A-Z, A Bridge Between Earth and Mars

By Jheri St. James

     The flag of the Azerbaijan Republic consists of three horizontal stripes. Top to bottom: blue, red and green. There is a white crescent and an eight-pointed star in the middle of the red stripe on both sides of the Flag. The proportion of the width to the length is one by two. The flag in use is the same as that used by the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic from 1918 until it was occupied by the Soviets in 1920. The eight-pointed star stands for the eight Turkic peoples, light blue is a traditional color of these peoples; green is for Islam, red is for modernization and progress.

Maiden Tower

     Folklorist and historical novelist Aziza Jafarzade (1921-2003) was convinced that Azerbaijan’s true history is to be found in its folklore. “For the past 200-300 years, Russia has tried so desperately to change our history and to separate us from the Turkish world. But our bayati (folk poetry) contains our whole history. The word itself is derived from the name of the Bayat tribe, one of the Oghuz tribes of Central Asia. Today, there are several Bayat villages in Azerbaijan. This poetic genre provides a school for learning about our misinterpreted and deliberately distorted history that has yet to be written correctly. The bayati is the most reliable source for researchers, reflecting our past, our traditions, our life and our philosophical thinking, more important and truer than any of our other documents. Bayatis are documents that don’t require any seal or signature; they originate from the anguished heart.

     “Bayati is such a large genre that it has been divided into subcategories and includes lullabies, elegies, history, love, Motherland and honesty. A great number of these bayati have been written by Mothers-as-Poets. Hatred of the enemy is also expressed in our folklore. If only we had learned from it rather than viewing our folklore as old fashioned, then we would not have faced so many tragedies these past years. Nevertheless, women have always created and written and their creations have played significant roles in the history, language, traditions and philosophical thinking of our nation. Azerbaijani folklore is very rich. The truth is that most of it has been created by mothers. Mothers sing lullabies to their children that convey their wishes for their children and express their wishes for the future. Woman-as-Mother is not only the author of verbal folklore, but she is the physical creator of her child as well as the teacher who informs and instructs her child about the world. A mother brings up her child; she is the first doctor who tends to her child.

     “Funeral ceremonies are also closely connected with women. Usually, it is women who mourn for the dead and sing elegies that they have composed. Another tradition is that women visit the grave of the deceased person after the 40th day.

Azeri Refugees Mother and Child

     “Women-as-mothers are the first educators . . . often creating special poems while playing with their children. As the children grow day by day and begin to crawl and understand more and more, they must be taught about the world that surrounds them. Mother-poet becomes their first teacher. She instructs them in math, biology, zoology and other subjects. She also instills in her children a great love for their [alphabet], mother language, teaches the children many poems and riddles.”
(For more about Aziza Jafarzade’s life and works, including the entire Azeri text of several of her historical novels and more than 10 short stories, some also in English translation, search at

     Mother-as-Poet, Motherland, mother language—all mother terms resonant of our great Mother Earth, the Mother of us all. There was a TV commercial some time back whose tag line was “Don’t mess with Mother Nature!” As we gaze around the surface of our planet, that line could serve as caveat for so many of our negative human activities, including global abuses of women. The United Nations has a division called UNIFEM which is “working for women’s empowerment and gender equality” globally. Ms. Jafarzade quotes another writer named Chemishevsky: “A woman is so faithful, strong and intelligent in character. But Society doesn’t use this intellect and, instead, refuses, oppresses and suppresses it. However, if this intellect were not rejected and suppressed, and if it were utilized, human history would develop ten times more.”

     Does Mother Earth have an intellectual component? Isn’t She faithful, strong and intelligent in character? Do we not take Her for granted? Think of some of the “adjustments” to nature made by mankind. For instance, moving a non-native species of plant or animal to a new location for, say, insect control—later we so often hear about how the introduced species is causing major problems in unforeseen ways and must be eradicated. What if we just let Mother Nature operate her own affairs?

     We here at Common Ground 191 do not take Her for granted. We revere the soil collected from all the 85 countries so far on our International Wall of Soils—all the samples have been followed with almost maternal caring as they traveled to us, each one examined closely upon arrival and admired for the variety of colors, textures and enormous variety. “Don’t mess with Mother Nature.”

* * *

     “We live in such a strange world. Billions of dollars are spent to protect the biodiversity of our planet by protecting wild animals, rare plants and even the tiniest insects. But where do human beings fit into the picture? So often the world sits idly by, watching ethnic conflicts flare up, as if these were mere entertainment rather than human beings whose lives are being destroyed. Shouldn’t the existence of even one single refugee be a cause for alarm throughout the world?” Urkhan Alakbarov, geneticist in an interview with Azerbaijan International. (One million people live as refugees in Azerbaijan, whose population is 7.5 million.)

* * *

Government buildings in Baku, capital city

     The Republic of Azerbaijan is in southwestern Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Russia, with a small European portion north of the Caucasus mountain range . . . Azerbaijan—a nation with a Turkic and majority-Muslim population—regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite a 1994 cease-fire, Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over the Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh enclave (largely Armenian populated). Azerbaijan has lost 16% of its territory and must support some 571,000 internal displaced persons as a result of the conflict. Corruption is ubiquitous and the promise of widespread wealth from Azerbaijan’s undeveloped petroleum resources remains largely unfulfilled.

