Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day of Solidarity of Azerbaijanis and Happy New Year!!!

31st of December is not only the day when we greet the New Year but also the day when the day of Solidarity of Azerbaijanis is celebrated.

Azerbaijan historically always has been and continues to be located on cross roads, possess natural resources and exit to sea - these have always been a blessing and a curse...In order to occupy the land physically and politically one of the easiest ways was/is “to divide and rule” - famous old saying that proves to be true for as long as the humanity exists. I think this saying had been/is heavily “practiced” in Azerbaijan and became one of the reasons why something very common and natural among other nations is unfortunately quite rare among my fellow citizens and compatriots or Azerbaijanis that reside elsewhere. These are natural respect, compassion, sympathy, support and solidarity with each other. I am not against globalization and I believe into internationalism. But I also think that sayings “charity begins at home” or “self likes itself best” and “East or West home is best” are still very true...Therefore I really hope that people that think, believe and know that they are Azerbaijanis would understand hopefully sooner rather then later that this must mean sympathy or at the very least respect to other Azerbaijanis and SOLIDARITY by default.

Bayramımız mübarək olsun, əziz Azərbaycanlılar! Arzu edirəm ki, biz doğrudan da həmrəy olaq. Biz özümüzə və bir birimizə hörmət etməsək, heç bir millət və dövlət bizə heç vaxt hörmət etməyəcək!!!

My dear readers, thank you very much for visiting my blog, reading my thoughts, sharing your thoughts with me and supporting me. Happy New year to you and your dear ones! May year 2009 bring good health, love, joy, prosperity and peace!

With lots of love from Azerbaijan,

Ayten :)

Above photo is the courtesy of Hikmet Sadiqov. This is how the Independence Square in front of the Government House in Baku looks currently. Hikmet, thank you very much for great photo!


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Unknown Azerbaijan...Food...Plov...

Today I am writing about food…

It is a festive season and people in Azerbaijan who are very sensitive and attentive to subject of food will be even more engaged with this matter on New Year holidays. I must say that food is not something that is regarded not important in Azerbaijan…vice versa this is an essential part of culture.

Plov or aş (ash) is considered as “süfrənin şahı” meaning “shah (king) of local cuisine” in Azerbaijan. Plov is cooked for respected guests to show respect and high sympathy and during special occasions. Azerbaijan has many types of plov depending on its geographical regions. I am more acquainted with Sheki plovs :) which on its own has many types of plov depending on seasons of year…Currently in winter we have a season of chestnuts and nuts therefore plov is served with meat with chestnuts; or chicken. Last time we had plov at home we also stuffed chicken with nuts; this stuffing is traditional in south of Azerbaijan, Lenkoran area and stuffing is called “ləvəngi” (levengi). In my previous life I must have been from that part of Azerbaijan because I love “ləvəngi” :) Plovs also are supposed to have “qazmaq” that is a bottom crispy layer of the dish.

This is a very ignorant and hasty post about plov. I hope to be able to go back from time to time and elaborate on this subject :) In the meantime you can visit an excellent website on Azerbaijani cuisine and overall great food here and read more about plov and not only.


Chichen stuffed with levengi...

Raisins and dried apricot served with plov as well...

Meat with chestnuts...

Plov covered with qazmaq

Have superb holidays!!!


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Unknown Azerbaijan...Azerbaijan University of Languages...Ismikhan Rahimov and other distinctive teachers...

Before December is over there is a subject that I also need to touch upon...
15 years ago, back in December 1993 I was among the students who got enrolled to department of linguistics of Azerbaijan State University of Languages to become a translator/interpreter.

I must also go back and say that in Soviet times it was virtually impossible to get enrolled to this and many other universities in Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan without paying substantial amounts of money unofficially of course. After repeat declaration of independence in 1991 (initial one happened in 1918) one of the first and best things that happened in Azerbaijan was the transfer to written test system of university exams which enabled people to get enrolled to universities they wished without having to bribe anyone. In 1995 it was the second year when this new system was working and I was one of citizens to benefit from it. The studies started weirdly in December because the country had no capacity to check the results internally and test results had to go to Turkey (I think) to be checked and shipped back. Nowadays after 15 years results are known the same day and future students are able to check the results on TV with live announcements...

