Audience members reduced to tears by Ali and Nino during its European premiere in the Brussels European Parliament

Press Release: Numerous viewers were left tearful when the sweeping, emotional film Ali and Nino received its European premiere on 8 March with a screening at the European Parliament in Brussels, hosted by Norica Nicolai MEP, who attended with three other MEPs – Heidi Hautala, Ramona Nicole Manescu and Tomas Zdechovsky. It was organised by the Benelux office of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), in collaboration with the Azerbaijani Embassy to Belgium, the Netherlands and the EU; the Georgian Embassy to Belgium, the Netherlands and the EU; and the ALDE Group.

The 175 attendees included H.E. Natalie Sabanadze, Ambassador of the Republic of Georgia to Belgium; H.E. Fuad Isgandarov, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU; H.E. Khazar Ibrahim, Head of the Azerbaijani Mission to NATO; H.E. Mykola Tochytskyi, Ukrainian Ambassador to Azerbaijan and Javanshir Feyziyev, Azerbaijani MP, Head of the Committee on Foreign and Interparliamentary Relations in the Milli Majlis (Azerbaijani Parliament) and Co-Chair, EU–Azerbaijan Parliamentary Co-operation Committee, together with three other Azerbaijani MPs – Fuad Muradov, Kamran Bayramov and Rovshan Rzayev.

Written exactly 80 years ago in German by the enigmatic Kurban Said, the novel Ali and Nino encapsulates the interreligious, multicultural and tolerant spirit of Baku that existed in 1918–20 during the period of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR), which preceded seven long decades of Soviet domination. Detailing the romance between Ali, a Muslim Azerbaijani noble youth, and Nino, a Christian Georgian Princess, the novel is largely set in Icheri Sheher (Baku Old City), although the action also takes place in Daghestan, Ganja, Tbilisi, Tehran and Shusha, an Azerbaijani cultural hub in Nagorno-Karabakh that is currently under illegal Armenian occupation. The story emphasises the pioneering nature of the ADR, which was founded on western principles of democracy, when Christians and Muslims happily cohabited in Baku. 

The screening was timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, for the film features a strong female character (Nino) and the period under examination saw the ADR extend the franchise to all women over the age of 18 (predating such developments in the UK, US and France). It also saw the establishment of Baku State University, based on European models, and Azerbaijani participation in the Paris Peace Conference, amongst other international representations on the world stage.

In 2016, this film adaptation of this legendary novel was released, directed by award-winning British director Asif Kapadia (probably best-known for his documentary films on racing driver Ayrton Senna and singer Amy Winehouse) with a script by Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton. The Executive Producer is Leyla Aliyeva, Vice-President, Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

Marc Verwilghen, Director, TEAS Benelux, said: “This is a very important moment in EU–Azerbaijani Relations. The recent visit of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to Brussels has demonstrated the country’s commitment and will to enhance ties with Europe.

Ali and Nino depicts life in the extraordinary South Caucasus region. Unfortunately living together with neighbours is not always as smooth and easy as we would wish. This is evident in the case of Azerbaijan and Armenia, two members of the EU Eastern Partnership, whose ongoing conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan has stayed unresolved for almost 25 years.

“Azerbaijan can be seen as a model country of openness to other cultures, ethnic minorities, and gender-equality, embracing diverse nationalities and religions.

“But – as Ali and Nino shows us – Hope has no borders, Fate has no boundaries and Love has no limits.”

Norica Nicolai MEP commented: “This is not only a love story, it is a story of a conflict. The conflict between a civilised nation and those countries that wish to subjugate it, and unfortunately such conflicts still continue. On International Women’s Day, this film can be a lesson. The lesson is not just about love. It is a story about the challenge. I want this film, which focuses on that which is important in life, to remain with you all.”

H.E. Natalie Sabanadze, Ambassador of the Republic of Georgia to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU recalled: “On 8 March, we remember the people around the world, including the South Caucasus, who are affected by oppression and tragedies.

Ali and Nino came to light after the author’s death, when a copy surfaced in a second-hand bookshop in Vienna. The story remains very contemporary and deals with issues that are perennial. It has so many resonances with today, for we see the breakdown of political order. We see the issues between different world powers, and a clash of cultures and civilisations. We also witness the power of personalities and individual choice. Despite questions over the enigmatic author, the book is very powerful and shows that art is indestructible. It tells us that clashes are inevitable, and never easy to resolve.”

H.E. Fuad Isgandarov, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU, concluded: “It is good to see the Embassies of Azerbaijan and Georgia collaborating on such events as today. This is a great story about love. It is important to understand that love has brought the nations of Azerbaijan and Georgia together. The action in the film is set around a century ago, and it is essential that we remain very close strategic partners, and open to further suggestions for partnership, provided that countries recognise our independence.

“Of course, the film talks about the conflict of civilisations, but also talks about love. It tells the love story of the Azerbaijani Shai’a Muslim Ali for the Georgian Orthodox Princess Nino. Ali stays to defend his country against the Soviet invasion, and our independence must be maintained.”

The event concluded with a reception and tasting of Azerbaijani and Georgian wine and brandy.