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FROM NONSENSE TO NATIONHOOD: A DANGEROUS TRAJECTORY OF AZERBAIJANI NATIONALISM

 

 

part ii. INVENTING THE PAST: CULTURAL PLAGIARISM AS A CHARTER OF IDENTITY

 

 

"This is Azerbaijan, and everybody here should learn by heart that nothing non-Azeri exists or ever existed on this land …"

(Excerpt from a speech of Mr. S. Suleimanov, head of the Dashkesan district’s Azerbaijan's Communist Party, who supervised the demolition of Armenian architectural monuments in the town of Banantz  (Bayan) by Azerbaijani KGB agents, on 26-27 July 1969).[1]

 

 

 

The Godfather: when money, crime,

and academic corruption converge.

 

Picture: Historical revisionist

Dr. Ziya M. Buniyatov, former

President of Azerbaijani Academy

of Arts and Sciences; the photo was

taken a few months prior to

Buniyatov's 1997 scandalous

murder, by his mafia companions.

See text on in footnote 6

The most recent example of the Balkan wars demonstrates how nationalism employs historical narratives to create mythical images of the past, which, in turn, later become a driving force behind the political agendas of opportunistic leaders and can be used to mobilize the masses for destructive action. This notion is especially relevant with reference to Azerbaijan, whose nationalist myth-making is not the fact of the remote past but is a process that started recently and continues today. While it is unscholarly to attribute racism to the endemic articles of the Azeri national character — if the term "national character" makes sense at all — Azeri nationalism and chauvinism do exist as distinct and increasingly influential ethno-political phenomena, with their own logic, mythology, historical roots and objective mode of development.

One of the birthmarks of Azeri nationalism — cultural plagiarism — is thought to be behind the denial of cultural and political rights of Armenians, Udins, Tats, Talishes, Lezgins and other native groups of Azerbaijan's colonized periphery, which survived earlier Turkification and became minorities.[2]

As a people whose national consciousness and ethnic self-awareness crystallized only with the imposition of Soviet rule, Azeris have been long grappling with a sense of insecurity and inferiority in their relations with the older cultures of their Persian, Armenian and Georgian neighbors. Contemporary Azeris — similarly to their Turkish cousins — are the descendents of Turkic horsemen who arrived to the Caucasus from their homeland in Central Asian in the late Middle Ages. To date, the languages and a bulk of ethnographic specs of Turks and Azeris only insignificantly differ from those of the Central Asia's Turkic groups, e.g. Turkmen and Uzbeks. Prior to the Turkic invasion of the eastern part of the Armenian Plateau, the territory of today's "Azerbaijan" was mainly populated by Armenian Christians (to the west of the  River Kur) and a number of Persian- and Lezgin-speaking groups (to the east of the River Kur).

No specifically Azeri state ever existed before 1918, and, rather than seeing themselves as part of a continuous national tradition, like Georgians and Armenians, the Turkic-speaking Shiite Muslims of the Transcaucasus regarded themselves as part of the larger Muslim world, the ummah, occasionally having local tribal identities as well.[3] 

Emphasizing the relatively recent emergence of a coherent ethnic group called "Azerbaijanis" or "Azeris" should not be viewed as an attempt to deny legitimacy to a national state for the Caucasus' Turkic Shiites. Nonetheless, it is worth contrasting historical facts to the political claims of Azerbaijani nationalists who try to harass non-Azeris and concoct an identity for their country through stripping Azerbaijan's neighbors of their own cultural heritage.

 

Picture: Soviet autocrat

Josef V. Stalin (1879-1953).

 

Stalin, dubbed "Father of the

Peoples," constructed or helped to

sustain dozens of autonomous

homelands for various nationalities

of the USSR, e.g. "Azerbaijan,"

which never existed before

in human history.

 

Historians agree that the surfacing in 1918 of a Turkish-imposed entity called “Azerbaijan” was largely an accidental twist of history.[4] It is questionable as to whether the Azeri nation would have ever been forged at all, had there not been the spectacular discovery of large deposits of petroleum in the Western Caspian region by Russian geologists in the late 1860s. In this regard, Azerbaijan presents an instructive example of how the processes of modernization are capable of creating entire nations virtually from scratch.[5]

It is a stretch to speak about the existence of "Azeris" or "Azerbaijanis" of any sort, either as a single ethnic group, cultural entity or ethno-political unit before the late 19th century, when the oil boom in the Caspian resulted in rapid industrialization and urbanization of the Absheron peninsula. This socio-economic change turned Baku into a large metropolitan area, providing the nascent Turkic intelligentsia of the Caspian an opportunity to turn their share of oil bonanza into a nationalist educational and political resource, which became instrumental in producing new identities for the local Turkic-speaking Shiites, future Azeris.

