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?