Winter 2003 (11.4)
from the 1950s Generation
by Dr. Mehman Aghayev
In my opinion, today's youth are far more developed
than the youth who grew up in my generation in the 1950s and
1960s. The distinct difference is that these days youth have
more freedom to express their thoughts and ideas and they have
more access to knowledge. In this age of information if they
are to compete on an international scale, they have no choice
but to become more knowledgeable, regardless of whether they
want to or not.
When I was growing up, man had not even ventured into outer space.
It has only been since the 1960s that man has walked on the Moon.
Technology has totally changed our lives and revitalized our
thinking. Nuclear technologies have been developed and computers
are being used in every sphere imaginable.
My generation grew up during the Soviet times (1920-1991), an
era which was defined by its own peculiarities. People were not
able to openly express what they really thought; otherwise, they
could have been fired from their jobs, arrested, put into psychiatric
wards, and sometimes even assassinated. Naturally, people didn't
want to ruin their lives, so they pursued the "politically
correct" path that was expected of them, in praise of the
very system that ensnared them.
Exchange of Ideas
But today, youth have much more freedom. Let me explain. If a
young person in my time had written an article critical of the
government, there would have been no way to attract international
attention to these issues. But now the youth can easily spread
their ideas throughout the world via Internet. Entire books,
hundreds of pages in length, can be exchanged instantaneously
between the far corners of the globe.
In the past, it simply would have been impossible for us to impress
our ideas beyond our own borders - not because of the mailing
system, but because of the information blockade which kept us
from receiving or sending out any such material officially. We
would have had to pass such material to someone secretly to carry
out in a suitcase and few people would have agreed.
Left: In the past several years since independence
in Azerbaijan (1991), there has been a surge in the interest
of Islam, particularly among the youth.
The information exchange that we are witnessing today is bringing
about an immense transformation in our society. In reality, the
stagnation of ideas was one of the reasons why the Soviet Union
was doomed to collapse.
We were living in a closed system, deprived of the fresh exchange
of ideas that keeps a society dynamic.
Unfortunately, even though our youth now have more freedom and
more knowledge in so many more spheres, many of the people of
the older generation - of my generation - are impeding their
development. I'm referring to corruption. This is part of the
negative legacy of the Soviet period - part of what is left over
from socialism. By doing this, the older generation (if I may
express it this way) spits on the souls of the youth. I'm referring,
for example, to the obstacles that we put in front of students:
making them bow to those in high positions, pay bribe money or
pay illegal fees.
These practices all contribute to ruining the souls and minds
of our youth because it convinces them that this is the normal
way of life. They see very serious looking elderly people sitting
in front of them, managing offices and occupying high positions,
and suddenly they realize that such people create artificial
obstacles just to get money for tasks that they are supposed
to do as a normal part of their job.
That's what causes young people to change their attitudes towards
life. Their ideas of justice and fairness get broken and as a
result, they lose faith in people, in themselves, and in their
There are so many shortcomings in our present - day education
system. We need to train specialists in a purposeful, constructive
way. No corruption, no lies. Then people will care about their
When it comes to teachers, I would say that so many of them have
turned out to be rotten and corrupt. They delight when students
don't study because it means they can make them pay bribes for
good grades. Teachers need to get higher salaries so that they
will leave the students alone. Take the average salary of teachers
at Medical University; it's between $100-$150 per month which
is simply not enough to live on.
Below: Most of Baku's mosques
were destroyed or converted to secular uses during the Soviet
period (1920-1991). The two exceptions were this one- the Imam
Husein Mosque in the center of Baku and Taza Pir. Since independence,
several new mosques have been built and many of the older ones
have been renovated and restored to usage as mosques. The traditional
call to prayer (azan), amplified via loudspeakers, is now heard
in nearly every neighborhood at sunrise, noon and sunset.
Not Confident of Future
I don't sense that our youth have confidence in their future.
When I was young, we knew that if we studied well in high school
that we would get accepted into an institute or university. After
graduation, we knew a job would be waiting for us. We also knew
that, depending upon how knowledgeable and skillful we were,
we would be able to advance our careers. But, youth today are
not sure of the very things that we used to take for granted.
