Thursday, 26 May 2011

Baby is here.

Well, I am a bit distracted from  issues of azeriness or eurovision right now....because of this.

A full report to follow.

Friday, 20 May 2011

When your troll asked: "What makes you Azeri?"

Thanks to my new blog troll, Kaweh, I have been thinking about this whole what makes you Azeri? (See comments on the previous posting about the Eurovision win, if you can be bothered) issue.

Also, when Mark asked today:

“Seeing your Azeriness called into question also makes me wonder what Azeriness is. Every people has a different sense of itself, typically drawing on a mixture of heritage, language, place of birth or current residence, diet or dress, and patriotism. For the Anglosphere, being in the club basically means speaking English, living legally within the national borders, and, preferably, owning a t-shirt and pair of jeans. How do Azeris decide who is one and who isn't? It seems very different. Is it mostly about heritage and patriotism in Azerbaijan?”

I thought we could talk about this once and for all.

Before I explain what I think, let’s look at some of Kaweh’s arguments. Basically, he claimed “It's not that you're not Azeri enough, it's that you're not Azeri at all."

He explained that, because I did not speak Azeri, but spoke Russian, I was not Azeri.

Here is some of the logic applied:

One may identify with a certain ethnicity, religion, State etc. However, this is not the same as ethnicity, which is overwhelmingly determined by first language. I'm not making this stuff up you know, it's long been studied and well documented....

...In your case you may identify yourself as Azeri because you've been raised there and are influenced by the culture and so on. However, my guess is that you've always felt a bit different from mainstream Azerbaijani's, perhaps a bit superior, and that you've never quite understood all the nationalist sentiment and so on. This would've been quite different if you spoke Azeri as your first language for reasons explained above.

As I've understood from Mark's copy/paste you identified yourself as a Russian speaking jew who grew up in Soviet Azerbaijan. This makes you a (former?) Azerbaijani citizen, yes. Azeri ethnicity? No.

You may disagree because you FEEL Azeri, you may IDENTIFY yourself as such. I'm afraid however this doesn't fit the criteria of ethnicity. Your criticism of Azerbaijan goes well beyond the norm, even surpassing those of Iranian sell-outs who desperately try to be accepted by 'The West'. Yours borders hatred, you probably hated the country growing up, you hated the backward people speaking a language you didn't understand and most importantly, you probably felt alienated from them. This explains your attitude, and believe me you're no exception.”

As I said to Kaweh, some of his arguments do make sense, and I am sure (as he kept reminding us all) he had based them on some recent social studies, which must claim that language is the one and only core element in determining someone’s ethnic identity. As most of us, of course, know, recent does not automatically mean correct, but let’s leave the scientific arguments for some other, academic blog.

As another commentator (Noor) pointed out, Azerbaijan, and Baku in particular, “in a whole, are not a homogenous group. I suppose you already know that there is a long list of ethnic minorities that include Jews, Crimean Tatars, Armenians, Russians, Caucasus Germans, Iranians, Talysh people, Lezgins, Georgians, Udins, and Avars, etc.”

So, it has always been (sadly, maybe not so much anymore) a very multi-national society, with a lot of various ethnic groups and nationalities living alongside each other. And Russian for a long time was the main language, back in the Soviet times. So, in theory, if we were to assume the language to be the only criteria, we should all be calling ourselves Russian and not Azeris, Jews, Armenians, Georgians, Tatars and Kurds etc.

I look back at the people I knew back home when I grew up. People, whose first language was Russian, but they were not Azeri or Russian. Let’s take Jewish people who lived in Baku, for example. They did not speak much Azeri, but neither did they speak Hebrew. Some of them knew a few expressions in Yiddish. But, mainly, they spoke Russian. So did thousands of other Jews all over the Soviet Union. Were they Russian? Of course not.

Take Armenians who grew up in Baku. They spoke Russian, too. In fact, a lot of them spoke Azeri a lot better than me. Did that mean they were Azeri? Did that mean they could remain in the country when the war started? Sadly, that was not the case. I have heard of some Armenian families moving to Armenia and trying hard to assimilate- yes, without the language, it must have been pretty hard. So, a lot of them chose Russia as their new home. Does that make them Russian, just because that was their first and only language? Nope. Guess what they are? Armenian! Ta-da! Surprising that, isn’t it?

