Autumn 1995 (3.3)
Leisure and Play
by Betty Blair
Azerbaijanis, who by nature are famous for their spirit of celebration, are starting back to play these days. It's not just happening in homes and clubs, it's evident everywhere. You see it more than ever in courtyards, streets, and squares. Children gather to teach each other the latest pop songs, play ball, jump rope, ride bikes and walk dogs. Families and friends are seen strolling leisurely through parks. Men gather to play dominoes, backgammon and chess.
Even in the incredible bleakness of life in refugee camps, you'll see people gathered around musicians to sing and dance, children playing with toys fashioned out of tin cans.
Wrong Time to Play
Two years ago, public spaces were mostly deserted during leisure hours. People complained that so many of their friends had left the country - especially Armenians, Jews and Russians. So many familiar names had been scratched out of their worn address books.
Musicians played to empty concert halls. At operas and ballets, more people were involved in the production than came to watch. The excuse was always, "How can we think about these things when the war is going on and so many refugees are suffering? Our nation is in the midst of mourning. How can we celebrate.
Foreigners often forget that in this mad pursuit to embrace democracy and a market economy that has come about with the collapse of the Soviet system, every single person has had to make radical psychological adjustments.
When positions and roles change, relationships, necessarily, are altered, too. Statuses are shaped around new criteria. Self-images are re-evaluated to fit new realities.
A university professor used to a position of honor and prestige becomes very reflective when he sees a cigarette vendor standing on the street corner making more money than he does.
Play fosters psychological manipulation, a chance to look at things from different perspectives. It releases tension in the midst of everyday struggles. It renews inner energy by creating a sort of microcosm where order, structure and control reign and the chaos of everyday life is shut out. That's why when you see people at play, it signifies that these therapeutic processes are at work. People are finding their places in the new order of things.
Two major legal documents have also contributed to this stabilizing effect. One is political; the other, economical. More than a year ago, the cease-fire was signed with Armenians in regard to Karabakh. There is a small breath of hope that this means a permanent peace is in the making.
Last December, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) signed an agreement with 11 foreign oil companies for the production of oil in what promises to be extremely productive oil reserves beneath the Caspian sea bed. Progress in turning these possibilities into dreams of economic recovery is expected to be a slow process though.
Above all, play provides a chance to interact and connect. The walls of the Soviet Union were never so high that stamp collectors couldn't scale them. And it's to these possibilities of human relations that we
dedicate this issue about "Play and Leisure".
As Paolo Lembo of the UN Development Program has so perceptively noted from his work in Azerbaijan these past three years, "Azerbaijanis are a mild and gentle-natured people." (See interview, p. 62). Despite the agonies of war, hatred has not permeated the nation's psyche. "They're a people ready to melt with different cultures." We hope the focus of this magazine provides insight for one more dimension in building these international relationships.
October 18th will mark the conclusion of the fourth year since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. May this new year bring a permanent peace to the Karabakh Conflict, not just a cease-fire. And may the endless details and seemingly insurmountable obstacles needed to link Azerbaijan to the international market gradually be resolved one by one.
From Azerbaijan International (3.3) Autumn 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.