By Aslan Aslanov
These are the historic days in the making. We have returned to our native lands and embraced them after a long separation. This is a unique event. For a whole week now, Azerbaijan has been savoring the impressions of yet another great success story, which is a continuation of the victory that was secured in Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Just as there is no analogue of Shusha and the Jidir Duzu plain in the world, there is no music festival like “Kharibulbul”.
On these exciting days, I wanted to share with the readers my thoughts and impressions about Shusha and the festival. As an introduction, let me note that this was the return of “Kharibulbul”, another vivid demonstration of the Azerbaijani model of multiculturalism from our ancient land of Shusha, as the world received instructive moral and political messages through the language of music.
Unbending and unbroken city that has preserved the Azerbaijani spirit
I have repeatedly visited Shusha in my earlier years. My sister studied at the Shusha Pedagogical College and I visited her as frequent as opportunity allowed. For hours, I would admire the panorama of the mountains above Jidir Duzu, watch the sunrise and sunset, and drink water from the Isa Bulagi natural spring.
This current trip, of course, was completely different. Just like everyone else invited to the festival, it awakened feelings in me that cannot be expressed in words. The words of our victorious Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev spoken in an address to the nation from the Alley of Martyrs on 8 November, the day of the liberation of the city of Shusha from occupation, echoed in my head along the entire journey:
Dear Shusha, you are free!
Dear Shusha, we are back!
Dear Shusha, we will revive you!
It seemed to me that these words, as a harbinger of freedom, were still echoing in Shusha mountains, in every rock and every stone. Shusha is our national treasure, an ancient Azerbaijani city. Making a perfectly logical decision, our President declared it the cultural capital of Azerbaijan. After that, he announced the return of the “Kharibulbul” Music Festival and the days of Vagif poetry to Shusha. We didn’t have to wait long. Six months after the Victory Day, mugham and the sounds of music coming from the Jidir Duzu plain reverberated all over the world. This clearly demonstrated who is who, who has what culture and who the real owner of Karabakh is.
Shusha, which was established by Panahali Khan about 270 years ago, was always home to the Azerbaijanis before the occupation. The aura of this city, its stones and walls are completely imbued with the Azerbaijani spirit. In remarks at the opening ceremony of the festival, President Ilham Aliyev emphasized one point: “As hard as Armenians tried, they were not able to erase the Azerbaijani spirit of Shusha. Yes, the loathsome enemy has destroyed our buildings, mosques and historical sites. But Shusha has preserved the Azerbaijani spirit nonetheless. For 28 and a half years, Shusha was in captivity, but did not submit, did not break, did not lose its dignity, preserved its he national spirit, the Azerbaijani spirit.”
During our first trip to Shusha after the occupation, we saw it as an unbending and unbroken city that has preserved the Azerbaijani spirit. And this caused a feeling of boundless pride in all of us.
President Ilham Aliyev, who has visited Shusha three times in six months, says that every time he comes here, he does not want to leave the city. “The city of Shusha has its own aura. I haven’t seen a city like Shusha elsewhere in the world. There probably isn’t.”
For 30 years, our people lived with a longing for Karabakh, for Shusha, but never gave up hope. “I want all of us to go to Shusha. We will go, believe me, we will! Shusha is the heart of Azerbaijan, a source of pride for every Azerbaijani. Shusha is a symbol of our culture and history. Shusha is dear to all of us. And not only Shusha. The Lachin mountains are also dear to us. We cannot live without Lachin. Such beautiful cities as Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan, Gubadli, the springs of Kalbajar, Isti-Su – we cannot live without them.” The festival opened with these words of great leader Heydar Aliyev spoken with unwavering confidence many years ago. This recording, which served as the bottom-line of the entire event, took me back to those days. Looking through my archives, I found the date and place: 20 March 1998, Mardakan, “Absheron” sanatorium. The great leader said these words at a celebration of Novruz for refugees and IDPs. Twenty-three years later, his dream came true, as President Ilham Aliyev fulfilled his father’s behest. We are in Shusha, we have returned to Lachin, Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan, Gubadli, Kalbajar. To see the day when our tricolor flag flutters majestically in Karabakh and kiss the sacred Karabakh soil is indeed a great happiness given to us by destiny.
