Monday, October 30, 2006

Beauties salute Azerbaijan

I did my best to promote cultural ties between Canada and Azerbaijan. Thanks to the wonderful people at the Miss Exotika pageant who modeled here in an effort promote ties between two great countries.

Friday, October 27, 2006

New Azerbaijan Tourism Video

I have been told that this new Azerbaijan tourism video will be played on CNN. I find it pretty good, although I only wish there were a few more shots of Baku, ie: Fountain Square, the Maiden Tower and Shirvanshah's Palace, but then I'm a city boy. Take a peek, it's pretty good.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hands off my car!

The reality TV show craze has hit Azerbaijan hard and it could be ruining the country's work ethic. For some unknown reason the Mashin Show (translated: The Car) runs for an hour every night starting at 1 a.m. but it has no shortage of viewers and audience members, leading much of the country's exhausted workforce to spend their days discussing the program at the water cooler. Host Murad Dadashov watches over 13 young people - including some celebrities - among which is the irrepressible Roya. The rules are simple. You have to keep their hands on a car all day long. They return to a hotel at night and start anew in the morning. No bathroom breaks, nothing. Every episode one person gets voted off. The winner gets to keep the Nissan Sunny, worth about $15 k. Our fave, Roya managed to to make it to the final three before simply tossing it in, she said matter of factly, "I miss home. I have a car, so I'm leaving." Roya seemed relatively sane but the producers had to bleep out a lot of her cusswords and her sudden voluntary departure was seen as unfair to those who had tried to stay on, including rising star Ilhama Guliyeva.

The final two contestants were a comedian named Joshgun from Sumgait and a TV host named Turan. We were hoping Joshgun will walk away with the keys. But alas Turan won. Happy motoring big guy!

The same producers already have produced two seasons of another reality show called Gafas, ie: The Cage in which a dozen contestants between 18 and 30 live in a house together and the winner bags 50 million manat (about $11,000 US). There was a lot of people screaming at each other, so it was not as good as Mashin. Roya hosted the first season, but she was away in Turkey for the second, so it wasn't as good. They're hoping to make a third season but it's still not sure whether it'll be back.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More Steph Ly

Here's a little more Stephanie Ly for you because ...well...when was the last time you saw a supermodel in a Baku T-shirt?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Superstar Stephanie Ly's Baku T-shirt

Canadian supermodel Stephanie Ly visited Montreal over the weekend and I dropped by to meet her with my excellent brother JD who snapped some fantastic photo snaps.

We took a shine to Steph
for a whole bunch of reasons 1-She's one of the sweetest, most level-headed people you'll ever meet. 2-She completed studies as an accountant and has a sharp mind and an excellent profession. 3-She has deftly managed a career that is exploding like Kim Il's nuclear hobby, her website is huge and she's got 70,000 friends (ask her for an add). Steph tells us that she's planning on possibly getting into television and we'd love to see her on our TVs.

Steph is not going to be marching the streets of Azerbaijan quite yet...her schedule is jammed for the next little while, but she's keen on one day visiting the legendary and mysterious Maiden Tower, leafy Fountain Square, the hilly, twisting streets of Old Baku as well as some of the famous mountain towns and Caspian seasides of Azerbaijan, which all combine to make Azerbaijan the most mysterious and captivating adventure for travellers anywhere. Until she can visit in person, Steph sends her love and greetings to Azeris everywhere.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Azeris in Iran

Nice article published here today in Montreal about Saleh Ildirim, an Azeri TV host on Gunaz TV. Good work by the writer, if I do say so myself.

Agitator on the airwaves

A Montrealer is one of Iran's most controversial figures, inspiring protests from afar

Published: Sunday, October 15, 2006

In downtown Montreal, there lives a refugee who has sewn leather, driven cabs and managed restaurants since fleeing Iran in 1985. But no employment prepared Saleh Ildirim for his current vocation as one of Iran's most controversial TV personalities.

Appearing on Gunaz TV, Ildirim pushes for the rights of Iran's Azeri population to be allowed to study in the Azeri language and to enjoy an open Azeri media. Ultimately, he wants Azeri independence.

In May, he helped organize a series of political demonstrations that saw thousands of Azeris take to the streets in Iran to protest against the Tehran regime. Anywhere from zero to 50 protesters were killed, depending on whether you believe Iranian authorities or Azeri nationalists. Many others were imprisoned or injured.

