Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Introducing Nigar Kocharli

Suddenly realized that I have not hosted any guests on my blog for a while. This time, I wanted my guest to be a cool Azeri. Because, despite the sevdas of the nation, we do actually have some cool guys back home.

I don't know a lot about this girl. All I know is that she managed to open and successfully run a chain of bookstores in Baku. Not simply bookstores. Ali& Nino is a publishing house, and is a well-known brand.

First of all, any successful business woman in Azerbaijan demands respect and admiration. I would have probably died of a heart attack the first week of attempting my own business somewhere like Baku.

And trendy bookstores? When I lived in Baku, we could not even dream of having a bookshop we could also go for a coffee with friends, listen to guest speakers and socialize…. Now, I can't wait to check Ali & Nino out next time I am visiting Baku. ( The name, in case you don't know, comes from a romantic love story by Kurban Said.) I am excited that something like this is even possible in Azerbaijan.

I tried to structure this posting in a form of an informal interview, so I do apologize if my attempt at journalism makes you laugh. I have not interviewed anyone before.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Nigar Kocharli-a founder of the Ali& Nino, a blogger, a mother, a wife and a passionate literature activist of all sorts. There are too many amazing initiatives this girl got involved in, and it would take me forever to list them here. A collection of short stories from Baku in Russian was a pleasure to dig into. And now, together with Women’s forum, a writing competition for young Azeri women.

Q: Thank you for becoming a guest on my blog. I have been admiring your initiative in Baku: the Ali&Nino chain of bookshops. I think it is a fantastic idea, especially the way you managed to turn them into social spaces. How did you come up with the idea and how difficult did you find materializing it into life?

The idea to open my first bookstore came out of my addiction for books and reading. At that time one couldn't’t find a store with a decent choice of books. Those that were available were usually sold on kind of self-made racks by street vendors and one would approach them and ask to bring next time “specific” literature based on one’s liking.

The idea of the café came with expanding the chain of bookstores and our clients gradually turning into friends. So, we thought of creating some place that would not simply be a place to shop for books but also a point of reference, somewhere to meet with friends.

Q: What is your background? Did you have some other, possibly boring job before you could have your own business?

My background is in mechanical math and it turned out of great use when I started this business. Wouldn’t say I had any boring jobs before, since I’m not the type of person to let myself fall in boredom. I would have quit immediately if I got bored with the work I did.

It sounds great to turn a bookshop into a stylish, fashionable place, but do you feel that from business perspective it is as profitable as you were hoping? Are Bakuvians buying as many books as you were hoping? Are books popular amongst the younger generation?

It is profitable, we just need time to prove it. Bakuvians have even exceeded our hopes from this point of view. The younger generation is the first one to ask us of the news in literature.

Q: I know that you don’t just own the chain of book stores in Baku. What else do you do, can you tell us more about your other responsibilities?

Besides owning the chain of bookstores I try coming up with different types of literary and cultural initiatives, like the National Book Award held in Baku.

Q: What are your plans and hopes for the future?

The plans are quite extensive and I wouldn’t open up them now, whereas my hope is that our readers keep growing both quality and quantity-wise.

Q: How difficult did you find running your own business somewhere like Baku? Did you ever have to get some help from someone to back you up and support you? I know you cannot be entirely open about this, but what are the hardest moments? What are the best bits?

The hardest and at the same time the best bit about it is doing a business. Always a challenge!

Q: You are not only a business woman but also a wife and a mother. Tell me about your family. What does your husband do, do you work on your bookstores together? Who is the leader in your family, do you think you are equal?

Yes, I’m married and we have a splendid baby girl. My husband quit the job he had with one of the major banks in Baku to help me out with a continuously increasing volume of work. Although I’m a natural leader in every area I get involved in; family is the only “area” where I try to give way to equality.

Q: What do you think is your biggest most satisfying achievement so far in your life?

I wouldn’t name here any professional achievements since I sincerely feel the biggest and the most satisfying achievement of my life are my family and my daughter.


  1. A boring style of women's forum:) Both you and Nigar have a great sense of humour. What happened?

  2. @ Sophisticos:

    I missed you soooo much. ;)

  3. I’ve been reading Nigar’s "Friends" blog for a few month now and I’m a fan. She is funny and open in a very non-Azeri way. I can’t describe what it is exactly, but I like it. I’m with you, Scary on wanting to see Nigar’s bookstore as soon as I come to Baku again.

  4. @Nata: I know, I thought she was, too. I totally know what you mean about her blogging style. :)
    Maybe we could coordinate our next trip. :)

  5. Sounds good. I'm game :)

  6. Great interview, Scary. So proud of Azerbaijani women like Nigar. I didn't know who was behind the Ali and Nino cafe, heard about it so many times. I haven't been there YET, but will go this summer. A lot of people have asked me if my cookbook will be availabe at Ali and Nino store:)) Maybe Nigar can give me a small space there?:))

  7. I didn't like how she side-stepped the question about how difficult it is to run a business in Baku. I keep hearing horror stories from friends and relatives about corruption and extortion that squeezes all but extremely well-connected individuals from the marketplace. Or, as our friend Sevda would call it, dirty libel undermining the glorious nation of Azerbaijan...

  8. A very bold woman. I guess this is not that usual in what I think is a very conservative society: the Azeri society.

  9. Riyad has a good point. What gives?

  10. Riyad--I think this part is usually not spoken about publicly. You can't really blame people for wanting to keep their "roof" (rus. "krysha") undisclosed. At least in this case, those providing the "roof" are supporting a noble cause of enlightening the population :)

  11. @Riyad:
    I agree with Marianna.

    I would not be surprised if Nigar did have help. And to be honest, I realize these days, that some sort of support is behind a lot of successful people. It is just the reality of life. Just look at celebrities. I bet a very small % of them are NOT related to someone.
    But, what I think is important here is what she does with whatever backup she MIGHT have. She chose to invest in books. Not diamonds, not fancy shoes...but books. And I thought that was cool. If she had some help with it, so what? Would you refuse it?

  12. @Marianna and Scary:
    I have nothing personal against Nigar. I watched all soviet-era bookstores in Baku close one by one in the early 90s, so I can only wish her the best of luck in her business.

    However, if people choose to stay quiet about corruption, they have to realize one simple truth: it will never end. Never. Is that's the kind of country Azerbaijani citizens want to leave to their children?

  13. I had, on more than one ocassion, heard Azeris say that bribe ("tapsh") is not really a bribe in Az-n but a part of the culture. I know, that's a lame excuse in the eyes of the westerners (who, by the way, are not completely unfamiliar with corruption in their own countries). It will really take a strong movement to combat corruption in Azerbaijan. I don't know if it will end anytime soon. After all, most if not all of us were raised with an idea planted into our minds that tapsh is not necessarily a bad thing or that it is at least necessary to get anything done, and those living there to this day pass this thinking on to their kids.

  14. Guys, she is a small business owner, not a cabinet minister. I used to work with small & medium business owners in Baku early in my career. No one works harder than these people. And it’s not their fault that they have to pay all kinds of “taxes”. What other choice do they have? Pack up and leave or do nothing?