Life has become much more difficult for them. Their success does
not necessarily depend upon how smart they are. After graduation,
they face difficulties in getting jobs in their chosen field.
Most of them are not able to find fulfilling jobs. Other factors
play major roles: especially bribery, and the common practice
of "tapsh" (a word derived from "tapshirmag",
meaning "to ask for somebody/speak up for somebody").
It means that someone else puts in a word for you - that you
aren't necessarily chosen on your own merits, but that favoritism
plays a major role.
At present, so many of our youth are suffering from financial
difficulties. Some can't afford to pay for education and, therefore,
they can't pursue the education that they want. They don't have
enough money to travel abroad. Many of them are unemployed. These
things break their spirits and make them depressed. Some of them
are obliged to work as manual laborers because they can't make
a living in their own fields, especially guys. As for the young
women, some of them fall under evil influences and go down the
wrong path, especially if they desperately need money.
Consider today's show business. You see so many young people,
especially women, trying to succeed in this field. Most of them
don't have the necessary talent. Their biographies typically
read: married, divorced, found a sponsor, produced one or two
videos. And that's it. And you can't determine from their performances
whether they are really trying to make it as a singer or dancer.
But the classic singers of our times, such as Shovkat Alakbarova
[1922-1993], Sara Gadimova [b. 1922], Bulbul [1897-1961] and
Rashid Behbudov [1915-1989] achieved popularity in quite a different
way - step by step.
Nowadays, there are so few role models for the young. The truth
is that most of the older people don't even have jobs. They while
away the hours, sitting at home, chatting and gossiping with
neighbors. It's as if life had discarded them as an undue heavy
burden. This causes them great psychological suffering. Many
of them die much sooner than they would have under normal circumstances.
Thus, they don't have opportunities to be the role models for
youth. They are not able to lead the youth; this is a tragic
It means that our traditions are disappearing. In the past, our
usual practice was to pass knowledge from grandfather to father,
and then, to son. But now because of the change in the economic
system, these traditions have been disrupted. It's as if one
link in the chain has been broken, and this, in turn, means that
most young people are groping to find their own way - reinventing
practices that are already known and proven. They are deprived
of the wonderful examples from the older generation.
Of course, there are some fine opportunities for youth nowadays.
We have the principles of equality, freedom and democracy now
and they are, more or less, in place, especially if you compare
this period with the Soviet period.
Youth do have opportunities to develop now: the main problem
is finances. For example, to get a good education, many young
people are eager to go abroad. But this requires money. Very
few youth can gain access to the limited scholarships that are
available in Azerbaijan for studying abroad. Some, of course,
can go on their father's expense, but that doesn't necessarily
mean that these youth are the most knowledgeable or most qualified
from our country. Most of the talented young people don't get
such a chance.
I see another trend developing these days. Young people are not
finishing their education. There are some youth whose parents
are obliged to take them out of school after the third or fourth
grade (nine or ten years old). This means these children will
grow up without even having a secondary education. Some of them
can't even read or write. This is a great tragedy for our nation.
Some young men go abroad to earn money. Their wives, left here
at home, end up having to take on the full responsibility of
rearing the children. Often such arrangements result in the children
not being brought up well. No doubt this will affect these children
as they mature and become adults. In turn, these young people
who go abroad often contract all kinds of diseases.
So, these are the problems of the present day youth. To solve
the problems of our youth would mean to solve the problems of
our society. You have to give the Soviets credit for one thing:
they had a very good indoctrination system. Schoolchildren would
start school as Octoberists. Then they would become Pioneers,
Komsomols and, finally, full-fledged members of the Communist
Party. This system was so efficient and worked so well that the
government was able to inculcate its ideas and values into the
minds of its people, beginning at the earliest ages.
But now there is no indoctrination system anymore: there is a
huge vacuum. The few youth organizations that exist almost don't
do anything. There are no Pioneer organizations anymore. That's
why our youth lack ideas about patriotism and national values.
When you ask them to tell you about someone who was as important
to the establishment and concept of Azerbaijan's nationhood as
Shah Ismayil Khatai, many of them don't even know when he reigned
or what role he played. [Shah Ismayil Khatai (1485-1524) was
a well-known poet and statesman who founded the powerful centralized
state of Safavids (Azerbaijan). He wrote many poems in the Azeri
language, which he raised to the official status of state language.]
