July 23, 2008

Azerbaijan, Here I Come — UPDATED

So I just got invited to a week-long conference in the mysterious country of Azerbaijan in August.

I can't help but wonder how many people even know where it is. (It's between Iran and Russia, and around a fourth of Iranians are ethnic Azeris. One Iranian province is actually called Western Azerbaijan. The former name of the country was the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.)

It should be damned interesting. I'll publish at least one article from there before I return to Iraq, and more than one article if it's interesting enough.

Tell me: what would you like to know about this place?

UPDATE: A reader asked what this conference is all about. It is being hosted by the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, and it is called "Views from America 2008." There will be panel discussions on at least four topics: Elections in the U.S., pop culture's impact on the American image, the role of the Internet in politics, and the future of secularism and moderation in Islam.

The conference will last one day, but I'll be in country for a week. Meetings are being arranged with senior government officials including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, religious leaders, business executives, and think tank professionals.

So if you could talk to these people, what would you ask them? I can think of my own questions, of course, but you're my readers and some of you dontate money to my account, so I want to know what you want to read about.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 23, 2008 4:15 PM
Comments
Whether political meetings of opposition parties are allowed yet.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at July 23, 2008 4:56 pm
Whether their military is preparing to retake Nagorno-Karabagh and what their potential plans are for a trans-caspian pipeline.
Posted by: Joshua Foust at July 23, 2008 6:14 pm
I would be interested in whether there is a growth in Wahhabism, like I've read in other places and if so, how that happened in a country that is at least nominally majority Shiite. I guess it would be also interesting to know the perspective on Iran and how Azeris are treated there.
It would be interesting to know how ordinary Azeris perceive Armenians.
Also, it would be interesting to know if the goverment was moving in a democratic direction and if the Haidar Aliyev posters and statues are as prevalent as they used to be.
Posted by: ar at July 23, 2008 6:25 pm
What the stated purpose of the conference? Also, I'd be interested in knowing the state of the relations with Georgia, Armenia, and Iran?
Is there any association with the Kurds of Iraq or Turkey.
I also recall that there is a a slither of the country separated by Armenia. What is the association with that separated piece of the country?
Posted by: BHRC at July 23, 2008 6:35 pm
The great Azerbaijani novel, a Christian-Muslim romance called "Ali and Nino," was supposedly written, under the name Kurban Said, by a Jewish convert to Islam called Lev Nussimbaum, who became a best-seller under the name Essad Bey. As Tom Reiss told it in "The Orientalist," the whole story is 5 miles beyond weird. Wonder if anybody has a take on it there.
Posted by: greeneyeshade at July 23, 2008 7:33 pm
I know where Azerbaijan is located, but I'm a stinkin' smart librul. ;)
Posted by: The Good Democrat at July 23, 2008 8:18 pm
i'd also like to hear the perspectives of ordinary azeris on karabagh.
do they feel all this bloodshed is worth it, for a piece of land that isn't historically theirs and whose population doesn't want anything to do with azerbaijan?
from what i've heard the azeri govt is preparing to relaunch military operations against karabagh soon. do azeris see any way this can possibly end well for them?
Posted by: cfw at July 23, 2008 11:43 pm
I would like to have at least an attempted understanding of the range of opinions they have towards Americans and American foreign policy based on what they have observed in the region.
Posted by: jhunt at July 24, 2008 9:01 am
The last thing I remember hearing about Azerbaijan was Putin's offer for the US missile defense shield to have its radar based there instead of Poland/Czech Republic. That seemed to suggest to me that Russia (still) dominates that country so I would like to know how prevalent Russian influence is and if there are any local feelings regarding that influence.
Posted by: majestic at July 24, 2008 9:07 am
I'd ask them what future they see for young people in Azerbaijan: is it one of reconquest, or one of peaceful development? Who do they see as a model? Where do they go to college?
Furthermore, I'd like to meet some of the veterans of the N-K conflict and find out what they did then and what they are doing now.
Posted by: Solomon2 at July 24, 2008 12:18 pm
I would also be interested in the impact of Russia's "resergence" (Putin) on Azerbaijan.
Second, what effect has the oil and natural gas found in the Caspian Sea had on the economy in general, and on the "common people" in pariticular?
Lastly, I would ask them what influence, if any, an elected Shi'ite government in Baghdad is having on politics in Azerbaijan.
Posted by: cas6039 at July 24, 2008 1:34 pm
Please ask about private ownership of housing, and house building, and real estate prices.
Also if there are mortgages available.
What is the average wage, the average wage of a politician?
(Wages to house prices are important.)
Any big investors NOT in energy?
What is their most beautiful city? Lake? Mountain? Is there winter skiing ?
What do normal Azeris think would make the most attractive places / things to make photos of? (And can you take some fotos.)
Some history of their language would be good.
Who are their heroes?
Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at July 25, 2008 6:12 am
Mud Volcanoes. It is all about the mud volcanoes. If you go to Azerbaijan and fail to report about the mud volcanoes, you might as well turn in your copy of Firefly.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mud_volcano
Seriously, they have mud formations over 200 meters tall! If you can get a group of locals to sing "The Man they Call Jane." for a YouTube video at the mud volcano, you will be as a god. (At least to the Whedonverse junkies.)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaynestown
http://www.fireflywiki.org/106.html
Oh and you might ask them about what can be done to improve relations with the Kurds.
Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at July 25, 2008 8:53 am
That's fantastic, Patrick. In fact, wasn't Jayne just an Azerbaijani who knew a little Chinese?
I'm not sure what I'd ask, especially if you're talking to official state representatives or are being "handled" by the same. It's not North Korea or anything, but the country certainly isn't a shining beacon of a liberal democracy, either.
I guess personally, the thing that interests me most with Azerbaijan (and a whole host of other ex-Soviet countries like it) is how their transition is -- or isn't -- going from a Soviet republic to something more able to integrate with the 21st century world: economically, politically, socially, etc.
Posted by: jasonholliston at July 28, 2008 11:04 am
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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