The lack of clear ethnic self-awareness among the Turkic tribes and clans of the Caspian confused the Russian imperial administration at the time it governed the lands of the Southeastern Caucasus. To create a resemblance of order in the ethno-demographic cacophony of local Turkic shepherds, Czarist bureaucrats had to coin a special generic term to characterize them: Caucasian Tatars. Persians traditionally referred to them as Turks.

Prior to the 19th century, most proto-Azeris/Caucasian Tatars lived pristine, self-sufficient lives of nomadic herdsmen. The Turkic tribes that settled in the Western Caspian shot to prominence through harassing and robbing merchants who traveled along the Great Silk Road. These tribes significantly contributed to the gradual decline of this important commercial artery that in the medieval period was used for shipping goods from the Eastern Asia to Europe. In the absence of their own high culture, (meaning intellectual tradition based on written language) proto-Azeris had to use the intellectual products of neighboring civilizations of the region in order to interact with their political and social environs. The vernaculars of the Caucasian Tatars lacked literary tradition prior to the 19th century. When the territories of contemporary Azerbaijan were annexed by the Russian Empire from Persia, there appeared first humble attempts to create a literature in proto-Azeri dialect by early Turkic enlighteners Abbas K. Bakikhanov (1794-1846) and Mirza F. Akhundov (1812-1878). This in contrast to Armenians, Georgians, and Persians, whose tradition of artistic and scholarly writing dates from antiquity.

The word "Azerbaijan," (originally — Aturpatagan in Parthian or Atrpatakan in Old Armenian) is also a confusing term. It never represented a single political or ethnic unit before 1918, being solely a geographic concept, for centuries designating an ancient northern province of today's Iran. Only in the last decade of 1800s, Azeri nationalist intellectuals came up with a controversial idea to hijack the term "Azerbaijan" in order to give a single name to the lands of the present-day Azerbaijani Republic. Ironically, if anyone should be rightfully called "Azerbaijani" at that time, they should not have been the proto-Azeri Turkic tribal infiltrators from the sandy plains of Eastern Caspian, but the aboriginal population of present-day "Azerbaijan," i.e. Armenians, Udins, Talishes, Lezgins, Budughs, Tats, etc. All would later become victims of the Azeri policy of forced assimilation and ethnic cleansing.

"... a rationale behind Azerbaijan's cultural plagiarism relates to the efforts to deny civil liberties and cultural rights to Azerbaijan's indigenous non-Turkic groups through hijacking their culture and "privatizing" their historical heritage by the republic's ethnic majority ... "

The practice of hijacking geographic names from neighbors by recently created ethnic formations reveals itself not only in the Caucasus but also in the Balkans. For instance, in the 1990s, after the demise of the Yugoslav Federation, formerly autonomous Macedonian Republic with its Bulgarian-speaking Slavic majority declared itself heir of the ancient Macedonian Empire and adopted the national symbols of the latter. There is little, if anything, in common between the Hellenic civilization of the old Macedonia and the Slavs of the Southern Balkans, who migrated to the territory of their present-day country from the north some ten centuries after the Macedonian Empire came to its end. Not surprising, the issue of Macedonian heritage created a conflict of the newly-born state with the Hellenic Republic/Greece next-door, which even suggested to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into the "Republic of Skopje." 

The Turkic Azeri tribes of the Southeastern Caucasus would have continued their inconspicuous and unnoticed existence, on the margins of human history, if not the emergence of two factors that drastically changed the geopolitical map of the Caucasus: the spread of pan-Turanist ideology and the 1917 revolution in Russia. Both factors prompted proto-Azeri tribes to unite and, further, provided them initial means to masquerade themselves as a nation, throughout the rest of the 20th century.[5']

"... Azerbaijan presents an instructive example of how the processes of modernization are capable of creating entire nations virtually from scratch ..." 

 

See Ernest Gellner's Nations and Nationalism, a classical text on the modernization theory of nationalism, at Amazon.Com:     >>

Assembled from linguistically related but disparate pastoral and semi-pastoral tribal formations — known as Borchali, Kengerly, Demurchi-Hasanli, Djinli, Padar, Karapapakh, Afshar, Shahseven, Ottuz-Iki, Igirmi-Dort, Chobankara, Karim-Beghlu, Sayidlu-Akhsakhlu, Jam-Melli, Qafarlu, Karabeghlu, Godaklu, etc., etc. — Azerbaijan represents a mutant entity that took its final shape in the course of scholarly experiments of Stalinist anthropologists as late as in the 1930s, long after the imposition of Soviet rule on the Southern Caucasus.