And Ildirim played a key role in the events - from a comfortable television studio in Chicago.

That's where the nationalistic Gunaz TV is based, entering Iranian homes on a European satellite uplink that the government in Tehran is powerless to block. Ildirim, 47, travels to Chicago for a few days at a time, where he'll sit broadcasting for hours. He also participates by phone from Montreal.

Ildirim, a wiry, clean-shaven atheist who talks in the staccato speech common in northwest Iran, admits to some misgivings about leading ethnic unrest from afar.

"It's hard. I feel pressure. My friends are dying over there and I'm just talking."

He said he recently found himself listed on a website of people targeted for assassination by Hezbollah's military wing.

"All this gives me more responsibility and it makes me more dedicated. But everything has a price and I'm ready to pay."

Ildirim said he would give up his life for the cause. "If I went to Iran, I would be executed on the first day," he said. "But if my political party asks me to go, I will go."

His plan is to return during an Azeri revolution. "Until then, I will go into Iran every day but through the TV."

At least one in four Iranians is an Azeri. The community numbers between 17 million and 30 million. Azeris share the Shiite Muslim faith with the predominant Persians, but speak a language similar to Turkish, identical to that spoken in the neighbouring republic of Azerbaijan.

As a youth, Ildirim fought for the overthrow of the shah, but renounced the Islamic revolution when the new regime refused to grant more autonomy to the Azeri north. When his opposition forced him into hiding, his penniless mother pawned her jewellery to buy him a counterfeit passport. Ildirim travelled to Turkey, where he was recognized as a UN refugee.

Ildirim has never returned to Iran, neither to attend his parents' funeral, nor that of his two younger brothers who died under mysterious circumstances in the 1990s.

He said Iranian police have recently been provided DVDs of his Gunaz TV appearances. "They are looking for me. I can't even approach Iran. Even here in Montreal, I have no security."

Ildirim dreams of Iran's northernmost eight provinces gaining independence or joining with Azerbaijan, a secular, oil-rich democracy of 8 million with close ties to the West. He is a spokesperson for the South Azerbaijan Independence Party.
"We've seen Vietnam reunite and Germany reunite. Now it's time for North and South Azerbaijan to reunite as well," he said.

Gunaz TV was launched in Chicago by fellow Azeri Iranian Ahmad Obali in April 2005. Iran allows no Azeri-language television, but any Azeri there with a satellite dish can hear Gunaz's political and cultural programming 24 hours a day.

"We have no way of knowing how many are watching Gunaz, but every home in northern Iran with a dish can watch it," Ildirim said. "And just about everybody there has one."

Telephone calls to the station from within Iran are blocked, so those calling the many Gunaz TV call-in shows must first dial a number in Europe, which then forwards calls to the station in Chicago.

On May 7, Ildirim and Gunaz TV decided to organize a rare demonstration critical of the Iranian government, a regime that does not smile on public protests.

The protest was set for May 22 at the Tabriz Bazaar, where the justice minister of a short-lived Tabriz-based independent Azeri government was hanged 60 years earlier.

Ildirim appeared on Gunaz TV for up to six hours at a time, urging Azeris to attend the protest and chant slogans such as: "Azerbaijan is awake and assuming its identity," "Hooray, hooray, we are Turks" and "Free the Azeri national prisoners."

Events took an unexpected turn on May 12, when a political cartoon appeared in the government-run newspaper Iran, portraying a cockroach repeating the word "namana?" - which means "what?" in Azeri. The cartoon seemed proof of the anti-Azeri prejudice that Ildirim decried. Gunaz hosts discussed the outrage relentlessly.

"Originally, we thought we might get a few thousand people at our protest. We were targeting ethnic activists, but then the cartoon gave us a boost," Ildirim said. "By May 20, I was predicting we'd have hundreds of thousands in the streets. I was criticized by others for raising unrealistic expectations."

But he was right. On May 22, the streets of Tabriz filled with protesters, many chanting Ildirim's slogans. Authorities eventually ended the protest, but not before it became big news around the world.

Gunaz TV also helped plan and promote a dozen other popular protests around that time in Azeri-Iranian cities like Urumiyeh, Ardabil, Zanjan and Khvoy.

Ildirim even helped with tactics.

