Looking In, Speaking Out Khojaly event part 1: Amazing Arts

By | Rachel Brooks
February 27, 2021

Image credit: “Osho” by Thad Zajdowicz is marked with CC0 1.0

Azerbaijan is a nation of profound cultural heritage. In this Khojaly commemoration event, 

On February 26, the American Sephardi Federation abbreviated. ASF, and the Muslim American Leadership Alliance abbrev. MALA co-hosted an event commemorating the Khojaly Tragedy.

Opening remarks were delivered by Zainab Zeb Khan of the MALA organization.

“Thank you for taking this afternoon and joining us for a solid. My name is Zainab Khan and I am the Executive Director of the Muslim American Leadership Alliance. Today we are co-hosting this special event in partnership with the American Society Federation, ASF.

This is actually our third year commemorating the Khojaly tragedy. We have done this for the past three years to the victims of the Khojaly tragedy where over 600 events were lost in 1992. This is an interfaith gathering of representatives of various backgrounds, organizations, community activists, incredible artists that we will be conversing with today as well, the representatives of the Azerbaijani community. So, we can join into the memory of the victims and the survivors,” said Khan.

“I want to thank ASF’s executive director Jason Guberman Pfeiffer who has always been integral for Muslim, Jewish relations with MALA. And he has in the past discussed the importance of Jewish values of protection and the preservation of humanity. I also emphasize on the responsibility of genocide remembrance, given that our communities have experienced this in the past, and the need for us to share stories to prevent history from repeating itself.”

Khan then went on to further detail the impact that Khojaly had on Azerbaijan’s society overall.

“We have an obligation and an importance for communities to bridge together, to protect facets of identity, language, culture, and origin. Today’s program, as I had said, is very special because we do have two renowned artists from the Azerbaijani community that will be joining us today,” said Khan.

She then delved into the event topic.

“Every year, Azerbaijanis very solemn remembrance of the Khojaly massacre which occurred on February 26, 1992.   Khojaly’s impact is profoundly manifest in the lives of over 600,000 internationally displaced people forced to flee Karabakh for sanctuary in Baku which is Azerbaijan’s capital. In 2021, Azerbaijan celebrated their return to Karabakh, but Khojaly remains a deep wound for Azerbaijan, even as the joyous return to Karabakh signifies a return to family heritage and deep cultural roots.

And our hope is that as we commemorate the lives that have been lost, and hold such events in memory and remembrance, that we can reflect on Khojaly with determination to restore Karabakh’s interrupted legacy. Now, it is my profound honor to introduce Jason Guberman Pfeiffer, who is the executive director of the American Sephardi Federation. Jason, again thank you for being such a wonderful partner and colleague and a friend to all of us,” said Khan, before turning the floor over to Guberman.

“Thank you for your warm welcome. And for MALA’s leadership in celebrating the Muslim American community’s freedom, diversity, and heritage and culture and stories. The American Sephardi Federation, a partner of the world’s foremost center for Jewish history in New York, preserves, promotes, and perpetuates the history traditions, and rich mosaic culture of the greater Sephardic Jewish communities, which includes Azerbaijan Kavkazi or Mountain Jewish community,” said Guberman.

“We are honored to be joined today by members of the Azerbaijani diaspora, MANY, our friends and partners of the Moroccan Americans in New York, and our colleagues in the conference of presidents and major American Jewish organizations. Today is the Jewish holiday of Purim, which commemorates the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people,” said Guberman, referring to the events described in the Jewish historical Megillah account of the attempted annihilation of the Persian Jews which was diverted by Esther Queen of Persia during the reign of Xerxes.

“Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai’s creativity and courage miraculously prevented Haman’s genocidal conspiracies from succeeding. Purim’s commemoration is typically marked by merriment , but for the Azerbaijani Jewish community the public celebration is subdued this year in solidarity with their compatriots who deeply experienced the Khojaly tragedy or massacre 29 years ago today. It takes time to heal and to develop the strength to laugh at adversity, as is a key message of the Purim celebration. Now, as the Azerbaijani refugees finally return home, perhaps, in the future, this day will become a celebration of the resilience and rebirth of Khojaly and Karabakh as a whole, and most fitting memorial to the 613 victims.”

