Monday, December 12, 2016



Ali and Nino was written by Kurban Said eighty years ago, but the conflicts it portrays between East and West, between Islam and Christianity, are as relevant today as they were then. The book is set in Azerbaijan, which is situated between Europe and Asia, along with Georgia and Armenia.

The story follows the fates of Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a young man from a proud and venerated Muslim family, and Nino Kipiani, a young woman whose Georgian Christian family is no less proud and esteemed. The two are in love, which scandalizes no one in the town of Baku, where Muslims and Christians mingle openly. Still, their love is a constant balancing act for them, not only because of expectations from their families, but because of the political turmoil of the time.

For example, Ali’s devout friend Seyd has no problem with the idea of Ali marrying a Christian woman, since it is Seyd’s belief that a woman has neither soul nor intelligence. In his mind, Nino’s religion is irrelevant, although he is adamant that the sons of the marriage must be raised as Muslims. Nino is equally concerned when she thinks about how Muslim Persians laid waste to her country of Georgia in times past, and how her children as Muslims may participate in similar destruction in the future.

For his part, Ali worries about Nino’s yearnings for Europe, since he is a son of the sand and the desert and would be miserable in Paris or London or any of the other European capitals that Nino is drawn to. Nino agrees to continue living in Azerbaijan for Ali’s sake, but she lets him know that their child will not be a son of the desert. Ali acquiesces, and at that point he “knew that I had agreed to be the father of a European.”

Ali and Nino overcome many challenges in their relationship because of their love for each other. Azerbaijan, however, is a victim of its own geographical desirability. As the story begins, Azerbaijan is under the control of the Czar’s Russia. Later, the Turks, the British, and post-Czarist Russians all have designs on the region. In the end, it is the political upheaval, rather than their feelings for one another, that determines the fate of Ali and Nino’s relationship.


While there was plenty of eating and drinking in Ali and Nino, I didn't find anything I thought was representative of the country and also easily veganizable. So I decided to look for something online, and found several references to pomegranate salad in the cuisine of Azerbaijan. Since it's pomegranate season, that seemed to be the perfect choice.

It took awhile for my taste buds to adjust to the combination of main ingredients in the recipe -- pomegranate seeds and boiled potatoes -- but I liked it once I got used to it. The recipe called for either dill or cilantro, which have such different flavors. I opted for cilantro, but if I had it to do over again, I'd probably choose the dill. I used vegan mayonnaise in place of the non-vegan variety.

The recipe I used is from a blog called "AZ Cookbook," featuring recipes from Azerbaijan and Turkey.


In searching for an organization to give my Azerbaijan donation to, I found a British crowdfunding site called JustGiving, which had a fundraising page for a group called United Aid for Azerbaijan. This organization "implements strategies to help children in need of special protection, those who have been abandoned by their families because of poverty, social problems and disability." More information about United Aid for Azerbaijan is available at


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