Spring 2001 (9.1)
by Betty Blair
On December 17th of
this year, Azerbaijan along with 14 other former Soviet Republics,
will be marking the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet
Union and their long-awaited independence. It's been a rocky
ten years - a decade full of reversals, uncertainty, frustration
and suffering, as well as a period of opportunity, new beginnings,
reassessment, and innovation.
Westerners, especially those who weren't around to witness the
events of the early 1990s, often complain that not much progress
has been made in these past ten years. But a closer examination
of the situation in its historical-socio-political-economic context
would indicate that tremendous strides really have been made.
Such impatience reminds me of when I lived in Greece in the mid-1970s.
At that time, a military coup had taken power. Most people wanted
to see the dictator George Papadopolous toppled. And I, in my
naivete, thought that if this man were only ousted from power,
everything would sort itself out, perhaps within a few days or
so. But things didn't work out that way.
Nor has it worked out that way for the former Soviet Republics.
Instead, change is measured out in inches, not miles. Sometimes,
progress may seem almost imperceptible. Just because old political
and economic systems have been declared null doesn't mean everything
will change overnight. Until the old patterns and beliefs are
substituted with new ones, people will continue to follow their
old familiar habits, even if such pattern were shaped by what
is now labeled as a defunct system.
human beings have an immense capacity for change; they have always
been dynamic in their approach to life, constantly reassessing
their needs and re-evaluating the most efficient ways to reach
their personal goals. Even the rock carvings at Gobustan caves
- an early human settlement west of Baku that dates back at least
5,000 years - bear witness to the innovative nature of man in
trying to subdue nature for his own benefit (see Front Cover).
In these pages we've tried to explore a few of the innovations
that we see shaping Azerbaijani society. Our coverage, admittedly,
is not as comprehensive as we might wish. Conspicuously missing
is any discussion about the building industry or the international
banking infrastructure - a vivid barometer of today's pursuit
of personal wealth.
Here are some of the characteristics of innovation that we've
been noticing lately:
1. Led by Youth
As might be expected, young people in their 20s and 30s are at
the forefront when it comes to innovation. Take Khayal Taghiyev,
for example. He moderates a weekly television program aired on
ANS TV, along with a counterpart in Armenia, discussing topics
related to the volatile conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (See "Signals
of Change," 20). In the West, a program on such a politically
sensitive issue would probably be moderated by someone in his
or her mid-50s or 60s. Khayal is 34.
2. Emerging Nationalism
These days Azerbaijanis are discovering their roots and redefining
what it means to be Azerbaijani. This is a new concept. During
the Soviet period, citizens were taught to think about their
"Soviet-ness" and the grand union that comprised 15
countries and scores of ethnic groups living in the vast territory
spanning twelve time zones. Azerbaijani young people have never
given much thought to their own nationality. The articles about
Industrial Mugham (46) and the Dayirman rap group (48) illustrate
the trend to embrace new forms while proudly exploring the meaning
of their own national identity.
During Soviet times, the Communist Party bureaucracy was the
organizing force in society. Today, commercial interests are
the driving force. People are discovering that if they can find
ways to pay for something, they can transform ideas into reality.
Insurance is one such example (64). In the past, they had not
paid much attention to the costs as they assumed they would be
taken care of.
Azerbaijanis are learning that they must take personal initiative
if they expect to shape their future. They can no longer afford
to be passive. Although they have long complained about the injustice
of the U.S. Congress in passing Section 907 of the Freedom Support
Act, which singles Azerbaijan out of all 15 former Republics
of the Soviet Union and denies direct aid to the Azerbaijani
government, perhaps, it should be noted (do we dare say it?)
that one of the greatest benefits of such unfair, restrictive
legislation against Azerbaijanis is that finally they are waking
up and realizing that there is no such thing as a beneficiary
godfather when it comes securing their own destiny. In the early
1990s, there was a tendency to hope that America would be the
new savior, to replace the Soviet Union. Now they know differently:
they're on their own.
With this awareness, a new spirit of activism is being born and
shaping the nation. The most vivid example these days is the
attitude of citizens toward the Karabakh situation. In early
April, while the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents were in
Key West, Florida, at the invitation of U.S. Secretary of State
Colin Powell, trying to mete out differences related to the resolution
of the Karabakh conflict, people back home were adamantly insisting
that they would not accept peace if it meant giving up the territory
that they consider theirs - Nagorno-Karabakh. And they were ready
to go to war, if necessary, to reclaim it. Such personal activism
is quite new in Azerbaijan.
5. Climate of Optimism
Despite all the difficulties Azerbaijanis face as they try to
overcome obstacles, many of which were artificially created during
the 70-year rule under the Soviets, over and over in our interviews,
people told us, "We're optimistic about the future."
And it's this climate of cautious and restrained optimism, rooted
in the pragmatism of the past decade, that will serve to grease
the wheels of innovation, which in turn, will generate even more
hope and more possibilities for the future.
(9.1) Spring 2001.
© Azerbaijan International 2001. All rights reserved.
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