Azerbaijan in Space

Interview with Dr. Rustam B. Rustamov, independent expert on space science and technology, former Acting Director General, Azerbaijan National Aerospace Agency, Baku, Azerbaijan

1) Please tell us about your career, including the years leading up to your present work.

I initially became interested in space after one of the early astronaut missions in space in 1961. It was a time for any young boy to dream of flying to space. I didn’t have ambitions of becoming an astronaut, but I did pursue the well regarded paths of studying space and of being a scientist to take part in space instrumentation developments.

I completed my education in a Soviet-style school during the Soviet period in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. I spent two years as an intern at one of the Soviet Union’s most famous research institutes, called the Physical-Technical Institute of the USSR, in St. Petersburg. I completed my PhD in Physics and Mathematics at the same institution.

Presently I work at the Institute of Physics of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan as a scientist. At the same time I provide scientific expert services in the international community.

2) What can you tell us about Azerbaijan’s role in space science?

I am not able to fully describe what is going on in Azerbaijan in space technology use and application. Azerbaijan has just launched its own satellite for communication purposes last year. As far as I am aware from mass media, Azerbaijan has ambitions to develop and launch a low orbit satellite for Earth monitoring. So, Azerbaijan is a part of the world space community.

3) What has it meant for you, being an Azerbaijani scientist since Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991?

I was very happy when Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But this feeling has come at a cost. Honestly, during this collapse we have lost about20% of territory of the country, including Nagorno-Karabakh and five districts of Azerbaijan out of Karabakh. In addition, Azerbaijanis have been forcefully displaced from their motherland as a result of actions conducted by the neighboring country.

Still, being a citizen of an independent country gives a sense that cannot be explained by using any language ability! In particular, the independence of my country opened an opportunity for me to reach a high level in the career ladder, to become an acting director general of the National Aerospace Agency of Azerbaijan.

I have actively joined in the efforts to integrate Azerbaijan into the international community, mainly with Western countries. I long have felt that Western partnership and collaboration were key to changing people’s minds from communist-style thinking and mentality. It is a way to be a part of the world community. This position and approach hold a vital significance for me.

In the late 1990s, thanks to the situation in the country, it became possible for me to participate for a year in a UN project implemented within the framework of the European Space Agency entity at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Nordwijk, the Netherlands.

4) What are some elements of Azerbaijani culture that you believe to be especially supportive of a career like yours?

Definitely flexibility, a peaceful attitude, diligence, reliability, and constant readiness to lend assistance to others when needed. The nature of the country that is so rich with natural resources is one more positive influence in a career such as mine.

5) What are your thoughts about engaging young people in STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) and about encouraging them to pursue STEM careers?

It is really hard to achieve the expected numbers in high technology, particularly in the areas of space science and technology. There are obstacles for attracting people, especially for the young generation to be a part of such technology. It is especially difficult in developing countries. There are huge social, educational and other factors limiting people’s interest in space science and technology.

Fortunately there are always a few heroes who chose this area as their career path and who can serve as inspirational models. I do not offer a special “formula” for those who might pursue STEM. High technology as well as space technology as a career is not suited for maintaining your social needs. It is only for your soul. You have to love it as you love your life, your parents, your land, and everything around you!

In my view, one has to experience everything in order to understand deeply what it means from an individual perspective. Heroes may inspire, but this is the only way for success, nothing more! This is my suggestion!

6) What do you think can be done to encourage more women to enter the field of space?

Excellent question! All of my students are ladies. They are all very hard-working. One of them has already been internationally recognized with a Ph.D. Another young woman recently has completed her Master of Science degree and works for a famous international company in Baku. Others have been engaged in space technology applications as Ph.D. interns or are entering the gates of space technology with ambitions for future achievements. I am proud of my students!

7) What have been some of your proudest moments?

My proudest moments are all days I have been married, and especially the moment my daughter was born. When it comes to work, a few days ago I submitted a paper to an internationally recognized scientific journal. The topic of the paper was the use of the whole territory of Azerbaijan as a test site in satellite images classification. Integrating space imagery and field information is vital to data processing designed to identify land features on

Earth. Sometimes, when access to the study areas is limited, an indirect way using space imagery data processing is employed to create artificial test sites. Obviously, such artificial test sites cannot cover the whole land of the investigated area. It is a bad example of space image processing that impacts negatively on the accuracy of the classification.

