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Textbook Poem By President's Daughter Causes Kerfuffle In Azerbaijan

Leyla Aliyeva, the eldest daughter of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, seems to fancy herself as something of a Renaissance woman.
Leyla Aliyeva, the eldest daughter of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, seems to fancy herself as something of a Renaissance woman.
Whatever your opinion of Azerbaijan's first daughter, Leyla Aliyeva, you have to admit that she is pretty prolific.

Indeed, when it comes to her artistic, social, and cultural interests, the eldest child of authoritarian President Ilham Aliyev has far more pies than she has fingers to put in them.

Besides being vice president of her mother's charitable Heydar Aliyev Foundation as well as one of the main players in Azerbaijan's aviation and telecommunications industries, she also somehow finds the time to carry out her duties as editor in chief of the "Baku" style magazine.

According to Aliyeva's own snazzy website, her other accomplishments include being a business guru, friendship ambassador, and environmental campaigner.

Throw in the fact that Aliyeva is also a visual artist, movie producer, and poet, it seems that she is quite the Renaissance woman (or at least a pretty enthusiastic dilettante).

Her literary talents were recognized recently when one of her poems was included in a school reader for fifth-graders.

Aliyeva's "Elegy" for her late grandfather and former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev appears in the textbook alongside the work of revered Azeri writers such as Cafar Cabbarli.

As this brief excerpt illustrates, it's a heartfelt tribute to the third president of independent Azerbaijan and expresses Aliyeva's sadness at his passing:

I wish I was a bird flying to the stars
And that the moon illuminated my way
And I wish I met you there
And we turned together toward Earth

Listen to the whispers of my grief –
I know well what separation is!
I wish the winds would spread the cry of my heart
To the whole universe

The poem, however, (which carries on in the same vein for another six stanzas) is not universally appreciated and there are even people who have criticized its inclusion in an official school reader.

The poem by Leyla Aliyeva
The poem by Leyla Aliyeva
Some have actually suggested that the poem's publication in the book might have more to do with Aliyeva's status in Azerbaijan than with her literary talent.

"Maybe the girl [Aliyeva] herself doesn't know about this," prominent writer Akram Aylisli told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. "Flattery is so widespread in this country that maybe somebody just took this poem and included it in the book. Schoolbooks have been never been as bad as they are now."

Opposition blogger and activist Zaur Qurbanli went even further.

"This is the poetry of the daughter of the dictator Ilham Aliyev," he wrote on September 25. "Look what we are coming to. This is the method of poisoning our children. We should protest as much as we can."

Unfortunately, Qurbanli didn't get much of a chance to participate in any demonstrations. He was detained on September 29 in connection with illicit drug operations and "illegal documents and objects" that were found in his office.

The authorities have tried to play down any controversy over "Elegy." The head of the Schoolbooks Department of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Education, Faiq Shahbazly, simply described the inclusion of the work in a school anthology as "normal."

"It has not been included in a main textbook; it's a complementary reader" he said. "And the poem itself is very nice.

-- Coilin O'Connor, with contributions by RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent Shahnaz Baylargizi

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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