Meeting with the President Heydar Aliyev Bolstered My Interest in Promoting Azerbaijan Globally
By Jeffrey Werbock
In May of 1997, I came to Azerbaijan to participate in the grand opening celebration / concert of their recently renovated Opera House. On the last day of that hectic week of rehearsals, I was told that the president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, learned that I was in Baku for this event and expressed his wish to meet the American who loves the culture and traditional music of the country he was leading.
We met in his office to talk about the role of local culture, stressing the importance of indigenous music played on native instruments, for supporting and strengthening the people’s sense of national identity. President Aliyev impressed me with his charisma and his visibly genuine concern about the well-being of the traditional culture of Azerbaijan. I was grateful for his willingness to spare the time from his busy schedule to meet with me.
Wishing to show my appreciation, I promised President Aliyev that if Azerbaijan ever got its lands back, I would personally come to help build a mugham school in Shusha, the cultural and spiritual capital of Karabakh where it is said that mugham was born.
Toward the end of our meeting, when I began to feel more comfortable in President Aliyev’s presence, I asked permission to approach him so I could personally hand him an invitation to the concert later that same evening. As president of the country, he didn’t need an invitation, of course. It was only a formality which became almost surreal when I pointed out that the invitation was for two people. That’s when President Aliyev smiled and asked me if that means he could bring someone else with him! We all enjoyed a hearty laugh.
My meeting with the President bolstered my interest in promoting Azerbaijan globally; the sheer unlikeliness of such a meeting only strengthened my feeling that I share a destiny with the country. When I returned to America, inspired to apply myself even more to the task of promoting Azerbaijan abroad, I pondered how to accomplish that, and that led to the idea of making a documentary film about mugham.