Lon Gibson is an alumnus of the 2016 CLS Azerbaijani program in Baku, Azerbaijan. He is currently a Ph.D. student in international conflict management at Kennesaw State University. Lon was born and raised in Macon, Georgia with four brothers and two sisters; he is an uncle to 10 nieces and nephews. After he completed his Master of Public Administration, Lon taught English in Saatli, Azerbaijan with the United States Peace Corps. His favorite things to do when not travelling or studying are reading, painting, and running.
I chose to study Azerbaijani as my CLS target language because I wanted to continue developing the skills I acquired during my service in the Peace Corps. Additionally, since I am currently working on my PhD and my area of study is focused in the South Caucasus (in particular, Azerbaijan), continuing to develop my Azerbaijani skills was necessary for my forthcoming dissertation.
Discovering Linguistic Diversity
My fondest memory from the CLS Azerbaijani program is visiting the secluded village of Xinaliq (Khinalug). This village is an ancient settlement that dates back to the Caucasian Albanian period. Xinaliq is also the highest and most remote village in Azerbaijan. Upon arrival, I attempted to speak with several locals in Azerbaijani only to realize that this village had its own unique language. What I learned most from this experience was that Azerbaijan is much more than the bright lights of Baku. It is a country united under the civic identity of Azerbaijani but also still retains ethnic identities, some of which that date back as far as Noah.
On Managing Difference
Being an African American male, living in a post-Soviet society, to say the least shaped my experience in Azerbaijan. Most Azerbaijanis have never interacted with black people and it was not uncommon to receive stares of curiosity. This entails its own specific challenges. It provided me, however, with multiple opportunities to shed light on a culture that is often only viewed through a television screen.
Words of Wisdom
I would definitely recommend studying Azerbaijani to those considering the CLS program because this language is unique and will give you a deeper understanding of the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan sits at the crossroads between East and West and this is exemplified through its language. Though it is Turkic in origin, Azerbaijani is heavily influenced by Russian and Arabic. This mixture of languages provides you with a cultural insight into how (and why) Azerbaijan’s identity has been constructed in the manner in which it is today.