FROM NONSENSE TO NATIONHOOD: A DANGEROUS TRAJECTORY OF AZERBAIJANI NATIONALISM
The most recent example of the Balkan wars demonstrates how nationalism employs historical narratives to create mythical images of the past, which, in turn, later become a driving force behind the political agendas of opportunistic leaders and can be used to mobilize the masses for destructive action. This notion is especially relevant with reference to Azerbaijan, whose nationalist myth-making is not the fact of the remote past but is a process that started recently and continues today. While it is unscholarly to attribute racism to the endemic articles of the Azeri national character — if the term "national character" makes sense at all — Azeri nationalism and chauvinism do exist as distinct and increasingly influential ethno-political phenomena, with their own logic, mythology, historical roots and objective mode of development.
One of the birthmarks of Azeri nationalism — cultural plagiarism — is thought to be behind the denial of cultural and political rights of Armenians, Udins, Tats, Talishes, Lezgins and other native groups of Azerbaijan's colonized periphery, which survived earlier Turkification and became minorities.
As a people whose national consciousness and ethnic self-awareness crystallized only with the imposition of Soviet rule, Azeris have been long grappling with a sense of insecurity and inferiority in their relations with the older cultures of their Persian, Armenian and Georgian neighbors. Contemporary Azeris — similarly to their Turkish cousins — are the descendents of Turkic horsemen who arrived to the Caucasus from their homeland in Central Asian in the late Middle Ages. To date, the languages and a bulk of ethnographic specs of Turks and Azeris only insignificantly differ from those of the Central Asia's Turkic groups, e.g. Turkmen and Uzbeks. Prior to the Turkic invasion of the eastern part of the Armenian Plateau, the territory of today's "Azerbaijan" was mainly populated by Armenian Christians (to the west of the River Kur) and a number of Persian- and Lezgin-speaking groups (to the east of the River Kur).
Assembled from linguistically related but disparate pastoral and semi-pastoral tribal formations — known as Borchali, Kengerly, Demurchi-Hasanli, Djinli, Padar, Karapapakh, Afshar, Shahseven, Ottuz-Iki, Igirmi-Dort, Chobankara, Karim-Beghlu, Sayidlu-Akhsakhlu, Jam-Melli, Qafarlu, Karabeghlu, Godaklu, etc., etc. — Azerbaijan represents a mutant entity that took its final shape in the course of scholarly experiments of Stalinist anthropologists as late as in the 1930s, long after the imposition of Soviet rule on the Southern Caucasus.
Azeris would soon vigorously embark on manufacturing their "historical past" — virtually from scratch — lashing out against commonsense. This by the means of attributing to themselves the pieces of cultural heritage of neighboring Persians, Armenians, Arabs, Turkomans as well as long extinct, semi-mythical “Caucasian Aluanians.” A range of historical leaders, scholars, poets, writers and musicians of the mentioned peoples — together with architectural monuments and other artifacts produced by them and found on the territory of today's Azerbaijan — were wholesale declared manifestations of Azeri culture, which, through several miraculous "discoveries" of Azeri academics, almost overnight acquired lacking ancient flavor and gloss.
An example is the Persian lyricist Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209), proclaimed as "Azeri poet" by Azerbaijan's Communist bosses.
Mark Saroyan, an American political scientist, noted that Azerbaijani historians produced histories of “Azerbaijan” based not on the historical facts of a prior national state(s) but on the assumption that the genealogy of "Azerbaijanis" could be traced in terms of putative ethnic-territorial continuity of all lands that are found within the borders of the present-day Azerbaijani Republic. Similarly, the history of the ancient tribal Christian commonwealth of Caucasian Aluania (also known by its customary Armenian name — Aghvank, or as Strabo's "Caucasian Albania," no reference to European Albania) was assimilated by Azerbaijani historians into the history of the "Azerbaijani (Azeri) nation," despite the absence of any linguistic and cultural similarities between the Armenian civilization of Caucasian Aluania and the contemporary Azeris. In this way, cultural practices substantiated claims to ethnic continuity based on the modern form of the territorial national state.
Mimicking their Turkish role models, Azeris similarly began falsely personating themselves as heir of — unrelated to them — Midians, Manians, Aluanians (i.e. "Caucasian Albanians," no reference to European Albanians) and other real or hypothetical groups that inhabited the Transcaucasus at least fifteen centuries before the arrival of the first proto-Azeri nomadic infiltrators from the eastern shore of the Caspian to the territory of the present-day "Azerbaijan." In an equally absurd manner, Azeri nationalist historians laid down claims to the legacy of late medieval Persian khanates (principalities) of the Transcaucasus, as the precursors of their modern nation-state.
The fact that Azerbaijan is a recently constructed nation is a circumstance that makes historical revisionism a genetic, ever-present attribute of Azeri ongoing nation-building process. Azeris regard historical past as a periodically updateable domain that from time to time could be subjected to arbitrary, politically-motivated reformulations and revisions. In their nationalist exercises, Azeri scholars waxed insolent to the point that, as of today, proclaimed not only mosques but even Christian churches (!), found in the vicinity of former Azeri pastures and built by Persians and Arabs, or Armenians, respectively, as manifestations of their own "Azeri" architecture. One may only wonder when Azeri academics would "discover" that the Athenian Parthenon was an originally Azeri temple ... It is both ironic and symbolic that Azeris, the descendents of those whose economic life in the past was sustained by nomadic banditry and looting, now try to embezzle not only material but also cultural and spiritual heritage of their neighbors, perhaps considering this practice a modern form of booty-taking.
Perversely coupled with hypernationalist paranoia, Azeri self-examination efforts tend to turn ugly, necessitating periodical aggressive interactions with minority groups and next-door neighbors, including the victimization of non-Azeris and the display of indiscriminate hostility toward them. These violent exchanges help to define Azeri ethno-political identity through mostly negative rather than positive patterns, in other words, through the understanding of “who-we-are-not” in contrast to “who-we-are.” Ultimately, in Azerbaijan, sharp lines between "us" and "them" were drawn in blood.