Chingiz Abdullayev: "When Karabakh events began, people went to writers, hoping they can give some advice"
The People's Writer, secretary of the Azerbaijani Writers' Union, President of the Azerbaijani PEN Centre Chingiz Abdullayev, told the correspondent of Vestnik Kavkaza about the artistic intelligentsia's problems.
- What attention does the Azerbaijani leadership pay to the artistic intelligentsia?
- Not only the president, but also the first vice-president, pay great attention to artistic unions. The Union of Writers introduced special presidential scholarships, which are annually granted to 70 writers so they can create their works. In addition, special presidential scholarships are also granted to young people.
Azerbaijan is the only country in the world where literary magazines and newspapers receive public funding. This system was introduced by our national leader Heydar Aliyev. This is evidence of the state's concern for its literature, its future and young talented children.
Our PEN Club is the organization independent from the state, but we are provided with substantial assistance as well. We create a unique system in which writers can post their works in Russian and Azerbaijani languages on the Internet and get paid for it. Anyone who reads their works will make a certain payment to the account of this organization, which, in turn, will pay the writers. It's really great. We would also like to use English, in addition to Russian language, in this system, because a lot of people in the world use it. Hundreds of millions people can read in Russian, but in English - billions. Among these billions, there may be five, ten, twenty thousand readers who want to read the books of our writers.
- How much is Russian literature in demand in Azerbaijan?
- A lot of people read it. Many books are brought to our stores from Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities. We still have the journal Literary Azerbaijan and the newspaper Mir Literatury in Russian. Ironically, after gaining independence, the number of young writers and poets writing in Russian has started to grow. This paradox is understandable, because before the whole Soviet Union could read them, and now it is more difficult. In addition, there is the Internet, where you can find about 700 million books in Russian. What book should you write in Russian or Azerbaijani, and translate it into Russian, so that someone in the world would like to read it?! Not Tolstoy, not Chekhov, not Dostoevsky, but you. If you do not create your original text, then no one will read you. Nevertheless, many people write books, including in Russian.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Azerbaijani Writers' Union, Anar, has always written in Azerbaijani. (I translated one of his books into Russian, although after that I swore to never translate again, because it is easier to write five new books than translate one - because a translator should pick up the words that strictly follow the author). Anar wrote his last his novel 'Night Thoughts' in Russian, which he knows as good as I do, having received three higher educations in Russian.
Azerbaijan is the only country in the world, which president studied in Russian at MGIMO and taught future diplomats in this language, some of whom even became ministers and ambassadors. So we have no problems with the Russian language.
- How do you maintain humanitarian contacts with other countries?
- We have excellent relations not only with Russia, but also with Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Central Asia, the Baltic countries. The former Soviet Union was torn apart, but humanitarian ties were not lost. We are linked by common historical experiences of the past several centuries, as well as the Russian language. When a Ukrainian, Moldovan, Kazakh, Azerbaijani and Georgian meet, it is the Russian language that helps them understand each other.
Our big delegation will arrive in Ankara to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the chairman of the Azerbaijani Writers' Union, Anar, through the International Organization of Turkic Culture (TURKSOY).
- A poet in Russia is more than a poet. What about writers in Azerbaijan?
- I've been in 79 countries, even in besieged Baghdad under Saddam Hussein, I visited Singapore, South Africa and South America, and I know that Baku is the only city in the world which have so many monuments of poets and writers. Their number exceeds the number of monuments to the rulers, padishahs and sultans. We have a Nizami Mausoleum, that is thousands of years old. Fizuli is buried near the Imam Hussein Mosque, which is a holy place for the Shiites. Writers used to be thought leaders. People still create their worlds, but the situation has changed a lot. They're not thought leaders anymore. And not only in Azerbaijan, but in the entire former Soviet Union.
In 1917, they announced that there was no God, and literature replaced religion. And in 1991 they announced that there was no conscience either. It turned out that there is no conscience, there is no religion, and there is no God. Like Dostoevsky said: "If there is no God, what kind of captain am I?". When everything broke up, there were no moral authorities left. But Hemingway said that a writer should have the conception of a conscience "as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris."
I knew people who were symbols of courage, symbols of absolute decency in the Soviet era - they were not afraid of threats, were not afraid of reprisals. But after 1991, some of them radically changed - they were broken by bloody power of money. What the Soviet authorities and censorship failed to do, was made by the power of money. People broke down, adjust to new realities and cut corners. Once decent people laid aside their relatives and friends.
Unfortunately, such deference is now paid to writers neither in Russia, nor in Azerbaijan, nor in Georgia. But at the same time, a writer's word still matters and causes the respectful attitude that has always been in the East. When the Karabakh events began and bloody clashes broke out between the two peoples, people gathered and went to the houses of writers. They did not go to the Party Central Committee, or the district committee, they went to writers and poets, hoping they can give them some advice. That's how it was. That is, deference still exists. I hope that it will continue that way.