Text Turana Alieva
Photo Maurice Stach
Since very childhood I loved the smell of petroleum. There is no surprise that I come from the oil and gas capital of Russia – Tyumen. Although I love my city, where I have spent 18 years of my life, there is one more special place for me which smells as good as my hometown. Baku - the oil capital of the former USSR and, my parents’ hometown, which is homeland to me now. Baku has a special place in my heart since there are lots of sweet childhood memories about this city and its smell always reminds of Tyumen. Each visit to Baku would leave sweet and cozy memories. I really enjoyed my petrol smelling city. I dreamed of moving to Baku one day not only because I fell in love with its old and sweet streets but because I believed that I finally would stop being an outsider. Being an outsider in Russia just because of my Caucasian appearance and non-Russian name and surname made me think that I can never be Russian, even though I hold a Russian citizenship, I’ll always be “non-Russian” for them. But there was one thing that bothered me even when I moved to Baku. I have realized that while trying to be a typical Russian just like others around, I failed to be a real Azerbaijani…
When I turned 18, my family decided to move to Azerbaijan to let me become a real Azerbaijani. And as soon as I moved to Baku, I have decided to dive deep into the local culture! The contradicting nature of the Azerbaijani culture and the tremendous impact of Russian language on the local culture impressed me a lot.
I was shocked by explicit division among local population: some part of the local population speaks Russian with specific Bakuvian accent and some speak Azerbaijani. Although these two different groups of people coexist together, there’s a mutual hatred towards each other. Russian-speaking population arrogantly uses Russian even while speaking to those who do not understand Russian and undermine the Azerbaijani-speaking population, while Azerbaijani-speaking population hate the opponents because of their arrogance and disrespect towards their native language. I had a chance to talk to both of them and reveal the key differences. Interestingly, Azerbaijani people do not really like Russians, since they believe that Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia is a result of Russian intervention and once Russian side decided to solve the frozen conflict, it will be solved. And despite this, some parts of the local population still speak Russian and send their children to Russian schools. Another interesting thing about Azerbaijan that surprised me is that Azerbaijan is the only country in the South Caucasus where Russian schools still exist. So language is one of the key factors influencing the local culture. Russian-speaking population is more tolerant towards Armenians and more open-minded. Russian literature and concepts of Nihilism, Marxism reflected there influence people’s political culture. Thus, Russian-speaking population is more active when it comes to political participation and formation of civil society. Another thing that always reminds of Russia is the architecture. The architecture of Baku is unique in the whole post-soviet region and reflects the combination of different cultures. Old buildings in Islamic style are beautifully combined with modern luxurious buildings and skyscrapers, and old soviet style buildings at some parts of the city remind me of Russia and take me back to the Soviet period, when Baku was a part of the USSR. And while walking down the streets of old city filled with the smell of petroleum, I realize that I do not have to be strictly Azerbaijani or Russian, because our common history require us to be both, we are small parts of a big history which is still going on… But I must admit that despite so many traces of the Russian presence in this country, the smell of petroleum is the most important thing linking Baku and Tyumen in my mind.
In her contribution Turana Alieva brings her own experiences and observations into a social context. The title forms the bracket in the text and is both a personal experience and a meaningful metaphor. The text has a clear dramaturgy and gets by without general phrases. She names social problems as facts, she illuminates them journalistically neutrally from two sides, without evaluating them. What unites outshines what separates. That is good, positive journalism in terms of craftsmanship.