Another good example is London, where huge chunks of the population are, on one hand, British, but on another belong to their ethnic group- very clearly sticking to their roots and traditions. Again, language is sometimes there, but not always. Take a few of my Indian friends. They are a generation who grew up in the UK. Their first language is English, they were brought up in English speaking schools. But they are clearly Indian. Some of them might understand or even speak some Hindi (or some other languages used by Indian people of various groups). But Hindi alone does not make them Indian. Their cultural upbringing, their food, music, parents, and, of course, religion: a whole tapestry of the complicated, intricate details is what makes them different from other British ethnic groups.

I so often get told I am not Azeri, or not Azeri enough that I decided to just clarify once and for all.

Yes, I have bits of other bloods mixed in me. Which means that, besides the main (over 50%) Azeri “blood”, I also have a mixture of other bloods that had accidentally slipped in somewhere along the genetic line. That, of course, does not make me a “Russian speaking Jew” as Kaweh assumed for some, unknown to me, reason. If I were a Jew who grew up in Azerbaijan, I would not be calling myself Azeri. Why on earth would I? I would call myself...let me think...perhaps a Jew?

So, I would like to assure you (mainly nationalists, who are obsessed with identities, religion or my first language) that:

a) My mother toungue is Russian. This means I was raised speaking it, I went to a Russian speaking school and university (as well as the majority of Bakuvians then) and I think in Russian. However. I am definitely not Russian. I like Russians. I think they are wonderfully mad and dramatic. I love their culture, I speak their language and I was brought up studying Pushkin and Lermontov, and watching Russian cartoons. Russians will always be a huge part of my childhood and my background. And I am happy with that. But I can’t call myself Russian, because I am not.

b) Guess what? I am Azeri. And I don’t “hate being Azeri” or wish I were someone else. I am quite happy the way I am. As for hating chushkas and chushka behavior, hmm...that is true. And I know it is not PC to say so. But hey, I don’t care. I hate chushkas not just in Azerbaijan though. I hate English chushkas with even more passion, if it is possible. Just to clarify. By chushka I mean a person with no manners, and disgusting attitude. Spitting on the pavements, lack of personal hygiene, grabbing girls’ bottoms on buses, etc are some of the signs of being a chushka. Not the language you speak, your specific ethnic background, or the amount of money you may have.

c) Final, and most important point- Please stop trying to prove to me I am not Azeri or challenge my ethnic roots. I don’t just call myself Azeri because it is such a fantastic, enviable nationality the whole world wishes they belonged to. I call myself Azeri because I was born Azeri. By Azeri parents, grandparents, and some very proper (even famous) Azeri ancestors going generations back. In fact, that main % of Azeriness that I have in me is so friggin' Azeri that all of you crazy nationalists would die of envy.

This posting turned into somewhat of a narcissistic me,me,me posting. But really, I did not want to talk about me. It is just that I am tired to answer endless questions about being Azeri. What is the big deal anyway? This obsession with having an identity fascinates me. Not only I get challenged constantly because of the language I speak, or being too open about things I dislike back home; I also often get attacked by religious people who claim that I don’t have an identity because I refuse to have God.

According to their logic, you see, I don’t belong because I reject Allah and therefore, “deny my national identity”. National identity to them is the same thing as a religious one. I am tired of repeating that national identity, or cultural one, does not have to be based on religion. There are a lot of non-Muslim Azeris, and guess what, they are still Azeris, whether the religious lot wants them to be or not.

Oh, I am exhausted now. I know it is a long and boring posting, and I apologize.

I have less than a week before I have to go into labour. Can we please stop going on about ethnic identity now?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Finally proud to be Azeri?

Okay. I was not going to talk about this, just because there is no point. Saturday night Azerbaijan finally got something they desperately pursued for a while. The whole nation is in euphoria. 
But one thing just keeps rolling over and over in my head. What is the matter with me? Why am I not more excited about this?