I suggested using the whole territory of Azerbaijan as the test site area based on the country’s natural features and on main variations of land cover/land use options. My reasoning focused on the fact that Azerbaijan has nine out of the world’s existing eleven climate zones. I have already received an answer from the journal editorial board. That answer included the words, “You are a great thoughtful author!” It is really one more proud moment in my life.

8) What does the future hold for the space industry?

The world space industry is, in my opinion, in the right place. The main philosophy of space technology is to destroy existing borders, not to have limited imagination or a narrow vision. Space instruments are not able to reflect differences between people.

We human beings with our God-given brains are artificially creating borders between us, instigating huge problems and making our lives worse. Space imagery from a satellite cannot fix any borders between countries.

Such big challenges demand a worldwide problem-solving approach that is geared to common human interests. So the modern calling, as I see it, is to be a part of global processes. In fact, I am confident that countries must work together to use human achievements and challenges for our own home. The countries must collaborate to ensure Earth’s safety and security.
For the next generation, I would like to share my slogan, as follows:

Let each of us use our individual talents as citizens of the world!

Interview conducted by Mr. Kamran Mammadov, Cultural Ambassador, Karabakh Foundation. Mr. Mammadov is a former intern of Dr. Rustamov and is a co-author of an article based on conference proceedings, “Space Technology Applications–Cost Effectiveness,” The Ninth International Conference on Technical and Physical Problems of Power Engineering, Istanbul, Turkey, September 9-11, 2013, by A.M. Hashimov, S.N. Hasanova, S.R. Rustamova, K.T. Mammadov, R.B. Rustamov, pp. 430-432. Mr. Mammadov received a B.A. in business administration from Lindenwood University in Missouri in 2013.

Stories from the Land of Fire: Part 3

Less than a week ago I landed back at “home” in the United States from my whirlwind two week trip to The Land of Fire– Azerbaijan. I was selected along with nine other American students as a winner of a national essay contest sponsored by the Azerbaijan Ministry of Youth and Sport and received a twelve day, all expenses paid trip to Azerbaijan. I would like to share my wonderful good fortune and help those who have not yet visited the incredible country to understand life there little bit better, but as there are already a few posts on the subject, I will refer you to “Impressions of an American High School student in Baku” by Matthew Miller and “An Azerbaijani American in Baku” by Farzin Farzad for an overview on the subject. Instead, in this short series I will share with you a few stories from my trip that I think offer some insight into the untamed mystery and boundless intrigue that I experienced over the past two weeks in Azerbaijan.

Ateshgah

Ateshgah

Azerbaijan- Land of Fire, right? The epithet is frequently used in tourism ad campaigns and YouTube videos, but many people are unfamiliar with its roots. The name Azerbaijan is thought to be derived from ancient Persian meaning guardian/protector of fire. Fire has long held a central place in Azerbaijan’s culture due to the naturally occurring flames in some areas caused by powerful underground gas vents. The ancient people of Greater Iran followed the Zoroastrian faith and worshipped the natural fires of Azerbaijan going back as far as the first millennium BC. Zoroastrianism is a fascinating practice, and Azerbaijan is often quickly associated with it in light conversation, but I really did not know much about the religion and its ties to the country until I visited Ateshgah Fire Temple in Baku. The temple itself has been mostly rebuilt as a replica of the original, a slightly disappointing trend I saw in a large number of exhibits in the country, but was still an imposing structure. It had lots of open spaces, arches, and walls like fortifications. Mannequins of ancient fire worshipping pilgrims (unsettling, to be honest) were set up in some of the rooms built into the temple’s walls. Manmade gas-lit fires were also laid out where natural fires once burned in order to give visitors a picture of the temple when it was active.

