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Honoured Art Worker of Azerbaijan: Ordinary people do not want wars, visa systems or borders, we should look a bit further

25 November 2010 [11:50] - TODAY.AZ
Chingiz Huseinov was born in Baku and lives in Moscow. He writes in Azerbaijani and Russian. He is an Honoured Art Worker of Azerbaijan and a member of the Russian Writers' Union. Giving a course of literature at Lomonosov Moscow State University, he remains a classic of Azerbaijani literature.

Chingiz Hasanovich, you have two occupations, two lines of work. On the one hand, you are a historian of literature, a literary critic? On the other hand, you create literature. Let's start from your first line: At Lomonosov University in Moscow you give a course of history of the literatures of the ethnic groups of Russia. How do you evaluate the role of the literatures of the Caucasus among the other literatures of other ethnicities of Russia?

The collapse of the Soviet Union artificially split the Caucasus into two parts - Transcaucasia and the North Caucasus. Politics caused the break-up of a culturally-united area. The collapse of culture in general and the culture of the Caucasus. This cultural gap, in the context of disappearing links between ethnicities, was aggravated by geographical division. But the development of cultures is impossible without reciprocal action. Now we are at the stage of degradation of literatures. This is a result of the fact that the literatures have become entrapped in narrow ethnic issues.  Previously, ethnic issues led to universal issues, but nowadays ethnic issues are poisoned with estrangement from others and opposition to others. For several future generations this hostile disconnection will provide destructive functions for literature not used to it. Literature will be a means of propaganda, a means of consolidation of only national features, opposed to the world.

Is this a new phenomenon in the Caucasus? What was it like before?

It is a new phenomenon. Before, literature was not so politicized. The social and historical circumstances of the ethnic development introduced politicization in the XX century. Spirituality also becomes politicized. The Caucasus cannot be analyzed from the three empires - the Ottoman, Persian and Russian ones. Historically, this region was never independent. It is also probably related to the huge number of various ethnic groups and the presence of all world religions (except Buddhism) with different variations. However, all of them had autonomy of spiritual life, so no politicization could exist there.

So what causes this politicization then?

Politicization is caused by a desire for state independence. The nations, parts of empires, get the spirit of statehood. Because there is a titular ethnic group in an empire. As other groups develop spiritually, the feeling of ethnicity only grows, and then the idea of state independence comes.

Very often ethnic self-determination coincides with the origin and development of national language and literature. Was it like that in the Caucasus?

Yes, in some way. I can talk about it with examples of Azerbaijani, Armenian and Georgian literatures. In the case of Azerbaijan, exactly at the time that Turkic national self-consciousness was forming, literature started developing. Over the course of several centuries, Azerbaijani literature developed within the bounds of Persian literature as Persian language literature. That's why Nizami can be considered an Azerbaijani poet very relatively. Starting only with the XIV-XV centuries, when ethnic self-determination was forming in the Persian Empire, the first Azerbaijani language works appear. Although the literature still remains bilingual - Persian and Azerbaijani. Add to this the Arabic language as the language of science. The situation was different in Armenian literature.

The thing is that the Azerbaijanis, as a Turkic ethnic group, are included in a big family of Turkic ethnic groups. The Armenians are different. That's why their ethnic self-determination formed a long time ago - at the beginning of the Common Era. There is also the problem of the loneliness of an ethnic group here. The Armenians had a different religion and language, which forced them to protect themselves from others. The Turkic ethnic groups had no problems with this, as wherever they settled their neighbors were Turkic and Muslim. For Armenia, independence was very important, that's why the territorial problem was very topical for them. Ethnic self-determination formed later in Georgia. Although Shota Rustaveli wrote in Georgia, all the stories were of Persian origin. Ethnic self-determination in secular literature formed only in the XIX century. At the beginning only religious texts were written in the national language. Although a tendency towards the forms of the more developed Persian literature existed, under new social and historical circumstances it then changed to Russian literature.

What are the trends of development of the literatures now, when these countries are independent, and there is no titular, dominating literature?

The misfortune is that there are states created spontaneously, by the regular march of history, and states created artificially. Today we face the artificially-created countries as if there were never states with these names and these borders. It was all an invention of the Soviet Union in 1922. These countries did not experience the process of forming state thinking, except Armenia. The struggle for independence in these countries started on the tide of the collapsing Soviet Union. But sooner or later this had to happen, because the structure of the Soviet Union was absurd. And the Caucasus has not been entirely awakened yet.

