The Languages of Caucasian Cosmopolitanism: Twentieth-Century Baku at the Crossroads
This chapter presents literary fiction as a space where nostalgic responses to the revolutions and civil wars tearing up the Caucasus proliferated. At the centre of attention is a novel by Kurban Said, the pen name of the Jewish author Leo Nussimbaum, whose novel Ali und Nino (1937), written in exile in Austria, depicted a multinational Baku torn along ethnic and religious lines during the civil war of 1917–1920. A love story between a Shia Muslim male, an Azeri Ali and the Georgian Orthodox female Nino began in the classroom of that Russian gymnasium captures the last years of Azerbaijani culture in the late Russian empire before the Bolshevik occupation. The geography of Ali and Nino encompasses the whole region of the Caucasus, involving Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Dagestanis, Turks and Persians. Gasimov places the confession of the lead protagonist, who claims that he is ‘not an Asian anymore’, in the broader context of the cultural history of Baku, a site of conflict as well as of cosmopolitan belonging between empires. In so doing, he unravels the cultural history of other Bakuvian humanists, who included translators of Goethe’s works into Azeri. The chapter problematizes the category of the ‘white Russian’ émigré as a reactionary nostalgic for imperial Russia, recovering instead the imperial multiculturalism of late imperial Caucasian humanism.