Cavid from Azerbaijan was in Malý Berlín for three months: What did he work on and what attracted him to Trnava?

In the first half of this year, we had a resident in Malý Berlín from Azerbaijan. Cavid was working on a new book and exploring Slovakia. What did he like most about us, what did he learn and what did he take from us?

First of all, I want to know more about your background. Tell me more about your work in Baku and also maybe a story about your university degrees.

I was born on 7 May 1993 in a student dormitory in Baku. Because, my parents were students at the time. I started from Russian-speaking kindergarten and school. But quickly switched to Azerbaijani and English/Turkish language high schools. Such is life in Azerbaijan, we grow up with at least 4 languages! Later I graduated from school in 2010 and went to university in Turkey at the age of 17. Studied Computer Science for a year, then dropped it. Studied Latin Language for a year and dropped that one too. My third study was English language and literature, but it was boring – because I already knew most of it. So I dropped it too. At first I felt that I lost my 10 years of just partying, hanging out and playing games. But truth to be told, these professions weren’t really my jam. So I became a journalist! I have been working as a journalist for over a year now.  

But alongside it, I am a member of VarYox, an art collective. In my country, getting involved in art and staying neutral is too hard. Since the government essentially controls the art sector through the Ministry of Culture, we had to improvise and register as a company, instead of an NGO or non-profit organization (requirements are just too harsh). It hindered our efforts to get grants, but at least we managed to organize concerts, festivals, exhibitions and art residencies throughout our 5 years of existence. It was through TEH Easthub – a network VarYox is a member of – I arrived at Trnava.

What was the first “poke” to go abroad? And why did you choose Slovakia and Trnava?

This wasn’t my first rodeo. I travelled to France, Sweden, Hungary, Germany, Greece before, but never Slovakia. I saw a volunteership program announcement at first, published by Malý Berlín. I applied, but was told that I was overqualified (another way of saying I am getting old, lol!) So I got a 3-month residency program instead (more on this later). But for some reason, Slovakia isn’t the first choice for Azerbaijanis when they go abroad. I think the reason is Slovakia doesn’t really advertise itself in our country. I chose Trnava because I immediately grasped the privilege of living in one of the most historically important cities in Europe. I think this is a privilege that even people in Slovakia take for granted. Our countries were part of the same economic system for decades. One can especially see it in Družba – a very socialistic name and a place where you can still find socialist style murals. „Czechoslovakia“ was the brand name for quality in my part of the world back then. My father still refers to this country like this! My mom even said I should learn some Russian before coming here. But the times have changed, as well as the borders. 

What exactly were your goals? Did you work on some projects?

In comparison to Baku, Trnava is a small city – which makes it less chaotic in my eyes. I wouldn’t like to live in Bruxelles, for example. So many people, always making noise and hurrying somewhere. Trnava was a place of peace for me. An ideal place to take your time to write articles and books. I have written dozens of articles already, but my biggest aim is to translate a book. I spent most of my time translating “Caucasian Albania – An International Handbook”, an upcoming book authored by Jost Gippert and Jasmine Dum -Tragut to Azerbaijani. Caucasian Albania is a modern exonym for a former state located in ancient times in the Caucasus: mostly in what is now Azerbaijan (where both of its capitals were located). We still have the Udi people, who regard themselves as descended from the inhabitants of Caucasian Albania. However, its original endonym is unknown. By the way, do not mistake it for Albania in the Balkans, they are not related to this. Unlike Albanians in the Balkans, Albanians in Caucasus spoke a Caucasian language that was written with 52 letters. It was one of only two native scripts ever developed for speakers of an indigenous Caucasian language but was lost for centuries, only to be rediscovered in 2003, in a remote Christian monastery on a mountain in Egypt. 

What was the most interesting thing you experienced here?

Churches! Or, abundance of churches! As a person interested in Caucasian Albanians and their religion – Christianity, I am a frequent visitor of churches. But you have to spend at least 2 weeks to visit all the churches in Trnava. Being from a culturally secular but traditionally Muslim country, the city certainly painted a different landscape for me. I was somewhat in an alternate reality.

Have you experienced some “cultural shocks”? Did anything surprised you so much you could not believe it?

I didn’t know that Slovaks call their language “Slovensky” and their country “Slovenská republika”. Then I met some Slovaks who complained about always being mistaken for Slovenes of Slovenia. I often joked – “what did you expect when you call yourselves Slovenky?” Yes, it might not be a cultural shock, but it is one of those facts that you don’t know unless you get to learn a bit of Slovak language. But frankly speaking, there isn’t much to be surprised about. Geography was my favorite subject at school!

What did you learn here? Did you learn something you will use in your work or life after coming back to Azerbaijan?

Where do I start? I picked up Slovak a little bit. I learnt how to effectively shop for food – if I decide to come back to Europe sometime later and maybe even settle, it will be useful. I also know how to travel easily, fast and cheap – as a travel enthusiast, it will help me plan ahead my other trips and seek fine deals. I also observed how the Malý Berlín team dedicates their entire day for planning events, always trying to be on top of everything. But they also know how to have fun and don’t turn into a complete office plankton. I also used my time here to attend as many music concerts as possible – famous bands usually don’t visit Baku. But I intend to change it! Trnava was also a fine base for me to travel and meet many professors, scholars who were interested in my country and subjects IN research.

I will probably continue my translation of the book even after I return to Baku. Because 3 months aren’t enough for complete translation and proofreading of a 700+ page book! Also we know how publishing houses can be grumpy about everything. Overall, these three months were one of the best chapters in my life that I will cherish forever.

Photo: Petra K. Adamková