Leila Aliyeva: Azerbaijan could become a bridge between civilizations

Leila Aliyeva.jpg

Q: Hello. We are joined today by Leila Aliyeva, head of the Russian office of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and editor-in-chief of Baku magazine. Good afternoon, Leila.

A: Hello.
Q: Thank you very much for joining us today. I know you’ve had a busy schedule these past few days. Could you tell our listeners what you’ve been doing?

A: Last week we held the second conference of the Azerbaijani Youth Organization of Russia, which is now in its second year. Five hundred young people attended, many of them from Russian regions, not just Moscow. Our organization has more than 60 chapters now. Young people are playing an active role in Moscow and other regions around Russia. The foundation’s mission is to promote Azerbaijani culture, familiarize people with our history, support our compatriots living in Russia, and help young Azerbaijanis get an education and integrate.

We are working on many cultural and social projects. Our young people volunteer to help children in children’s homes and hospitals. I’d like to mention one project in particular. It’s called “Blood Has No Nationality,” and it involves young Azerbaijanis donating blood for sick children. This project was intended to highlight that young Azerbaijanis and Russians have the same values.

The Azerbaijani Youth Organization of Russia (AYOR) is involved in other projects, for example the important international campaign, “Justice for Khojaly.” The yearlong campaign included over 70 events intended to raise awareness of the February 1992 tragedy in Azerbaijan around the world.
The campaign ended with a conference in Moscow’s President Hotel in February 2010, where the results of the campaign were discussed.

AYOR members took part in these events in a number of Russian cities. Our purpose was to let the whole world know the truth about the massacre in this Azerbaijani village in 1992. Khojaly is a wound in Azerbaijan, and we want to tell people the truth about what happened. We want to be heard.

Another focus is sports. In May 2009, we organized a futsal tournament between Azerbaijani teams. Sixteen teams took part then. This year there are 24 teams. Our young people are very active and they support all our initiatives. I find it very easy to work with them. That’s what I have to say about AYOR.

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Now, regarding the Heydar Aliyev Foundation – this non-profit organization has been operating in Russia through a local office for three years. Russia was the first country where the foundation opened an office. We are always hosting cultural and charity events, such as photo exhibitions, concerts, and book receptions. The foundation’s primary mission is to promote Azerbaijan’s rich cultural and historic heritage.

Education is also very important. The foundation has built over 300 schools in Azerbaijan, which meet the highest standards in education. They have modern technology, gyms and recreational facilities for the children. Outside of Azerbaijan, the foundation has built a girls’ school in Pakistan and a comprehensive school in Georgia. We also plan to open a school in Moscow, which will include a cultural component. It will provide Azerbaijani children living in Moscow with an opportunity to study their native language and to learn about Azerbaijani history, culture, customs and traditions.

There is one such school in Moscow now, No. 157 in northern Moscow. But as you know, Moscow is a very big city, and a lot of Azerbaijani children live here. I would like more of our young compatriots to be able to study their native tongue.

I am also the editor-in-chief of Baku magazine, which has been around for three years now. The magazine was founded to inform Russian readers about Azerbaijan. The project has turned out exactly as I’d planned. I wanted it to be unique, different from anything else out there – a professional-looking magazine about Azerbaijan. Nothing like that has ever been published in Russia.

Everything has gone smoothly, for the most part. The magazine found an audience, and we print 45,000 copies now. There are subscribers in Russia and in other countries. Perhaps it would be a good idea to put out an English version in the future.
Q: You just answered my next question. You still have a lot of work to do here in Russia, because it is impossible to fit everything there is to say about Azerbaijan, with its centuries-old culture, into just one issue. I wonder how they see Azerbaijan abroad. You travel abroad often, and you went to school there. What do the English and Americans think about your country? And if one were to ask you to describe Azerbaijan in one word, what would you say?