     Azerbaijan’s number one export is oil, production of which has increased every year since 1997. A consortium of Western oil companies is scheduled to begin pumping 1 million barrels a day from a large offshore field in early 2006, through a $4 billion pipeline it built from Baku to Turkey’s Mediterranean port Ceyhan. Economists estimate that by 2010 revenues from this project will double the country’s current GDP. Azerbaijan shares all the formidable problems of the former Soviet republics in making the transition from a command to a market economy, but its considerable energy resources brighten its long-term prospects. Baku has only recently begun making progress on economic reform, and old economic ties and structures are slowly being replaced . . . Long-term prospects will depend on world oil prices, the location of new pipelines in the region, and Azerbaijan’s ability to manage its oil wealth (from CIA World Factbook).

Caucasus Mountains

     “We want peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We want peace in the Caucasus region. We want peace in Southern Caucasus. And, therefore, we are putting up with this difficult situation. But patience has its limits. You should know, the entire OSCE should know, the Minsk Group should know and the United Nations should know that an end must be put to this injustice against Azerbaijan.” (President Heydar Aliyev, July 18, 2000)

     Azerbaijan continues to live under the shadow of this unresolved 12-year conflict with Armenian separatists over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Both sides have generally observed the Russian-mediated cease-fire. Oil and natural gas fields, transport routes and fishing rights in the Caspian Sea are another source of ongoing debate. Azerbaijan remains locked in disputes with Turkmenistan and Iran over competing claims to overlapping fields. The stakes are high in this struggle for power and influence, oil and gas, and above all money, billions of dollars of it, beneath the Caspian.

If There Were No War
If there were no war,
We could construct a bridge between Earth and Mars,
melting weapons in an open-hearth furnace.

If there were no war,
The harvest of a thousand years could grow in one day.
Scientists could bring the moon and stars to Earth.

The eyes of the general also say:
“ I would be chairman in a small village
If there were no war!”

If there were no war,
We could avoid untimely deaths,
Our hair would gray very late.

If there were no war,
We would face
Neither grief, nor parting.

If there were no war,
The bullet of mankind would be his word,
And the word of mankind would be love.

(By Mammad Araz from “Tribute: The Poet’s Pen—Mightier than a Sword” in Azerbaijan International Winter 2004.

     Azeris have a high level of education and love and know their literature, both poetry and prose. Azeri literature is represented by such luminaries as Nizami Ganjavi, whose Khamsa is included in the treasure-house of world literature, Afzalladin Khagani, Samad Vurgun, Mehseti Ganjavi, Bakhtiyar Vahabzadeh, Mohammed Fizuli, Molla Panah Vagif, Khurshud-banu Natavan, Mirza Fatali Akhundov and Sabir, Jalil Mammadkuluzade. During Stalin’s reign, many of the country’s writers and artists were victims of the great purge, either exiled or executed. Because of the love of Azeris for literature, books abound and are cheap, most published in Azeri or Russian, some in the Cyrillic language, though Latin alphabet is gradually taking over.

     The country’s musical traditions are preserved by ashugs or poet-singers, who oftens trum the kobuz (a stringed instrument) while singing of the deeds of ancient heroes. Another popular form of music in Azerbaijan is mugam, which is improvised by voice and wind and stringed instruments and is often compared to jazz.

     Azerbaijan is famous for its carpets, but also for its embroidered textiles. Artists use colorful threads (sometimes made of gold or silver) and beads to create geometric pattners on a thin wool fabric called tirme. The country’s many bright-plumed birds and other animals have also featured in designs. Other popular Azerbaijani textiles include rugs, veils, shawls and towels.

     Some famous people from Azerbaijan include Mstislav Rostropovich, the most esteemed cellist of his generation, who was born in Baku. He now lives in the United States as conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Chess champion Garry Kimovich Kasparov, also born in Baku, has won many chess championships internationally, including several matches with one opponent named Deep Blue the computer. Lev Landau was born in Baku and was a famous Jewish physicist and Nobel laureate, noted chiefly for his pioneer work in low-temperature physics (cryogenics). Kara Karayev and Arif Melikov were other world-renowned musicians born in Baku.

Panoramic view of Baku, birthplace of many famous Azeris

     “I will collect soil from the old walled city of Baku, which is ancient and a current UNESCO World Heritage site. I’ll send additional history of Baku and Azerbaijan after I collect the soil and send it off . . .” writes Nicolynn (Nikki) Lemley, a member of the compassionate ABAD Program, and International Rescue Committee stationed in Baku. Thank you Nikki, for your kind participation, both in rescuing people in Azerbaijan and in taking the time to collect soil for our project. It is people like you who make our project grow.

     Mother-as-Poet, motherland, Mother language, mankind—words that deserve reflection. Is man kind to the Mother? With the long history (dating back to 191 A.D.) of conflict and bloodshed in Azerbaijan, the answer at this time might be no. Women nurse the wounded, bury and mourn the dead. Women who raise the children, only to watch them become soldiers. Azerbaijan’s mothers care for each of their children as much as Mother Earth cares for each of her children-nations, and the whole of mankind. Mothers are the perpetuators of language, teachers, nurses . . . Perhaps if we, as Chemishevsky suggests, respect and utilize the deep critical qualities of the female energies on earth, we truly could build a bridge from the Earth to Mars. The word for peace in Azeri is Mir.

Tomb of Shirvan Khan, the Son of his Mother

* * *

Caspian Sea. . .
Ennobling their
Kindness and
Love for
Mothers . . .
People of
Xudat, Xanlar,
Zangilan and Zaqatala

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