Rafig Tagi and the Concept of Freedom


"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." Voltaire

Several days ago Azerbaijani writer Rafig Tagi was stabbed and later passed away in the hospital. The alleged motive? In 2006 he wrote an article, in which he expressed his negative views about Islam. He got a fatwa from Ayatollah Lenkerani from Iran. After his death, ayatollah's son issued a statement, congratulating the believers with "this blessed day."

This incident divided Azerbaijani internet public to two camps: those condemning the killing and those condemning the first group... because "they support what he wrote about Islam."

Sad fact: Azeris don't understand the concept of free speech. Why? For many reasons.

We are not flexible to changes unless they're imposed, that's how we got our democracy, equal rights and women empowerment. During the first oil boom in early 20th century, Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev, one of our millionaires built the first school for girls. What happened? He had to walk door to door and ask people to let their daughters receive education. Several years later, a group of educated individuals used the collapse of the Russian Empire to build the first Azerbaijani Democratic Republic. And that's how emancipation and equal rights were implemented. Yes, implemented, not fought for.

We are not used to thinking differently, probably, because critical thinking is extremely rare here. I refuse to think it's a result of the Islamic influence, because we've been exposed to too many cultures to limit ourselves to a single concept. No, it's not a classical religious radicalism, it's a cultural one.

During Emin and Adnan's support campaign I've had hundreds of discussions with all kinds of people. Sadly, most of them had one common point: "There are things that shouldn't be said." My response to that was: "Why? Why should we censor ourselves to unwritten rules, especially in cases with media or anything remotely close to it?" The answer: "It's against our culture." Exactly. Our culture, something we are used to believing in, something that is within our comfort zone, something our granpas would approve of.

Azeris don't understand the concept of free speech because they are too afraid of consequences. The consequences of freedom might be more than we can take. Our daughters might want independence; our sons might leave the nest and, God forbid, marry a non-virgin; our own mistakes might get exposed; our people might demand the quality of life they deserve. This is all too much to cope with and takes much more work that everyday chai meetings with friends. As a result, we only understand whatever we agree with, because everything else is too scary to even think about. And even the word "freedom" is something one can rarely hear in Azerbaijan, unless it's an oppositional gathering.

We don't understand the concept of free speech because it doesn't occur to us that it's about every single person. Example: when Azerbaijani police violently dispersed a demonstration of the religious community, I saw atheists and deists and agnostics being furious and sharing videos and information about it. Does it mean they support the religious groups? No. It means they support their rights. That easy.

Freedom of speech is one of the basic rights granted to all of us by the constitution. By opposing the right we compromise our national values to cultural ones, which is a foundation for destruction. Whoever you are and whatever you do, if you compromise someone else's right of free expression to your personal views or religious affiliation and stay silent towards injustice, you betray yourself and your rights.

And the last thought on the case of Rafig Tagi: in a country where Fatwa takes place, it should be included in Criminal Code and prosecuted. Especially, if issued by foreign citizens. Because this is about national values - a concept we are yet to learn and fight for.

The Azeris: Alim Qasimov


"Björk "adores" a whole range of singers: "Chaka Khan, Beyoncé, Antony" – the latter being Antony Hegarty, a former collaborator who is here in the audience – though her "favourite singer alive today" is Azerbaijani devotional singer Alim Qasimov."

Björk's  yesterday's interview to Guardian


I read this today and couldn't be more proud.

I've heard him sing live only once but it was enough. It was my friend's wedding, where Alim Qasimov was invited as a guest. During the wedding, people would surround him trying to chat or take pictures. He would response affably to each and one of them and never refused any of the requests. By the end of the wedding he was invited to the stage and asked to sing.

He did.

It wasn't just singing, it was him making music and us feeling it. His performance took me to the deepest corners of my soul and I felt goose bumps all over my body. Most of the people stood up enchanted and listened in silence. When he finished, I felt tears in my eyes, while people burst into applause.

I've heard him sing only once, but it was enough to realize his value.



Alim Qasimov (1957) is a prominent mugham singer named a "Living National Treasure" of Azerbaijan. He has been passionate about mugham since his early childhood, but initially Qasimov sang mugham solely for his own enjoyment. Only at the age of nineteen, after having held various jobs as an agricultural worker and driver, did he decide to pursue a career in music. Qasimov studied at the Asaf Zeynalli Music College (1978-1982) and the Azerbaijan University of Arts (1982-1989). His teacher was well-known mugham singer Aghakhan Abdullayev.

Qasimov's first remarkable international success occurred in 1988 when he won first prize at the International Festival and Symposium on Traditional Music in Samargand, Uzbekistan. Since then, he has been traveling worldwide to spread the art of Azerbaijani mugham.

Alim appears on 12 CDs released in Europe and the United States, on one of them, Love's Deep Ocean (1999, Network Medien, Frankfurt, Germany) together with his daughter and student Fargana Qasimova. In addition to performing with the Silk Road Ensemble, Qasimov performs with the Kronos Quartet as part of his collaboration with the Aga Khan Initiative in Central Asia.