What really struck me about the temple was that it was abandoned so recently, in 1883, after an earthquake snuffed the natural fires which the Zoroastrians took as a sign that their god’s favor had turned against the spot. While America was fighting its Civil War, fire was being worshipped as a divine revelation on the oh-so-remote Absheron Peninsula. The word “ancient” always seems to be used in discussions of Zoroastrianism in Azerbaijan, but in fact the traditions there died out not so long ago. Another interesting fact I learned is that Zoroastrians were vegetarians! Instead of sacrificing animals they sacrificed fruits, with the pomegranate being the most holy as its deep red and spiked crown are reminiscent of flame.

Ateshgah 2A few of us took the opportunity to create a little Nowruz celebration. Nowruz is an extremely popular holiday in Azerbaijan that is derived from Zoroastrian traditions. The holiday celebrates the coming of spring and traditionally, as a recognition of Nowruz’ fire-worshipping past, every Tuesday for four weeks prior to the holiday children jump over small bonfires and candles are lit. So we picked the biggest bonfire, blazing in the center of the temple, joined hands, and, channeling through us the centuries of tradition and faith in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Baku, and this very temple, leaped over the flames.

Stories from the Land of Fire: Part 2

Less than a week ago I landed back at “home” in the United States from my whirlwind two week trip to The Land of Fire– Azerbaijan. I was selected along with nine other American students as a winner of a national essay contest sponsored by the Azerbaijan Ministry of Youth and Sport and received a twelve day, all expenses paid trip to Azerbaijan. I would like to share my wonderful good fortune and help those who have not yet visited the incredible country to understand life there little bit better, but as there are already a few posts on the subject, I will refer you to “Impressions of an American High School student in Baku” by Matthew Miller and “An Azerbaijani American in Baku” by Farzin Farzad for an overview on the subject. Instead, in this short series I will share with you a few stories from my trip that I think offer some insight into the untamed mystery and boundless intrigue that I experienced over the past two weeks in Azerbaijan.

Sheki’s Spell

Sheki is the seventh largest city in Azerbaijan and houses a tiny population of just over 50,000, located at the foot of the Greater Caucasus Mountains it is a leisurely and visually stunning retreat. My first impression of the town was at around 10:30 at night, in the pitch dark and pouring rain, being tossed off a bus in front of an unfamiliar and un-navigable assortment of cabins, children’s amusements (a deflated blow up castle, a child-size statue of Shrek the ogre), strings of Christmas lights, and mud that was our accommodation for the night. Without instruction or warning, I was ushered into a huddle of about ten people under a large golf umbrella shivering in our shorts and t-shirts. Room keys were hastily doled out, vague directions pointed across the grounds, and we were left to fend for ourselves. About an hour later the rain had stopped and we were all gathered, of course, around food.

Shakh plov

The (unfortunately) outdoor restaurant had been lavishly prepared for the nearly 100 foreign guests that descended on this idyllic resort, and I think all of our mouths watered at the heaping piles of bread and fruit already on the table in traditional Azerbaijani fashion and the smell of spices and simmering fat coming from the kitchen. The cold mountain air combined with our still damp clothing to gnaw into our bones with an unexpected viciousness, but nothing could deter us when the waiters gleefully brought out the main course. Steaming masterpieces of beautiful Sheki-style shakh (crown) plov (see right).  We ate heaping plates of plov, bread, fresh watermelon and cucumbers, and deliciously greasy chicken for about an hour, and as we began to warm up none of us wanted to sleep! So we ordered bottles of local beer and other libations and laughed and talked until a hotel manager came out and suggested that we visit the hotel club. Now, we were speaking through a translator whose English was not exactly top notch, and to be fair perhaps something was lost in translation, but as surprised as we were to hear that this little mountain bungalow resort had a club, we followed the manager without hesitation. He led us down twisting, unlit pathways (a quick pit stop at an unexpected drink stand) towards the “club”. Nondescript fountains bubbled quietly at the entrance to the dark windows and natural wooden walls.

