Azerbaijan International

Winter 1999 (7.4)
Page 13

Guest Editorial: Perspective from Youth
Moving Forward
by Fariz Ismayilzade

Azerbaijani Youth
Less than ten years ago, the youth in the USSR were considered to be some of the main carriers of Soviet power. They were given the privileged role of representing the happy generation in the happy country. We were often reminded that the future depended on us, that we must carry out this sacred task successfully.

Time passed. Who could have imagined that Azerbaijan would gain its independence? Who could have imagined that Azerbaijani youth would be free - free from Soviet propaganda, free to learn about the world, free to be what they want to be?

Photo: by Olga Mammadova

Now the borders are open. Many young people have traveled and studied abroad. They have encountered new people, ideas and values. This leads to change in Azerbaijani society. Actually, sometimes it's hard to tell if the transition period is changing the youth or if the changed youth are transforming society.

How much have the youth in Azerbaijan really changed? And what makes them different from the older generation?

One of the most notable differences is that the average energetic, English - and computer - literate youth earns much more money than his or her parents. Some young people work to pay tuition at expensive, modern colleges; others do it to survive. Ten years ago, no one would have asked a young person if he worked or not. Now if you run into a friend you haven't seen for a long time, you automatically ask. All other differences between the younger and older generations derive from this change.

The collapse of the centralized Soviet economy and the disappearance of many state - owned enterprises has led to widespread unemployment. At the same time, the 1990s oil boom and the flow of foreign investments to Azerbaijan has created many jobs that require new skills - skills that most older people don't have. Job vacancies at foreign companies tend to go to the youth, which means they earn more money than their parents, who still work at low - paying state positions. In many cases, a youth supports his entire family because his parents are unemployed. Do you think that this young person will depend upon his parents as much as he might have in the past? I think not.

Today's Baku is saturated with Western culture, which promotes self - reliance and independent thinking. This leads to conflict within families. In conservative Azerbaijani culture, children - especially girls - were not given this kind of freedom.

Youth today are more open, liberal, cosmopolitan and willing to learn about other cultures. During Soviet times, our parents learned to divide the world into "enemies" and "friends". Today our youth travel abroad, make friends in various countries and participate in youth camps and conferences. Instead of being isolated, they are integrating themselves into the world family - not to mention their involvement with the Internet.

Also, there's a higher level of patriotism and self - identity among today's youth. During Soviet times, if our parents were asked, "What's your nationality?" most would have responded "Soviet". Traveling abroad, my parents were "Soviet", and not "Azerbaijani". Today, we know that we are Azerbaijanis. We are proud to show our national passport, our flag, sing our anthem and say, "I'm from Azerbaijan."

Of course, we have no right to forget that some Azerbaijani youth still live in refugee camps and have no access to education. Some kids are homeless because there is no government social policy to provide for them. Our youth in the regions have an ideology vacuum that is often filled by radical religious ideas or simply mob mentality.

As for negative changes in the post - Soviet period, I also have to admit that a quality educational system collapsed along with the Soviet propaganda. Our schools and universities can't compete with the businesses, shops and enterprises that have arisen like "mushrooms after the rain." Even though the level of scholars remains high, the general educational level has fallen, as it has throughout the former Soviet Union. However, libraries and bookstores are still packed, new universities with modern facilities are appearing and more and more young people want to study abroad. More teenagers are involved with international organizations, clubs and colleges.

Our youth have great potential. They can and will be the driving force of reforms. My American friends always tell me that my motivation and energy inspires them. But I am simply representative of the many young Azerbaijanis who want a bright future and are ready to work hard for it. No matter how difficult things are now, our youth are energetic. Most importantly, young people are the only segment of the population that will never agree to turn back the wheel of history and return to Soviet times. We are clearly going forward to build a democratic government and civil society. This is where our future differs from our past.

Fariz Ismayilzade, 21, was a recipient of the Freedom Support Act Undergraduate Fellowship at Wesleyan University in Connecticut (1998-99). He interned at the Azerbaijan Embassy and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. (Summer 1999) and currently works as a Resource Center Coordinator at the Azerbaijani humanitarian organization, Hayat.

Azerbaijan International (7.4) Winter 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.

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