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In Azerbaijan, Leyla Mammadbayova is a role model for women

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Dubbed the “Lady of the Sky,” Leyla Mammadbayova of Azerbaijan was the first female pilot to fly solo from Southern Europe to Central Asia in 1931. She rose to the rank of squadron leader, trained aviation recruits, & raised 6 children. (Image: @GurbanovaNargiz)

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During an era when most women did not dare to be more than wives and mothers, Leyla Mammadbayova became famous as the first female flyer, not only in Azerbaijani history, but also in the Caucasus, Southern Europe and the Muslim East.

She was a courageous woman, who trained Soviet pilots who fought during World War II against the Nazis. With a life as a housewife and a mother of two small children, she was always dreaming of the skies. She was a living icon and a symbol of what women could aspire to be.

In the mid-1930s, the Moscow magazine Ogonyok put her picture on the cover and wrote: “Azerbaijani woman is the East’s first woman pilot.” Soon her fame spread across the Soviet Union. A woman who, only a few years before, had been an ordinary housewife, no different from any other, had stamped an indelible mark in Azerbaijan history with her courage.

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Mammadbayova performed her first flight in 1931 and in 1933, became the second female parachutist in the Soviet Union after Nina Kamneva. By 1941, she was a squadron leader in the Soviet Army, who trained hundreds of combat pilots and about 4,000 paratroopers, some of whom would go onto being heroes in the Soviet Union that fought against the Nazis.

Her eldest son Firudin fought in World War II and her youngest son Khanlar took part in the First Karabakh War, both as combat pilots.

According to her son Khanlar, it was not so simple for Mammadbayova to become the first Azerbaijani female pilot: “She was aware of how dangerous a move this was: everyone around her was very old fashioned, women couldn’t just do whatever they wanted. Later in Khachmaz she was the victim of an assassination attempt. So it wasn’t simple; it was even rumored that she had left for Iran. But she wanted freedom and was an example for others.” 

For this reason, she got a nanny for her two children and decided to become a pilot.    

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It is very important for us to honor the legacy of Mammadbayova and other early female pioneers in history, as what they managed to accomplish should never be taken for granted. 

Azerbaijani activist Arzu Jaeed Mamedova once stated, “The women of today owe the luck and opportunities to women of yesterday who pioneered and dared to change the path of history.”

“Let it be known that the first woman-diplomat or female director in the East, one of the first pilots in the world, first scholars, composers, lawyers, sculptors, etc.” came from Azerbaijan, she stressed. “The Social change was on the constant agenda of Azerbaijani women throughout history. Emboldened by the compulsion for empowerment, women shared their education in self-made and self-taught courses in their apartments with the underprivileged, launched schools and foster houses.”

 “One of the most critical shifts that Azerbaijani women have made and continue to make is to encourage us to look at history in new ways, with new questions and a much broader range of historical characters,” Mamedova explained. “Today, we must unite our voices and energy, support each other not just by words and actions and double the contribution made before us and for us because hundreds of people have worked to make this path easier.”

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings at the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”  

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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