The Kids Aren’t Alright…And Neither is the Country

As many expected, Ilham Aliyev has just won a third term as president of Azerbaijan in a “crushing” victory attended by accusations of rampant irregularities. Nigar Fatali describes what living and growing up in a society beset by corruption, nepotism, and favors for favors does to both families and the individual. 

Like many Azerbaijani families, mine is very protective. My father is a progressive but old-school man, who gave my brother and me all his love and care and always worked hard to provide for us. It is important for him to be reliable and helpful.

That is why a few times in the past he used his connections to move us forward. Nothing major. A call to a good friend would get my journalist brother an interview he needed, or get a corrupt, obnoxious dean off my back during my university years. Most of the time we would demand to do things on our own. And it only made him respect us more.

My parents were not perfect. But they never yelled at our teachers; they punished us instead. Perhaps that is why their occasional protectionism was not as damaging as it could have been, even though I still found it difficult to learn following the rules and working hard as an adult. It was probably my determination to have a better and different life that helped my self-discipline.

But sadly, not every parent in Azerbaijan thinks their children should work for what they want. On the contrary: Exceptionalism is blooming there. Twenty-somethings become managers through nepotism; bored daughters open businesses; third graders carry around the latest cell phone models; teenagers get brand-new high-powered cars estimated in six-digit sums, which many of them ultimately crash, killing themselves and/or their passengers. Unlike industrialized countries, it is not just characteristic of the rich few. For many Azerbaijanis, affording what they buy often means getting bank credits and loans for it — just another way to avoid responsibility.

It happens every day all around the country. It is contagious, dangerous and not surprising.

It is not Western standards I am talking about here; it is basic values that gave us, the Easterners, great rulers, writers, philosophers and many, many more in the past. I doubt that any of them would end up in our history books if they did not work so hard to deserve it.

After all, our country is run by power abusers whose bank accounts exceed the state budgets of some countries. Their children wear, consume and use things they would never be able to afford if their parents lived on the average salary (a little over $450 per month).

Our ministers and heads of departments stay in power for decades and still have no clue how to run things. Our governors and state officials build careers by praising the president and his family. Much-deserved salaries for those of us who work hard and fair rarely make it to our pockets. Our police officers are abusive beggars. Our doctors and teachers are starving, while our students pay to avoid school. Our research and development spending is non-existent, and our efficiency at work is often close to nothing. Our lives are a race for easy money, favors and ways to fool the system because there is almost no other way to survive.

I might not be an expert in the field, but correct me if I’m wrong: By failing our children, we fail our society and our country. And there is no way around this one.

While reading this New York Times opinion piece today, I thought many things. True, it is a tricky business to recommend things that will supposedly help you raise successful and happy children. Unfortunately, we all know at least one family, where kids, brought up by the same parents in the same environment turn out completely different. But does it hurt to try?

According to the author, psychologist Lisa Damour, “raising conscientious children is definitely not the most fun part of parenting. If it were, we as parents would not struggle so universally to follow through on consequences, monitor chores and insist that children spend more time reading and less time playing Temple Run.” By doing so we might be raising determined and consistent individuals, who “come out ahead because they do good work even when no one is looking.” Damour continues, saying that “adult happiness doesn’t arise from parents bending the rules to a child’s advantage; it comes from children learning the rules and conforming to them.”

It is hard to disagree. It might be the time for us Azerbaijanis to stop blaming things on our mentality and think ahead. For the sake of our future and well-being we should pay a little more attention to disciplining our children rather than spoiling them. They should learn to earn things they drive, wear and consume and not be entitled to them. They should face the consequences of their actions and learn to own up to them. As a result, we might have new and better generations that will demand a better life, the one they actually deserve, from their government and their bosses. They might build a stronger country, based on meritocracy and the right values. Finally, they might be happier, smarter, healthier and more successful.

And please do not get me wrong. It is not Western standards I am talking about here; it is basic values that gave us, the Easterners, great rulers, writers, philosophers and many, many more in the past. I doubt that any of them would end up in our history books if they did not work so hard to deserve it.


This was originally published on Nigar Fatali’s blog.

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Nigar Fatali

Nigar Fatali is a print, online and multimedia freelance journalist with an interest in foreign policy, human rights and science. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona, where she received her Master's degree in journalism as an Edmund S. Muskie fellow. At the University of Arizona, she was the president of the Society of Professional Journalists' student chapter in 2012-2013. She has interned with Arizona Public Media and Foreign Policy Association. Fatali was born and raised in Azerbaijan where she was a prominent blogger and a political activist. She advocated for human rights and contributed to the release of political prisoners. She speaks Russian, English and Azerbaijani.