There have been very many teachers that I met on my path that I am very grateful to; unfortunately I won't be able to remember the names of each of them. Among others I have had amazing phonetics teacher Ashraf muellim, grammar teacher Remziye xanim (if I am not mistaken), Gilinckhan muellim on linguistics and two more amazing and distinctive people/teachers that I was blessed to meet. One of these teachers who not only taught English but became a mentor and close friend to me is Ragsana Mammadova who is now the Executive Director of Azerbaijan English Teachers' Association.


Ismikhan Rahimov who unfortunately passed away now. It is not right and possible to write about Ismikhan muellim in just one post. He has been the person that fought for his native Azerbaijani language against the Soviet regime and who loved and knew Shakespeare’s English without ever traveling to any English speaking country (I think). Although he spent years in Siberia for nothing he still continued to love people, life and of course his native and English languages. Thankfully until his last day he was teaching students and anyone who was eager to learn...without expecting too much appreciation from anyone...Allah rəhmət eləsin (Rest in peace)...

Ismikhan Rahimov with his wife Zarida xanim and grandson in Baku, 1997. Photo: Betty Blair

I must say that nowadays when I hear comments about corruption and low standards in Azeri universities I emotionally refuse to accept that this applies to each and all because that was not and I am sure is not true for many committed professionals that are spending their life teaching those who want to learn and grow and develop. And I am thankful to them. Thank you!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Movie review: Changeling

I watched Clint Eastwood's Changeling movie. It is a harsh and shocking movie about a true story. Although it is hard to watch I think everyone should watch it.

The movie not only made me paranoiac at least for awhile but also made me question: “Why some people are cruel?...why do some people have urge to physical aggression to hit, beat or even kill; or irritate, stress, piss off, humiliate, hurt, harass, suppress – psychological aggression. Animals kill each other to survive. What stands behind human aggression? Why can’t we coexist…just…especially if one has power over the other…

Changeling doesn’t have answers. It presents one more case of outrageous aggression both psycho and physical.

Movie producers have a unique opportunity to show us, the viewers, what we might not always want to see and acknowledge. It is very remarkable that Clint Eastwood and actors including John Malkovich and Angelina Jolie decided to do this movie together. Thank you.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Book review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.
(Saeb-e-Tabrizi, translated from Farsi by Dr Josephine Davis)

Under the influence of Khaled Hosseini’s first book, The Kite Runner, I decided to read his second novel as I was interested in finding out if it was as strong as his previous book.

If The Kite Runner filled my soul with sadness and grief, A Thousand Splendid Suns also made me feel anger and outrage.

There are those people who just observe the story while reading and those who dive into the story and feel all the happiness or tragedy of the book’s characters. I belong to this second category. As a daughter, I could understand how the betrayal of a father would feel. As a woman, I could imagine what it would be like to be punched by my husband or forbidden to leave the house without him and to be prevented from studying or working. As a mother, I could imagine how it would feel to have a caesarian without anaesthetic or to be obliged, due to war and hunger, to leave one of my children in an orphanage.

A recurring thought I had while reading the book was “God forbid!” The despair of the characters’ situations, especially those of the women, felt like a “lump of anger and sorrow” in my throat, as we say here in Azerbaijan.
It is admirable how in one book the author touches upon history, politics, people and countries, culture, customs, cuisine, religion, parenthood, childhood, maternity, betrayal, freedom, loyalty, patriotism, humanity and love of course. Different subjects intertwine harmoniously, making the reader go through all kinds of emotions and feelings.
The book has a specific and distinctive way of raising awareness about the author’s country, Afghanistan. One hopes and wants to believe that, in some way, this actually helps the people living there.
On a sunny day, watching kids play, it is difficult even to imagine that somewhere else kids grow up thinking that war and daily struggle are the norm.
The book doesn’t fit in with the festive Christmas season so probably it’s best to read it either before or after the holidays. It is one of those books that help you to appreciate and cherish whatever good things you possess and to not take comfort and convenience for granted, but instead remember that there are people somewhere close who might need compassion, help, sympathy or even rescue.
Although both of Khaled Hosseini’s books have similar goals, they are put forward through two different stories that are both astonishing and unforgettable.
P.S. My review on "The Kite Runner" is available here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Qurban (Gurban) Bayram

This post is a bit outdated, sorry, but I thought I’d still write...

