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Azerbaijani–UK poetry night organised in London - PHOTO

An historic Azerbaijani–UK Poetry Night was organised by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) on 23 February.


This event was hosted in the state-of-the-art Level 6 space of Foyle’s flagship store, London’s most renowned bookshop, opened in 1903 and attended by over 100 literary devotees and friends of Azerbaijan, TEAS told APA.


Azerbaijan has a rich literary heritage, and none more so in the realms of poetry and poesy. This was made evident during the event.


Nigar Hasan-Zadeh, the renowned Azerbaijani poet, compered the event, which featured readings (in translation) of works by some of the greatest Azerbaijani poets – both classic and contemporary. The readings were complemented with evocative music from Ayyan Salahova (piano) and Attab Haddad (oud). Azerbaijani State Television (AzTV) documented this historic event, and the readers included Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham, one of the UK’s most renowned and inspirational TV presenters, who is passionate about the value of art and education.


The readings included those from such leading masters of verse as Mikhayil Mushfig and Ahmad Javad – both of whom fell foul of Joseph Stalin’s purge of intellectuals in 1937–38 – alongside stanzas by Abdulla Shaiq, Bakhtiyar Vahabazadeh and Vagif Samedoglu. Many of the poems phantasmagorically represented the challenges that have beset Azerbaijan, particularly during the 20th century, whether under Soviet domination, when the state attempted to oppress the Azerbaijani spirit and culture; and during the struggle to regain independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.


The British poetry contingent comprised Elaine Feinstein, the prizewinning poet, novelist, playwright and translator; Ruth Padel, the poet, novelist, critic, broadcaster, Hellenophile and artistic polymath; Fiona Sampson, poet, writer, founder-director of PoetryFest, founder-editor of Orient Express, former editor of The Poetry Review and current editor of Poem, a quarterly international review; and David Harsent, poet, scriptwriter, novelist and frequent librettist for Sir Harrison Birtwistle.


Evocatively set against archive footage of the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh – currently occupied by Armenia – and the sound of a child from Karabakh singing mugham, student Tural Gafarli read Slopes of Hopes by the contemporary poet Azerbaijani poet Leyli Salayeva (who solely writes in English). This focused on the city of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh, which was known the Conservatoire of the Caucasus, being central to the development of Azerbaijan mugham and being the birthplace of Natavan and other great Azerbaijani poets.


Jack Pegoraro, Director, TEAS UK, explained: “Azerbaijan is a melting-pot of cultures, and many are unaware of how much the UK has in common with this wonderful country. Events like this enable us to celebrate our common bonds and to experience the fascinating literary and musical culture that both countries have to offer. Tonight you will enjoy wonderful music and poetry from all areas of Azerbaijan, including the occupied region of Nagorno-Karabakh.”


One of the readings was entitled To the Azerbaijani Flag by Ahmad Javad, which was particularly significant as the event came just a few days before Azerbaijani Republic Day. This celebrates the first independence of the country under the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic (ADR), which lasted from 1918–20, during which the current National Anthem and flag were adopted. Dr Ali Atalar, Chair, Azerbaijan House, provided some background to the poem and poet: “I am particularly privileged to read a poem by Ahmad Javad, one of my heroes, and lyricist for our National Anthem and several other patriotic songs. Unfortunately, in 1937, during the cruelest period of Stalinism, he was literally pulled out of his house and executed. The decision to execute was probably due to this poem – To the Azerbaijani Flag – amongst others.”


Drawing a small flag from his pocket, Dr Atalar read:


I stepped forward, fierce winds in my chest,
I want to kiss the holy place 
where your shadow falls!
The star of heavens, that beautiful fairy, 
Has taken shelter in the moon in your lap, 
my flag!”


Due to the conflict with Armenia, Azerbaijan is no stranger to threats or terrorism, and it was thus appropriate that Baroness Benjamin dedicated her reading to the 22 young people who lost their lives in a terrorist attack in Manchester the previous night. She commented: “I believe culture is what holds mankind together, as it provides the opportunity to think. Culture – whether music, dance or poetry – conjures up images in our heads, giving us opportunity to express our emotions and use our imagination.


“The poem I will read is called Love of Life, and I would like to dedicate this to the 22 young people and children whose lives were tragically snatched away in Manchester. They didn’t have opportunity to really experience and explore life and this wondrous world of which we are part. Let’s remember them, and truly understand the Love of Life.”


The evening concluded with a reading of the latest poem by Nigar Hasan-Zadeh, initially read in English by translator and poet Christopher Arkell. and then in the original Russian by Nigar herself. Accompanied by the delicate strains of Vagif Mustafazadeh’s March, played on the piano by Ayyan Salahova, he read:


“I want to love you,

love you without pain.

Love with a poet’s words,

lungs and sweat.

Love with the blood-based signature between

me and the sky.



It was an evocative end to a poignant and historic evening; a meeting of minds between Azerbaijan and the UK through a common inspiration – the Love of the Muse.


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/ 20 June, 2018