About forty of us stepped into the mysterious building to find plush carpeted floors, banquet tables pushed up against the walls, a small, empty bar, sufficiently large and central photographs of Heydar  and Ilham Aliyev, and a ten year old boom box being pulled out from under the bar and propped on a central wicker chair by several young men dressed in the black and white of the hotel staff. Despite this unusual “club”, we ended up having an incredible time! The Brazilians sambaed, the Egyptians clapped and shimmied, and even the hotel staff danced right along with us. Over the course of my stay in Azerbaijan I saw a whole lot of dancing, and something that really struck me was that even the youngest, most apparently hip and modern men and women still dance in the traditional style. It’s not just that they are able, but they are ready and willing to break out the duel-like dance moves as soon as strains of the right music begin. A fifteen year old boy began flicking the light switch on and off like a strobe light and the unconventional party didn’t stop until almost 3:00 in the morning!watermelon and cucumbers, and deliciously greasy chicken for about an hour, and as we began to warm up none of us wanted to sleep! So we ordered bottles of local beer and other libations and laughed and talked until a hotel manager came out and suggested that we visit the hotel club. Now, we were speaking

Needless to say, the next day we were all drained, and for most of the morning I barely shuffled around Sheki’s beautiful historical sites- the Caravansarai, Sheki Khan’s Palace, and a Soviet-era museum to name a few. By lunch time we were all feeling a little better, faced with another mouth-watering spread of food and a gorgeous view of the town to boot! The mountains here were closer and more reminiscent of tropical Central America than anywhere else I visited and the history just oozes from the cobblestoned streets, Sheki is a definite recommended destination!

Sheki as central america Sheki view

Stories from the Land of Fire Part 1

Less than a week ago I landed back at “home” in the United States from my whirlwind two week trip to The Land of Fire– Azerbaijan. I was selected along with nine other American students as a winner of a national essay contest sponsored by the Azerbaijan Ministry of Youth and Sport and received a twelve day, all expenses paid trip to Azerbaijan. I would like to share my wonderful good fortune and help those who have not yet visited the incredible country to understand life there little bit better, but as there are already a few posts on the subject, I will refer you to “Impressions of an American High School student in Baku” by Matthew Miller and “An Azerbaijani American in Baku” by Farzin Farzad for an overview on the subject. Instead, in this short series I will share with you a few stories from my trip that I think offer some insight into the untamed mystery and boundless intrigue that I experienced over the past two weeks in Azerbaijan.

The Road to Lahij

Lahic signThe trip was essentially set in Baku with a four day excursion into the interior with stops in the towns of Lahij and Gebele and overnight stays in the cities of Sheki and Ganja. This traveling required logging quite a bit of time in a mobile sauna charter bus trekking across hundreds of miles of varied landscape. While, yes, it was sweltering, sweaty, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and at times frustrating beyond belief, I think the opportunity was actually very valuable in allowing us government-sponsored foreign tourists a glimpse at the real Azerbaijan. For example- the road to Lahij.

On the way from Baku to Sheki, we stopped in the Ismayilli region of Azerbaijan to visit mud river Lahicthe village of Lahij, one of the most ancient settlements in the country. We had to disembark from our buses and reload nearly 100 students and volunteers onto a fleet of marshrutki (see image 1). The road was crazy, narrow, winding, mountainous, unpaved and breathtaking. To the right was a low grade slope 5 or 6 meters upwards, and to the left, often inches from our tires, was a shallow canyon in whose bed flows a muddy, lumpy river the same grey color as the rocks. In photographs, when you can’t see the movement, it really just looks like drying mud. Our driver, clearly an old hand at this road, was unconcerned with the shrieking Brazilians behind him. Casually chatting on his cell phone, the forty-something man rested one set on fingertips lightly on the wheel and painted himself as the perfect picture of his demographic. As I stumbled out of the marshrutka in Lahij, breathless and grateful, I noticed two big Hannah Montana stickers on the back windows of the car.

LahicLahij smelled like a mixture of body odor, cigarette smoke, wet dirt, and mountain air- which was surprisingly pleasant! The village was an interesting surprise. Situated so remotely up in the foothills of the Greater Caucasus mountains, I did not expect the plethora of tourist shops and peddlers who finagled manat after manat out of us for spices, photos in traditional Caucasian costumes, and copperwares for which Lahij is famous(-ish). The real shining glory of the town is in fact the sewage system which is purported to be between 1,000 and 1,500 years old! In Lahij I met an old man named Bobi who spoke no English, but we managed to communicate in a mix of my broken Russian and the ever-popular passionate gesticulations of world travelers. He told me that more tourists came to his village every year than there were residents, that most people’s incomes were somehow related to the tourism industry, that he had lived in Lahij all his life, he pointed out a plaque commemorating the Japanese assistance in rebuilding the sewage system after an earthquake, and then he tried to sell me a copper bracelet. Bobi is a great example of the curious, proud nature of many older Azerbaijanis that I met. He was quick and interested in me and my compatriots, and eager to share his life and village with us. I highly recommend a trip to Lahij- if only for that incredible drive! Buy a cup of saffron for one manat, take a picture dressed as a Caucasian warrior, and find Bobi.

