The love tale of Ali and Nino has been very popular in Baku, Azerbaijan. The outline of the tale is influenced by the turmoil that was witnessed in Baku during the early years of the 20th century. It actually ends with Ali’s death at a time when the Russians have occupied the Caucasus. The characters’, Ali and Nino, love began after their encounter in the streets of Baku. Nevertheless, the book is more than a love tale. Its careful analysis provides the audience with insightful understanding of Karabakh, Tehran, Tbilisi, Baku, as well as the mountains of Dagestan. It presents the audience with a composition of love and passion, honor and disgrace, war and revolution, and mountains and deserts.
The author describes Ali’s thoughts about Baku in a striking manner. According to the author, Ali loves the sands and winds of the Land of Fire. Ali believes that it is the lack of understanding of the town that leads a foreigner to regard Baku as just “a dusty town”. The main theme and appeal in the tale of Ali and Nino is love. It is striking how the two characters struggle to define their identities at the time of upheaval. In addition to love, the tale presents a unique illustration of the Caucasus as well as the differences between Christianity and Islam.
The East and West Identity
The love relationship between Nino and Ali represents a union of distinct, yet related cultures. The setting of the tale is in the Caucasus, a region that has been a meeting place for different Western and Eastern cultures for many centuries. The author reminds his audience of the uniqueness of the setting over and over again. For instance, while Nino is alarmed in Tehran, Ali sees himself as an intruder at a British people’s party being held in Baku. This is in spite of him being conversant with Baku for the whole of his life.
Ali declines an invitation to Paris, noting that Paris would make him unhappy, just as Nino was during their tour of Persia. He suggests that they should stay in Baku, the meeting place of the Easterners and the Westerners, and a place that they are identified with, instead of travelling to distant locations. In fact, the author hints that Ali is not conversant with Iran, despite being an Easterner. It is also striking to see the manner in which Nino plays her hostess role at a Westerners party. The author meant to indicate that the two are more comfortable in Baku than anywhere else. The reason behind this is that, as a meeting place, the Caucasus is not very different from their homes, a fact that makes Baku appealing to them.
“Ali and Nino” is also a tale of symbolism. While some aspects of this symbolism are easily noticeable, others require an exhaustive knowledge of the Caucasus as well as its legends. For instance, there is an episode in the tale where Ali chases Nachararyan on a golden horse as the later drives off with Nino. The horse has been associated with the history of the Caucasus, where it has been regarded as a symbol of nobility and honor. On the contrary, Nachararyan’s new car reflects the rejection of the Caucasian identity. It shows that Nachararyan has stopped regarding himself as a Caucasian, a fact that enables him to stage such an unthinkable action. He betrays his long time friend, Ali, by trying to steal his lover.
The author of the tale describes the re-birth of the Caucasus following a brief but turbulent instance in the Azerbaijani history. He depicts struggles of a number of empires over the Caucasian region: the Persians, the British, the Russians, and the Turks, all of whom he includes in his tale. A remarkable sense of identity is witnessed when Ali’s friends, many of whom had indicated their willingness to fight alongside the Russian in the Great War, become indifferent after the Ottoman’s Empire declares war on Russia. Even a devout Shiite cleric, Sayid Mustafa, is left confused as he does not know whether it is right between to support the Sunni Turkish caliph or the Tsar of Russia, who is a Christian.
The tale is also prophetic as it foresees events that happened after its composition. For instance, it foretells the displeasure in pre-Pahlavi Persia, a situation which later defines the history of the 20th century Persia/Iran. Ali is presented to a person who realizes that a Caucasian cannot live in Iran, a home of melodic poetry, as it contrasts with the Caucasian dancing culture. Although Ali understands that living in Baku denies an individual a chance to enjoy the Persian roses and their fragrance, he opts to return to his home in Baku. This is in spite of Bahram’s call for him to remain in Persia.
The New Azerbaijan
The rebirth of Azerbaijan proves another prophetic component in the tale. Loyalty towards the independent state of Azerbaijan causes divisions between Ali and his father. The father is unfamiliar with the new Azerbaijan, having lived under the imperial authority for the whole of his life. He points out that the new developments confuse him, and asks Ali to remain in Baku as Azerbaijan requires the presence of people like him. Ali’s father considers his views to be contrary to the new developments in Azerbaijan, and since his son, Ali, identifies with them, he fails to understand why he has to leave Baku.
It is remarkable how, despite the cultural differences, Ali and Nino fall in love with each other. None considers the other as an alien and neither Ali nor Nino is rejected by friends and family members of the other. The separation of the two comes as a result of the war, a situation which is introduced by the external powers. As such, the tale is one of tolerance amongst individuals with strong cultural beliefs and attachments to their traditions. This is because, had the Caucasus remained peaceful, Ali and Nino would have ended up together.
Ali and Nino represent the soul and identity of the Caucasus and its ever-evolving identity. The events in the tale depict the later-day situations in new countries. For instance, as the tale ends, Ali, a young man form Baku, deceases in Ganja fighting in the army of the new Azerbaijan. It is striking to realize that Ali’s death occurs at the place where his ancestors died while fighting for the imperial army. In essence, the tale demonstrates a remarkable understanding of love, the Caucasus, and the influence of the culture differences between the inhabitants of the region. As the tale ends, Ali’s friend explicates how he died fighting for the new Azerbaijan. He argues that the death of Ali constitutes the demise of the new republic. This is because of the manner in which he associated with the new republic as well as his understanding of the Caucasian region.