Spring 2002 (10.1)
- Seen From Abroad
by Betty Blair
What a different place the world has
become - now that there's such a thing as Internet and e-mail.
Sometimes I wonder how we ever managed to get along without e-mail
just a few short years ago - especially those of us who needed
to communicate to the other side of the world on a daily basis.
No invention this past decade has had more of a profound effect
on international relations with Azerbaijan than e-mail. No technology
has more radically changed how Azerbaijan is viewed from abroad
- the focus of this issue.
Azerbaijan now boasts of more mobile telephones than any country
of the former Soviet Union. They're omnipresent. It's not considered
a luxury in Baku to have a mobile phone; most school kids carry
them. Today Azerbaijan has fast connections to the world - but
just a few short years ago, that wasn't the case at all.
How many times do I remember having to dial Baku over and over
just to get through. Once it took me at least 50 times - more
than an hour. Success was short-lived. Three or four minutes
later, the line went dead. That was the norm for those days.
Below: The first day of spring (March 21)
ushers in the celebration of the New Year (Novruz / Noruz), a
holiday which connects Azerbaijanis near and far. Mammad
Safaroghlu painted this vivid reminder of spring in 1993
during the dark, bleak, dismal days of war and economic and political
crisis. His image of hope for new life after Soviet rule is set
in the historical context of Baku's Old City. Contact Mammad
at his studio in Baku (994-12) 75-36-17 or at home 67-19-96.
See also AZgallery.org.
And then late in 1994, Baku's international
telephone exchanges - the 98 and 92 prefixes - were established.
No longer was it necessary to connect with a local Baku operator
to schedule a call outside of the country though rates were exorbitant.
Calls to Los Angeles used to cost $6 a minute.
The FAX era offered little reprieve. The lines connecting to
Baku were still unpredictably weak, and printed text - which
is vital for our business - often blurred. We could never be
100 percent sure that transmission went through without following
up with a telephone call.
And then came this marvelous invention called electronic mail.
And life was revolutionized. It started around 1996 for us. Prior
to that time, every time we went to Baku for articles, we carried
back an attaché case full of notes and cassette tapes.
We knew we wouldn't be able to really delve much further into
Nowadays, with e-mail, our staff goes back and forth checking
details and accuracy dozens of times, right up to the last hour
before we rush to press. E-mail is a boon to quality and credibility
though, admittedly, I can't say it's made the workload any lighter.
For this issue - Azerbaijan As Viewed From Abroad - we dared
to sit in Los Angeles and invite the world to come to us. And
they did. We sent an email to a targeted address list and invited
people to tell us about their views Azerbaijan from their perspective.
We were quite amazed at the response. Messages came in from quite
a wide geographic range of countries - Japan, Indonesia, Denmark,
Sweden, Norway, Poland, Hungary, Netherlands, France, Germany,
the UK, United States, Canada, Brazil and Australia. Azerbaijanis
from the Republic wrote us. So did many Azerbaijanis from the
South (Iran) who are scattered all over the world. And we heard
from foreigners who have finally discovered this place called
The perception of the outside world about Azerbaijan is being
shaped tremendously by the Internet and e-mail. Just a few short
years ago when Azerbaijan gained its independence in late 1991,
so few people had a clue that such a country existed. Few could
even pronounce its name correctly. But that's beginning to change.
Take our Web site - AZER.com - where articles from Azerbaijan
International magazine are archived. It's "The World's Largest
Web Site about Azerbaijan" and attracts more than 120,000
clicks per month.
In a sense, Azerbaijan has been lucky to have gained its independence
at this unique moment in history. Azerbaijani youth are especially
fortunate. They're eagerly connecting to the world and embracing
this new technology (and the accompanying pre-requisite language,
And since the Republic politically felt the need to change their
alphabet from Cyrillic to a modified Latin script in 1991, again
the Internet and e-mail is beginning to work to their advantage,
especially when texts can be published electronically in the
new script - and made available free for all viewers.
Listservs are being created that promote activism, especially
among Azerbaijani youth, who are delving into political issues,
exploring and debating deep issues about the future direction
of their country. The immediacy of interaction is creating a
new generation of activists, as youth discover what many of their
Soviet-reared parents have yet to learn: individuals can make
a difference: it doesn't take a huge bureaucracy to advance change.
Doctoral dissertations - mostly by non-Azerbaijanis - are being
written about Azerbaijan, especially these past five years. Again,
e-mail has played a crucial role in obtaining accurate and relevant
One more phenomenon worth noting. Azerbaijanis in Iran (who are
estimated to number between 25 to 30 million - three times the
population of the Republic) are pressing forward in their eagerness
to communicate with the world via Internet and e-mail. It's a
welcome development. In the process, they're becoming more aware
and appreciative of their own identity as Azerbaijanis. They're
even starting to discuss alphabet issues and some (especially
those living abroad) are openly discussing whether to use the
Latin script of the Azerbaijan Republic rather than the official
Arabic alphabet of Iran. The catalyst for such change is the
ease of use on the Internet and via e-mail.
Some of the Azerbaijani youth in Iran were writing to us about
new trends and their new sense of cultural awareness. We were
working on articles together until U.S. President George W. Bush
made his infamous speech in January naming North Korea, Iraq
and Iran as countries comprising an "axis of evil".
Sadly, the students felt the need to back down, not wanting their
names and ideas to appear in an American-produced magazine. Undoubtedly,
Bush's speech has negatively impacted Azerbaijanis living in
Iran because such accusations feed into hard-line resistance
and counter the natural process of intellectual reforms that
are in motion. By politicizing the situation, such statements
hurt grass roots efforts that were benefiting from the leadership
of more moderate leaders. In the end, it's our observation that
such statements by the U.S. Administration actually result in
slowing the process of democratization and development, not only
in Iran, but throughout the region. Such words are best left
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