Post written by Karabakh Foundation Cultural Ambassador Samantha Guthrie. 

Lahij papakh

Baku: Unfolding History Old and New

Azerbaijan, a country that only became an independent state a little over 20 years ago, is changing and modernizing incredibly fast. Now that the country has gained its political independence, it is striving for a cultural independence. The capital, Baku, is moving forward and changing itself and its architecture in ways to shed its Soviet past.

When I visited Baku about five years ago, it was pretty similar to the way it had been ten years ago when I lived there, aside from all the construction everywhere. When I visited last year, in 2012, the changes were astonishing. There were several new buildings, new parks, new attractions. It was all so incredible and modern, yet there was still a taste of the old and traditional Azerbaijan.

As mentioned, within the course of a few years, Azerbaijan has rapidly modernized itself. Take the housing, for example. I visited several new apartments when I visited the last time, and they were certainly nothing like the old apartments from the Soviet era. They were large and spacious, with high ceilings and big rooms. The people living in them added brand-new furniture, more contemporary than traditional. It was nothing like the house I’d lived in when living in Baku many years ago.

Another big alteration in Baku that I noticed was the parks, especially the Bulvar (Boulevard) and Targova (Fountain Square). The Bulvar still had a number of its old restaurants but also featured several new ones. Foreign trees and shrubs and flowers were planted everywhere. Small statues were also placed throughout the park, and there were lots of new carousels and rides in the small amusement park.

Fountain Square, Baku

Fountain Square, Baku

Fountain Square had new, modern fountains built in the place of many of the old fountains. The very long, old fountain that had been in the middle of the square was replaced with a walkway, and around it were a couple of fountains, such as one consisting of large metal balls and a pyramid fountain. The biggest fountain was renovated and surrounded by arches and columns and long white stairs.

I also saw in Baku incredible new buildings such as the Flame Towers, the Park Bulvar mall, and the Heydar Aliyev cultural center. I had noticed the construction of the Flame

Flame Towers, Baku

Flame Towers, Baku

Towers a few years ago, but I never could’ve imagined that the product would be as beautiful as it is today. The Flame Towers are three towers in the shape of flames, representing the naturally occurring fires of Azerbaijan. The Towers are a housing residence and are the highest buildings in the city. At night, the Flame Towers light up in beautiful colors. Sometimes, they’ll light up with moving pictures of fire, and sometimes with the colors of the flag—blue, red, and green.

Another new structure in Baku, the Park Bulvar mall, is a large shopping mall that includes a movie theater, very nice restaurants, and a bowling alley. The front of the building is shaped like a large egg, made out of glass. The rest of it is a contemporary structure with a curvy top.

Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, Baku

Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, Baku

A third building that is amazingly built is the Heydar Aliyev cultural center. It is a single building containing a library, a museum, and a performance hall. The large building is extraordinarily shaped, having several slopes and curves along the surface. It is enormous, and I can only imagine how difficult it was to build such a place. It truly is a unique building in a unique city.

Despite the fact that Azerbaijan, especially Baku, is modernizing faster than the blink of an eye, it still has several spots and monuments that represent its history and past. Even though there are many new housing residences that are different and new, many people still live in their old apartments that contain their family’s past, history, and memories. And although the parks such as the Bulvar and Fountain Square have changed, the Bulvar is still a place where you can go out for a walk, to enjoy yourself, to stare out into the sea, just as you could more than 100 years ago. And the Fountain Square is still the same square, with the same shops and cafes, just different fountains.

Gobustan

Gobustan

Though there may be several new buildings, there are many historical places in Baku to visit as well. Old City Baku, Gobustan, Maiden’s Tower, and Ateshgah are just a few of the many symbolic and historical sites in and around Baku.