It was not until 1937, when the current ethno-name — "Azeris" (azerbaidzantsi, in Russian, translated into azarbaycanli, in Turkic) — was put into wide circulation by Bolshevik anthropologists, becoming one of a dozen of terms that were created to describe those ethnic entities of the USSR that lacked clear self-definition in the past. In a bundle with "Azerbaijan," Bolsheviks either created entirely from scratch or helped to legitimize up to 25 ethno-territorial entities as parts and divisions of the USSR — for various nationalities — that never existed in history before,  e.g. Kalmikia, Buryatia, Yakutia, Checheno-Ingushetia, Chuvashia, Udmurtia, etc., etc.

The rationale of this early Soviet ethno-engineering was largely political and bureaucratic: it was easier to impose totalitarian control on the vast and restive non-Russian population of the re-assembled Russian Empire — the USSR — through the codification and structuration of its ethnic mosaic. However, the try-out with the Azeris went terribly wrong and snaked out of control. Stalinist “Dr. Frankensteins-of-anthropology” would hardly imagine back in the 1930s that the subject of their scholarly experiments in the Transcaucasus, yesterday's dim Caucasian Tatar herdsmen (freshly remodeled into "Azeris"), would soon vigorously embark on manufacturing their "historical past" — virtually from scratch — lashing out against commonsense.[6] This by the means of attributing to themselves the pieces of cultural heritage of neighboring Persians, Armenians, Arabs, Turkomans as well as long extinct, semi-mythical “Caucasian Aluanians.” A range of historical leaders, scholars, poets, writers and musicians of the mentioned peoples — together with architectural monuments and other artifacts produced by them and found on the territory of today's Azerbaijan — were wholesale declared manifestations of Azeri culture, which, through several miraculous "discoveries" of Azeri academics, almost overnight acquired lacking ancient flavor and gloss. 

 

Stealing from neighbors:

Persian lyricist Nizami Ganjavi

(1141-1209), proclaimed as

"Azeri poet" by Azerbaijan's

Communist bosses.

Picture: a "portrait" of Nizami,

as imagined by a modern

painter from Azerbaijan.

Click on picture to see text

 

Mark Saroyan, an American political scientist, noted that Azerbaijani historians produced histories of “Azerbaijan” based not on the historical facts of a prior national state(s) but on the assumption that the genealogy of "Azerbaijanis" could be traced in terms of putative ethnic-territorial continuity of all lands that are found within the borders of the present-day Azerbaijani Republic. Similarly, the history of the early medieval Christian commonwealth of Caucasian Aluania (also known by its customary Armenian name — Aghvank, or as "Caucasian Albania," no reference to European Albania) was assimilated by Azerbaijani historians into the history of the "Azerbaijani (Azeri)  nation," despite the absence of any linguistic and cultural similarities between the Armenian civilization of Caucasian Aluania and the contemporary Azeris. In this way, cultural practices substantiated claims to ethnic continuity based on the modern form of the territorial national state. 

Another observer, Yo'av Karny, an Israeli anthropologist and writer, went even further by demonstrating in his "Highlanders" how Azerbaijani nationalist attempts to fabricate history and by this deprive Karabakhi Armenians from their own cultural heritage laid down the foundation of the Karabakh dispute in the mid-1980s. Effectively, the denial half a million Armenians in Azerbaijan their identity was a prelude to ethnic cleansing. Karny points to the role of historian Ziya M. Buniyatov and his disciples whose controversial project to invent Azerbaijan's past and "un-invent" that of Azerbaijan's neighbors went berserk, spilling over the academic field and helping to bring about a major regional trouble.[7]

However, the described historical deja vu is not unique to Azerbaijan. Other nations of the world in similar fashion manipulate the events of the past to define themselves within the timeline of world history. This phenomenon is partly rooted in the universal system of modern nation-states itself. This system stipulates that, in order to be legitimate, nation-states are required to represent a cultural community of people who believe that their shared characteristics entitle them to sovereignty in their “historic” homeland. 

Many features of the contemporary nation-state derive from the worldwide models of European provenance, which are copied, propagated and revisited through global cultural socialization and exchange processes. Thus, a codified historical past, as a distinct text, became an inseparable requisite of the nation-state together with an array of other uniformed, isomorphic symbols, such as flag, anthem, national army, ministry of education, UN membership, etc., etc. These discourses are based on narratives of the nations' alleged antiquity and their peoples' continuous presence in a historic "homeland." No matter how truthfully historical events are described in this codification, it is regarded as an important political resource as it is aimed at asserting an imagined hereditary right to a territory that a specific nation occupies in the present.

Hardly unique in the history of the Soviet or other states, the Azerbaijani case demonstrates the logic of Stalinist national-state construction, whereby the formation of a Soviet republic named Azerbaijan required the existence —  or invention of an "Azerbaijani people" to inhabit it. 

