To my cover-exchanging friends, please try as much as possible to
as these give a more personal touch to the cover
the Philippine postal service damages the cover with scribbling that highly devalues the aesthetic value of the cover, which is what I am after
or at least same themes when sending covers, but it is okay if this is not possible or if this would be expensive, and
not too small, but maybe around 4"x6" or something like that; big envelopes are not very attractive unless they have many stamps.
Thank you!


German Socialism on Stamps

Here are some interesting covers from the German Democratic Republic, commonly referred to in English as "East Germany," and in Germany as the "DDR" (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). I like them very much because they are a combination of two themes I find very interesting: national symbols (flags and coats of arms) and idealistic socialism.

This first cover celebrates the 30th anniversary of the DDR, which began operating as a state with Russian support on 7 October 1949. The 10 Mark stamps seems to have the theme of "youth and the future," and the teens in the depiction seem to be very happy. The 5 Mark stamp seems to celebrate construction, engineering, and the proletariat workforce. The man is also smiling in the drawing. The 20 Mark stamp also seems to celebrate the working class, but it might also be the government since the man up front has the DDR coat of arms on his hat while the man behind him has what look like the Soviet red star. It's interesting how you cannot really tell if these are just ordinary class workers or government officials. I suppose the government did this on purpose. The two guys on that stamp have the most positive expressions out of all. The 15 Mark stamp probably pays tribute to the role of the armed forces. The soldiers look more serious, but are still smiling a teeny bit.

One thing I like most about this cover is that it was sent on 2 October, 1990, which is the day that the German Democratic Republic (DDR) and the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) were reunited 5 days short of 43 years since the DDR oficially became a state!

Note also that this cover was sent to West Germany, to a place called Waldbronn-Etzenrot, a place near Karlsruhe in Baden-Wuerttenmberg, in the South.

This next cover was sent to the same address in West Germany almost exactly a year before the one above. The cancellation commemorates the 100th anniversary of the post office building at Bad Langensalza, a small town of about 20,000 people which is located near the what was border with the West.

Although it was sent one year earlier, the stamps were actually issued 10 years later than the ones in the other cover, and the set celebrates 40 years of the DDR. The themes of the designs are the same, but the characters drawn are not as noticeably happy as the ones in the other set. Also, note the computer in the background of the 25 Mark stamp. The DDR was the most developed of all the socialist states in Eastern Europe, and the use of computer technology certainly attests to that.

This third cover was not sent to the West and was not sent on an important date, but I like it because of its theme, postal history, which is also a favorite. Here we have two sets of a 4v set on postal boxes throughout history. 

The funny thing is that the cover was sent Express ("Eilsendung"), but it was sent within the same town, Werdau. Did mail within the same city take more than a day, and is that why it was sent express? Or was this express service used to make sure that it arrived on the same day? Curious.


Nationalism in Soviet Union Philately

Here are some Soviet covers which I acquired while in Azerbaijan. It was a great pleasure for me when I saw them, and I grabbed them on the spot because they are exactly my theme: flags, coats of arms, and patriotism.

Of course, patriotism in the USSR, especially in the "satellite" members (a.k.a. all of the member states besides Russia) is not an easy topic as this "patriotism" was imposed on all peoples across the whole soviet realm by the Soviet government and did not really rise from the hearts of the people. What I mean is, in communist societies, national identities were (and still are, read: China and its westernmost provinces) oppressed and everyone is bunched up together to form one homogeneous "identity" that is strictly defined by the state.

Oftentimes, the culture and language of the nation to whom the majority of those in power belong is considered the "standard identity," so to speak. The repercussions of this imposition of culture and ideology are very powerful. For example, in most of the ex-Soviet states today, Russian is still widely spoken and understood. In some societies, such as Kazakhstan, there have been recent campaigns aimed at promoting the national language and reverting to speaking Kazakh once more. Of course, this can only be achieved up to a certain point because the effect that the Russian language has had on the local language is indeed indelible.

For instance, in Azerbaijan most people converse with each other in Azerbaijani, although there are still a few instances when you will ethnic Azeris who grew up in Azerbaijan and yet are very bad or do not even speak in Azerbaijani! However, because the modern world with its modern systems and modern machinery developed when Azerbaijan was under the Soviets, many words, such as "xolodinik" for refrigerator and "propka" for traffic still remain in everyday use. Also, things such as "smetana" (sour cream), "zakanoe" (registered letter), and "mashin" (car) are still alive and kicking in Azerbaijani vocabulary. Of course, there are some instances when translations into the national language are used ( such as "sifaishli" for registered mail), but there are rare - and usually official - occasions.