So, as Baku does plan to add 30 new buildings a year for 15 years and is rapidly modernizing and becoming independent with its culture, its new character is perfectly balanced with its sense of a historic past.

The Maiden Tower

The Maiden Tower

Ateshgah

Ateshgah

Post written by Nazrin Garibova. Nazrin is an upcoming 10th grader at Oakton High School in Vienna, Virginia, in the United States. She and her family lived in Azerbaijan until she was four-and-a-half years old.

Want to Directly Contribute to an Azerbaijani’s Goal?

Years ago, a professor introduced me to an organization that allows people from all over the world to loan money to someone seeking to better their lives and their community. It was called Kiva. Kiva, a non-profit organization, has a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.

When my professor told me that we could lend money to someone and research their country, I decided to loan $25 to a man in Togo who wanted to buy a corn mill and take on his youngest son as an apprentice to create more local sales of agriculture in his community. I think the best part about Kiva is that you get to read the individual profiles of all of the people seeking loans (which are paid back and can be used to fund another person’s wish!). Sometimes charities can seem so large that your impact can feel very small-you don’t know who got your money, how it is being used, etc. With Kiva, I understood that my money was going to a man named Komi for the purposes of buying a corn mill.

Now, to relate this to Azerbaijan: I went searching on Kiva the other week and saw that quite a few people from Azerbaijan were requesting loans for anything from purchasing sheep to expand a local farm to buying their children a plot of land for their marriages. How do you know you can help someone in Azerbaijan achieve their goal? You can see directly on the page how much of a loan the person requests, how much of the loan has been filled to date, and how many people are loaning to the recipient.

Right now, a man named Tavakkul, a farmer whose only income comes from the sale of dairy products and greens, is requesting a loan of 1,200 AZN (Azerbaijani new manat), or $1,550 USD, for the purchase of quality medicines for his animals. This loan request is new as of today and currently has 0% raised. So if you were to donate just $25 to Tavakkul, for example, you would know that you are contributing 1.62% toward achieving his goal.

There are many other Azerbaijani women and men requesting loans for various medicines, animals, agricultural products, and even college funds. Currently, there are 49 loan requests from the Azerbaijani population. I highly recommend that everyone should check out Kiva.org and find an Azerbaijani’s loan request that represents your particular interest in lending funds to those who will truly benefit from Kiva.org.

 

Post written by Elizabeth Cavin Urquhart

For Food Lovers: Azerbaijani Cuisine

Food plays an important role in Azerbaijan’s culture.  Throughout the centuries, Azerbaijani cuisine has been influenced by the foods of different cultures, though at the same time, it remained distinctive and unique. Many foods that are indigenous to the country can now be seen in the cuisines of other cultures. For the Azerbaijanis, food is an important part of the country’s culture and is deeply rooted in the history, traditions and values of the nation.

Out of 11 climate zones known in the world, nine zones lie within Azerbaijan.  This contributes to the fertility of the land, which in its turn results in the richness of the country’s cuisine. It is famous for an abundance of vegetables and greens used seasonally in the dishes.  Fresh herbs, including mint, coriander, dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, leek, chive, thyme, marjoram, green onion, and watercress are very popular and often accompany main dishes.

In Azerbaijan, people can eat well without spending a fortune on dining out.  Azeri culture displays an intriguing blend of influences from Turkey, the Middle East, Iran, Central Asia, and India.  Most towns in Azerbaijan have at least a handful of inexpensive yəmakxanəs, or food houses, as well as slightly more expensive restaurants catered to tourists-foreign or local.

Lamb, the staple ingredient in most Azerbaijani meals, is usually seasoned with saffron, cinnamon, and fresh coriander.  Dolma, badimcan dolmasi, dushbara (pictured, above), qutab, tika kabab, and qovurma are just a few traditional meals found in Azerbaijan that all typically include lamb.  Several soups, such as sulu khingal (lamb soup with noodles), also boast lamb as their main ingredient.

To accompany Azerbaijani entrées, numerous side dishes are often ordered or cooked at home for a meal.  Sometimes, these dishes will be chosen arbitrarily by the restaurant staff.  If someone does not want to eat one of the dishes, it must be sent back to avoid being charged on the final check.  To the right, you can see a number of Azerbaijani side dishes that typically would be served for lunch or dinner.