He then described the profound significance of the number 613 in the Jewish tradition, and how that 613 represents the number of the mitzvoth of the commandments that Jews follow. He drew a link between the Jewish commandments and drawing connections of sensitivity and compassion between religious communities. He stated that, while it could be argued that Khojaly sowed divisions among people rather than inspiring them to come together, the organized effort of this event showed that communities could come together after profound loss.

He then highlighted the program reel which would include a session for a survivor speaker from the Khojaly massacre, the Jewish Holocaust, and the Somaliland massacres.

After introductions and an interlude of clips from the event, the program introduced Abuzar Manafzade, award-winning pianist and composer, performed his “Xocaliya” piece in honor of the victims of Khojaly. The performance highlighted perfectly the mastery of Manafzade’s style which incorporated a refined balance between string piano techniques that simulate nearly the sound of storms. 

Republic Underground followed up with Manafzade after the event. He described the process he took in composing “Xocaliya”. 

Footage from the event on February 26, 2021. 

Republic Underground followed up with Manafzade after the event. He described the process he took in composing “Xocaliya”.

“We as children grew up with this tragedy, with real videos and photos from Khojaly Genocide. It has always touched me so much, and it hurts my heart. I protest any kind of violence and savageness against humans. All my feelings which accumulated with years just exploded in 2015 and I composed this piece in a day full of tears. First of all, I thought to give the name “dedicated to Khojaly”, then I thought dedication has to be beautiful something but there is unbelievable tragedy here and I just deleted the beginning of the name and stayed only “to Khojaly” (Xocalıya),” said Manfazade.

He then gave more insight into the technique he used to captivate the emotion of the Khojaly tragedy through the capacities of his instrument.

“There are many different techniques on piano and yes this technique inside of piano generally is called string piano which started as an idea by American composer Henry Cowell and used by many others at the beginning of 20th century. I tried to reflect the scream of victims of Khojaly Tragedy, the sound of bombs and guns, silence, alarms effects and of course just keys of the piano couldn’t be enough for that,” said Manfazade.

“That was a very, very magnificent and profound piece,” said Khan, as the performance ended.
“I have always emphasized that arts, music, culture…these define our heritage. They define our history, and by cultivating and nourishing the arts, and by sharing our stories through these arts it’s a way for us to keep in memory, and hold to our culture, and hold on to our sense of self-identity.”

Khan then introduced Dadash Mammadov, who is a Khojaly art executor.

“Today I have the distinct honor of introducing Dadash Mammadov to join me in a conversation. Dadash, there are no words to really describe your work. You are the son of Nazim Mammadov, who is the pioneer of arts in Azerbaijan. Profound, prolific artist. You currently are the director of the Arts Council in Azerbaijan, and I would really love to just dive into your work and your father’s work, and his particular pieces that were made in reference to the Khojaly tragedy. Thank you so much for joining us today,” said Khan.

“Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to such an important conversation. It is a big honor for me to join you in New York. Today I would like to tell you about how my father’s Khojaly collection was created. How he became the creator of such a big collection. I would say that it is one of the biggest collection’s in our country dedicated to the Khojaly genocide tragedy,” said Mammadov.

“He was a very patriotic person, and as an artist, he tried to, in the difficult period of the 90s, say something, he wanted to scream. He couldn’t because it was a difficult period, it was wartime. He wanted to show his emotions through art. For 10 years, he was working on this collection, from 1992 after the Khojaly, every day he was working on this collection. As an artist, of course, we always work on different pictures, but every day he was always working on this collection.”

Khan interjected that the images shown during this segment of the broadcast were her favorites from the Nazim Mammadov collection, noting that they were “extremely invoking.”
Oil and canvas were used. The paintings were of different sizes.

Dadash Mammadov stated that his father suffered in his health during the creation of his Khojaly collection.

