‘Don’t give up your dreams’ Literary Contest Winner – Abdulla Isa


The judges of OCABF 2013’s Literary contest were thrilled to award first place to Abdulla Isa’s “Man of the Mountains”, which will enable this alented author to have his book published for the first time. It is a realisation of one of his dreams, so Open Central Asia magazine took the time to interview Abdulla in his hometown of Baku, Azerbaijan. 

Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into

I’m just a creative person who is excited about the history of wider Caucasus and Central Asia. It brought me to the documentary business 10 years ago and I ended up filming the Georgian “Rose Revolution”, drug trafficking along the Iranian-Afghan border and a history of the first Azerbaijan oil boom ranging from 1860s up to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. As it was put correctly by J.D. Salinger in the Catcher in the Rye – “I like it when somebody gets excited about something”. So, I’m excited about everything related to the Caucasus and Central Asia and “Man of the Mountains” is another part of this excitement. It helps me in my professional capacity while I’m running an ambitious project aiming at narrowing the digital divide in the wider Caucasus and Central Asian region via “TASIM” a fibro-optic terrestrial internet backbone.

What made you decide to enter the OCABF Literature Contest?

While being a student in the US, I understood that there is enormous potential to promote the Caucasus, our history and traditions via simple tools such as writing a book, shooting a documentary or making a film. I wanted write something inspirational about the Caucasus, tell its mystical and turbulent history, partly based on my own eye-witness account of events. I wanted to write a story for the Western world, whom, consciously I belong too. When I heard about the OCABF two years ago with its first ever contest in Kyrgyzstan, I did not feel ready to enter, but as the forum is a great place to pitch my book, when the contest was to be organised in the UK for our region with ultimate goal of publishing the winner’s book and promote it afterwards I had to enter. I feel touched that my book was selected among many contenders from the region. I don’t know who’s idea it was to come up with the Open Central Asia (OCA) Literature Contest yet I believe in its future. With many legends like Nizami Ganjevi, Abdulkasim Firdousi, Abdullah Rudaki, Alisher Navoi and others, little known to the western audience, but often considered founding fathers of local cultures, OCA’s future is bright.

How would you describe your style of work and what has
influenced it?

Let me start from the end. There are two dimensions. The first comes from my experience as a filmmaker and TV reporter who has travelled extensively all over the Caucasus and beyond. I have met countless people, both famous and little known, who shared tons of information with me. I didn’t want this information to just sink into the sand. All those stories where precious to me – they were about the Caucasians and I knew that if not recorded in this book they would just vanish. Second, I always adored Nizami Ganjevi. The main reason is his simplicity in explaining complex questions such as what is love, what is the meaning of life and why do we need to fight for our freedom. Nizami was a genius in terms of explaining such fundamental questions in his 2 sentence long “beyts”.

What sort of readers would be interested in your writing?

Those who love mysticism, history and oriental philosophy, and literature. In my book, two stories develop simultaneously – the Caucasian wars of last 20 years and the mystical story of the Alexander the Great, written more than 800 years ago by Great Nizami. If we look at our wars of early 90ss, we see that small nations can stand up to global powers. Caucasians not only stood up against those enormously strong powers, but for years led successful guerrilla wars. So, this itself quite interesting as one can’t apply standard logic here to explain this reality.

The same mysticism can be applied to Nizami’s final work – “Story of the Alexander the Great” or “Iskandername” in Azeri. Nizami died in 1209 and his son Mohammed wrote the last chapters of the book. In Iskandarname, Alexander, along with many other adventures, fights against the Russians in Abkhazia and the Persians in the holy city of Mosul, journeys to the “world of darkness” to obtain immortality in Peshawar, a city in Pakistan, where Usama Ben Laden in the late 1980s established his base to fight Soviet troops in cross-border operations. Also, maybe for a first time, we may see a chapter on the clash of civilisations when the Chinese emperor and Alexander argue on the depth of Chinese and Greek art.

All these topics and venues mentioned in Nizami’s book are in news headlines today. Sometimes, it is difficult to believe that “Iskandarname” was written over 800 years ago.

Now that you have won the contest, and will be a published
author soon, what plans do you have to promote the book and
build on your success?

I think that in today’s world, so interconnected economically, socially, and culturally, Man of the Mountains should find its niche. It talks about subjects that are on the public radar – radical Islamic movements, their fake ideology, the cultural bounds of Caucasus nations, global jihad tools and so on. I’m interested in promotion of the book in US, UK think tanks, various universities, media forums and conferences.

Our region has witnessed so many tragic and proud moments that we may need a hundred books to write about it. There is no lack of subjects of interest for people in the West.

What message do you have for other aspiring authors?

It is an important question. When I told my close circle of friends that I was writing a book on the Caucasus and wanted to publish it in UK, none of them believed it had a future. They just said that nobody wants to read a book on the Caucasus in UK or elsewhere. And, even if the subject is interesting, my English is not good enough to write a profound book. They said that even if I could solve the first two issues, no publisher will print it.

They all were wrong. Man of the Mountains will be published this autumn in the UK in perfect English with a reputable publisher, under  Hertfordshire Press. As Nelson Mandela once said “no one believes in it till it is done.” Don’t give up your dreams.

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