Saturday night, Facebook news feed  was full of my Azeri friends not simply expressing their happiness at the fact Azerbaijan won the Eurovision contest, but actually weeping, stating just how overwhelmed they were, and bursting with national pride. One girl posted: ‘Thank you, thank you my darlings, the swan couple!’

Not sure what poor birds had to do with this, but that expression made me feel nauseous. And I can’t even blame the pregnancy hormone, as I am way past that stage. It really was the swans. ( The whole swan song or lebedinaya pesnya is an old-fashioned Russian expression, actually referring to the last song before one of the swans dies. I am not sure if swans can sing, but hey, that is not relevant. Neither for the swans, nor for the Eurovision contestants.) 

I don’t know what surprised me more. The fact that everyone else, including all those people who left their home country years ago, suddenly felt proud to be Azeri (but not quite proud enough to go back to live there) because of one awfully trashy European pop song....Or the fact that I was, clearly, alone with my lack of national pride over something like this. 

I already said all that I thought about Eurovision last year. So it seems a bit pointless to explain all over again. I am curious though, about one thing. Okay. I appreciate that not all of us can have good taste in music. But surely, most of us can tell if someone has no voice?

Let me put this in very simple terms. We are all thrilled and proud that:
       a)      Roughly half of the population is living in poverty, with pensioners probably suffering the most; but thousands, if not millions was spent on the useless, tasteless song contest.

       b)      Nothing in this performance resembles anything about the country it comes from. Even the names of the singers are altered not to sound too Azeri. So, instead of Eldar and Nigyar we were represented by El and Nikki. If it is so obvious to me, not a ‘proper Azeri’ as I am often told on this blog, how obvious should it be to all you proud nationalists out there?

       c)       The song is crap. But to be fair, somewhat catchier crap than the rest of them this year.

      d)      Nikki, the female do I say this politely? No, sorry, there is no other way to put it: Can’t sing. Not only can she not sing, she does not live in Azerbaijan and looks like she could be Eldar’s step-mother who is about to seduce him. But, somehow, she won the competition to represent the country. This, to me, has only two possible reasons. One suggests that her place was bought or arranged by someone influential she is related to. Another- that a huge chunk of the nation who voted for her can’t tell if someone has no voice or talent. You choose which one is the preferred version.

But, really, at this point, none of it matters. 

 Just like I was told about the Royal wedding frenzy: People need some fun. Something to be happy about. Stop being such a party pooper! 

So what we have an appalling human rights record in Azerbaijan, so what about the corruption, so what about the depressing poverty... At least now we can celebrate the fact that we won the most bizarre, tasteless song contest. Some even believe that Azerbaijan’s victory was based purely on the exclusive talent and hard work of the swan couple.

Also, I suspect, to a lot of people, winning this contest means something that I just don’t think it does. For instance, that we are now officially cool. Or that we are now a part of Europe. 

But, before you tell me off for my complete lack of any patriotic feelings....I have to say, it is kind of fun, anyway. There is a small- a tiny, in fact- part of me that thinks this is going to be interesting. Okay, you will never get me to feel proud to be Azeri (quoting yet another Facebook status from last night) because of Eurovision. Come on! Be proud to be Azeri, feel free, but surely, you must have other, better reasons for it.

But okay, okay. I will try. I promise. I will not laugh when people congratulate me.  I won’t cringe. I won’t focus on the negatives. Instead, I will try my best to think of the good things that might come out of it. For example, with all those people who watch the contest, and the attention drawing to Azerbaijan as the possible host for 2012, would at least some things change for the best? Would there be some benefit to the people? Also, as some friends wondered, would Armenians participate? Would they be welcome to?  Would Azerbaijan handle the fact that Eurovision is extremely gay, and will involve a huge gay crowd coming to Baku? Would it show its hospitality to all of the above? How will it actually work, if it does at all?
So, yes. Curiosity is probably one of the feelings I have right now. From this point of view, I am excited about this victory. Can’t wait to see what happens. And oh, yes:  congratulations to all of you who are really happy and proud.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

'In These Hands'- Can you spot Scary Azeri?