Or when you ask young people what classic literature they've
read (both Azerbaijani and foreign), only 10 to 15 percent of
them can name even a few works. Again, this is lack of a system
to encourage cultural development. During the Soviet period,
youth were encouraged to read many classics; that's why the theaters
and concert halls were full. But now moral values have changed
and part of it can be traced to the fact that our youth don't
know classic literature.
When talking about national values, I'm referring to Mammad Sayid
Ordubadi's "Sword and Pen" or Nizami's "Khamsa".
I'm sure that if you ask 10 young people to recite something
from Nizami, nine of them won't be able to. Whereas, Nizami is
so strong, so philosophically deep, that very few other poets
in the world can be compared to him.
Or if you ask youth if they've read "War and Peace"
by Tolstoy (1828-1910) or anything by the great American writer
Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945), they'll tell you, "no".
Whereas, during the Soviet period, almost everybody would have
known this author. We knew who Mark Twain (1835-1910) was and
that he had written "The Prince and the Pauper".
Soviet education was very strong. Secondary schools offered a
general education that covered many, many fields. After finishing
secondary school, each young person had some general knowledge
about fields such as chemistry, biology, physics, algebra, geometry,
literature, world history, world geography, astronomy, and a
foreign language. I can still imagine the map of Africa in my
mind and tell you the names of all the countries [as they were
called at that time] - their territorial size and their main
The educational program is almost the same now, but the level
of instruction is much lower; therefore, after finishing school,
our youth have very little idea about what these sciences are
all about. In the past, they would have had to learn their lessons
well; otherwise, the Pioneer or Komsomol leaders would have embarrassed
them in public and called their parents to discuss these problems.
But the situation is different now. Even when the parents are
called to school, they say, "Fine, if my child doesn't want
to study, what difference will it make? Look at all these educated
people in the streets. So what, that they studied hard and earned
university or graduate degrees? They have no work now! They either
sell their labor or trade at 'tolkuchkas'! [a Russian word, which
is also used in Azeri, to describe an open-air market where people
sell goods brought from Turkey and China.] So, does it matter
if my child has a diploma or not if he's just going to sell his
Need for jobs
So, how can we solve this problem? First of all, we need to create
new jobs for our youth. They need to know that they are needed
in society and that if they work hard, there is a place for them.
For example, let's take sports. Fortunately, sports have developed
well during this past decade. Other spheres should follow their
example. Within the last seven or eight years, we've made considerable
progress in this field. Our athletes are winning gold medals
in many international competitions. How can we explain that?
One could say that we've always had strong sportsmen in the past
as well. But if that's true, why didn't anybody know about them?
Simply, because somebody started working very seriously with
these youth. Talented individuals were invited to sports and
opportunities were created for their development. Then, the organizers
selected the "Best of the Best," and these athletes
had the chance to go to the Olympic Games in Sydney .
They returned to Baku with three medals (two gold and one bronze).
Our athletes (both men and women) are doing very well in other
World and European championships and the international community
is starting to know Azerbaijan through sports.
Such organized efforts are very important for the development
of the youth. The reason Azeri sports developed so quickly was
because we have the National Olympic Committee here. Ilham Aliyev,
now our President, led it, and I hope he continues this work,
not only in the field of sports, but also in many other fields
throughout the Republic.
Generally speaking, I have faith in our youth. What happens to
them greatly depends on us, the older generation. But we are
not really in a position to train them because we've come from
the Soviet system. That system was wrong, abnormal and deformed.
The views today - attitude towards life, work, business and the
market economy and even toward each other - are all quite different
from our perspective from the past. We think of the market economy
as a bazaar where people buy and sell. But, in reality, market
economy is a science; it's a way of life. That's why we are not
able to explain to youth the things that they themselves can
understand. We cannot comprehend them because we've come from
a different system.
During the Soviet period, the society was built completely differently.