A celebration of music and unity, return and national dignity
It is no coincidence that the “Kharibulbul” Music Festival, which was held for the first time after a long pause, was dedicated to the blessed memory of our martyrs. We are indebted to the brave sons of the Fatherland who gave their lives in the name of this bright day, to the ghazis who lost their health, to our valiant Army, to the Azerbaijani soldier. The people and the Army rallied around their President and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief into a single fist, and this became the main factor that determined the Victory. We bow our heads to everyone who has turned this dream into reality! The memory of the fallen heroes will live forever in our hearts!
Shusha, the cultural capital of Azerbaijan is hosting the “Kharibulbul” music festival. After 29 years, Shusha, the cradle of ancient culture, welcomes its natives and guests again.https://t.co/u8BoWJlNdm pic.twitter.com/3maGnmdP5o
— Mehriban Aliyeva (@1VicePresident) May 12, 2021
The festival held on the Jidir Duzu plain has become a celebration of music and unity, return and national dignity in the true sense of these words. Representatives of various peoples living in Azerbaijan weaved a unique musical wreath here. The make-shift stage erected on a high mountain plateau saw Molokan ditties, Talysh, Avar, Lezgin, Tatar, Kurdish, Udi and Jewish songs and dances. And this is also quite symbolic, because not a single ethnic group remained on the sidelines of the common cause in the 44-day Patriotic War. All of them contributed to the Victory, a common Victory of the multinational people of Azerbaijan!
It is no coincidence that the festival was organized on the eve of the Ramadan holiday. As the President emphasized, we are a people attached to our language, religion, ethnicity and spiritual roots, otherwise we would never have been able to put an end to the occupation. For all these years, we have lived with one goal – to liberate our lands, restore justice, preserve national dignity, and we have achieved this. This event showed again that we have returned to Shusha and will live here forever from now on.
The program and organization of the festival deserve a special mention. Representatives of different ethnicities replaced each other on stage. From the first minutes of the almost one and a half hour event, one could feel that this idea came from the President. Throughout the festival, we once again witnessed the impeccable taste and organizational skills of the President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva. This was clearly manifested in every detail – from stage design to selection of music and the sequence of performances.
All peoples living in Azerbaijan made a truly great contribution to the Victory in the Patriotic War. The victorious 44-day war showed again that all peoples in Azerbaijan live in the conditions of friendship, brotherhood and solidarity. In his remarks, the President also pointed to this moment, and the festival was a clear demonstration of the inviolable national accord of our country.
While working on this article, I remembered the touching words spoken by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Victory Parade on Azadlig Square in Baku. “The fog in the Shusha mountains is no longer as morose. The flower Khari Bulbul (Ophrys caucasian) is free and will become even more beautiful. The Kendelenchay River will abound in water even more. The Araz River will sing its song even more loudly. The voices performing “Karabakh Shikestesi” will sound even louder.” On a spring day, I saw confirmation of the words of esteemed President Erdogan he had said on one of the days of the past winter. The liberated Khari Bulbul was blooming even more beautifully, our rivers have become even more full-flowing, and “Karabakh Shikestesi” sung on the Jidir Duzu plain was echoing in the hearts and mountains.
On this day, Shusha, the majestic Jidir Duzu witnessed very exciting moments that make hearts sink. I would like to point out only one of them. When the “Bayati Shiraz” mugham was performed by young singer Kanan Bayramli, one can say with confidence that all the guests, including your humble servant, could not hold back tears of joy. For the first time in my life, I saw a man of iron will, our President and the Victorious Commander-in-Chief, being moved to tears.
Unprecedented heroic epic
A year ago, some alien music was played in these places. Two years ago, Pashinyan danced on Jidir Duzu in a drunken stupor. The real owners of these places are back. It is the sound of mugham that is heard in the mountains around Shusha now, the sounds of native music are heard all around us, the adhan is again heard in the mosques.
