The novel Ali and Nino has long been beloved both for its affecting cross-cultural love story and for its rich, complex portrait of the Caucasus. But in a new film adaptation of the book – executive produced by the daughter of Azerbaijan's president – much of that complexity is ironed out into a narrative closely tracking the Azerbaijani government's preferred image of itself.
Ali and Nino, written by the pseudonymous Kurban Said and published in 1937, tells the story of the Azeri Muslim Ali and Georgian Christian Nino, who fall in love in Baku during World War I as the Russian empire is falling apart and Azerbaijan is striving for independence.
In the film adaptation, however, several historical elements of the novel – including the role of Russia, Armenians, and Shia Islam – have been distinctly altered. “Despite the correct chronology, the details were manipulated to reflect government sympathies. And this is why it cannot be described as an objective film,” said Altay Goyushev, a historian and prominent public intellectual in Azerbaijan, in an interview with EurasiaNet.
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Arzu Geybulla is a freelance writer originally from Azerbaijan currently based in Istanbul.