"Alim Qasimov is simply one of the greatest singers alive, with a searing spontaneity that conjures passion and devotion, contemplation and incantation."

The New York Times


Here he is - one of the greatest Azerbaijanis, legendary mugam singer Alim Qasimov.


Alim Qasimov performing "What will you say" with Jeff Buckley in 1995 on Festival of Sacred Music in France.



Alim Qasimov with daughter Fargana


Alim Qasimov on Facebook

Alim Qasimov on Wikipedia


Corrupt No More

A good things about living in small communities is that rumors usually turn out to be true. I do not mean the gossiping-about-people-and-their-sex-lives kind of rumors, but the ones about important news. Right after Tunisia held the revolution and in the middle of the Egyptian one, the air in Baku started to change. A wave few around Baku, whispering that taking bribes is now forbidden - there is no corruption anymore. And, well, after living your whole life in a country, where you know you'll have to bribe whatever you do and wherever you go - it sounds kind of shocking at first. And since you also know "where the news come from" you don't believe the media sources either.

And that's when you go to the people and ask them if it's true. It turns out it is. A friend of a neighbor was supposed to pay 100 000 EUR annual bribe for his four supermarkets. When he came to the tax guys, they silently sent him to the cashiers, where he paid his official 10 000 EUR and went back home absolutely happy.

Another guy brings cars for sell from Europe to Azerbaijan. He usually pays around 80 000 EUR for several cars on the customs. This time, however, he was also sent to the cashiers and paid 5 000 EUR. He went back to "his guys" and offered to give them the rest, but the horrified used-to-be-bullies sent him home and told not to come back with these kind of offers. The guy celebrated all night and all day.

Then you read about dozens fired in ministries, reforms to be implemented in the most corrupt structures and special services created to address people's problems and complaints. And for the first time in your life you feel the scent of Change.

But the saddest part is, the first thing to come to your mind is: "I wonder how long it will last". Because, let's be honest, why does it take two revolutions thousand miles away to fix the biggest problem, that harmed and drove away two generations of your people and made the country #134 in the world corruption index?

However, since as any desperate activist I'm not only a cynical critic, but also a believer, I'll lean back in my chair and wait. I'll wait for the 19-year-old to be released from the prison; I'll wait for my friends to be taken off the hook of a conditional release for the crime they did not commit; I'll wait for the irrational projects and economical solutions to be abolished or fixed; I'll wait for the day when I will not need rumors to believe the news.

Amen to that.

Place of Birth: My Land

When I was 11 my best friend and her cousin took me to their grandpa's house. We spent a nice evening talking about books and tales of his life, and listening to poems in Farsi that he was reading. I absolutely loved him. At some point I mentioned that both of my grandpas passed away (one of them even before I was born). He turned to me and said: "Then, I will be your "baba" (grandpa), you can call me that". And I do, ever since.

While reading my previous posts you've probably been wondering why am I so negative and critical about Azerbaijan. It's for the same reason our parents would punish us for bad behavior - they knew we could do better.

But I must admit - there are reasons that keep me attached to this land of injustice, stubborness and stereotypes. These are the natural acts of love, led by "want" not "must" - the other side of life in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is a place where people might seem overly emotional, yelling at each other, or getting too personal with strangers. It's because we never keep our feeling to ourselves, and also why we rarely need shrinks.

Orphans here don't usually get abandoned, but are raised by the realtives of their late parents. Aging parents are usually looked after by their kids.

It is a place where you never feel lonely, because there's always someone to call and meet up. And wherever you go, you will most definitely meet someone you know. Some might call it a lack of privacy, but for me these random meetings made the best memories of spontaneous hang outs.

It is a summer tradition here to gather all the possible relatives and friends under one roof on "bagh" (summer house), feed them with kabab, watermelon with white cheese, samovar tea and endless types of "murebbe" (jam) every weekend. And, of couse, guests are always welcome to stay over.

Your radio DJ friends will cheer you up by sending you "hello"s while on-air, reading your MSN messages as if they came from listeners and make you laugh so hard, you actually fall from the chair and forget about a sleepless night and an overwhelming day you had.

People here secretly miss their Armenian friends and neighbors, and use Internet to stay in touch with them. We celebrate all kinds of holidays, whether they're Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Hallmark, because this land has always been multiethnic and synergic. And yes, we just need an excuse not to work and instead come together with friends to eat until we can't breathe and drink until we can't drive.

One of my late grandpas was a public prosecutor. When he died many people came to my grandmother's house to pay their respect. One of them was an aging woman who couldn't stop crying. Later she told my grandma how she knew my grandfather. It turned out, he imprisoned her son for thievery several years ago. Ever since, he would send his driver to her house every Sunday to bring her groceries. Because he knew that her son was her only provider. He never told anyone.

So, yes, even though we can be stubborn, passive and childish, we still have so much to offer. And we definitely can do better.

That's why I will never stop hoping for the change.



