Two cousins, Hafiz and Ramiz Aliyev, spend their mornings as their ancestors did: watching the sunrise as they free their birds from cages in Baku's Keshla neighborhood.
At age 50, both men are passionate about maintaining the tradition, even as their sons shun the work required to raise pigeons. But while Hafiz is happy for his wife to help maintain the flock, Ramiz believes the art of caring for birds requires a male touch.
Hafiz learned to love birds as a school boy, when he would run home to join his grandfather on the roof. Today he has around 30 pigeons but his two sons, aged 20 and 24, are not interested in the hobby. Therefore, when he is at work, his wife Khanim takes care of the birds.
But for Ramiz, that is not acceptable. “We always quarrel when Hafiz asks his wife to deal with the birds. I think a woman should only do women’s work. Keeping birds is a man’s job,” says Ramiz.
Ramiz's anxiety arises, in part, from the fact that his wife has shown a bit of interest in his birds.
“At times I have felt that my wife has become curious about bird keeping; I thought she might climb to the roof and I’d be disgraced. Therefore I bought home two parrots in a cage to keep her busy,” Ramiz laughs.
He says Azerbaijani mentality does not accept the idea of a woman climbing to the roof to whistle for birds.
“There was a woman, Khalida, who took care of birds after her husband passed away; she is now labelled ‘bird-fancier Khalida’. When ‘bird fancier’ is tagged on to a woman’s name, it doesn’t sound serious, she becomes the target of mockery, laughter,” Ramiz argues.
“My honor cannot accept that someone could say something inappropriate about my wife. First, society should change its views on bird keeping, and then I can let my wife whistle and call birds down from the sky. That is still a man's job,” he says.