Tag Archives: Azerbaijan

Thomas De Waal’s “The Caucasus”

Last night I finished reading Thomas De Waal’s introduction to the Caucasus.  Ideally, this should have been the first book I read about the region; It provides just enough information and anecdotes about each country to incite further research.

Waal very briefly discusses the pre-Russian history of the Caucasus by dividing the first chapter into a Persian, Azerbaijani, Armenia, and Georgian sections. He cites Sayat Nova (See earlier post) as an example of the intermingling influences of the pre-Tsarist atmosphere. He quickly moves on to the 1800s and the arrival of Russian protection, colonization, and absorption.  The third chapter focuses on the Soviet Caucasus, beginning with the post WWI teetering between Transcaucasian independence, Bolshevik influenced states, and fully incorporated members of the USSR, continuing onto Stalin’s and Beria’s purges and exportations of ethnic communities, all the way up to the fall of the Soviet Union..

By the fourth chapter, Waal begins to focus on the individual conflicts that have come to define each country and their relationship to each other, Russia, and the West. He covers the Nagorny Karabakh “quarrel”,  Caspian energy, and varying aspects of Georgian politics including Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and The Rose Revolution (my favorite detail of which Waal describes:  ” Saakshvilli dramatically swept into the parliamentary chamber, clutching a single red rose and shouting ‘Gadadeki, gadadeki!’ (Resign!”) Shevardnadze stopped reading his speech and was hustled from the chamber by his bodyguards. Saakashvili strode onto the podium, theatrically finished the cup of tea Shevardnadze had been drinking, and declared the new parliament invalid.”).

One feature of the book I particularly enjoyed was Waal’s short blurbs inbedded in each chapter pertaining to a short topic: Wine, Georgian Language, Lermontov, Rustaveli Avenue, How Georgian was Stalin?, Soviet Florida, Baku Jazz, Shusha, Ajaria, The Greeks of Abkhazia, and The Ergneti Market. The book never covers any concept or country in-depth, but that’s not the point of an introduction. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in becoming interested in the history, culture, and conflicts of the Caucasus.

– Ben

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

Azerbaijani Mugam Resources

The music of Azerbaijan, specifically the folk tradition of Mugam music, has a history closely tied to the regions changing borders and influences:

“Mugham belongs to the system of modal music and may have derived from Persian musical tradition. The Uighurs in Xinjian (Sinkiang) call this musical development muqam, the Uzbeks and Tajiks call it maqom (or shasmaqom), while Arabs call it maqam and Persians dastgah. In Azerbaijan the word is mugham from Arabic Maqam.”

There are so many topics I want to cover with Magum:  Soviet repression, historical origins, instrumental traditions, Uzeyir Hajibeyov and his Mugam operas, Regions of Nagorno Karabakh traditional recognized as hubs of Mugam music, and Jazz Magum! to name just a few. For now I just want to list a few resources for those interested in Magum:

  • This site has Magum streaming 24/7 along with an in-depth history, list of famous instrumentalists and composers,  background on the traditional instruments, links to recordings and video. I’ve already spent a few hours and have barely skimmed the surface:

http://www.mugamradio.az/

  • This is great article that deals more with Stalinist repression of Azerbaijani music:

http://azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/ai142_folder/142_articles/142_aida_repression_music.html

  • This is the youtube channel of Sir Richard Bishop, one of my favorite guitarists. He has put together a collection of all black and white films from all over the Middle East, Asia, and India.

http://www.youtube.com/thefreakofaraby

  • This Kronos Quartet recording of Franghiz ali Zadeh’s works is another fusion of Mugam/Western Classical Traditions. My favorite tracks is a solo piano improvisation performed by the composer in which she places a beaded necklace across the piano strings to create a buzzing tremolo in the middle range of her melody. 

http://www.nonesuch.com/albums/mugam-sayagi-music-of-franghiz-ali-zadeh

Here is a clip of Vagif Mustafazade, a Azerbaijani musician responsible for a fusion of traditional Mugam scales with jazz forms and instrumentation.

– Ben

Leave a comment

Filed under music

Thomas de Waal’s “Black Garden”

I just finished reading Thomas de Waal’sBlack Garden” which analyzes the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. He supplies the reader with a mixture of historical context, first hand reporting, personal reflections of citizens and politicians, and his own observations about the future. My favorite anecdote:  power outages ran are very common in the Caucusus but then were extremely lengthy during the winters in the early 90s due to the conflict. Armenian citizens heated water by hanging razor blades from metro lines and used the small amount of electric current to eventually bring the water to a boil.

From an outsiders perspective the situation seem incredibly frustrating and  Waal’s description leaves all sides (including the West) looking irrational and myopic, with every community having justifiable grievances but a complete lack of empathy for the other’s, remarkably similar, complaints. Wall’s explanation of  Armenian and Azerbaijani historians manipulations of ancient ethnography and hundreds of year old events gives insight into the sway of  historians in modern politics/disputes. In the U.S. a degree in history is considered by some a waste of a liberal arts education; in the Caucusus, that profession makes you responsible for justifying military conflicts and the forced migration of entire populations through what are many times weak and shaky assertions.

The book was published in 2003 and now, almost 10 years later, it seems like little has changed. The Georgian times just posted an article in which analysts rate Karabakh as “the # 1 most likely place for war to break out in the next 10 years.”

“…Along the Line of Contact in Karabakh, the grim litany of skirmishes and deaths by sniper fire will rumble along. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are now deploying drones along the LoC, so expect the conflict to gain a new, aerial dimension (we’ve seen the first signs already). Sabre-rattling, military exercises and soaring defence budgets will all continue, but – as previously – don’t expect a new shooting war.”

Here is a short documentary that gives a some quick background into the conflict.

If you are interested in delving deeper into the dynamics and history of Karabakh and it’s conflicts, I suggest reading “Black Garden” (and taking notes).

– Ben

Leave a comment

Filed under Books