The valiant Azerbaijani army thanks to the determination, courage and leadership skills of victorious Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev, put an end to the 30-year occupation and years of waiting in 44 days, thus writing an unprecedented heroic epic. And the Shusha operation was the certainly most glorious page, the finale of this epic.
Shusha Karabakh Azerbaijan
"Khari BulBul" Music Festival
Shusha is the cultural heart of Azerbaijan.
Many Azerbaijani musicians and artists are from this city.
The festival brought hundreds of Azerbaijani artists who performed there two days in a row pic.twitter.com/Cdgu0kgmOV
— REZA (@REZAphotography) May 16, 2021
I was looking at Shusha, and scenes of battle involuntarily came to life before my eyes. Those who have not seen these places cannot imagine what the capture of a fortified city means. Shusha is a natural fortification surrounded by impenetrable mountains, gorges and sheer cliffs on four sides. The enemy placed tanks and cannons on the top of the mountains and took up a defensive position. Courageous Azerbaijani soldiers, under the fire of tanks and guns, climbed the steep cliffs and destroyed the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. We suffered losses in the battles for Shusha, but our valiant men continued to march forward without a moment’s hesitation and without respite. In the words of the President, they were driven forward by the national spirit. It was this factor that secured the Victory. “The liberation of Shusha actually meant an end to Armenian army and the Armenian state, because a day after that Armenia was forced to sign an act of surrender drawn up on our terms, and we returned Lachin, Kalbajar and Aghdam districts without firing a single shot. It is no coincidence that 8 November, the day of the liberation of Shusha, was declared an official state holiday in Azerbaijan, the Victory Day, and we will celebrate this holiday every year.” These words the President said at the opening of the festival on the Jidir Duzu plain were greeted with a prolonged round of applause and underlined the importance of the Shusha operation again. As the Victorious Supreme Commander-in-Chief said, we returned to Shusha through battles, fighting and shedding blood six months ago. Today, “Azerbaijani culture and its prominent representatives have returned to Shusha, and this return is a reality everyone must reckon with.”
At the same time, what is being experienced in Shusha today is also evidence of who is who. Over the past 28 years, the Armenians have not created anything. On the contrary, they have destroyed the city, drained the springs because this city and these springs do not belong to them, they are alien to them. The real owners of these places began to build and create there immediately after return, and the whole world can see that. The world can also see that from now on the Azerbaijani people intend to live in Shusha forever. Restoration work in the city has already begun. A festive prayer was performed in the repaired Upper Govharagha mosque. On the day when we were in the city, on the eve of Ramadan, the foundation stone of a new majestic mosque was laid in Shusha. On that day, water gushed out of “Khan Gizi Natavan”, the spring the Armenians had drained.
Impressed by the “Kharibulbul” festival, I re-watched the recordings of President Ilham Aliyev’s addresses to the nation during the Patriotic War, his interviews and statements to foreign media. This time, one thing caught my attention. If you noticed, when speaking about Pashinyan, our President usually used ironic expressions. But when talking about the two previous criminal presidents, Kocharyan and Sargsyan, he clenched his fist and was filled with anger. He said, “We have crushed the Armenian army. At the same time, we have taught a lesson to the criminals who ruled Armenia for many years. We have destroyed the army of Kocharyan and Sargsyan.” Kocharyan and Sargsyan are the murderers of children who shed the blood of our people. The endless hatred towards them, first of all, comes from that. What else? For many years, the President of Azerbaijan had to sit at the negotiating table with these criminals, pinning hopes for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in order to avoid bloodshed. Of course, it is difficult to imagine the atmosphere of the negotiations and the tensions experienced during them. However, their arrogance, their impudent hubris, their demonstrative stubbornness and the unacceptable conditions they put forward – all this could not but lead to anxiety. As we can see, the anger President Ilham Aliyev once had to stifle within himself has not cooled down yet. It probably won’t until these war criminals are brought to justice.
Days with and without Shusha
The Patriotic War, the glorious episode of the Shusha operation, this one-on-one battle between Azerbaijan and Armenia put an end to the myth of the “invincibility of the Armenian army” and demonstrated our strength both to the enemy and the whole world. Even during the war, our President said, “Without Shusha, our mission will remain incomplete”. As always, he kept his word.
