Azernews.-2016.- May 20. - ¹ 38. - P. 6.
Three years in Azerbaijan ...
By Yasmeen Abdlhak
They say there is a million scenarios for the future of each individual, they say that God gives you the better one, and lets you create the best out of it. I guess... My road was Azerbaijan, land of eternal fire.
2013 was the year I finished school, in August I headed to Azerbaijan to further continue my education. Soon I became a student in Baku Slavic University, and the journey began, to discover the hidden of a country that had a thousand years of cultural heritage. My first year was a foundation year, teachers prepared us for our upcoming years of university, to be able to absorb easier the materials, fill in the linguistic gaps, advance our writing, reading and speaking skills and learn about the history, geography and culture of Azerbaijan.
My appearance was not close to what people here assumed to be “Arab” or “Syrian”, I did not have that bold tanned Arabic look, my Russian accent was not categorized as to being a second or a third language, my hair was not rough noir, it was dark maroon, that would lighten up a bit on the sunshine. To them - to the Azerbaijanis - I looked and spoke like a Lezgin. That time I never knew what lezgin was. This pushed me to learn about the massive ethnic diversity. Who could have imagined that in a country as small as Azerbaijan you would find about 12 ethincs and maybe more, between Lezgins, Talyshs, Kurds, Molokans, Avars and others. Each had their own specific folklore dance, their specific food, and language. It would make a foreigner think, how much effort was put to preserve that much heritage from so many different ethnics
I loved Baku. By 2015, I have memorized every ally, street, and turn in the old city. When I had the chance to show newcomers Baku, I would take them to icherisheher (Old City), show them Shirvan Shah, and then Gizgalasi (Maiden Tower), I would never forget to stop by the miniature book museum, that fascinated me the most. In the entire world, you can find only two museums of the kind -- one in Ukraine, and the other in Baku. The woman in the museum spoke in two three languages, and had managed to memorize basic information about the museums in more than five languages.
Another museum that took my breath way the literature museum. It was not just the history that the museum held within its walls, nor the great sculptures that stood on its front walls guarding it, it was the welcomnes of the guide, her objectivity, her skills, and the detailed philosophical history that I might have not heard of in the university or anywhere else - at that time I was very much interested in Hurufism.
Yet Baku was not the only place I have seen and explored in Azerbaijan. I made sure to visit Gobustan, Gebele, Alti agach, Guba and other regions. Right now, I am planning to make it to Ivanovka.
My first close up experience with the Azerbaijani youth started, when I joined AEGEE-BAKI. This is a non-governmental organization operating branches all over Europe, and of course in Azerbaijan. I soon became a member there, meeting there the most interesting people that by time proved to be lasting friends. Joining in as foreigners, I was warmly welcomed, was introduced to the whole crew and the active members, and invited to participate in many projects that the organization planned and organized. The time I spent in AEGEE-BAKI broke boundaries and stereotypes in me, I became a more open-minded person, open to different cultures, people and society, it also gave me this drive to participate and get involved in other organizations, movements and conferences.
My social life was thriving, I was grateful, but AEGEE-BAKI was not my last stop. I participated in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation simulation 2015, some activities held in the university and then MUN, or Module United Nations. MUN clubs started opening in every single university, and I made sure I attended every second mini-simulation. I was a volunteer coordinator for Giovani nel mondo, promoting Rome MUN in every university as well.
MUN club presidents were the best, at helping me out, spreading the word and encouraging people to apply. This movement, introduced me to new people, people that where from my same major ( international relations), people that had ideas, believes and hopes that are similar to mine, people that loved to share, to learn and to understand.
Baku gave me the greatest gift in three years. I leaned life lessons; I learned that sharing is caring. I knew that before, but seeing it happening in front of me, gave it a whole new definition of sharing. In February 2016, I participated in MILLIMUN. This was the biggest MUN conference, organized by all clubs with the financial help of the Ministry of Youth. That was yet another experience that had to be highlighted and saved in the pages of my diary. I still cannot imagine my life if I would not have participate in this particular conference. The last day of the conference, I was given the second place in my committee, best debater.
Azerbaijan is the place through which I could understand the world, or at least a significant part of it. Religion was practiced freely, due to this, it was easy to find a shia mosque and a sunni mosque, to look at the beauty of the architecture of both and listen to the mollahs read prayers. Old Churches were preserved and new were build. In one church in Xatai they would carry on with the Sunday service prayers even in English, allowing foreigners to practice their believes.
If walking in the old city, or visiting mosques in the regions, one would spot Zoroastrianism, and of course Ateshgah, the fire temple of Baku. Many, not only for sightseeing but also for religious tourism, visited Ateshka. The phenomenon stood in the fact that Azerbaijanis accepted this diversity as something they lived with all their lives. They embraced every cultural heritage on their land, remembered history and sighted it with pride.
This is what makes Azerbaijan truly multicultural, it is not just the diversity, diversity is everywhere, and it is the acceptance of the diversity, the pride and love of the diversity. It is when a nation makes “diversity” part of its identity, and then truly it becomes a multicultural tolerant nation.
MilliMUN was a great experience. I learned a lot, made new friends, new memories and devoted myself to help develop the MUN movement in Azerbaijan. In March my internship in UNHCR started, in May I left for a week for Kazakhstan for another MUN - New Silk Way MUN. There I learned that I was not only the only Arab in the conference but also the only one coming from Azerbaijan. Apart from representing my own country, Syria, I made sure that Azerbaijan was represented as well. I talked of Baku, encouraged my new friends to visit the country, and talked of youth activism in Azerbaijan. Yet that was not enough, on the last day, I was able to talk to the vice rector of Al- farabi university, and discuss further coordination between Azerbaijani MUN clubs and Kazakhstan. He was delighted.
I still have two years until I finish my bachelor’s degree. Where will my next stop be? I do not know yet, but where ever it would be, I would be glad to have spent here 5 years of my life. Honored to have been able to live on this land, and get a chance to understand and endure its culture and history. I believe that the time that is left for me here, is full of new adventures, and new experience. They say God guides us to the better future and leaves us to accomplish the best of it.