundamentalists and extremists are already flown in. Will hatred be planted in this quiet secular country? After leaving behind my families of Bosnia, Palestine, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Central Africa, Mali, how long can the list be? I need to nourish my strength so I can keep on looking at the world while watching the crazy leader south of my own border.

    How tough can I be?  I need now to reflect on how one raises peaceful future generations and how to bring my own inner peace.  I need to dry my tears. 

    #I am Ganja