A: There is greater awareness of my country now in both America and Europe. This is certainly a good sign; it means there is growing interest in my country and that people are seeking out information about it on their own. It is hard to describe Azerbaijan in one word. A European might see Azerbaijan as a bridge between civilizations and a model of tolerance. Personally, I believe Azerbaijan is a unique country. Everything is unique there, including the people, the landscape and the climate. Nine of the 11 climate zones are found there. I could talk for hours about Azerbaijani painters, poets, writers and the mugham musical tradition. And you can’t talk about Azerbaijan without mentioning its cuisine. If you ask Russians about Azerbaijan, the first thing that would come to their mind would probably be Azerbaijani food. Many would agree that we have some of the best food in the world.
Q: Azerbaijani restaurants are very popular in Moscow now.

A: I think they’ll soon outnumber Italian restaurants. Personally, I would like Europeans to know more about Azerbaijan. I know that they are interested, but there are not enough events to raise awareness. In February, we organized a photo exhibition called “Baku with Love.” It was a collection of works by Gueorgui Pinkhassov, a very gifted photographer who has created a series of images of Baku for our magazine. We displayed them in Moscow’s Manege, and then took the exhibition to London. It generated a lot of interest. I think we should hold more events like this.
Q: And you should always bring along the drummers. I went to the exhibition. I remember it was getting late and people were starting to leave, but then suddenly this ensemble of drummers started to play and everybody stayed.

A: Yes! In London, people would stay until midnight. It’s great. That’s what’s important. It’s easy to tell if people like what you’re doing, or if they just dropped in on their way by. If people stick around, it means they like what you’re doing.
Q: Leila, how do you balance your busy public life and your family life? I know you have two children, and you must be a good wife too.

A: To tell you the truth, it’s not easy. I travel a lot, but I am determined to bring them with me wherever I go. They are always with me, even when I go away for five days or a week. I want to give them enough attention; I think it is really important. But the most important thing is to believe that everything will work out, everything will be OK. For some reason, no matter what I do I’m always confident that things will work out and go well. It is important for everyone. If you believe, you will find a way to succeed.
Q: You say you will always bring the kids along. But eventually you’ll have to spend some time apart from them. You were educated abroad, and you probably have similar plans for your children. Have you and your husband discussed that?

A: Not yet, they are too young. They are only 18 months old.
Q: But time flies.

A: Yes, it does. But you never know where you’ll end up. When I went to school in London, I never imagined that I would ever live in Moscow. But here I am, living in Moscow since I got married. In fact, I was born in Moscow and spent the first seven years of my life here. I don’t know about the kids yet. Emin, my husband, was educated in America, so maybe he would want to send them to the states. I went to school in London, so I might prefer a British education for them. But there is also Moscow, Baku, and other options.
Q: You said the most important thing is to believe, and then everything will work out. And I see that this philosophy works, at least for you. You have achieved a lot in life academically, professionally and personally, which is no less important than a career. But is there anything else? I have the impression that you are the kind of person who always needs new challenges and obstacles to overcome. You might even invent problems for yourself just to prove to yourself that you can solve them. Is there anything else you want? To learn how to snowboard, skydive, play the piano?

A: Of course there is. There are other things I would like to learn. I don’t think there is a single person out there who would say that he or she has achieved everything they wanted and has nothing else to work for. All people, regardless of their age or circumstances, must have something they would still like to know or do. I would like to learn French and Italian. I took Spanish when I was in London, and then lived in Spain for a year. I think knowing lots of languages gives you a huge advantage. I want my children to speak many languages too. It would be great to skydive, but now that I have children, I don’t think I’d risk it.
Q: Ah yes, you can forget about these kinds of things now.

A: It still might be possible. I also want to do more in my job. I have a lot of projects and ideas. I might not have time for everything, but again, if I strongly believe that I can do it, I could eventually accomplish a lot of what I’m planning now.
Q: Well, let’s wait and see. Then you can come and tell us about it.

A: I will, thank you.

Q: Thank you very much.
RIA Novosti