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Pandemic, Poverty Affect Valentine’s Day Celebrations in Azerbaijan

Weakened consumer budgets and pandemic lockdown have dampened the mood for this year’s Valentine’s Day celebrations, in Baku, Azerbaijan, Feb. 14, 2022.

Despite their popularity in recent years, Azerbaijan’s Valentine’s Day celebrations are somewhat muted this year. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, as well as poverty, are blamed by some shopkeepers for the gloomy attitude.

“During the pandemic, our business has been weak. Can’t sell much,” street vendor Tamkin Nagiyev told VOA. “People ask the price, then citing the high prices, they do not purchase. They just celebrate it with one flower.”

Ruslan Abdullayev, a flower shop owner, confirmed the pandemic’s impact, saying consumers’ ability to cope has been severely weakened.

“Previously, we sold each flower for 20 Manats ($11.75). Now, they don’t even want to buy it for 10,” said Abdullayev, who noted that while food prices have risen, flower prices have decreased.

Valentine’s Day is not an official holiday in Azerbaijan. It gained popularity in recent years through Western influence and has special appeal to younger generations. The day offers yet another occasion for those seeking to demonstrate their appreciation for love, fueled by commercial interests, social media and possibly a love of chocolate.

Many people in Baku, Azerbaijan’s largely Muslim capital, told VOA they approve of the day.

“We are not opposed to its celebration,” Ilhama Mammadova said. “Every woman would want to love and be loved. To be loved is the right of each woman.”

Another Baku resident, Orkhan Dadashov, agreed.

“Love doesn’t have a day. But speaking materially, at least once a year we can buy a flower and celebrate it. Everyone can do so according to his or her means,” Dadashov said.

But Elkhan Arifli, who celebrates Islamic religious holidays, said he does not consider Valentine’s Day to be a national holiday for Azerbaijanis.

“Actually, this is not our holiday. This is a Christian holiday. Lovers don’t have a day. For those who love, every day is a holiday,” he told VOA.

In recent months, several Azerbaijanis proposed moving Valentine’s Day from February 14 to June 30, the wedding day of Ilham and Fariza Allahverdiyeva, who came to symbolize Azerbaijan’s struggle for independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. Ilham was among dozens killed by gunfire while protesting for independence. Fariza committed suicide soon after. Their love story is still remembered.

Many, like Baku resident Farida Mehdiyeva, still consider Valentine’s Day a positive cultural addition for those who attach significance to romance.

“True, some people do not want us to celebrate this day,” Mehdiyeva said. “But I do. I personally feel the mood of celebration.”

This story originated in VOA’s Azerbaijan Service with contributions from Asgar Asgarov.