Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Games of a Lifetime: The First European Games in Baku

     Like many Azerbaijani people, I was overcome with excitement for the 1st European Games in Baku. I remember the city pull together for the Eurovision Song contest in 2012 and was pleasantly surprised with the city’s transformation and level of organization. Therefore, I had high expectations for the European Games. But after watching the opening ceremony I found that it exceeded all my expectations. I would go so far as to say it was as breath taking as the Beijing Olympic Games, demonstrating Azerbaijan’s dedication to the European Games. It was both visually and aurally impressive: the fireworks, dancers, and music showed so much of the history and culture of Azerbaijan. I felt so proud to be from Baku!

Opening Ceremony

    Unfortunately, I was not able to be in Baku for the opening ceremony, which started on 12 June in the Olympic Stadium. Luckily, the Azerbaijani Student Network (ASN) in Berlin organized a public viewing in Charlie's Beach, so I was still able to celebrate this event with other Azerbaijani people from Berlin and also with many other nationalities who were there at the public viewing.

    Right after work, my sister and I joined a virtual community of millions of Azerbaijani people watching the ceremony around the world. I was so proud from the first minutes of watching the ceremony. It was a very beautiful and colorful show, with great content showing the culture, history, traditions and specialties of our country. Azerbaijan is a country which is often misunderstood in the international community. The opening ceremony allowed for the international community to understand that Azerbaijan is a well-developed country with many fine traditions, bright young people, and a unique culture. One of the main cultural traditions showcased was rug weaving. An amazing choreographed dance displayed the most beautiful traditional patterns, using colour-changing skirts. It was stunning, and I’m proud that our people have such great taste. In my opinion, the show couldn’t have been better. We all felt that there was a lot of effort invested and they really did their best to benefit all of Europe.

    Some people complained that it was immoral to invest such a large amount of money into an event rather than into social services for the Azerbaijani people. However, I think that hosting these games was an important step for Azerbaijan.

    Firstly, it raised awareness about our country and dispelled the wrong impressions and stereotypes. Secondly, it created a positive view of Azerbaijan as a developed country that can stand on its own and do amazing things. Thirdly, for so many homesick Azerbaijani people living abroad, it was just amazing to watch this ceremony and be proud of how our city is getting more and more beautiful every day. It’s becoming an impressive modern city, tall and stunning.

    After 17 days of amazing games which were participated in by many European countries (I encourage you to watch them to see how great they are!), on the 29th of June I watched the closing ceremony at home on TV. It was as epic as the opening ceremony. Contributors and volunteers were acknowledged, athletes were celebrated. It was a perfect celebration for the first European games. At the end, there was another brilliant fireworks display even better than the one at the opening ceremony coupled with celebrities singing popular songs, dancing, and live-performance artwork. Azerbaijan’s history, traditions, and culture were all celebrated by the most talented performers in the country. It was a perfect way to mark the closing of the 1st European Games. You are welcome to watch both ceremonies under the following links:

    I encourage people to come and visit our beautiful country and see how it is visitor friendly, with its own traditions and culture, delicious food, nice weather and so much more. Come enjoy the beaches by Caspian Sea, the beautiful scenery, our colorful traditions, and many other things! The Azerbaijani people will be happy to show you around our country.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bizmklier 3.0 – An introduction to Azerbaijani Music and Traditions

    Couple of days ago I was amazed with a video I saw on YouTube and want to share my impressions with you. Today I would like to introduce a beautiful, yet often overlooked, musical project: Bizimkiler 3.0. This group has covered many world-famous songs relying upon Azerbaijani national instruments. Some artists they’ve covered include Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Muslim Magomayev, Chuck Berry, U2, among many others.

    The “Bizimkiler" projects’ first edition came out on TV and in the internet in 2012, right before the Eurovision 2012 song contest, and has since been developed in order to attract the attention of tourists and visitors. The author of the project is Seyfulla Mustafayev, Samira Safaraliyeva is the project editor and the producer is Aynur Huseynova. The project immediately became a Youtube phenomen. “Bizimkiler" is not a music band with fixed team, but a project with many different invited musicians and every time changing performers and singers.

    During "Bizimkiler" project, world famous pop and classic hit songs were performed in modern improvisation, with the help of Azerbaijani instruments and mugham performers (Mugham or mugam is one of the many folk musical compositions from Azerbaijan, contrast with Tasnif, Ashugs). These musicians are true professionals and their talent is remarkable! Feel free to listen to some covers on the links below. You won’t be disappointed:

Ray Charles - Hit the Road Jack!

t.A.T.u. - Not gonna get us

Michael Jackson - They don't care about us

Chuck Berry - You Never Can Tell

U2 - With Or Without You

    So other than this music project, I would also like to introduce you Azerbaijani music instruments. Our music instruments are: the
tar (skin faced lute), the kamancha (skin faced spike fiddle), and the saz (long necked lute); the double-reed wind instrument balaban, the frame drum ghaval, the cylindrical double faced drum nagara (davul), and the goshe nagara (naqareh) (pair of small kettle drums). Azerbijanis also play the garmon (small accordion), tutek (whistle flute), and daf (frame drum).