Very excited! Okay, I know it is not huge. But it is a step forward, and also very flattering as:
  •   I did not bribe anyone for it to happen
  •    I did not use my uncle, father or any other connected relative for it to happen (Mainly because I have not got any) 
  •   I did not even ask for it to happen!
One of my flash fiction stories, Alishah, was chosen for an anthology of 10 different stories from the flash fiction site Rammenas.

I think the whole thing is pretty cool, for a bunch of reasons. 

Firstly, it amazes me how the whole writing world works these days, thanks to technology. 

One day, a long time ago, I came across a nice blog written by an Australian writer, Gary Corby. I started following it, and got to know him. (I quickly discovered writers are a friendly bunch.)

From that blog, I met another writer, Bill Kirton, whom some of you might have ‘met’ here. Bill also had a blog and I started reading that, too. Bill lives in Scotland. From Scotland I ended up in Netherlands, where Bill’s friend Anneke Klein started a flash fiction blog. One day she asked me if I wanted to try myself in flash fiction, and I gave it a go a few times. And from there, an American publisher, Diane Nelson, came up with an idea to collect 10 stories from 10 different authors for this electronic book. I know it might not mean much to you, but I was amazed just how international and multicultural this world of bloggers and writers is, and how one thing leads to another, from a country to country, linking people. I think it is pretty cool. 

Secondly, the project is for charity. The Kindle book is only $1.13; and all the money will be donated to the War Child Holland, an organization founded by Willemijn Verloop in 1994, for children affected by armed conflict in war zones around the globe. It makes me feel good to be part of something nice

Thirdly, on a personal note, I was just so happy to be selected! There are quite a few people who send their work to Rammenas, some of them are proper writers. Also, what I thought was cool, is that some of these writers are native speakers. For me, someone who just started trying to write in English, this is incredibly encouraging.

And lastly...this particular story meant more to me than the others I wrote for Rammenas. A lot of it has of course, been altered, as in any fiction, but the character behind is real; and he was a special person to me. So, it was important to me that it was Alishah that touched the hearts of people from such various backgrounds and countries, years after he passed away. I would like to think that this story is dedicated to the memory of this old man, who was always a shadow of the past in the new world he tried to adjust to. 

Basically, I am very excited. Of course, I want to ask you to buy this book. Not because it has my story in it, but because it is for a good cause and...Well, it is cheap. You might even enjoy it. 

You can check it out on Amazon here....
or on Smashwords here

Friday, 6 May 2011

First ever British funeral

Our neighbour died recently. 

She was a lovely lady and really, not unhealthy or old enough for this to happen. Only days before she suddenly dropped dead, we saw her looking healthy and happy, chatty as usual. And, without any warning, one Sunday afternoon, her husband returned home from a short trip to his favourite allotment, to find her dead on the floor.

It was very shocking and sad, and since the couple was our personal favourite on the street, we felt we should attend the funeral to pay our respects. 

My first British funeral experience, of course, involved a church service. Despite not being religious, I find most of the churches quite pleasant. I said most because I’d once attended a wedding in some type of Anglican Church where the walls were decorated with spooky heads of scary creatures, or demons of some description. Which, I thought, was very peculiar.  

This little church was cute and very pretty. No demons, which was also kind of relaxing. Unfortunately, it barely had enough seats to accommodate us all, as the neighbour lady was very popular. Fortunately for me, someone we knew offered me her seat. She stood up in the isle, but took her copy of the order of service with her. And then I made a mistake. I was curious what was written in what I later described to Husband as the programme. I asked a lady sitting next to me if I could have a glance through hers. Of course, she said, and we can share it later. No, I thought, really, there is no need to share it. Looking through the order of service, I quickly realized that there was quite a lot of standing up and singing the hymns together. A bit like at the Royal Wedding, which I am sure you all watched in great detail.  Of course, every time we got asked to stand up and sing, the lady next to me opened her little brochure and held it up close to my face. I had no choice. I had to pretend I was singing along. It was pretty awkward, not only because I felt incredibly hypocritical, but also because I neither knew the melody, nor understood most of the words. 