" ... Hardly unique in the history of the Soviet or other states, the Azerbaijani case demonstrates the logic of Stalinist national-state formation, whereby the construction of a Soviet republic named Azerbaijan required the existence   or invention of an " Azerbaijani people" to inhabit it ... "

The lack of a tradition of ethnic Azeri statehood highlighted the problem of international legitimacy of the early Azeri state, when it was proclaimed after the demise of the Russian Empire on the territories with mixed population, where ethnic Azeri were often a demographic minority. While Armenians and Georgians imagined their newly born independent republics created in 1918 to contain the lands of the previously existing Armenian and Georgian state formations (kingdoms and principalities), Azeris used a quite different mode of addressing this issue. Reflecting a specific attitude toward territoriality — which is based on Islamic and nomadic prejudices — Azeri leaders perceived their state as encompassing all the lands spanned by the routes of seasonal migrations of Turkic tribes, a tight net of which covered large swathes of the Transcaucasus. Hence the popular saying among Azeri nationalists in the beginning of the 20th century: "Bir, iki, Kavkaz bizimty!" ("One, two, and the Caucasus is ours!").

Rewriting history and pillaging the cultural heritage of neighbors has an important function in the ethno-politics of Azerbaijan. This practice is aimed at legitimizing the presence of the Azeri state on the territories which were earlier associated with or, in fact, were original homelands of other peoples of the region and became part of today's Azerbaijan as a matter of chance, political expediency or even topographic error. Another rationale behind Azeri cultural plagiarism relates to the efforts to deny civil liberties and cultural rights to Azerbaijan's indigenous non-Turkic groups through hijacking their culture and "privatizing" their historical heritage by the republic's ethnic majority.

In addition to the controversies surrounding the modern concept of nation-state, there exists yet another political and intellectual root of Azeri historical revisionism and identity theft: the Turkish nationalism of the 1920s-30s, the ubiquitous blueprint of the late Azeri nation-state-building project. Perhaps overreacting to the post-WW I European attempts to deny a separate nation-state for ethnic Turks, the Ataturk-supported historians in Turkey at the time invented the so-called Sun Theory of Languages. At the core of this theory lies an odd doctrine that says all world languages developed from Turkish and all peoples of the world — from Japanese to Russians to America's Aztecs — originated from the Turkish "mother-super-race." Plus to this, the ancient civilizations of Asia Minor — including Hittites, Trojans and Summerians — were simply declared as "proto-Turks."[8] While the "Sun Theory…" quickly sank into oblivion, never being taken seriously by anybody outside Kemalist Turkey, its controversial legacy was recently revived in Azerbaijan, whose population is closely related to the Turks ethnically and linguistically and whose government officially declared its commitment to copy the modern Turkish nation-state in all its details. By doing so, Azerbaijan continues to indiscriminately borrow the robust and worthy aspects of the Turkish tradition of statehood together with its malign and darker features.

 " ... Rewriting history and pillaging the cultural heritage of neighbors has an important function in the ethno-politics of Azerbaijan. This practice is aimed at legitimizing the presence of the Azeri state on the territories which were earlier associated with or, in fact, were original homelands of other peoples of the region and became part of today's Azerbaijan as a matter of chance, political expediency or even topographic error ... "

Mimicking their Turkish role models, Azeris similarly began falsely personating themselves as heir of — unrelated to them — Midians, Manians, Aluanians (i.e. "Caucasian Albanians," no reference to European Albanians) and other real or hypothetical groups that inhabited the Transcaucasus at least fifteen centuries before the arrival of the first proto-Azeri nomadic infiltrators from the eastern shore of the Caspian to the territory of the present-day "Azerbaijan." In an equally absurd manner, Azeri nationalist historians laid down claims to the legacy of late medieval Persian khanates (principalities) of the Transcaucasus, as the precursors of their modern nation-state.

As in the Turkish case, Azeri nationalists believe that historical fabrications, which attribute every single piece of culture in contemporary "Azerbaijan" to Turkic Azeris, strengthen the international legitimacy of their nationhood and serve as a bulwark against possible encroachments of neighboring countries against the territorial integrity of their young state. 

The fact that Azerbaijan is a recently constructed nation is a circumstance that makes historical revisionism a genetic, ever-present attribute of Azeri ongoing nation-building process. Azeris regard historical past as a periodically updateable domain that from time to time could be subjected to arbitrary, politically-motivated reformulations and revisions. In their nationalist exercises, Azeri scholars waxed insolent to the point that, as of today, proclaimed not only mosques but even Christian churches (!), found in the vicinity of former Azeri pastures and built by Persians and Arabs, or Armenians, respectively, as manifestations of their own "Azeri" architecture. One may only wonder when Azeri academics would "discover" that the Athenian Parthenon was an originally Azeri temple ... It is both ironic and symbolic that Azeris, the descendents of those whose economic life in the past was sustained by nomadic banditry and looting, now try to embezzle not only material but also cultural and spiritual heritage of their neighbors, perhaps considering this practice a modern form of booty-taking. 