    Azerbaijani music is the result of a long historical process, resulting from the formation and development of unique, deeply realistic traditions. Until the 20th century, these traditions were primarily oral in nature. However, over time, they developed into folk music and began acquiring the features of professional art, particularly in the works of ashugs and mugham.

    So go ahead and follow the links attached above and familiarize yourself with some traditional Azerbijiani musical instruments and styles!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Eurovision 2012: Introducing Azerbaijan to the World

    The Eurovision song contest is the longest running TV song competition show in the world. The competition has been held annually since 1956 and each country in Europe selects a musical act to go forward and represent their nation in the song contest. Each country is required to submit an original song to be performed on live television and then citizens vote to select the most popular show in the competition.

    During the 2012 competition, which took place in Baku, I was in Beijing. I was desperate to go back to Baku to celebrate this momentous event with all other Azeri people but unfortunately, I couldn't because I had exams. But later I watched the show in Internet and was amazed by the level of organization. Especially for this event the Crystal Hall was built and also many other constructions in the city. It was a big change of Baku city and it became even more beautiful and attractive. After Eurovision I came to Baku on my holidays and was amazed with the positive change of the city.

    You can watch the Grand Final of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest on

    I remember in 2011, when Azerbaijan was performing in Eurovision in Germany, I was also in Beijing. Because of time difference and low Internet speed, it was impossible for me to watch it online and I went to sleep hoping and dreaming that my country would win. That year, the Azerbaijani song was fantastic - I liked it very much and really believed that Azerbaijan would perform well. In the morning, I had a message from my mother saying that Azerbaijan won and I was in shock from happiness! I was jumping up and down – I couldn’t believe it was true. Then I went online and confirmed the wonderful news. I was so proud for my country! Next day I was so excited and shared the good news with all my university friends.

    Here is the performance of Azerbaijan Eurovision 2011 - Ell and Nikki - Running Scared:

    Similar to The First European Games in Baku, I believe these kinds of events are very important for Azerbaijan’s economical development. Now living in Europe, I know that many people are more familiar with our country thanks to Eurovision 2012. Now that Azerbaijan is becoming more well-known around Europe and the world, I hope that more people will come to visit our beautiful country.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Wonderful Sport of Chess

    When I was 8, my parents put me in a chess school in the city centre for additional education. It was a state-owned school with free education.

    My teacher Pavel Zhozefovich was a great person and great chess teacher who had a great passion for chess. He was the first coach of Teimour Radjabov - an Azerbaijani chess Grandmaster and former chess prodigy.

    The teacher said that it is better to start around 5 or 6 years old if you want to be a professional chess player. But even though 8 years old was a little bit late to start, he took me after some examinations. In that chess school I learned everything from zero. The teacher showed me the figures and taught me what they were called. I was watching and listening with much interest. I started as a beginner and step-by-step was improving my skills. I even had chess homework and chess exercise books. I visited the school twice per week. Then we had in-school chess degree competitions. I got 4th degree on the first try. And later I got 3rd degree also on the first try but 3rd was already much more difficult to get. In Azerbaijan we use the Elo rating scale, where 4th is the lowest and 1st is the highest degree, and then you get to master and grandmaster.

    At home I played a lot with my dad or my sister, or with whoever was there and could play chess. It is important to train as much as possible. Chess teaches you to sit on one place and concentrate. I find it very useful for kids who are learning to concentrate. It helps with general development and even with studying other subjects at school. Chess teaches us to see things differently: don't touch before you are sure how to move, think many steps ahead, don’t make fatal mistakes, and be careful.

    Other than chess school competitions, there were also chess competitions at my middle school where 6 best chess players were selected to represent our school in inter-school-competitions. We were a chess team with 4 guys and 2 girls (my sister and me). For many years we competed and always got 1st place in the city. It was very interesting and an exciting time. I remember before each competition our team was meeting and playing against each other to train. I made many friends during that time.

    I remember once there was a competition held in another school. After all the games were over I was the last to play against a guy from another school. It was already too late and even our teacher who had to look after us, had to leave home. I didn't want to give up till the end. Everyone was telling me to come on, just leave it. But I fought till the end although it was late and after I did it I was screaming: I did it!!! I won!! So… never give up! :D

    Later, after my teacher knew that I’d been to China, every time I met him he asked if I knew how to play Chinese chess (it’s different than International chess) and unfortunately I had no idea. But he was so interested that kept asking all the time and couldn’t stop talking about Chinese chess :D Maybe I should go back to China to learn it!

