Azerbaijani Men and Their Not-So-Secret Affairs
Nailya reflects on some interesting patterns in her home society and stirs the pot a little with this entertaining essay.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I fancied a boy.
He had the longest eyelashes I had ever seen and was sexy in the way Prince used to be (in his younger days) - slender and slightly feminine in manner, but definitely not gay.
That by itself was not the problem.
The problem was that I also fancied his best friend.
The friend was very different, quite stereotypically manly, and physically strong. They were both attractive - in different ways. Eventually, after a few months of glances, flirting and innuendoes, I started going out with boy no 2. However, this interest in the first boy with long eyelashes did not fade away. That’s how one day, a year later, we ended up in quite a complicated situation that almost led to me cheating on my boyfriend with his friend. As you can imagine, not a good situation.
Fortunately, nothing happened.
Many years, or what felt like centuries later, I met the eyelashes boy for lunch back in Baku. He was different: older, wiser, with less hair.
It was nice to catch up with this ghost from the past. We had a chat about life, our children, and our spouses. We talked about his business in Baku and plans for the future.
It was all very pleasant and civilized – the kind of chat I might be having in the UK. However, I couldn’t let our talk end this way! Knowing what Azerbaijani men are like when it comes to relationships and married life, I asked him if he had a mistress. He had an expensive car, his own business, and lived in the capital city - a set of attributes that almost guarantee he has some ‘untoward’ stories to tell.
But my old friend reassured me he was not a "typical Azeri.”
Illustration: Nailya Bentley
He reminded me that not cheating on his wife was almost embarrassing for a successful Baku businessman like himself. His business partners and friends might think he is not into women or has some kind of ‘performance issue’ if he doesn’t have a “sevgili janim” (a phrase commonly used for a mistress). Nonetheless, he was happily married to a very pretty, much-younger-than-himself lady and had fathered a few children. He claimed he managed to remain faithful for those ten years. As I chewed on my steak, nodding away, I contemplated whether to believe his story. That’s when he added casually that he did, however, have an experience with a Chinese prostitute last time he was on a business trip.
So, of course, we ended up talking about Azerbaijani men and cheating. “Come on,” he said, “you surely don’t think only Azeri men cheat?!”
I reassured him I was not that naive. However, the difference is: where I lived in the UK at the time, it was not the sort of thing married men casually chat about.
Image: I Wei Huang/Shutterstock
I tried to imagine two businessmen catching up after a game of golf somewhere in England:
- Nice weather today (this imaginary conversation has to start somewhere, and English people famously discuss weather all the time).
- Not too bad indeed… Another pint?
- Cheers… How did your trip to China go last month?
- Oh, great. The flight was good, and the food was pretty decent… Had some time to do some sightseeing and, oh, yes…had a prostitute visit me in my hotel room one night. It is good to be back home with the family though.
- Nice one, mate. So, what are you guys up to this weekend?
It doesn’t sound very realistic, does it?
Of course, cheating happens everywhere. But what amazes me is the ease with which some Azerbaijani men brag about their ‘secret’ affairs. The pride they take in it is alarming. What part of its complicated past made Azerbaijani society so tolerant of the whole thing? Surely, it was not the strict Soviet days, where every naughty husband faced public shaming in front of his colleagues for sneaking around, whether it was drinking or cheating that he was guilty of. And it can’t be the religious traditions that are not too keen on such behaviour either. So how did it become the norm for Azerbaijani men to do (and then happily discuss!) something a lot of western men only fantasize about? Or, at least, try to keep a secret?
I don’t know. I am just pleased that nothing serious happened with either of those boys from long, long ago. The one with the eyelashes thinks a Chinese prostitute does not qualify as cheating, whereas the other one, sadly, died in a nasty car crash - just another story with an unhappy ending.