It was a society built on idealism. All the rules of the Soviet
system were written down on paper; and in real life, people followed
these rules: "All people are brothers." "People
must help each other." "Education and medical treatment
must be free" (and they really were free). But now, in most
situations, people must pay for medical treatment.
Islam, Christianity and Judaism are three religions of faith
which inherently possess an enormous power. Smart governments
take advantage of this power and use it to focus the energy of
The attitude toward religion is changing. The other day on television,
we saw Putin [Russia's President] attending church. Or, we remember
when the late President Heydar Aliyev went to Mecca [in the 1990s].
Never in the past would the head of the Soviet government ever
have visited a religious site and participated in such rituals.
But now they do.
I think that most people who talk about religion here in our
country really don't have much of an idea what religion is all
about. To talk about religion, you first must study it. I think
all high schools should teach the basics of religion - not only
Islam, but also Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hare Krishna
and other major religions.
We should enable people to understand the essence of these religions
and then choose for themselves. I'm not saying that they should
be deeply religious. But religion can help people develop a sense
of morality and enrich their inner world. It can change their
attitude towards life and towards other people. They can become
different people, trying to make correct decisions. They would
expect more justice in life.
It has been proven that in societies where religion is present
(I'm referring to genuine religion, not a distorted and extremist
form), alcoholism and drug almost do not exist because religion
exposes the true nature of these addictions.
It seems to me that if many young people are turning to religion
these days, it's because they are without hope. I suspect that
very few people turn to religion in a purposeful way. Perhaps,
they would if they really understood the substance of religion.
Of course, there are many young people doing "namaz"
(Islamic ritual of daily prayer) these days. But many of them
do it without understanding religion in depth. If youth understand
religion and, only after that, they start doing namaz - then
it's good for them. But, if they do it blindly, out of desperation,
then I'm against it.
This tendency to turn to religion is not just apparent among
youth, older people are exploring it as well. Older people, who
grew up during the Soviet period without knowing what religion
was, are beginning to do namaz as well.
But I think they go to religion out of desperation. They've lost
everything and they think, "At least, let me make an attempt
to pray to God".
And drugs. Many more people are doing drugs now than in the past
- many, many more. I know because some of them come to me for
help [as a medical doctor]. What's very interesting is that there
are many drug addicts among the children of the wealthy. It's
as if this is some kind of punishment from God because these
people have robbed the nation and are not contributing anything
to society. They create "papanin gul balasi" [literally
"father's flower - child", meaning when parents do
everything to please and spoil their children]. This eventually
leads to the destruction of their own children.
All in all, I think that the future of Azerbaijan will become
better, but it all depends on the circumstances. If more jobs
are created in the next five to six years, things will be better.
By that, I mean factories must be opened and many other private
businesses must begin. Then after graduation, students will have
a place to work. These days, many students graduate and just
wander the streets unable to find any job. Lack of a stable income
source deprives our youth of the chance to marry the person whom
they love. And those who do marry, often end up divorcing because
they can't support their family. All these factors are interconnected
and lead to broken dreams and an unstable society.
If President Ilham Aliyev opens more jobs for our youth, makes
some changes in the educational system and in youth organizations,
if he deliberately and purposefully focuses on their development,
then I'm sure so much will change for the better. The youth are
our future. In 15-20 years, the Republic will be in their hands.
What we plan for now will become our future. So many things will
fall into place if we can just create an economic base. It's
the most pressing issue that must be solved in the next few coming
Dr. Mehman Aghayev
graduated from Baku Medical Institute in 1968. In 1986, he received
his Doctor's degree and was awarded the title of Professor, both
from Moscow. Currently, he teaches at the Chair of the Diagnostics
of Internal Diseases at Azerbaijan Medical University. Aghayev
specializes in «scientific» medicine, but he has
also studied and now practices traditional medicine, with special
emphasis on aromatherapy. Contact Dr. Aghayev at: email@example.com.
Dr. Aghayev was interviewed by his daughter Arzu who was curious
about her father's impressions of young people her age. Arzu
is the Baku Manager for Azerbaijan International magazine. In
this issue, she also wrote the feature about the new phenomenon
of Women Drivers in Azerbaijan - "Hey Dragon! Need a Driver?" - reflecting upon her
own experience of driving in Baku.
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