 

Abulfaz Elchibey, Azerbaijan's

first president and ultranationalist

ideologue of the Popular Front of

Azerbaijan Party (PFAP). Elchibey's

paramilitary gangs are thought to

be responsible for the massacre

in the Nagorno Karabakh's

town of Khojally (Xocalli).

Click to see text

 

As opposed to neighboring Armenians, Georgians and Persians, whose nationalisms had peaked long time ago and by now well faded away, Azeris are a nation-in-the-making, and, not least because of the excessive mythologization of contemporary Azeri ethnic identity, Azeri nationalism currently exists in the state of hypernationalism. Hypernationalism is an ideological deviation from the mainstream nationalism that sometimes transpires in the early stages of the development of ethno-national entities. It designates inability to adequately address not only the facts of the remote historical past but also the events in recent history. The cases of Hitler's Germany and the Young Turks' Ottoman Empire demonstrate that hypernationalism robs people of the sense of guilt and often turns them into paranoid zombies, capable of committing unspeakable atrocities against human beings with different ethnic or racial backgrounds.

With the Azeri identity still in flux, the adequate grasp of the objective component of social reality — be it history or politics — becomes an almost impossible exercise for those who knowingly or otherwise subscribe to the values and ideals of Azeri nationalism. Lies and truths, imagining and reasoning bear few marks of distinction at the current stage of development of Azeri ethnopolitical identity, with myths and reality mixing together in a swirl of apologetics and propaganda. In contemporary Azerbaijan, bigotry is much more than simply an attitude or a way of communicating: it is a customary state of public consciousness and a vehicle of identity-formulation at large.

While the profoundness of Azeri practice to fiddle their way into nationhood continues shocking outside observers dealing with Azerbaijan, insights into the chronology of Azeri nationalist evolution explain the spectacular ability of Azeris to prevaricate and forge facts about the events of the past and present.[9] And many of these observers, including international mediators involved in the Karabakh peace process, begin realizing that because Azeri nationalism still undergoes hypernationalist fermentation, Azerbaijan is in grave difficulty to live up to most of its pledges of peace and toleration with regard to both minority groups and neighboring states.[10]

The whole discussion about the Azeri cultural plagiarism and false personation would be redundant and unnecessary if not the immediate implications that these phenomena have for politics. Nationalism as a political ideology implies the conversion of ethnic mythology into policy guidelines, and, in this respect, Azerbaijan presents a special case in point. Due to the bareness of a distinct Azeri self-image and state tradition, and virtual non-existence — prior to the 19th century — literature in the Azeri language, young Azeri nationalism is incapable, by default, to fully employ the means of positive self-definition and self-assertion of post-Soviet Azeri identity, in other cases usually achieved through the insights into the topic of "who-we-are."

Perversely coupled with hypernationalist paranoia, Azeri self-examination efforts tend to turn ugly, necessitating periodical aggressive interactions with minority groups and next-door neighbors, including the victimization of non-Azeris and the display of indiscriminate hostility toward them. These violent exchanges help to define Azeri ethno-political identity through mostly negative rather than positive patterns, in other words, through the understanding of “who-we-are-not” in contrast to “who-we-are.” Ultimately, in Azerbaijan, sharp lines between "us" and "them" were drawn in blood.

See article by Dr. George A. Bournoutian (Iona College, USA): "Rewriting History: Recent Azeri Alterations of Primary Sources Dealing with Karabakh"  >>

All in all, Azeri leaders try to assemble Azerbaijani nationalist mythology from the pieces of historical heritage of Azerbaijan's neighbors and indigenous minority groups, unraveling the fabric of their civilizations in the process. Azeri nationalists make full use of the fact that while plagiarism, identity theft and false personation are viewed as criminal offences in the realm of domestic affairs, they are not codified as such within the parameters of the international law.

Put together in the last 30 years, the Azeri nationalist myth of origin runs as a patchwork of pseudo-scientific narratives, having little to do either with real historical facts, let alone plain common sense. The problem is that this eclectic collection of self-laudatory fables affects the attitude of the Azeri public toward the outside world and continues to translate into the aggressive foreign policy of Azerbaijan, providing it with the rationale of territorial revisionism and expansionism.


