On Friday, June 30, 2017, AAFSW members and guests had an unusual opportunity to join their State Department colleagues in the George Marshall Center’s William Burns Auditorium to view a fascinating movie that presented both an epic romance and a powerful depiction of a region rich in culture and complex history – known today as the country of Azerbaijan.
Through the eyes of the characters depicted in the drama, the viewer is quickly immersed in the cultural, religious, political, and geographic divides that have defined and divided the people of this region. History comes to life as the two main characters share a deep love at a critical moment in time, as the entire region braces for the massive impact of World War I. Their personal challenges reflect the uncertainties of the world around them, as the region races toward apparent independence for Azerbaijan, only to be thwarted by the onslaught of the Bolshevik armies. Indeed, Azerbaijan will not experience its independence again until 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.
It is immediately clear that the two main characters share a deeply emotional bond. We meet Ali, an Azerbaijani nobleman who is Muslim, and Nino, a princess from Tbilisi in Georgia and an Eastern Orthodox Christian, both living in Baku. The cross-cultural differences are heightened with the start of the war, and yet, after attempts by Nino’s family and an unfortunate separation, they find a way to reunite in the mountains. They marry and are blessed with a child, but must suffer the isolation from their families. As Baku achieves progress toward independence, Ali and Nino are able to return to settle once again and enjoy the lives that they have loved in the city that they have shared. Their comfort is short-lived, however, as Bolshevik armies invade. In the face of these struggles, Ali emerges as a national hero, while Nino and their child flee to Paris.
Viewers of the movie at the State Department were fortunate to listen to opening remarks from Ambassador Elin Suleymanov of Azerbaijan, who offered valuable (and passionate) context to the complex history and geopolitical significance of the time for the region. At the time, Baku was producing half of the world’s oil, which made it a highly valued conquest for invading forces and a major asset for global corporations. As this historical drama is depicted through the lives of these star-crossed lovers from Azerbaijan and Georgia, Ambassador Suleymanov used this emotional context to emphasize through the film that everyone in Azerbaijan has a personal story, a personal connection between the people of Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The widely acclaimed movie is based on the book of the same title authored by Kurban Said (a pseudonym), first published in 1937. The scenery in this movie is stunning, and the costumes are truly beautiful, both of which make this movie a visual pleasure and capture the very soul of the Caucasus. AAFSW is grateful to H.E. Ambassador Elin Suleymanov for his presentation and the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan for offering this movie for screening at the Department of State, and is greatly honored with the presence of Mrs. Lala Abdurahimova, wife of the Azerbaijan Ambassador, as well as the presence of the mother of Ambassador Suleymanov, who was visiting Washington, DC.
Sherry Barndollar Rock
AAFSW Scholarship Chair