Unexpected Criticism

On the blog last week, I wrote what I considered to be a good piece about my interaction with one of my students, and my feelings about the situation afterward.  You can read it in the post below this one, or click here.  I was very careful about the language I used, and try to put any judgements I made into context so that the reader understands that I am writing from my perspective (An American Peace Corps Volunteer working in Ujar, Azerbaijan).  Still, I received a comment on the post that really surprised me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it over the weekend.

The commenter goes by the name Atilla, and here is the comment to my post in its entirety:

Hey dude,
I would suggest that you be a little careful about the language you use in describing the Azerbaijani culture and women. Yes my way of living, life style and understanding of honor is much different than American men (thanks to God), but it doesn’t make my culture or way of living abnormal. Indeed it is the american way of living that I found strange, confusing and against the human nature. All americans I found to be extrmely materialist, egoist, and highly immoral. I would suggest you to refrain from assesing cultures and women of other nations. I am proud of being Azerbaijani and being a real men vs. the girly men like creatures in USA who can’t have no understanding of honor and extremly immoral. Soo keep your morale and propoganda for American women. Nobody here wants to listen your “precious” and highly subjective and illogical advise. Focus on teaching English. Anyway not much left for going back to US.

I was really bothered by this, but I couldn’t figure out why.  Was it because the author of the comment was critizing my culture, or because they were critizing my writing?

I reread my piece several times, looking for what might have offended Atilla so much.  I stand by what I wrote, and believe it is a fair assessment of the situation that happened.  My first thought on how I would respond the the criticism was to simply say, “BE MORE SPECIFIC.” 

I couldn’t figure out what Atilla so much, except for maybe the part where I describe Azerbaijani women as being shy and reserved.  I suppose this could be thought of as a negative description, but I do go on to explain that this is the judgement I have come up with in having lived here for over a year, including nine months with an Azerbaijani family.  I find it ironic that Atilla thinks that I am criticizing Azerbaijani women by saying this, when it is in fact the deep-rooted patriarchy that I take issue with.  I think it was this phrase that made Atilla respond by saying “it doesn’t make my culture or way of living abnormal.”  It’s pretty clear that no where in the post did I say describe any part of Azerbaijani culture or the people’s way of life as “abnormal,” and nowhere did I prescribe negative or positive value judgements on anyone or anything, except for my fondness of a particular student, of who I am extremely happy with.

Obviously, the way of life and culture here is different than what I am used to (though I am pretty used to it by now).  Atilla points this out himself by saying that during his time in the United States that he said it was the “american way of living that I found strange, confusing and against the human nature.”  That could have been a great point that being in Azerbaijan presents new and strange experiences for an American, but the same thing happens for Azerbaijanis in America.  It’s the same culture and lifestyle that I find comfortable that makes this person feel uncomfortable.  I would have completely understood that perspective, and it would have been fair.  But instead of stopping there, Atilla decided to try to put me, Americans, and anyone who writes a blog down.

I don’t want to go point by point why I think that this comment was ridiculous and unfounded (by which I mean, I really really want to go point by point to show how dumb I think this is, but I won’t).  However, there are a couple more points I would like to make:

1.  This blog is mine.  I write it and the opinions expressed in the posts are mine.  It is a blog about a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Azerbaijan.  Sometimes I tell stories to paint a picture for those who aren’t here and can’t really understand what it feels like to be here.  Other times, I offer analysis to situations in order to explain what I think is going on in those stories I tell.  If you are reading this, you are either curious to read about what a person in my situation has to say about his or her life, or you came across the blog my accident.  If I were to follow the advice given to my in the comment and keep my opinions to myself, this blog would indeed be quite boring.

2.  Here’s what I think happened.  I could be completely wrong about this, but I’m 95% sure that this Atilla character is a Bakuvian.  When I go to Baku, especially after having spent a long time in the regions, that I’m going to different country.  People move differently.  They act differently and have access to more information, entertainment, and opportunities that those in the regions.  Because Atilla comes from such an environment (again, that’s my assumption), my description of Azerbaijan doesn’t fit the one that he has.  If this is the case, then I can understand why someone might think I was giving an unfair assessment.  Still, I stand by the claim that I don’t think that everyone in Baku is in touch with the situation in the regions.  If the entire country was like Baku, they wouldn’t need Peace Corps Volunteers.  Things are quite different out here,and that not only goes for the development that has taken place over the past few years, but also the mentality of the people and the culture.  So while it may be alright in Baku for young women to do something like go outside by themselves, or use the internet, or take a test to see if they are qualified to study in America for a year, it can be very different situation in the regions.

I wrote this post because I’m curious what others think.  Was my post fair?  I meant it to be a piece about how I felt about a situation, not a criticism of a culture.  What about Atilla’s criticism?  It seemed undeserved and noisy to me.  Most of all I want to know, what do you, the readers, think?

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4 responses to “Unexpected Criticism

  1. Hi, Jeff– You have just learned a lesson that most parents and others who work with children and young people usually learn– namely, that what you want for your children is not necessarily what they want for themselves. That can be a big disappointment the first time around. At least you gave this young lady a chance, and maybe opened her eyes to later opportunities. Chin up!! Grammy

  2. I don’t think there is enough to go on here. Your right in that it’s loud, it’s just loud. If the letter had come from an Azerbaijani woman then i believe a little more could be read into the comment. This was just a misunderstanding, obviously this guy wasn’t reading your post from the standpoint of a teacher, he viewed it from a much broader and culturally critical view, and that’s just too bad. Theirs a lot of us getting a lot of good out of your posts, don’t let some bad steal your energy from that.

  3. Hey,
    I have received much more insulting and aggressive comments from our mutual friend Atilla. 🙂 Please contact me and I will share my thoughts and even tell you what he said. If he managed to take an offense in what you said, imagine what someone like me, a completely outspoken British azeri does to him?!! His comments, by the way have nothing whatsoever to do with him protecting azeri women. Come on! It is men like him that would love to see those women put as low down as they can. It is the gender issue that he clearly gets annoyed about, and I guess the best we could do, until I am rich to hire a hacker to find out who he is and destroy his PC …. is ignore the”dude”

  4. Also, it is the total lack of understanding English properly I guess, to tell where something said is nasty and something is actually quite nice that amazes me, I think he is so overwhelmed by his personal hate of everything foreign, he can’t even read between the lines. amazing.

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