The process of splitting up the states with ethnic self-determination has not yet finished. And it cannot be stopped artificially. Nowadays throughout the entire world former empires are breaking up into independent states. Even in Europe, I think, the process of creating a united European home will be suspended because the dissatisfied wishes of state independence still exist. The problem is that, as in the Soviet Union as in our country, there has been no ethnic policy to keep the vast space intact. A united big space is always more progressive than disconnected small ones. But for instance an equestrian monument to Yermolov has recently been unveiled in the Caucasus. Someone must be an absolute backwoodsman to come up with such an idea! Yermolov is an eminent figure of the Patriotic War of 1812, but he cannot be accepted in the Caucasus, as he flooded it with blood. Someone must be a person thinking within the categories of 1812 to create such a monument.

What should this ethnic policy be?

The thing is that there is no adequate reaction to the events happening. The Soviet Union was formally a powerful organization, but it rotted inside. Some geopolitical changes happened in the world, and it collapsed. The situation with modern Russia is similar. The regions of Russia might break up if some big geopolitical change happens in the world. Everything is held up by the force Russia still has. But the force can hold up only for some time. I think the monument was established to intimidate, but by intimidating it can be governed for 10, 50 years, but then everything will collapse, as there is only rot inside. I know only that we heaped up too much. The Chechen war, for example... Russia initiated the collapse of the Soviet Union, though it should have found other ways of governing. There were lots of political and ideological contradictions, but other forms should have been found. Some time ago, publication of Pasternak was banned; now you can buy his works everywhere. Russia should have set itself free, admitted its guilt. Yes, the Soviet Union played a huge role in the Holodomor (famine) in Ukraine. We should favour the truth, not pick on or oppose. Such opposition leads to a bigger contradiction. There is no strategic state policy.

Ordinary people do not want wars, visa systems or borders. We should look a bit further and make concessions. Chechnya cannot be dependant on Russia as it was in Soviet times. We should seek new forms of federation. We had such an experience in the first years of the Soviet state. But it is one thing to do it in a calm way, forestalling, and another thing when everything is so stained that nothing can be done. The current officials stand for "the most important thing is to hold it while we rule", but they have no perspective thinking.

If we return to your second line, as a writer, I would like to ask how you assess the influence of Caucasian literatures on your own works?

The thing is that as a critic, a teacher, a professor and a state officer I lived in a compromised manner. I acted not like I thought but like it was accepted to act. I understood, for example, that the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was a disgrace, but I didn't go to demonstrate against it on Red Square. I started writing because it wasn't enough for me to speak about injustice at home. Nizami has a great parable in his poem about Alexander the Great. As Alexander had a helmet on his head all the time, people started gossiping that he had horns. But only the barber knew the truth about it. He was suffering, because he couldn't tell anyone. In the end he found a dried-up well and told it: "Alexander does have horns!" After a while a reed grew in the place. A shepherd cut it down and made a pipe from it. When he started playing this pipe, it sang "Alexander does have horns!" And everybody got to know about it. It was the same with me, it was accumulating inside me, and I started writing to rid myself of the things which tortured me.

Before that I was writing short stories, and they were published easily, but when I wrote my first conscious novel "Mohamed, Mamed, Mamish", I faced a problem with publishing it. I worked in the Writers' Union as a consultant on national literatures. Then I joined the Party, not because I really wanted to, but just because everybody did it. Then I was elected a secretary of the party apparatus. I interceded for workers on the basis of common sense. Then I was offered a teaching post at the Academy of Social Sciences at the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Working there I realized: "Oh my God! What a pile of careerists!" At the meetings I was writing short poems about the workers. Once, participating in such a meeting (another statement by the Central Committee had been published, and we had to discuss it), I realized we don't need to gather for two hours to say obvious things. I imagined how I would say: "Dear Comrades! We are all grown-ups. It is clear that we are wasting time here. Someone might be waiting for us at home, but we are sitting here and repeating the same things again and again". What could happen? Though everyone understands I'm saying the truth, they call for an ambulance to put me in a mental hospital, because only a nut can say such things. During Soviet times we forgot how to say what we really thought. And now it is happening to us again. It is in the nature of a human being, but not that much! So this is how my first novel was born, in which the main character struggles and disagrees only inside himself. In fact, I was showing myself. I translated this novel into Russian myself, it marched into the world. But it has still not been published in Baku.

/Vestnik Kavkaza/

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