Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Just another fireworks show



I used to excited about fireworks. When I was eight years old. Now, the pyrotechnic displays are more often annoying. Surely this is partly because they are so damn frequent here in Baku. Last night we were treated to the spectacle again. I believe the occasion tonight was to mark the return of Heydar Aliyev to power in Azerbaijan.
What? You thought they were celebrating Bastille Day?
I lose track of the celebrations and the fireworks. I think the previous display was for Army Day. I saw that parade, as well as the fireworks in the evening. First we saw the jeeps, then the missiles, the trucks with soldiers, and finally the tanks. That was the parade part. After the parade, the jets swooped through the air, leaving colored smoke in their wake. The people whistled & took pictures with their cell phones.
It was the first military parade I’ve seen. I’ve seen parades with soldiers before, of course, in the United States. I have seen veterans marching in May Day parades in Russia. But this was a straight-forward and unabashed military parade. Nothing dressed up about it. No special uniforms. The military hardware could have been speeding off to Nagorno-Karabagh.
In fact, this is a concern. On Army Day, the AzerNews, an English-language newspaper, published a front-page article in which a U.S. official was quoted as warning against a new war to regain the Karabagh territory. I don’t really know much about the newspaper - but its lead article is about a report that is highly critical of the Azeri government’s record on human rights. On the front page, two articles concern the nation’s conflict with Armenia. On the second page, three articles concern the conflict. (Technically speaking, the conflict is with the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh - but this region is supported by Armenia, which in turn is supported by Russia.)
In my own country, I once made the mistake of thinking that a war that was really stupid just wouldn’t happen. Yes, the signs were looking that way - but surely war so foolish a policy that the people in charge in Washington wouldn’t choose that path. But they did. And the people in charge in Baku might choose war too - despite the suffering war causes.
Previous to Army Day, we had a smaller fireworks display for the founding in of the First Republic of Azerbaijan - the first democracy in a Muslim country. This short-lived republic granted suffrage to women – before Great Britain or the USA did so. But the republic was crushed by the Bolsheviks in 1920.
The biggest display of fireworks and festivities I’ve seen so far have been for the birthday of Heydar Aliyev. The former president was not on hand to enjoy the party, however, because he died five years ago.
The scope of the spectacle was astonishing, even for a population that has become largely inured to massive spending devoted to pet projects and ego gratification. The budget for the flowers laid at Mr. Aliyev’s grave was said to exceed the yearly budget of the country’s environmental agency. I have no idea how much the fireworks cost – but they were amazing.
The photo above is from the show last night, seen from my balcony.