Quba Quba Quba
When your reading anything I write that includes an Azeri word, remember that Q’s sound like G’s. Therefore, its Quba like Gooba, not Quba like Cuba. Which happens to be where I had the pleasure of taking my site visit this past week. Quba is a nice-looking town that has recently been undergoing some quality improvements. This includes not only a beautifully-paved new road into and through the city, but also a scrolling marquee and jumbotron that were recently added to the downtown, outside the avtovagzal (bus station). The people, apparently, were really excited about the scrolling marquee, especially when it was on. Then Xacmas, a town 20 minutes away, got a jumbotron for their downtown. Quba went all out and got an even bigger jumbotron downtown and play a a non-stop Quba showcase. This is some serious development, folks.
I had the pleasure of riding into town on the newly paved road, getting out at the 50-foot flag pole, and meeting Chris, a current PCV working in Quba for a business consulting group and the Ministry of Economic Development. Chris is another upstanding fellow from Wisconsin (though, from the other side of the state, Hudson). We reminisced, briefly, of the wonderful world that is Wisconsin. After that beautiful moment we got down to work, strolling the city of Quba and taking in all the sights. I was also joined on this trip by Anwar (pictured here, during some downtime), a fellow trainee from Boston, MA. He’s an older gentleman who moved from India when he was 18 or so, and has been a successful consultant and businessman for the last 30 years. He’s interested in microfinance, especially, and has a remarkably positive outlook.
The walking tour of Quba was excellent. We started off from Chris’s place south of the city and walked through the Heidar Park. There’s a Heidar Park everywhere (for Heidar Aliyev, former President of Azerbaijan). There was some construction going on, but it was as beautiful as any Heidar Park. Beyond that, we continued walking past an Olympic-sized workout facility (a plague affecting cities across the country, which I will get to later), the bus station, through an older part of town, through an area with 3 mosques (one with a particular fascination with the Hand of Fatima), and on to a beautiful park that leads down to the Qudiyalcay River. This is where the gems of Quba lie.
First, we wound our way up along the river to a spot where the Caucasus mountains can be seen in their misty, snow-topped glory. You can see Shahdag from here, a sacred mountain peak. The mountains overlap each other for miles and miles, an aesthetic I have not seen matched anywhere else yet. The Qudiyalcay River runs up into these mountains into a corner of Azerbaijan containing one of the most isolated villages on the continent, a village that has its own language and traditions not familiar anywhere else. After the first snowfall in the mountains (usually September), it is nearly impossible to reach the village. Maybe I’ll try in the spring.
As we walked up alongside the river, we also got a spot featuring a museum. But not just any museum. This is a site of a mass-grave. We asked a bored-looking Azeri smoking a cigarette if it was open, and he proceeded to guide us over to the site, covered with a structure of wood poles and plastic tarps. The site features what is supposedly the remains of hundreds of Azeris massacred by Armenian troops around 1920. The write-up of for the site is pretty incredible, probably a little propagandized for dramatic effect. For those of you not familiar, there have been some strained relations with the neighbor, with which Azerbaijan is still technically at war. There were a lot of bones and skulls popping out of places, but they are expecting to replace the tarps with a new museum center complete with eternal flame next year. For future reference, I’m probably going to try to avoid saying much, if anything, more about the neighbor to the west. Unless they end their war and celebrate a true peace. In that case I will dance, and blog about it.
The last cool spot we hit was the Red Village. The Red Village is across the river from the rest of the city, and houses one of the biggest non-Israeli Jewish populations in the region. It’s a beautiful part of town, and the usual stereotypes about Jews apply. The village was originally made up of mountain Jews who lived in the area and wanted their own sort of enclave. In the 1700s, there were raiding parties from the north, from Dagistan (now part of Russia), that were continually attacking Quba. As a way to both protect his city and give the Jews what they wanted, the Khan of Quba gave up this part of the city to the Jews for their enclave, thus buffering the city from attacks by the Dagistanis. This worked out for everyone except the Dagistanis, and now there is a beautiful Jewish village in northern Quba. It’s almost like stepping out of the rest of Azerbaijan because it is so peaceful, clean, and well-put together.
The second half of this trip was spent in Xacmas, because Chris had to leave for hernia surgery (he got a week in Baku), so I’ll continue the next post with that.