Outside of Baku, one will not likely find food houses that serve non-Azeri cuisine.  To find Chinese, Italian, or other cuisines from around the world, one must dine only in the capital.  Staying in Baku will also allow someone to experience the fast food experience of the West.  However, the “fast food” culture outside of Baku is not a burger-and-fries type of meal; Azerbaijani “fast food” cafes and kəbabxanəs (kebab houses) typically serve inexpensive sandwiches made with dönər or tikə kebab or qutab (meat and herb turnovers).

For sheer ambiance, seek out one of Azerbaijan’s caravanserai restaurants, where full cultural shows accompany your banquet.  To find one of these caravanserai restaurants, go to Baku’s Old City.  Mugham Club, in particular, would be a great caravanserai restaurant to visit because of its fame for local music performances and dances.

Azerbaijan also places high importance on fruits found from their region.  Every year a cultural festival is held in Goychay, Azerbaijan known as Pomegranate Festival.  The festival features Azerbaijani fruit-cuisine mainly the pomegranates from Goychay.  At the festival, a parade is held with traditional Azerbaijani dances and Azerbaijani music.  The Pomegranate Festival usually takes place in October.

All in all, Azerbaijan cuisine is not only is tasty but also good for your health – the evidence to this is a lot of long-livers and centenarians in the Republic.

 

Post written by Elizabeth Cavin Urquhart

 

June in Azerbaijan: Cultural Events

Especially during the summer, people from all around the world attend festivals centered on music, art, dance, and other cultural subjects.  If you happen to be in East Asia in June, consider going to celebrations in Azerbaijan that commemorate its National Salvation Day.

June 15, a national holiday, marks Azerbaijan’s National Salvation Day and is celebrated as the coming back of the former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev (pictured, left) from the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic to Baku in 1993.

Azerbaijani veterans and the members of the defense wing of the military take part in the ceremonial parade each year on June 15.  Azerbaijan’s president presides over this parade, accepting the salute from the various wings or parts of his defense force.

The president also addresses the nation on this day emphasizing the need for national unity and security. These celebrations are also extended to the television, which broadcasts live the speech of the president to the civilians. There are also celebrations in the form of a fireworks display at night.

Also in June, you can attend an art festival in Azerbaijan.  At the Baku Creative Center, performance art, drawings, graphic works, and sculptures will be showcased during the three day Azerbaijan Art Festival.

The opening of the art festival and a press conference for the event will take place on June 4 at the Baku Business Center and then the exhibits will be put on display at the Baku Creative Center.  Beginning on June 7, three-day exhibitions and master classes will be held in Salyan, Saatli, Shirvan, Kurdamir, Mingachevir, Sheki, Gakh, Ismayilli, Khachmaz, and Sumgayit.

The main purpose of the Baku Creative Center is to promote Azerbaijani culture beyond the country, to formulate PR strategy for the implementation of advanced ideas and to help people materialize their creative ideas. So for the month of June, be thinking about the wonderful efforts of the people of Azerbaijan to recognize and honor their heritage and culture.

 

Post written by Elizabeth Cavin Urquhart

 

 

Women in Azerbaijan: Clothing, Careers, and Customs

In Soviet times, both women and men in Azerbaijan achieved high levels of education and could hold jobs at many levels of their country’s economy and government.  Since the independence of Azerbaijan, however, a number of patriarchal traditions and cultural assumptions about gender roles have re-emerged. What does this mean for the women of Azerbaijan in the 21st century?

Typically, when someone mentions gender roles in the non-Western world, one might immediately picture women who are confined to the home to carry out domestic duties.  Women in Azerbaijan certainly make a habit out of intensively cleaning their houses or having inexpensive help in doing so.  Many also stay home to care for their children and hardly leave home.  Although this might be the case for many Azeri women, many enjoy the process of applying make-up and styling their hair before leaving home.