I try not to write about religion or politics on my blog but now and then I make exceptions...

Although I don’t pray in a “proper” way and don’t do many other things that Muslims are supposed to do slaughtering a sheep once a year in the name of Allah and dividing it and sharing it with people around personally to me means/feels like a way to show my gratefulness to God. We all know the parable where the tradition takes its roots from and I also believe that this is also a respectful cause when at least once a year people make a pause and remember to share.
While travelling I hear different people commenting on different traditions. My personal opinion is that most traditions have deep meaning in them and without studying them no criticism and most of all no irony should take place and tolerance and respect would be ideal actually.
Tradition says that from each slaughtered sheep dishes must be prepared/cooked in seven homes (I think, excuse my ignorance please). People distribute “pay”s (piece to each household, a kilo or so each), congratulate each other with “Qurban Bayram” (Holiday of Sacrifice in Azeri) and wish to each other “Allah qurbanınızı qəbul etsin” “Let Allah accept your sacrifice”.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Unknown Azerbaijan...Qara Qarayev..."Seven beauties" ballet

There are moments in life when a person feels proud of belonging to this or other country/nation. I (and I think everyone else present) felt like this last Saturday at premiere of Qara Qarayev's (Kara Karayev) ballet "Seven beauties". Previous staging that I never saw was said to be unable to go in line with richness and perfection of ballet's music. This year's performance with superbly redone costumes and decor, invited foreign producers and more effort, support of Ministry of Culture and Tourism was able to convey visually the beauty of the music. Qara Qarayev's music and up-to-date performance brought the viewers to state of euphoria, joy and pride. At the end of the performance when the viewers were generously applauding in order to express their gratitude and appreciation to everyone involved from ballet dancers to costume designer, the conductor showed the orchestra score, Qara Qarayev's creation and everyone was applauding to Qara Qarayev then thanking for sharing with us his genius and leaving behind something eternal, music he had created.
P.S. Must see/listen ballet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Unknown Azerbaijan...Absheron...Season of olives...

Absheron peninsular is also known for its olive trees. One may find numerous olive trees in Baku, its villages and in general everywhere on Absheron. Our dacha on Absheron is no exception. My father in law, Aslan Rustamov, is not only a talented sculptor but also the person who loves not only growing but also pickling olives. Pickling olives is cumbersome and difficult process as far as I know but thanks to him his family can enjoy home pickled olives for quite a while. In a week or so olives will be gathered from trees ready to be pickled. Below are the picture of one of our trees and almost "ready" olives...


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan

Every English school book in Azerbaijan has the sentence that is the title of this post: Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan :)
Below painting is exhibited in history museum in Baku and pictures medieval Baku...Unfortunately I do not know the author of the painting. You can see Caspian Sea, Maiden Tower and Old City in the background.

Below is how many parts of Baku look nowadays. Newly built buildings and construction everywhere. The whole city is being renovated and almost rebuilt, facades of early XX century buildings are cleaned, roads are widened and parks renovated. This is time consuming, dusty, noisy and hectic process and at times very irritating for Bakuvians...but this needs to be done at some point and earlier it starts earlier it would finish, hopefully :) Hopefully our descendants will love what we will leave behind as Baku just as we are impressed and fascinated with Old City and gorgeous landmarks of XIX, XX century. All we do with them is admire, clean and try to preserve knowing that new constructions won't be able to compete albeit new technologies and enormous opportunities...modern architecture is not worse it is just different...As I hear from all over the world many people are unhappy to see that cities are "invaded" with new buildings...I guess this is something that happens to every big and active city...Baku is no is living through its stage of modern times, new wealth, technologies, experiments and experiences. So...Let's check this out in 10 years...:)


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Small things that create big emotions…

Yesterday I started to draft this post and then had to leave it for later...Below is what I have drafted...

