Azerbaijan: Dying for poetry and love where Europe and Asia meet

Do we think too much? Answers on a postcard please…

And so we reach the final A country, the end of Transcaucasia, and the border of Europe. This is Azerbaijan, which had the misfortune of discovering oil in the 4th century… more than a millenium later it was still defining this land as the capital, Baku, became known as “the city where it rains oil.”

Many nations can attest to the fact that with great oil, comes great wealth, and that with great wealth comes great danger. Lenin put it well when he said that the Soviet Union could not survive without Baku’s oil. But Azerbaijan in not just famous for black gold, it also has one of the world’s most celebrated love stories… Ali and Nino, a novel that so encapsulates Azeri life that I also chose to watch the film during our week there!

Ali and Nino’s love reflects Azerbaijan’s own battle. Is it European like Nino, or Asian like Ali? Or can it be both? We are shown Christian Georgia and Muslim Iran, but the lovers can’t be happy in either… they need to be somewhere that respects both their beliefs and histories. A nice twist to anyone trying to understand the book is that there is controversy over who even wrote it! The suspects are as diverse as an Austrian woman and a culturally Jewish Azeri man who embraced Islam. Whoever it was, they must have had a wide range of contacts to be able to describe the melting pot of cultures, and a strong will to put some of the characters’ abhorent opinions of women down on paper.

The novel is set in a time of violence, though not violent enough for some! One character bemoans no longer living in a time when poets would die for their art… He would be delighted to find that now, 100 years later, murder is the cause of death for 51 % of American rappers. This fact is surprisingly relevant to Azerbaijan as they created the rap battle in 1920… Meykhana is an Azerbaijani folk rap tradition where poets spit rhymes joking and disparaging one another. You can check some out by listening to my Azerbaijan playlist.

Breakfast qutabs fine food for filling fledglings

For Azeri breakfast we decided on Qutabs. This recipe suggests filling them with paneer but I replaced that with vegan cheese, sprinkled them with fresh pomegranate seeds and watched with joy as the kids not only ate them but asked for more! We paired them with tea like the Azeris do… in fact we drank tea all day as if we were in Azerbaijan and then found it impossible to sleep.

Plov, the children refused the fruit, but ate the rest #winning

For dinner we ate plov, or pilaf or ash. Whichever name you call it, it is a one-pot rice dish that is easy to make and was popular with the whole family. As always we used vegan chicken from Wing Yip and as usual I made way too much. Luckily my parents next door have been sampling a bit of each week’s food, so it just meant they received a whole banquet.

Wife looking concerned that I may love tendir choreyi more than her…

The culinary highlight however was tendir choreyi, an easy to make bread that smelled and tasted delicious, we brushed it with soya milk instead of egg, and the children made me promise that I would make it again (I haven’t).

Having read so much about Armenia during my recent week there, I was hyper aware that Armenia and Azerbaijan have lived together in peace for many years, but that there has also been regular wars, including recent brutal examples. The film Endless Corridor is difficult to watch, but it does shed light on one of the key reasons why the fighting continues… As is so often the case the Armenia/Azerbaijan border was not agreed by them, but put in place by the Soviets, leaving people stuck either side. I hope they can learn to forgive the horrors of the past and move back to a time of love and rap battles.

I am sad to leave this beautiful country but excited to find out what the Bahamas have in store!

Zero carbon lockdown travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.