    I find chess very interesting and it's a pity that I quit professional training some years ago. It takes a lot of time and practice to continue to play well at chess! But I still like playing sometimes even today, though I’m a little out of practice. It is a good hobby and I’m happy I had a chance to learn this interesting game, which counts as a sport, by the way. In fact, in Azerbaijan, chess is one of the most popular sports. It became popular when the Soviets started chess schools in the 1920s, and has only gotten more popular since then. Garry Kasparov - a chess Grandmaster, former World Chess Champion, writer, and political activist, considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time, was born in Baku also. He was one of my inspirations for learning to play chess.

    Let's play a game of chess? E2 - E4 :D

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Don’t Give Away Your Talents

    Other than chess, my biggest hobby in school was drawing. I loved drawing the Caspian Sea, landscapes, animals, fruits, and flowers. I attended school drawing classes and took part in a drawing contest. Also my mom took me to extra drawing classes where I improved my skills.

    I remember one school contest where I drew 3 pictures and 2 of them were presented to the mayor of Moscow who was visiting our school. Now I feel sad that I didn't keep them for myself as a memory.

    Our drawing teacher Firuza Shadybekovna is a very nice person and till today I remember that time improving my drawing skills and enjoying the process.

    I think art is also very important for general development. To learn to see beauty, to look at the world a different way, and to understand other artists and their intentions are all great reasons for learning art. I feel nowadays people are getting more and more materialistic and have no time for hobbies or for enjoying beauty. I hope soon I will start drawing again and am for sure going to share the results here with you. Maybe I’ll illustrate a blog post for you!

    Now I like to go to galleries like the Gallery Berlin-Baku in Berlin and enjoy art from painters from all over the world. What makes the art at the Gallery Berlin-Baku special to me, though, is that it focuses on the relationship between Azerbaijan and Germany. It helps young people focus on their artwork and learning too, since there are exchange programs between Berlin and Baku’s art schools.

    Art is a great way to showcase creativity and appreciate beauty. Try it sometime, and see what you think. And at the end don't give away your drawings! :) Or at least make a photocopy as a memory.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Count Your Way to Success: My Experience as a Mathematical Olympiad

    School number 145 in Baku with education in the Russian language was counted as one of the strongest schools in the city. I was happy to study there during my primary and middle school time. This school was the best place for me to study in: competent teachers with strong personalities like my maths teachers—Natalya Filipovna, Elnara Rufatovna, Nazila Ziyadovna, Zemfira Zaharovna (teachers from 1st till 11th grade). These are 4 great women maths teachers who made me love maths and be good at it.

    One of the most interesting things was that apart from normal classes we also had many competitions, Olympiads, and other contests. In 3rd grade I took part in the school level Mathematical Olympiad, and after getting 1st place I was honoured to be sent to district level Olympiad, where I got 3rd place. I have been really interested in maths since I was little, and until school graduation it was and still is my favourite subject. Maths was one of the 5 subjects, along with physics, chemistry, English, and Russian that I was examined for in the University Entrance Exam. I find maths so interesting and am happy that I got knowledge from great teachers.

    The Former Soviet Union is known for having a strong maths education: so much that I was actually surprised, now that I’m living in Germany, that most of the kids hate maths. They simply don’t enjoy it like I did when I was young. Now when helping one friends’ child with his maths homework I’m happy to remember all that I learned and glad to share my knowledge about this interesting subject.

    I’m thankful that I could have a good mathematical education in school 145 in Baku. Learning mathematical skills early can benefit everyone, as maths contributes to critical thinking and logic skills that can be used in nearly every situation. You don’t have to want to become a rocket scientist to enjoy maths and use them in your life: even such basic things as cooking and music require some maths. And the brain development it provides helps with any subject as it sharpens and clarifies your thinking, forcing your mind to reason.
Children, especially, can benefit from early maths education. The earlier your brain learns simple addition and subtraction, the better it is at recalling it later on in life. That’s why I’m passionate about children learning maths and enjoying it. It’s hard to want to study something you don’t understand.

    So what should parents and teachers do? My favourite maths teacher always encouraged us to look at maths as a challenge to solve. For learning and understanding formulas: once you’ve memorized and understood them, you can use them long term in different calculations. For geometry, it’s important to visualize figures and to know how to implement formulas. It is always a challenge for the mind. Once you find out the answer for a complicated task, that's a great feeling which is hard to explain. Of course as in any field, practice makes perfect. The more you solve, the better you get.  

    My parents always encouraged my love of learning and supported me in the math Olympiad. I’m so grateful for them and the opportunities I was given!