"Today’s post is called “small things that create big emotions”…flowers and vases that you see on below picture are small things (not that small actually) that are able to create big emotions of love, surprise, amusement, happiness and joy…Both those vases and flowers in them are somebody's presents to me and my family and I am very grateful for this attention, beauty and gorgeous presents..."

After I drafted the above I received below letter from Finland that I think only proves the title of my today's post. I am extremely happy to receive this feedback from my reader and so delighted to see that my blog serves its purpose. I am sharing with you the letter:

"Dear Ayten, The Azer music of your blog is being played in the background. I just found your site last Friday! I am very thrilled and moved. The name of Sheki was given to me by a Russian journalist, Dilyara Muradova. She had recently visited the town and told about the traditional carpets. And I googled you together with Sheki! It was like really meeting someone. I am just reading the book “Brida” by Paolo Coelho. Azerbaijan has been a mysterious word for me ever since my father, interested in geography and history, mentioned it while I was a child. I am 61 years now. I am also very keen on the bulb flowers growing in the wild – here in Finland we grown them in our gardens. I am also involved in starting a Fair trade business of design products for the home with strong ethnic and craft background – that is the link to the carpets. Sorry about this confusing message. Now I shall go back to my work in promoting modern design from Finland. I just had to contact you and tell how happy and moved your site made me!
All the best in your life. All the best for your family. All the best for your country.
Warm greetings from Ms Päivi Jantunen"


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Natural behavior...

This weekend when I took my son to the playground I noticed that children especially girls or I would say mainly girls, the ones who are a bit older or even the same age are very keen to help the younger ones…It was adorable to see how they were willing to help the younger children although it was the first time they saw them and nobody was asking for help…

It made me think that this must be natural behavior of one person towards the other: to care, to help, to feel sympathy and empathy. This is how it should stay in the ideal world I suppose…but…in order not to make things easy and kind of boring :) it doesn’t. Grown ups very rarely care about people that they do not know...Many books nowadays say that people should turn towards their inner child…I think I agree with this in many, many ways :)


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Sun and the Caspian Sea

In the mornings when I see or notice! the Sun coming out of the horizon and shining upon the Caspian I feel as if the energy of nature fills me in. I feel like I experience something magical. I feel grateful and blessed.

Excuse me for the quality of the photo I post today but I hope it would be able to convey at least some of the energy to you too :)


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Older people...

Below is the picture of three old men who were nicely taking a rest in Huseyn Cavid park I mentioned yesterday enjoying the weather and good atmosphere in the park. They were very surprised initially when I asked them if I could take their photo...but I just could not pass by without doing it; they were so colourful...real local characters in respected age...when I was done they asked me if the photo came out OK and told me "xoşbəxt ol, qızım" if translated word by word that means "be happy, daughter"...this is a very typical phrase that one would often hear in Azerbaijan when doing something for older, even something very simple as bringing tea or helping out with something...and here I just took their photo... To me this phrase means something very warm and kind, something that associates with wisdom and kindness of older people...

P.S. You can see my older posts with the same theme here, here and here.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Huseyn Cavid (Huseyn Javid)

There are so many things that I want to write about in this post, but as we say here don't want to cause you a headache.