[1] By his own admission, the pogrom in the Armenian-populated town of Banantz (Bayan) in Azerbaijan’s northwestern Dashkesan region in 1969 was masterminded by Heydar Aliyev, the incumbent President of Azerbaijan and, at the time, the chief of Azerbaijan's KGB. After the pogrom, 140 Armenian families fled the town to Armenia to avoid further persecution. Banantz's entire Armenian population was deported from the town in November 1989. See Aliyev's recollections about the Banantz pogrom in his interview to Azerbaijan's "Bakinskiy Rabochiy" newspaper published on 12 November 1999 (in Russian).

 

The historical Armenian town of Banantz

(Bayan) in Azerbaijan's north-west.

 

Azerbaijan's authorities did not dare

to embark on explicit ethnic cleansing

of the Armenians of Azerbaijan

while the USSR was in place. Instead,

Baku authorities tried to destroy those

artifacts of Armenian cultural heritage

("cultural cleansing") which might remind

observers about the Armenian historical

background of Azerbaijan's west. 

 

On 26-27 July 1969, the town of Banantz

became a venue of mass demolition

of Armenian architectural monuments

by Azerbaijani KGB agents. By his own

admission, the pogrom in Banantz was

masterminded by Heydar Aliyev, the

late President of Azerbaijan. In 1969,

Aliyev was Azerbaijan's KGB chief.

 

See footnote No. 1 for description.

 

[2] The sovietization of Azerbaijan placed a heavy burden on other ethnic groups as well, which involuntarily found themselves subject to Baku. Because of the open policy of forced assimilation, national minorities living in Azerbaijan, including Kurds, Tats, Udins, Talishes, Lezgins and others, almost disappeared. One such example is that of a Farsi-speaking national minority, the Talishes. In 1926, there were about 90,000 Talishes in Azerbaijan. However, according to the 1977 census, no Talishes were mentioned at all. (See, S. Bruk. The World Population, Moscow, 1986, in Russian.).

[3] See, "Azerbaijan, history of ..." in Encyclopaedia Britannica, online edition, http://www.eb.com. Strictly speaking, "History of Azerbaijan" is an oxymoronic phrase. It is as difficult to compose a continuous history of proto-Azeri Turkic tribesmen as it is difficult to clearly delineate the historical timeline of Namibia's Bushmen, Iran's Lurs, or Canada's Eskimos. The expressions like "History of Azerbaijan" can be viewed as meaningful concepts only as shortcuts for perhaps more scholarly accurate but awkwardly looking phrases like:

History-of-the-lands-that-were-in-the-20th-century-assembled-

-into-what-is-now-the-Republic-of-Azerbaijan.

Early Soviet terminology identified contemporary Azeris as “Turks” or, phonetically more precisely, as "Tyurks." On the change of ethnic name of Southeastern Caucasus's Turkic tribes into "Azeris," see Azerbaijani historian Suleyman Aliyarov’s comments in “Our Query,” Azärbayjan (Baku), no. 7, 1988, p. 176. In fact, the 1937 name-change was only the last move in a lengthy debate that emerged in the late nineteenth century over how to name the Azeris. For a brief discussion, see E. M. Akhmedov, Filosofia azerbaidzhanskogo prosveshcheniia (The Philosophy of Azerbaijani Enlightenment. Baku: Azamashr, 1983, in Russian).

[4] Signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 between the newly established revolutionary Bolshevik regime in Russia and the Central Powers during World War I brought about the collapse of Russia's Caucasus Front. Unconstrained, the Ottoman armies marched towards Baku, ultimately seizing it and setting up a puppet state which they decided to call "Azerbaijan," an entity intended to become an Ottoman foothold in the Caucasus.

[5] See two seminal texts that discuss the modernization theory of nationalism: 1) Ernest Gellner. Nations and Nationalism, London: Basic Books, 1996; 2) Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities. London and New York: Verso, 1983.

[5'] During the decades preceding the World War I, the Ottoman Empire had lost most of its European possessions in the Balkans where ethnic Turks had always been a numerical minority even though dominant in relative power and political status. These losses, which constituted a heavy blow to the Turkish pride, prompted the ideologues within the Ittihad Ve Terakki Jemieti party (Committee of Union and Progress) such as Zia Gök Alp and Tekin Alp, to promote the twin ideology of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Turanism. The former meant transforming the multi-ethnic Ottoman state into one with a homogeneous Turkish population. The latter, on the other hand, meant expanding the dominion of the Empire to take-in the Turkic peoples of Central Asia and Azerbaijan, then under Russian rule (From, Vartkes S. Dolabjian. Yesterday's Truth, Tomorrow's Justice. Horizon-Online, 27 April 1998).

 

A landscape in the Eastern Caspian.