Throughout the past few decades, women of Azerbaijan have mostly discarded the head-to-toe covering of their bodies and have transitioned to a time where women can wear shorter shirts.  Some see this as a liberating experience for Azeri women, while others see it as a cause for unwanted attention and objectification of women.  Essentially, the option to wear clothing that completely covers the body or to opt for less clothing gives Azeri women a choice to make about themselves.

Customs and law no longer decide what the women of Azerbaijan will wear.  However, after the collapse of Soviet communism within Azerbaijan, the reentry of religious values into the country has made its way into the decision-making process of younger women’s attire.  Nonetheless, women are mostly free to wear a hijab (head scarf) or look to the monument in Baku of a woman discarding her veil and do the same.

Although women’s clothing in Azerbaijan is not a contested issue, the subject of women in the workforce remains a hot discussion topic.  In 2006, Azerbaijan passed a law on gender equality, defining gender-based discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction, exercised on the basis of gender, including sexual harassment.”  However, Azerbaijani officials rarely enforce these laws or inform women of such decrees-especially in a post-Soviet Azerbaijan.

If an Azerbaijani woman decides that homemaking is not a suitable career, her acceptable alternatives are typically teaching and nursing.  Even if a woman does enter the workforce, the household and family remain her number one priority.  Azeri women typically marry early, leaving them a small time frame to enter into a career and ensuring that they will likely experience the double day.  Female teachers in Azeri schools often skip class to look after guests or leave school early for a trip to the bazaar (market).

Before becoming a married woman, an Azeri woman must have a family accept the potential groom.  Americans often refer to the act of a man asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage as “old fashioned” or “traditional,” whether they like or dislike the custom.  The Azeri culture has created a way to make this process less painless for the groom and his family; they will serve unsweetened tea to spare the male’s family humiliating rejection if they deny his marriage proposal. If the tea is sweet, the couple may marry.  If the ultimate decision to allow my significant other to marry me rested in the hands of my father, I am sure I would prefer to have the meeting with this Azeri custom.

Statistical findings from the Caucasus Research Resource Center show that the Azeri population’s attitudes towards gender equality seem a bit ambiguous.  Many people express traditional attitudes about gender roles, division of labor and participation of men and women in domestic and public life.  Yet, much of the population also thinks gender equality has already been mostly achieved.  This indicates that the perception of gender equality differs from the actual distribution of gender roles.  Gender equality and gender roles are a popular topic among anthropologists, social scientists, and many non-academics.  Sometimes, what we think is oppressive or too liberating might be thought of as the opposite in another culture.  Azerbaijan’s gender roles may seem quite divided to many people and to some of the Azerbaijani population; however, laws and cultural groups exist today that share the common goal of pursuing gender equality, in its cultural context, within Azerbaijan.

Post written by Elizabeth Cavin Urquhart

If Everyone in the World…

If I had the attention of every citizen of the world for just a moment, I would cry “STOP WAR!” as loudly as I could. Wars devastate lives and make wild animals out of humans. However, they also bring out our strength, perseverance, and heroism among common men.

I knew an old Azerbaijani woman who lived very close to the contact line between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Although I could see the tragedy of the conflict in her eyes and on the wrinkles of her face, her words did not let on. Instead of grieving her involvement as part of this tragic history or slipping into a state of anger or despair, she expressed patriotism, hope, and resilience.

I first met this woman while staying with a host family in the region. The old woman was in poor health and visited my host mother, a registered nurse, every day in order to receive an injection necessary for her condition. Although she was not very talkative, during her visits she shared her story with me.

Her son was killed in front of her eyes in 1993. Although her daughter in law escaped with her granddaughter, she never heard from them again. It is thought that they were either killed or lost to cold and hunger. War is cold.

Half of her front yard is occupied by Armenian forces and she hasn’t used the second floor of her new house since July, 1993 in fear of being shot. Light must not escape through the windows so they are covered with large dark curtains, similar to those used during World War II. She lives in darkness.

Although she once shared the house with her grandson, he has since move to Baku to study. She remains in her house alone. Many of her neighbors have lost their lives, her own life is accidental. It is a lonely village.

I was deeply saddened by her story but also struck with admiration. She truly was fighting to live her life on her terms as best she could, despite her tragedy and loneliness. She was living face to face with death, but was positive about the future.

Post written by Sevda Salayeva

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