“The book of all books is already closed” - The author of these words is a famous book seller in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku and Sumqayit (a city 30 km away from Baku) Khan Rasuloglu. Rasuloglu, 54, has been involved in the business of selling books for the last 20 years. Currently, he has book shops in both Baku and Sumqayit.
Khan Rasuloglu, a graduate of Baku State University’s Philology Department, has had a keen interest in books since his childhood. However, due to the chaos of the ‘90s (the collapse of Soviet Union) he could not continue his education and became a book seller.
“I’ve loved reading books since my childhood. When my grandfather gave me pocket money, and everybody bought ice-cream, I spent money on books only. I was a member of at least 4 libraries. They gave me a bag of books, and when I returned them, they asked questions checking whether I read them or not,” tells Rasuloglu.
He became a book seller because of his economic situation. Although he saw himself somewhere in state work, and worked in that direction.
“Nevertheless, that time was not good, it was a time of revolution, everyone was jobless and careless. Usually, we are called the lost generation,” Rasuloglu says.
In the 1990s, Khan graduated from Baku State University and was invited to do his postgraduate study in The Academy of Science. Everything was ready and he even a research topic, however because of the situation in the ‘90s, he had to refuse studying and become involved in business.
“Because something for the future generation had to be done. I started to trade, mainly men’s costumes. Later, I put books on the shelf and noticed that people had an interest in the books. So, people started to bring books and I sold them. I saw a niche in this business in Azerbaijan.”
Khan Rasuloglu, an author of 11 books.
“Every book seller must read and love books. You must know the book so you can present it. If you don’t know the book, how you can recommend it? When you start a conversation with the seller you must know the book in depth.”
Khan Rasuloglu tells about a case that happened during his work.
“At that time, the director of one of the book shops burned a whole truck of books, and was going to burn one more. He came and ask me how much I would buy it for? I told him to bring all the books and gave him 100-150$, I don’t remember exactly. But he told me that it was not enough. I was angry at him, calling him a “fascist”, and told him, “to say thanks be to God, that when you told me about burning the books, I did not beat you.”
He says the situation with books in Azerbaijan was better at that time, but now it is getting worse and worse.
“In the ‘90s and after that, the book business was improving. Imagine, in soviet times, rare books were brought and sold to me for a very low price. So, I bought books, swapped them, and people started to know me and bring their own books. Today, you can find books everywhere. At that time it was a big gap, that’s why I succeeded in it. However, today the economic situation is not good. It is a digital time now. Mostly, people download books in their phones or computers. But for me, reading virtual books is like having virtual sex. I think that when you read a book, you must work on it, and be in touch with the book all the time.”
Due to the difficult situation, Rasuloglu wanted to stop this work, but could not.
“At some moment my work did not go well, and I had a friend, Nazim whom I told to that I want to close the shop. And he answered that I don’t have the rights to close it he said it is not only your shop, as it belongs to everybody, to the whole of Sumqayit. These words had an influence on me and I decided to continue. This place gave me irreplaceable things: interesting books, and like-minded friends. That’s why this place is very dear to me. At the same time, I feel myself happy with books, I have never tired from them. They are my most trustable friends. I don’t gain much profit from it, but at least I can enjoy it.”
Rasuloglu mainly sells second hand books, and textbooks for students. At the same time he gives the books for rent or just swaps them.
“Mostly, I sell second hand books, but at the same time, new books as well. The alphabet has changed so many times, that the new generation is not used to reading the old alphabet. It decreases their motivation to read, however there are so many good books in the Cyrillic alphabet. But, I want people read them, so usually I take the book to the printing house and ask them to reprint it in the latin alphabet. Till this time, I’ve reprinted around 200 books.”
Books that are hardly found anywhere else can be found in Rasulkhan’s shop, for appropriate prices.
“When the students come and ask for a book, I don’t want them to spend their money, and usually, I refer them to the school’s library. If they don’t find it there, they can come and ask for the book here. Due to the terrible education system, they print textbooks every year, which are more expensive.”
He usually assists those who want to create their own library. Last time, he helped to create a such library for the army, sending books to them. It is the 8th library created with the help of Rasuloglu, before he helped Sumqayit hospital to provide books for people with mental illness. es
“I would like for such libraries to be created more systematically. If the organizers exist, it will be good to create the libraries all around Azerbaijan, to supply all the hospitals, shelters, and prisons with books. It should be approved with the heads of these places, and the only thing required from them would be to build book shelves.”
Rasuloglu wants to create the network of bookstores, however his economic situation is not very accommodating for such lofty ideas.
“My future book business depends on people’s economic situation. I am working for many years, for instance, but still I am homeless. I had this but they destroyed it, I again built it and they destroyed it. I don’t want to complain…. One of my bookshops were closed, they fined me. But how can I pay on time without a normal profit. When you just try to do something, people from different organizations are coming to you and asking to pay some bills. It is impossible to be free and do your business. Instead of having the support of the state the officials, they come and give many demands. So, I don’t know what will happen after it,” says Rasuloglu.
Rasuloglu says that he would like to teach the secrets of bookstores to others, so they can be involved in this business too.
“I cannot work alone in the whole country. I have some “students” already. Currently, the houses in Azerbaijan remind me of the sea of books. If we don’t gather them on time, after some period of time, they will throw them away. We should deliver these books to others, and it is my job. In the future I want to be apart of it and pass my work down to the youth. If we can create such shops in the large cities, later we can work in the regions too, so everyone will be able to read books.”