Ajam Podcast #13: Saving Baku's Salaam Cinema
Play • 18 min
In this episode, Rustin speaks with Leyli Gafarova, an independent filmmaker and the co-creator of Salaam Cinema, a community-driven independent cinema space showcasing non-commercial, locally-made, and historical films in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Named after Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s [1995 movie of the same name](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hello_Cinema) , Baku’s Salaam Cinema is a venue for the performing arts and offers a wide program of exhibitions and educational workshops. Following their opening in January 2019, Salaam Cinema moved into their current venue, a [historic Molokan prayer house](https://www.google.com/maps/place/Salaam+Cinema/@40.3801135,49.8436259,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x40307dd716cb339d:0x212e232413554cac!8m2!3d40.3801135!4d49.8458146?shorturl=1) in the heart of Baku. [Molokan](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molokan) is a term describing Eastern Christian groups that developed in Slavic lands but rejected central Orthodox rites. In the 1830s, the Russian Empire forcibly transferred many Molokans to the periphery of the empire, and a group was settled in Azerbaijan. In 1913, an architect of Molokan origin [built the prayer house](https://www.facebook.com/atelierpille/posts/845848332443258?__tn__=K-R) with the aim of gathering the dispersed Molokan populations across Azerbaijan. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the prayer house was converted into a radio broadcasting building in 1926. The home of the radio show, Danışır Bakı (Baku is on air), the building became a bastion of the Azerbaijani language and an everyday fixture of Baku cultural life. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the building was privatized and then rented out as office space, but it had fallen into disrepair. Salaam Cinema, with the help of the community, refurbished the building and once again transformed it into a cultural landmark. However, as of March 2019, the landlords have moved forward with plans to demolish the historic building, fitting with the general trend of gentrification and property speculation that has driven [Baku’s rapid urban development](https://ajammc.com/2016/10/10/mehelle-recording-life-endangered-neighborhoods/) since the early 2010s. Salaam Cinema, however, has resisted the demolition efforts, and has galvanized its supporters to not only save a prominent independent intellectual space in the city, but also a valuable piece of Baku’s urban and architectural landscape.
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