Today's post is devoted to Huseyn Cavid (to be read as Huseyn Javid). Let me cite Wikipedia here on who he was: "prominent Azerbaijani poet and playwright of the early 20th century. He was one of the founders of progressive romanticism movement in the contemporary Azerbaijani literature, and a dissident writer exiled during the Stalin purges in the USSR." Details can be found further in Wikipedia. I don't know if that applies to you but I have paid attention to/admired much more monuments and sculptures abroad than I did in Baku or Sheki...must be because I am local but not a tourist here. Correcting this mistake I have paid close attention to Huseyn Cavid's monument located in the beautifully renovated park named after him in Baku and loved the monument. The monument has been created by Azerbaijani sculptor Omar Eldarov. It made me think about Huseyn Cavid and recall his works I have read...and ask myself a rhetorical question "why one person/human would send to exile the other?"...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I believe I can fly :)

My today’s post is devoted to all people that know what they want and do not let doubts, circumstances and/or people to interfere into their dreams, are able to turn cons to pros and who follow their dreams and achieve what they want. This was also the reason why I have translated “The Alchemist” into Azeri as I wanted every girl and boy to read the book and believe that their dreams may and will come true if they continue to believe and work and strive and stay positive! I had to stay home yesterday and had news on most of the time and saw people celebrating victory of Obama in USA, saw his grandmother in Kenya, saw faces of happy people. Politics is a “strange animal” as they say but I think Obama’s victory could be or is a sort of inspiration to many people.

I wish to all of us to be an inspiration to each other and/or have many people around us who would inspire us.

Peace and love to all of you from Azerbaijan :)

P.S. Picture taken on our way to Lahic, Ismailli, very narrow mountain road, river running down in the valley...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Season of crocus (saffron)...

Dear All,
Today I am posting pictures of crocus in our garden in Sheki...
My parents are just back from Sheki where they went particularly to gather saffron (crocus) in our garden. Saffron flowers emerge if I may say daily during months of October-November and one has to gather them every day. Now my parents are back in Baku but we have relatives who continue gathering the flowers daily.
Saffron as you may know is another very special and unique miracle of nature. During Soviet times it was considered as a strategic product and it was not allowed to grow it openly and widely. After the collapse my dad bought kilos of crocus bulbs (or onions I am not sure) and planted them not only in our garden but also gave many onions (bulbs) to our relatives to plant. They say Absheron is better for crocus as its climate is dryer but it grows very well in Sheki as well from what we see in our garden, also considering that we do nothing other than clean the weeds and reap the harvest :)
These pictures have been taken and e-mailed to me by my close and dear relative in Sheki, Narmin, who enabled me to write about saffron today. Thank you for your thoughfulness and help, dear Narmin.

Every flower has only six stamen. Three yellow and three red (the ones that we mostly use). The richer the colour and taste of red stamen the better. It is a hard work to gather the flowers and then after to take out the stamen. Stamen is very light therefore to have a gram of saffron you need quite many flowers. Due to this hard work saffron is quite expensive in the world but still quite affordable in Azerbaijan. This is something else that our land grants to us easily here and I am not sure if we appreciate/realize this fact fully...

Harvest :) Part of it :) A lot will be used for plovs (meal from rice) and other delicious meals during the year.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

People of Lahic and Nich...

These are pictures of craftsmen in Lahic…they might be well fed up of tourists who take their photos as if they are from another planet…ok we do this out of curiosity of course…but I wonder if these people would want to take our photo in the office behind computer looking serious saving the world :) are we?? :)

These craftsmen in Lahic were happy to pause their work and pose for us and were very friendly…I hope they teach younger generation and these skills are transferred no matter how developed the world becomes. I believe in human factor and what people can create.

I am also posting a photo of the curator of Albanian church in Nich, Qabala, who was not in the church but came to open the doors for us and share with us his time and knowledge. We were just tourists who didn’t even donate any money (some of my colleagues might have) and people whom he would maybe never see again. But he was happy to come and spend his time and talk about the history and traditions…and we were very grateful to him. I hope that people will stay as friendly as they are now and smile and have sympathy for each other...just...for nothing...just because all of us are humans.

Here is a picture of Albanian church in Nich, Qabala, I am mentioning.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

News of the day :)

Dear All, today I have received the below message that I need to share with you! Please read and see lower!


