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South Caucasus
Seymur Baijan


I do not wish to consume your dear time, hence I want to mention that during the recent 90’s and 2000’s many open minded people started appearing in Azerbaijan. They came to realize how our traditions, religions dogma, backwardness and illiteracy negatively affected our society, preventing its progress. Majority of these enlightened people were writers and they had to debunk the hazardous traditions left over from the totalitarian Soviet period, promote new way of critical thinking, and struggle against the pseudo-intellectuals created by the Soviet authorities. Soon these enlightened people found one another, started organizing and established an organization called “Free Writers Hub” and a journal called “Alatoran.”

To publish “Alatoran” – the only alternative literature journal in Azerbaijan was difficult through all these years. The lack of free entrepreneurship environment in the country prevented us from finding financial support. To earn money in this country is only possible through accepting and supporting the will of the government. Under such conditions, intellectuals cannot fulfill their potential in the society. As a result of the lack of innovative environment, financial capital accumulated in the hands of people who are at a distance from culture and books. Their cultural taste is limited; to spend money on art and culture is an impossible act for them. The government, on the other hand, is very busy with promoting pop culture and wrestling competitions.

The attitude of the government to literature is no different from the soviet times, rather, is the mare continuation of it. The people in the government think that a writer must unilaterally support the policy of the state, “make people love the government” and respect traditions. It is prohibited to think otherwise. If you dare to think otherwise, you will receive an adequate punishment. Hence for 20 years every act of lie, betrayal, flattering and denunciation is being awarded. You lie and get awarded financially. You betray your friends and they make you a member of parliament. If you say what you see, if you tell the truth, if you do not flatter to somebody, then you are prosecuted, beaten, arrested, and left alone in financial difficulties. During these years the systematic invasion of TV channels with pop singers and shows of low intellectual weight finally achieved the intended results; the nation has fallen far away from books and reading. Our already difficult task is now more difficult than ever before. It is not easy to promote a new way of thinking in the country where everybody is used to traditional thinking. Every critical article fosters fury and disagreement.

The pseudo-intellectuals that were created during the Soviets achieved their goal of cheating people. We are in a very difficult struggle. True, we managed to achieve a platform to express our opinions, but only through innumerous personal sacrifices. We started writing in unknown newspapers first. After some time, people got to know us. We then started writing in more popular newspapers. Despite all the difficulties, we were able to enlighten many. The task, that is the responsibility of the state, is being carried out by a few people in this country. Instead of supporting us, though, the state is busy with preventing us. Lack of administrative resources makes it hard to influence people. Hence the traditions of Soviet times survived until today. The government is full-heartedly supporting its survival. They finance Soviet writers from the fiscal budget; members of these associations receive houses and large amount of money. Their journals are being financed by fiscal budget, since they support the discourse of the government, despite their extremely weak content. Under such conditions, I assume, it is not difficult to understand the opposition of government against alternative literary organizations and journals. We asked six times to get officially registered and six times we were refused by the state. And the reason they provide is as following: there is an official writers association in this country already. There is no need for another one. You may only engage in literature and art if we support you. Then we can finance you.

And this is what people believe in as well.

The people believe every writer must full-heartedly love its nation, respect all traditions, and express the beauty of the motherland in its produce. Every writer must know that its national cuisine is the best in the world. A proper writer must love its history and always promote it. The people want writers to lie. Any opinion against backward traditions is reacted with anger. The people systematically demand praising. The position of the traditional opposition is not much different either. The opinion of the traditional opposition regarding the new alternative literature reflects the opinion of the government.

The leaders of opposition have illumined by the masked images of the pseudo-writers left over from the Soviet period. They cannot oppose them in the cultural front. If a political leader cannot oppose them in cultural matters, they cannot oppose them in political matters either. Perhaps that’s the reason of the failure of the political opposition for 20 years. A small example: Jamil Hasanli, a professor and the united candidate of opposition at the recent presidential elections of October 9, 2013 is a member of the writers association left over from Soviet times. This association has declared, prior to the presidential elections, that they would vote for the incumbent Ilham Aliyev and asked everybody to vote in such manner. A member of such an association decided to run for presidency on behalf of opposition parties as a united candidate.

A contradiction occurs. A professor is struggling for presidency as a united candidate of the opposition parties, while the association, which is left over from the Soviet times and which, he is the member of declares they would support Ilham Aliyev during the elections. This fact shows the opposition is not serious toward The Cultural, and hence is not firm. As I mentioned above, the leaders of opposition have been deloused by the pseudo-writers of Soviet times. The opposition does not understand the extent of damage these pseudo-writers associations cause, nor do they understand the damage they cause by not criticizing their flattery.

Due to these very reasons, the only alternative literature journal in the country is denied financial resources. We were keeping the journal alive through all these years by personally paying for its publishing. The situation is unbearable. If before the opposition of the youth would give us a lot of power, after all these years we are losing this power. Despite many enlightened youth emerged and despite they found a dignified way of living, there a still vast amount of things to be done. The people on the other hand, are not yet thinking of supporting the process. Only isolated individuals can understand the seriousness of our task.

This is the reason I decided to address you. It was not easy to make such a decision. But two things in the end affected my positive decision of addressing you. Firstly, an average Azerbaijani believes that the Japanese managed to develop while keeping their traditional customs. I am now sure how correct it is, but it is not so important at this point. Secondly, statistics say Japanese read more books per person every year than any other nation in the world. I thought, then, perhaps they won’t ignore my address as such. Moreover, universality is our moral responsibility. The History itself requires us of being international. If a person loves nature, he loves all aspects of it; serving a tree in your backyard does not yet mean a love for nature.

Only by thinking this way, I found a moral strength in this far away country to write you to support our only alternative literature journal.

Seymur Baijan