The picture recreates an image of

the journey that brought proto-Azeri

Turkic nomads from their  homeland

in Central Asia to the Caucasus.

Click on picture to enlarge

 

[6] Activities aimed at "revealing (read: manufacturing — aut.) Azerbaijan's past, adequate to its glorious present days," as stated the official documents of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, were coordinated in Azerbaijan by Dr. Ziya M. Buniyatov, a controversial historian-orientalist, and later, a vice-president of Azerbaijani Academy of Arts and Sciences. Buniyatov rose to notoriety by almost overnight "converting" a number of well-known Persian medieval authors, e.g. Nizami and Khagani, into "Azeri authors," and removing unwanted passages from those republished historical texts on the Transcaucasus, which testified about the pre-Turkic past of Azerbaijan. Those books that were difficult to republish with alterations were removed from public libraries and hidden in the dungeons (called "spezkhrans") of Azerbaijani KGB. Thus, an entire generation of Azeris was deprived from an opportunity to know its own history.

Although elevated to the highest position in Azerbaijan's Academy of Arts and Sciences by the Communist leaders of Azerbaijan, Buniyatov quickly became a pariah among the historians of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Buniyatov's name gave birth to the derogatory term "buniyatovchsina" (in Russian), coined in late 1970s and used in Soviet scholarly circles as a shorthand description for pseudo-academic activities aimed at fabricating historical records and stealing pieces of historical heritage from other cultures.

While Dr. Buniyatov was busy fabricating the Caucasus' history, his son, Valeri Buniyatov, became an Azerbaijani paramilitary leader responsible for sanctioning several hefty war crimes perpetrated against the ethnic Armenian residents of Azerbaijan. Buniyatov "the Theorist" Sr. and Buniyatov "the Butcher" Jr. worked hand in hand toward the marginalization and, eventually, physical destruction of non-Turkic ethnic groups of Azerbaijan.

His academic activities Dr. Buniyatov conveniently coupled with the position of a top advisor to the pro-government Nakhichevan clan of Azerbaijani mafia. Embroiled in inter-clan intrigues, Buniyatov has quickly come into a conflict with Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense, largely controlled by the rival Ganja mafia clan, and was assassinated by a contract killer in February 1997 in his apartment in Baku.

"... While the profoundness of Azeri practice to fiddle their way into nationhood continues shocking overseas observers dealing with Azerbaijan, insights into the chronology of Azeri nationalist evolution explain the spectacular ability of Azeris to prevaricate and forge facts about the events of the past and present  ... "

[7] See, Yo'av Karny. Highlanders: a Journey to the Caucasus in Quest of Memory. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2000, Part IV: "The Ghosts of Caucasian Albania," pp. 371-404.

The technology of Azeri cultural plagiarism and identity theft is best illustrated with the case of a medieval Persian lyricist Nizami Ganjavi (Elyas Yusof Nezami, 1141-1209), the author of celebrated poems Khosrov and Shirin and Leila and Majnoun. Nizami was born of an ethnic Persian father and an ethnic Kurdish mother and spent his life in the Armenian-founded city of Gandzak, which Persians call Ganja; hence Nizami's pseudonym as "Ganjavi."

Nizami wrote all of his works in Persian. However, as long as the city of Ganja was placed under the administrative subordination of the Azerbaijani Republic in the course of early Bolshevik manipulations, Nizami was conveniently proclaimed a "medieval Azeri poet" by the Department of Culture of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, despite the fact that neither ethnically, nor linguistically, Nizami had any affiliation to the Turkic Azeris of today's "Azerbaijan." The irony is that Nizami had completed all his major works at the time when the majority of Oguz Turkic migrant nomads —  predecessors of contemporary Azeris — were barely en-route to the Caucasus from their homeland in Central Asia, located hundreds of miles away to the east of today's "Azerbaijan." (See article "Nezami" in Encyclopaedia Britannica >> ).

 

Fabricating history Azeri-style:

being unable to directly claim

thousands of medieval Armenian

Christian monuments of Azerbaijan

to "belong" to the culture of Muslim

Azeris, Azeri nationalists invented

a circuitous way to fool the public.

 

Picture: the dome of an ancient

Armenian church in Northern

Azerbaijan, near the Armenian

town of Gish, attributed by Azeri

historians to belong to the

culture of semi-mythical and

long-extinct "Caucasian

Aluanians." Not surprising,

"Caucasian Aluanians" are

then arbitrarily declared as the

"ancestor of modern Azeris." 

