Azerbaijan International

Spring 2002 (10.1)
Page 12

Azerbaijan - 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

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 any topic.

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 Azerbaijan.

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 - - 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, English!).

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 data.

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 unspoken.


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