"Toy", the Azeri word for wedding, is the reason we wake up, grow up, live, study, make friends and later lose them for husband's disapproval. "Toy" is a wonderful opportunity to meet up with endless amount of relatives from all over the country and show them how rich and cool we are. We argue and yell at each other over every single detail of the "toy" - starting from the bride's dress (which is usually bought by the groom), or groom's suit (bought by the bride), amount of jewelery brought for the girl or seats for each family. Old relatives terrorise us to hurry up, because they wanna live to see our wedding and dare to argue here. But what is most important - neither bride nor groom decide ANYTHING about their own wedding. "Toy" is the culmination of our lives, the edge of the world almost every girl here prepares for ever since she gets her first period.

The rulers of the wedding are mothers. If groom's mother is rich enough she buys all the clothing and jewelery for the bride from Dubai or Istanbul. She is always updated with the prices for gold in the world and usually remembers every single thing she brought for the girl till the end of her or bride's life. Bride's mother analyses the gifts and decides whether to gossip off or praise the new in-laws.

After several months of mutual torture, arguments and several brake ups the wedding is finally on. Friends and neighbours with expensive cars escort the main car, drive fast and honk all the way to the restaurant. After 6 hours of exhausting wedding parents count money the guests brought while bride and groom can't even think of spending their first night - the only thing they can do is crash on bed and fall into a sleeping coma.

My brother got married when he was 22. A close girlfriend of mine got married at the age of 21 to her very first boyfriend. Somehow both couples manage to stay happy or at least to look so.

Perhaps, something is wrong with me that I can't understang how one makes this important decision without any life experience. But I do realise one thing - here it's normal.

Many girls here get raised with one major aim in life - to get married. Yes, it's not THAT important where or what they study, but what really matters is how many azeri meals they can cook. They are programmed. Some of them never travelled without their mothers, because "girl's dignity is easy to sully". The best entertainment for them is... someone else's "toy". It is also the best way to show how beautiful you are and after wait for the call of mother's acquaintances with a purpose to introduce you to their sons. So we live from "toy" to "toy" waiting for the one of our own.

Guys are allowed to live lives of their own untill their parents decide - it's time. Then the race starts. And even very sane ones can't resist the pressure and give up - they marry ones they're told to horrifyingly often. If it's necessary - they break up with current girlfriends, come back from abroad and do all sorts of forced things. In a couple of moths after the wedding they usually find themselves mistresses. Some do it even earlier.

Today, in our society, the "necessity of a wedding" beats up not only romance and the whole "happily ever after" concept but a very needed in marriage "mature approach" as well.

I tried to figure out why exactly it's happening to us and then it just came up - we simply enjoy going S&M with our lives. And "toy" here is just another toy for tortures.

P.S. and of course, as every rule, this one has its exceptions. Like this:


"Hormet" and bastards


Twenty years ago when R.F. was the General Director of the Azerbaijan State Film Studio a young director V.M. came with a one page idea of a controversial and obviously anti-soviet movie which no one would want to make. R.F. liked it and wrote a scenario, set V.M. as a director and produced the movie himself.

"Yaramaz" (Bastard) they named it.

Several years later after V.M. filmed a series of pro-governmental movies, became deputy minister and GM of a TV channel, for some unknown reason he wouldn't say hi and became absolutely inadequate to R.F. and some other people.

Couple of days ago R.F. got an invitation to the anniversary of the movie...

Another important word here: "Hormet" - respect.

Yes, we are eager to be respected by our neighbors, co-workers, employees, friends and family. We don't do anything "ayib" in order not to lose "hormet". Men consider women as their "qeyret" - dignity, so they assure men's "hormet" in society.

All people are strictly divided into those who deserve "hormet" and those who don't. Although, one's got much less limitations if he's rich or holds an important position in government. He gets his "hormet" by default. Moreover, his kids also inherit the "hormet". They park their cars in the middle of the road, because their fathers know the police chief, they get served first in stores and restaurants, they can easily say to a professor: "Get off, my dad can buy you".

Ironically, we also use this word as a slang for bribery. We give "hormet" to policemen, state employees, university professors. We bribe respectfully.

Does "hormet" count with money or power we have? Can it get cheaper during crisis? Can we get a discount for "hortmet"?

...R.F. refused to go to the anniversary today. His wife and daughter did.

Wonder what happened when they arrived? There were no seats left for them. They had to request representatives of the Ministry of Culture to find ones. V.M. wouldn't even move.

What was the whole event about? V.M., not the movie.

How many times did he mention R.F. or anyone who helped him with the movie? Only once. At the end.

Did he invite the editor or the rest of the crew? No.

Yes, "hormet" means a lot here. Especially the one for bastards.

The Azeris: Vagif Mustafazadeh


He was born on March 16, 1940 in Baku, Azerbaijan. He started playing jazz when it was still banned in Soviet Union as the "music of capitalists".

He won first prize at the 8th International Competition of Jazz Composers for his composition "Waiting for Aziza" in Monaco in 1978, a year before he died.

He had a heart attack during his concert in Tashkent 30 years ago.

Both of his daughters Aziza and Lala are well-known musicians now.

This is the music he left for us.


Bakı Gecələri (Baku nights)

Düşüncə (Thoughts)

Also Fantaziya, Gelmedi and many more.

More about Vagif Mustafazadeh on Wiki