I have to say, I expected more tributes to the person who we all gathered to say goodbye to. After all, it was a celebration of her life and how nice she was. But there was only one personal speech by the member of the family. The rest were all prayers for the Lord, hymns for the Lord and other tributes related to the greatness of the Lord. I suspect the Lord had to be presented with a certain amount of worship so he would accept the soul for eternity. 

As I sat there glancing through the programme in between the singing, I noticed some useful information.  After the service, it said in small print on the back cover, the family would attend a short private ceremony at the crematorium. And, after that, everyone was kindly invited to share refreshments at the nearby pub.


Suddenly, I was wide awake and alert. You have to understand my desires at the moment are pretty primal. Good time=food. Good mood also= food. Good company= food. There should be no surprise then that a good funeral for me right now would = food. I made a wild guess that the word refreshments might have meant food as well as drinks. It was lunchtime after all.

So, leaving the church, I asked Husband if we were going to the pub with everyone else. Husband did not think it was appropriate for us to go. ‘We did not know her that closely’, he said. But I was not prepared to give up. Excuse me, I pointed out. I just paid my respects by not only showing up in that God’s establishment heavily pregnant, but also by singing along to every single hymn for almost an hour. I need those refreshments.
It was a pleasant experience, if it is at all an appropriate word for funerals. Everyone gathered in the pub’s garden, sipping white wine and eating buffet food. It did feel like a celebration of her life. Which is a complete opposite to what I am used to back home.

I don’t know what is better for the family. Is it better to cry and wail in front of everyone, sit around the body in a circle in a quiet room, staring and whispering? Or is it better to sing hymns and then get drunk on white wine and eat buffet food in the pub garden? While smiling and even laughing?  Is it better when you have to wash the body in a Mosque by yourself, or let a caretaker do whatever the preparations are in this country? I think that the grief and the shock are probably the same; however you choose to part with someone you lost forever. However, whatever the scenario, one important aspect remains the same. Everyone needs some decent food afterwards.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

4 years on and it still sucks. Big time.

It has been four years since Madeleine McCann was snatched from her hotel bed in Portugal. Four years and I still get really upset thinking about it. 

There is a huge number of horrible events happening in this world every minute. And, of course, it is not surprising that it simply is not physically possible for us to focus on every single one of them. I know that picking one little girl out of the sea of other missing, abused or murdered children is, probably, a little unfair. 

You might argue that it was because the media made this particular story so personal, I reacted this way. Or maybe, it was the fact that it was a British middle-class family, just like ours, just like anyone I know around me, that brought it so close to home. But the truth is... nothing I saw in the news for an awfully long time affected me so deeply- for whatever reasons, logical or not.

I have to confess that, four years ago, when I first heard of the story, I cried an awful lot. It would always happen unexpectedly, like when I was driving to work. An image or a thought would just crush into my mind like a truck. I would see this 4-year old child peacefully sleeping in her PJ’s in bed when someone just walks in and takes her away, while her parents enjoy their relaxing dinner only yards away.

Obviously, I was not always this sensitive. In fact, I mentioned to you some time ago that I enjoy dark jokes. Some of the jokes I used to laugh at were pretty sick, and a few were about paedophiles.  I thought they were hysterical. No need to say, it is somewhat different nowadays. Becoming a mother changed something in my head. At first, I blamed the hormones. I thought I would go back to normal self after a while. But now, 4 years on, as I still get just as disturbed and upset seeing that face in the news, I realize this sensitivity for certain topics is here to stay.

I was reading this popular book recently. Room. The author said it was triggered by the Fritzl case.
And I kept thinking that, despite my logic telling me that the chance of McCanns finding their daughter alive is very slim, I desperately wish that they do. I cannot even imagine what life must be like for that family, whether it has been 4 years or 40.  So now, all of you who have faith in God. Come on then. Do some praying. I would if I could. Only I don’t see how any God who had allowed something like this to happen in the first place, would care enough to listen to you now. But hey, worth a try anyway, eh.