I don’t want to talk too much about our days without Shusha. Azerbaijan without Shusha was like an eagle with a wounded wing. Just as a bird cannot fly without a wing, we could not live without Shusha. Having returned Shusha, our President breathed life into us. There is no-one who would not want to see these places today. Very soon, fate will give this happiness to everyone.
Leafing through the history of more than 20 years of negotiations, we see that the fate of Shusha was never a subject of discussion. The status, the referendum, the Madrid principles, the return of five districts, the Kazan settlement option and much more… If the negotiations had continued for another 20 years, the Armenians would have never agreed to return Shusha under any conditions. The military-political way of resolving the conflict was inevitable also for this reason.
I recall the words spoken by the head of state during his first trip to Shusha. “The Azerbaijani people would never have come to terms with the loss of Shusha. That is why the liberation of Shusha from occupation had a special place among our goals.”
As for Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, by his own admission, Shusha is a gray and boring city for him. But Armenian chauvinists, the Armenian lobby used Shusha as a weapon, insulting our national dignity with their unheard-of escapades. They had to be brought to account for that one day, and they were. Our President has one answer to the revanchist forces that are raising their heads today: “The iron fist” remains in place and will crush anyone who ventures to do so.
The long-awaited day has come and our days with Shusha have begun. The beating heart of Azerbaijan, Karabakh, is in front of us. Beautiful days are in store for Shusha. Shusha will become one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Every trip of President Ilham Aliyev to Shusha together with family members, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva and daughters Leyla Aliyeva and Arzu Aliyeva, is perceived as a historic event and a thorn in the side of the enemy, who has been forced to leave Karabakh. The head of state raises the Azerbaijani flag in liberated territories, kindles a bonfire in Shusha on the occasion of Novruz, prays in mosques, lays the foundation of roads, airports and other infrastructure projects in Karabakh, washes his hands in the waters of the Araz River in front of the famous Khudafarin bridges, hugs a giant plane tree in Zangilan. All these are touching moments that demonstrate the historical belonging of Karabakh to the Azerbaijani people, their love of their land.
Important message to the world from Shusha, from the Jidir Duzu plain
The “Kharibulbul” Music Festival was also quite remarkable from the point of view of an important message sent to the whole world. Folk bands from various parts of our country, renowned artists, prominent figures of Azerbaijani culture and representatives of the media were gathered in Shusha on 12-13 May. The performances by representatives of various peoples living in Azerbaijan demonstrated that this is how countries should develop. Only multi-confessional and multiethnic countries and societies can develop, can have unity, national solidarity and peace. For many years, Azerbaijan has been promoting multiculturalism and the coexistence of different peoples both in the country and internationally. We share our experience and show that this is possible. The “Kharibulbul” music festival has become another confirmation of this.
I think one of the most important messages have been the sincere publications of First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva on social networks, as well as the footage taken by festival participants during a walkabout in Shusha. These publications and footage explicitly show that life in this ancient city is already in full swing and that restoration is going on everywhere. The UNESCO officials refusing to come to Karabakh to document the acts of barbarism committed in the destroyed cities and villages during the years of occupation must have seen this footage too. They must have seen the diligence and precision with which restoration work is being carried out here.
We are a creative people – we build and create. This is another very important message. Our enemies, who are supported by Macron’s France, the “neighboring” Canada, which is located ten thousand kilometers from the Caucasus region, the “superpower” Luxembourg, whose territory is four times smaller than Karabakh, had been engaged in plunder, destruction and looting for 30 years. If Shusha were really an “Armenian city”, the notorious Zori Balayan would not call on Armenians to burn this city. The owner of a house would never burn his property and would take good care of it. The essence of this message from Azerbaijan to the world is as follows: Shusha is our home and we have returned to it! Forever!
Finally, one of the most important messages the participants of the unforgettable music festival sent to the world with their remarkable performances was the return of culture to Shusha after 28 years! Let the whole world see this: together with the Azerbaijani people, civilization has returned to Shusha!
Aslan Aslanov is the Chairman of the Board of AZERTAC and Vice President of OANA