“While he was creating these pictures, he suffered a heart attack two times,” said Mamadov.
“Because he started to do research. He read a lot about Khojaly. He was researching from different sources. At that time, we didn’t have the internet. Because it was the early 90s it was difficult to get information, only the newspapers which didn’t have proper photos. So, he was researching this for 10 years.”

Mammadov then described his father’s Khojaly exhibition in 2002.

“At last, in 2002, dedicated to the 10th anniversary of Khojaly, he organized an exhibition. That exhibition was in the National Museum of Art. He exposed 40 pictures. That’s quite a lot, because usually when you do an exhibition it’s under 20-25 pictures.He exposed 40 pictures, and he wanted to express all his feelings during these 10 years. He wanted to show how he cried, how he’d been hurt. In these pictures, you can see these emotions. After this exhibition, he presented all 40 art pieces to the state. This morning, there was an exhibition, and our Minister of Culture visited the Museum of National Art. All his (Mammadov’s father)works were exhibited today. As every year, on Khojaly Day, the museum exhibits all of those pictures,” said Mammadov.

Khan then asked Mammadov to tell more about where the pictures were housed. Mammadov stated that, while the pictures are housed in Baku, he has some rights for distribution as Mammadov’s son. He is permitted to exhibit the paintings abroad. Mammadov described how he exhibited the paintings at an organized exhibition at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in response to its famous post-Soviet tragedy.

“Well, you are certainly keeping his legacy and memory alive just simply by sharing his work. I can see how much of his passion has come through to you. Some of these paintings, we absolutely have to coordinate an exhibition here in the United States. Because I saw these paintings and they invoked a lot of human emotions. They are universal pictures of loss and a reminder of humanity,” said Khan. 

Khan then turned the conversation to some of Mammadov’s current projects. Mammadov, as an art critic as well as an artist, recalled how in 2010 he authored a book on his father’s work entitled Khojaly Scream, see AzerNews. Today, he is working to have his book published in different languages, such as English and French. 

“Also, I heard that a few years ago a French artist had begun drawing Khojaly, and he had some pressure, because France, you know, has always had a powerful Armenian Diaspora. He was telling me about his pictures, and I invited him to Baku and organized an exhibition for him. Every year, for the last five-six years definitely, I exhibit my father’s work and this French artist, Renauld Baltzingera’s artwork (see AzerNews). He also made a collection of 10 art pieces which are in Baku, and we exhibit them as well. This is our tragedy through the eyes of a foreign artist,” said Mammadov. He then described the role of the Azerbaijani Art Council to promote Azerbaijan’s art and culture abroad. 

“We cooperate with the Diaspora and try to support them with any type of art events. So, we’re always open to cooperate,” he said, noting that in addition to painters the organization works with musicians and all types of artists. 

“All the masterpieces,” said Khan, noting the beauty in Mammadov’s account of his father’s story. She then stated that the viewers of the ASF-MALA event’s webinar would be given information so that they could access the Khojaly Scream book and purchase it. She noted that Nazim Mammadov was Azerbaijan’s equivalent of “Walt Disney”, and made comparisons between his Nazim Mammadov’s Khojaly collection and Picasso’s blue period. 

“This is such a profound collection of pieces, and I encourage everybody to see them. Hopefully, we can bring them here to the United States,” said Mammadov. 

“Thank you, you know my father loved Picasso, but he developed his own style,” said Mammadov, noting that his father incorporated the styles of Picasso and Azerbaijani miniature styles into his work to make a new style. 

“When you see the paintings, you say ‘oh, that’s Nazim,’ you know, because it’s not Picasso and it’s not a miniature, it’s something in his style. After the 90s, when he made a political cartoon called Karvan. He used all his pictures and he tried to show all his hurt and feelings and made this cartoon,” said Mammadov, noting that the philosophy and style of the Karvan cartoon were “quite contemporary.”  He mentioned then that Azerbaijan had developed an Azerbaijani cartoon museum as part of its cultural preservation efforts. The cartoon museum is virtual, with a physical version in the works. 

See more on the amazing artwork presented in this Khojaly tragedy commemoration event in part 2.