"We heard of protesters caught behind a police barricade, so we went on TV and said: 'Don't stay at home! They're taking your brothers and sisters to prison! Don't let the Persian chauvinists do this!' Soon others came out and broke down the barricades and rescued the protesters," Ildirim said.

If his fiery rhetoric might seem designed to incite ethnic resentment, it's a style Ildirim justifies as an attempt to counterbalance what he claims is a longstanding tradition of demeaning the Azeri community in mainstream Iranian culture.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blamed foreign meddling for the protest.

Station founder Obali, who operates from a studio above his Turkish restaurant in Chicago, said the comments were directed at his station. "They didn't even call them demonstrations, instead they called it foreign interference. Our station concentrates on minority ethnic issues and those issues are Tehran's biggest fear."

Obali, like Ildirim, dreams of returning to an independent South Azerbaijan, the homeland he fled 21 years ago after being imprisoned for promoting Azeri nationalism.

Not everyone, however, agrees with the Gunaz TV agenda. The Republic of Azerbaijan, for one, wants no part of the breakup of Iran.

Masoud Aliev, who heads the Association of Azerbaijanis of Quebec, endorses only part of Ildirim's agenda. "Azeris living in Iran should have all the right to education in their own language and to develop in their own culture," he said. "But the breakup of Iran would destabilize the entire region. It would lead to a humanitarian crisis, civil war and millions of refugees."

Some Iranian Azeris such as Potkin Azarmehr, a London-based blogger who writes about Iranian politics, actively oppose Azeri nationalism. "Azeris enjoy influence in Iran's economy and politics. The supreme leader of the Islamic Republic is an Azeri and Azeri merchants in Tabriz and Tehran are very wealthy and influential," he wrote in an email. "Okay, Azeri is not taught at schools, but nor is Spanish in American schools, and that is hardly good enough reason to secede."

Meanwhile, Ildirim keeps agitating for revolution via satellite.

He helped organize protests in four cities on Sept. 23, against the lack of Azeri-language education. He's hoping for a big turnout for protests on Dec. 12 marking the 61st anniversary of the fall of the Tabriz-based Azeri government.

"There's no way to know if it will be a success," Ildirim said. "But television is a very powerful thing."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Press release

I follow the news from Azerbaijan quite closely and enjoy the writing styles of those who put it online, but this one is so blunt it makes Hemingway look like Ellen Degneris. You'll note the absence of "allegedly" and other such terminology, and the word "whoredom"... I had to check to see if that was even a word. Azeri media might be setting new trends here.


Teenagers detained in night clubs and bars in Baku

[ 02 Oct. 2006 12:43 ]

Baku Main Police Department’s Public Security Office conducted raids in several night clubs and bars in the capital.

APA’s correspondent said during the raids in “Atlant”, “Life”, “Filtr” and several other night clubs, 17 teenagers (12 teenage girls and five boys) have been detained. The detained are schoolchildren from different schools of Baku. They were involved in whoredom. The teenagers were taken to Sabayil district police office for interrogation. Their parents have been called to the police station for that.
Necessary actions will be taken about “Atlant”, “Life”, “Filtr” and several other night clubs. /APA/

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bow down to the five fingers!

For a thousand years, fire worshipping Zoroastrians had a great reverence for the Five Finger Mountain, known as Beshbarmag, a half hour drive north of Baku, at Sumgayit. (aka Sumqayit/Sumgait), the country's third largest city, which is essentially a suburb of Baku, built in the 1950s, with a population of around 300,000.

(Hopefully somebody will eventually explain how Azerbaijan has a population of 8 million. Baku has 2 million, Ganja 300,000, Sumgayit 300,000, Nakhchivan 300,000, which leaves about 5 million others - where exactly are they?)

The mountain is right on the highway and it's quite breathtaking when you drive by. I was seriously tempted to climb it, but I had a people to meet, places to see. There's a bunch of stores at the bottom that sell ice creams and other stuff with various cattle wandering about as well.

The name Sumgayit, means "Sum! Come back!" Who is Sum, you ask? He's the lover of Jeyran. When the river ran dry Sum had to go up to the top of the hill and fight a monster who had lodged a huge boulder, stopping the water from flowing into town.

Sum went up and kicked that beast down, strangling him in the process, but when he moved the boulder, he was swept away and drowned and to this day his five fingers stick out of the ground in rock form.

Jeyran drowned in her tears. The town's water reservoir is called Jeyran Batan, which means, The Place Where Jayran Drowned.
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