Hi Ayten, Let me introduce myself. Iam Jennifer Quiambao from the Philippines. I also have 1 child, a son's school held a contest to commemorate united nations day and he was one of the participants (6 years old). we decided to have him represent a un member country that is not familiar to everybody. we did an on line research and came up and decided on choosing Azerbaijan. We used the pictures you posted here and copied their costumes. We won the grand prize. Also it was a very learning experience because everyone got to know a few details about this country. Thank you so much for your was a very very big help. I would like to share with you some photos from the said contest. I feel very proud.


In addition to separate personal message I have already written to Jennifer I want to congratulate her and her son here on blog with winning the grand prize.

and I am so happy to see that my blog is serving its purpose :) Here is my post on Azeri costumes...

Thank you to all of you for visiting my blog!!


Friday, October 24, 2008

Unknown Azerbaijan...Lahic, Ismailli...

Lahic village, which is unique in many ways and is located far and not easy to go to mountains of Ismailly region (north-west) of Azerbaijan is distinct for its copper-smiths.
This is the picture of one of the copper workshops in Lahic....Please take your time to see (if the picture allows) many different pieces in the workshop.

And this is the picture of one of the copper shops...shiny...

P.S. Today I have put new function on the blog, which plays Azeri classical music. Hope you enjoy...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Older people...

I am never able to pass by older people in the region and not take their photo (if I am in a creative mood:). I think they are so distinct in the way they are dressed (and not only) and I am afraid that we, younger generation will not dress the same way they do when we get older and with this something unique and traditional will be lost with time...You can see my older posts with the same theme here and here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Unknown Azerbaijan...Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev...

Above is the picture of one of the amazing characters in Azerbaijan history...amazing because he, Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev, was one of the few people who became suddenly rich after being very poor (oil had been discovered in land he owned) and was able to not only prosper but also build
theatre, schools, water pipes and do many more things that were not profitable for him per se but were done for people...other people...for any new charity/useful project he had to struggle (get ok from local and Russian rulers) and put not only his time and money but also a piece of himself...He was not a politician, he was not in charge, he was not responsible for well being of his community...most probably he was doing what he was thinking was the right thing to do...
Many of his children lived in deep poverty after Communist Party invasion...but Bakuvians still use water from his pipes; and his house, one of the best landmarks in the city, is turned into history museum and his home museum and many interesting stories stay in the memory of the city and its inhabitants...and he will stay as one of the best examples in history as the man who had heart big enough to be able to share...not for profit but for humanity...
Please make sure to visit the museum mentioned above when you are in Baku. It is located in the city centre on 4 Z. Tagiyev street, close to Music Comedy Theatre and Fountain Square.
Below is the picture of stairs in Tagiyev's home awake your interest :)


Monday, October 20, 2008

Unknown Azerbaijan...Shemakhi...Djume Mescid...

These are pictures of an interesting mosque in Shemakhi (city in the north-west of Azerbaijan) called Djume Mesçid i.e. Blue Mosque. Interesting because it has a different architecture and design and does not look typical; because has played a role in history when was used by locals as sanctuary in early XX century (although unfortunately in vain since people were still burnt inside it) and because any historical place is interesting and unique in itself especially when dates back to X century (this is all what I am able to tell; the rest and much more is known to historians)…not sure if one can enter the mosque as a tourist easily but it is interesting to see it if you are in Shemakhi…

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Unknown Azerbaijan...Ismailli...

From what I hear from older people buying a car was not only financial but equally if not more political, social challenge in Soviet times as Communist Party did not think that every citizen "did deserve" the car and other things...(as a separate subject it amuses and irritates me a lot how people create artificial hierarchies and limits for each other with numerous objective and to my opinion mainly subjective reasons)...So people were unhappy...
Modern independence brought market economy what in return brought lending and other opportunities and voilà people buy one-two cars and here is Baku and not only with traffic jams, more road accidents etc, etc...So people are unhappy...
Below is the picture of only communication link to couple of villages in Ismailli (region of Azerbaijan)...this link I suppose has been the same be it Soviet times or market economy...