 

[8] For a more detailed account of the early controversies of Turkish efforts to "indigenousize" their history see: Dogu Ergil, "Identity crises and political instability in Turkey," Journal of International Affairs, New York, Fall 2000, Volume 54, Issue 1. In particular, Dr. Ergil, who is a Professor of Political Sociology at Ankara University, writes:

" ... The search for, and consolidation of, a new national identity were carried to such extremes in the 1930s that theories like the Sun Theory of Languages were concocted. According to this "theory," all languages emerged out of Turkish. As a reminder of those days, the presidential banner consists of a sun representing the Turkish Republic encircled by 16 stars, symbolizing the Turkish states that were presumably created by Turks throughout history. This fabricated glorious past was a panacea for Turkish pride wounded by the loss of empire and reincarnated as a poor, backward society that was occupied during the First World War ... "

Whatever is difficult to plagiarize, Turkish state nationalism tends to disregard or deny. Dr. Etienne Copeaux, a regional expert at France's Group for Research and Studies on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Affairs (GREMMO), points to the state-controlled educational system that ignores the multicultural history of Asia Minor:

"This official version of history [in Turkey] is constructed in such a way that it seems there is a continuum in the history of the Turks. In the history of the Turks, not in the history of the land, not in the history of Anatolia. The history of Anatolia, a land that has known several empires, several cultures including Armenian and Greek cultures is totally ignored. As a result, a Turkish child, a Turkish citizen, who receives a normal education does not know that civilizations other than his own have existed on the land where he lives." (See, RFE/RL article by Jean-Christophe Peuch. "Turkey: Uproar Over Genocide Reflects Need to Reconcile with Past." Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Prague, 9 February 2001).

See also, U. C. Sakallioglu. "Kemalism, Hypernationalism and Islam in Turkey," History of European Ideas, 1994, Volume 18, pp. 255-270.

[9] Perhaps, the most detestable fraud created by the Azerbaijani propagandists in recent years is the hoax of so-called Khojally (Xojalli) Massacre. In late February 1992, when Armenian self-defense units had to disarm the Azeri military base in the town of Khojally in central Karabakh, gunmen of the ultranationlist Popular Front of Azerbaijan (PFAP) slaughtered some 100 Azeri civilians who were fleeing the embattled town through a land corridor left for them by the Karabakhi Armenian forces.

Later, the PFAP gunmen mutilated the bodies of the dead Azeris and mixed them with the killed-in-advance Armenian hostages, which were taken prisoners by them a month earlier. Because the Armenian forces did not want to harm Khojally civilians, they issued an advance warning of the attack, requesting the Azeris to allow any civilians to evacuate. This has been independently corroborated by Russians observers and by the testimonies of Azeri survivors of the attack.

 

Picture: Ruins of Sourb Astvatzatzin

(St. Mary) Armenian church, near

the demolished town of Arakel, in

Nagorno Karabakh. Sourb Astvatzatzin

was destroyed by Azerbaijani special

police (OPON), in the aftermath of the

deportation of Arakel's Armenian

population in spring of 1991. OPON

was staffed mainly by the members

of Azerbaijan's "Grey Wolves"

neo-fascist organization.

- Hadrut region, Nagorno Karabakh -

Photo by Boris Baratov

 

Despite the obvious fact that the Armenian units by no means had any access to and never controlled the territory where the massacre took place, as it was located deep in the Azeri rear, late Azeri agitators ridiculously accused Armenians in killing Khojally civilians, making a world-wide propaganda show out of this tragic event.

The exact reasons for why the PFAP's gunmen killed Khojally's Azeri civilians remain unclear to date. According to some experts, it happened by mistake (by friendly fire), while in the opinion of the Azeri former president Ayaz Mutalibov it was a deliberate attempt to defame his administration by his rivals from the PFAP. It is notable that after the events in Khojally Mutalibov was forced to resign. It is also important to note that Azeri operator Chingiz Mustafayev, who filmed the dead bodies and later launched an independent investigation on the Khojaly events, was killed in Azerbaijan under mysterious circumstances, reportedly by PFAP thugs.

At any rate, the Khojally slaughter highlights a key fact that Azeris are still a fragmented nation, parts of which continue maintaining strong regional identities, with tribal self-images sometimes prevailing over the identity as of "the Azeris." Under these circumstances, killing the representatives of a rival clan is not a totally unimaginable occurrence. (See interview with Ayaz Mutalibov in Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, 2 April 1992, in Russian).

[10] Commenting on the phenomenon of hypernationalism, American political scientist John J. Mearsheimer notes: "… hypernationalism, the belief that other nations or nation-states are both inferior and threatening, is perhaps the single greatest domestic threat to peace, although it is still not a leading force in world politics. … The problem is worsened when domestic elites demonize a rival nation to drum up support for national-security policy." See John J. Mearsheimer. "Why We Will Soon Miss The Cold War," The Atlantic Monthly, August 1990, Volume 266, No. 2, pages 35-50

 

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