One Hundred Years of Mythmaking

At a Baku protest in 1989, a leader told the crowd that Azerbaijanis had been announced the most patriotic “People of the Year.” This myth persisted for years. Where did it start, and why has it stuck around for so long?

“Where there are children, there is a Golden Age…”


And so, here we are in 2017, which has immediately brought with it a number of events.

Beginning with the act of terrorism on Reina nightclub in Istanbul and finishing with the migration scandal in Poland. Clearly it will be an extremely intense year, full of many decisive events.

For us, the New Year was also marked in a particular way. On the very eve of the new year, December 31


, on the so-called ‘International Solidarity Day of Azerbaijanis’, former prisoner of conscience and blogger Adnan Hajizadeh published a post on his Facebook page which put a close to almost a quarter – century of debates over one myth that has been firmly entrenched in the public conscious of Azerbaijanis.

At one of the rallies of 1989, one of the leaders announced that according to some sort of research, done in some part of the world and according to some sort of criteria, we, Azerbaijanis, had been selected the most patriotic ‘People of the Year’.

We were first. After us, the Scottish.

This, of course, was met with thunderous applause and nobody thought to ask additional questions. This myth was unbelievably enduring, cited several times by the Azerbaijani media (of course, without reference to any sources) and for many years was used by politicians in cases of urgent need.

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Hajizadeh later wrote in another blog post, “The important question is, who declared us ‘People of the Year’? Several versions have been played out over the past 27 years: the Japanese, the American magazine


, the German magazine

Der Spiegel

, the United Nations, and even the

Guinness Book of World Records


In his famous book

Meydan 4 goda, 4 mesyatsa


Meydan four years, four months

), Adilet Tahirzade writes that Azerbaijanis were declared ‘People of the Year’ by the magazine


, and that it was Zardusht Alizadeh who declared this from the tribune. Alizadeh maintains that it was



After examining all the issues of the magazines

Der Spiegel



, and


for 1989 in the library archive at Columbia University, I came across this issue of the magazine


from December 25, 1989, where there is depicted a photo of a rally in Baku (photographer: Robert White) with the headline ‘People of the Year’. But when I looked through the journal, I couldn’t find an article about Azerbaijan, or even information about the photo on the cover.

This myth was unbelievably enduring

The magazine


declared all those who took part in acts of protest throughout the world in 1989 to be ‘People of the Year’. There were articles about China, Poland, the Baltic states, Hungary and Germany. But there was no mention of us.”

If there was no mention of us, then where did this myth come from? By all accounts, just from the photograph on the cover of a magazine?

The ‘hero of the day’ himself,

Adnan Hajizadeh

, replied to our question thus:

“In 1989, when it was declared on the square that we had become the ‘People of the Year’, many activists were overjoyed, to the point of tears. This influenced absolutely everyone. At that moment, this was very important for raising spirits. We were completely alone against Armenia and the Center, which was backing it up. And this declaration was met with great enthusiasm. There will be myths at the heart of any state – building process. And today, at last, the origin of this myth has become clear.

For many years, various commentators and activists have said that this was a complete lie. But we have managed to uncover that this question was much more complicated. In those long-ago years there were very few people who spoke English on a basic level. Clearly, having seen the cover with the headline ‘People of the Year’, and with our inherent impulsiveness and in full confidence that we were indeed the ‘People of the Year’, they simply declared this from the tribune and left it at that.”


I already wrote that 1989 was a landmark year for the entire USSR.

For Azerbaijan it was, more than anything, a foreboding year, since precisely after 1989 there took place those events that lead to the present dead – end (S)state of our society – without options.

After 1989 there took place the tragic January events, and it was right after these events that the former ruler of Azerbaijan, former member of the Politburo of the CPSU and general of the KGB (they don’t have any ‘former’ members) Heydar Aliyev once more appeared on the political stage.

It was right after this that there followed a tragic chain of events which lead to the occupation of parts of the country and seizure of power by the former Communist nomenklatura. And the genesis of our present, deep, moral crisis undoubtedly can be found back in 1989.

But 1989 was also a year of grand desires and great hopes. I well remember that romantic time, when everyone, especially young people, were carried off into dreams about the independence of our country, which at that time seemed so unfeasible. The rallies of that time were truly grandiose, millions of people gathered on Freedom Square (at that time still called Lenin Square), their hearts beating in unison. And nobody wanted to even think about a bad ending.

1989 was a year of grand desires and great hopes

The romantics of the 19


century believed that desires held sway over reality, that the spirit could break through reality; and they constantly strove for the unattainable. One of the harbingers of German romanticism, the poet and philosopher Novalis, said, “

We are more closely connected to the invisible than to the visible”.

In counter to the ‘rational’ ideals of the enlightenment thinkers of the 18


century and their rationalism, atheism and deep conviction that it is human reason which embodies the decisive factor of progress, the romantics addressed the human spirit’s sphere of feeling and emotion and pagan, primordial mysticism. Romanticism cultivates the subjective primate over objectivity, the emotional side, expressivity, lyricism, and simultaneously exultation.

In romanticism, a person is immersed in his or her existence, first and foremost, via emotion and feeling, and not rationally or reasonably. Here, a person strives not only and not so much to learn, perceive, understand, and explain the world via the strength of reason, as to feel and experience one’s relationship to the world.

To comprehend the future, a romantic doesn’t need knowledge or personal experience, nor some sort of rational operations of abstract thought. Because of this, it is naïve beings, experiencing the world first-hand, who have a sense of the future – children, first and foremost.

Children stand among us like great prophets

”, wrote another outstanding representative of German romanticism, the writer and dramatist Johann Ludwig Tieck. Yes, then, on the square, we were all children.

Traditionally all great human affairs need lofty praise and later become myths, as tools for modelling the world around us and simultaneously as a means for a subject’s self-identification, a role which is played here by an enormous mass of people.

Then, on the square, we were all children.

And it’s completely consistent that it was precisely in 1989 that such a myth came into being. Was this a banal deception?

At that time, millions of people, having gathered on Freedom Square, dreamed and believed. Their faith in the future could have moved mountains.

But faith could also be deceived. This sort of thing has happened more than once throughout history…

In the end, we will once more give the question, is it really necessary to debunk all myths in this way? After all, aren’t they really necessary for the creation of a nation and a state?

I already wrote about this and will repeat time and time again: if there is will not be a full and absolute cleansing and debunking of all which is inauthentic, including myths – it will be pointless to search for a way out of the dead end we’ve come up against in the present.

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