The imposition of culture and language is certainly not limited to the case of the USSR. While the Spaniards did indeed impose their heritage onto the Filipinos during the 333 years of its reign in the Philippines, at present it is now the Tagalog language and culture which is being imposed on the different peoples who populate the islands that belong to the state. It is because the seat of government is in Manila, where the language spoken is Tagalog, that the national language officially called "Filipino" is basically 90-95% Tagalog. I have a feeling that the same goes for Germany. I live in Bavaria, where they speak Bavarian, which is similar to standard German, but also quite different in many ways. However, the official language on all documents and on the signage here is standard German nonetheless.

This first cover celebrates 50 years of the Turkmen Socialist Republic as well as the 50th anniversary of the Turkmen socialist party.

The theme of this second cover has little to do with communism and it seems that  it is celebrating something along the lines of 100 years of song or singing in Estonia.

This one celebrates 50 years of the Moldavian Socialist Republic and the Moldavian socialist party as well.

This cover commemorates 50 years of the "Great October," also known as "Red October." For some reason, it mentioned Tajikistan on it, but I am not quite sure why. Perhaps this issue was commissioned by the Tajik government? The FDC cancellation does indicated Dushanbe, which is the capital of the country.

The following is a set of 6 FDCs of stamps celebrating 50 years of the establishment of the Soviet Union. I particularly like this kind of socialist propaganda material because they try to depict that everything is well in the "nation," and that everyone is enjoying life and everything is productive. I guess it is this twisted sense of reality and this effort to pretend that everything is going as planned that appeals to me most. It is not that I agree with the idealism, it is just that I find it amusing how some people can be blinded by ideas. 


Azerbaijani RTS covers

As I mentioned in my previous post, I also managed to send out some RTS covers while I was in Azerbaijan in order to get postmarks from towns either too far away or too remote to visit.
İ made it a point to send out all the letters registered since İ had a feeling that they would not return if there was no record of them in the first place. Registration used to cost only 0.7 AZN (0.68 EUR) more, so it was not too much to shell out.
Here are (almost all) of the covers:

I send this cover to Astara, the town on the Azerbaijan-Iran border. I wanted badly to go to Iran since it was only a few hours away by land, but because of my citizenship, there was what I might call an "Iron Curtain" in my way.

The cover was sent out from the central post office on 11.02.12 and it arrived in Astara on 15.02.12. The distance between the two cities is a mere 320 km, or 5 hours by car. In Germany, letters sent from anywhere to anywhere in the entire country are often delivered the next day. When I lived in America, I remember that the maximum waiting time used to be 3 days from the East coast to the West coast.

On 16.02.11, a notice slip was attached, with "Ünvan düzgün deyil" (Adress incorrect) crossed out. The letter arrived back in Baku on the 21st. An interesting thing to note is that, when mail arrives in Baku, it seems that it is delivered to the recipient on the same day. Or it could also be that they just stamp the back of the envelope in the morning on the day it is to be delivered. Who knows?

This is a cover I sent to the town or Daşkəsən, a town 390 km from Baku and even farther away and more remote than Astara! This town lies near the border with Armenia as well as the de facto border with the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Daşkəsən has recently been in the news because of some hazing issues in the Azerbaijan military. Apparently, a conscript was beaten to death by superiors during hazing at the military camp in Daşkəsən. Read more about it here:


This letter left Baku on  16.02.12. There is not backstamp to show when it arrived, but the notice slip was stamped and signed on 20.02.12. It arrived in Baku on the 24th

This cover was sent out to the interesting little Autonomous Republic of Naxçıvan, which is a landlocked exclave of Azerbaijan. This region is extremely hot and dry in the summer and cold and freezing in the winter. It is here whence the current president and his beloved  father Heydər Əliyev, the former president, hail. Local legend also has it that Noah's ark ended its journey on the peak of one of the region's mountains. It is a land known for snakes an mystery, and (ironic considering its climate) wealth and abundance. People from Naxçıvan are apparently the richer half of Azerbaijani society, and many in office find their roots here. Of course, this is all according to what I gathered from the locals, who take pride in their land, their heritage, and their precarious political and geographical position.

The cover left from the AZ-1038 post office in the Balaxani district of Baku on 22.02.12 and arrived in Naxçıvan on the first of March. The notice slip was attached on the same day, and the cover arrived back in Baku on the fifth, in less time than it took for the letter to make to Naxçıvan to Baku. I wonder if it took less time because the letter was driven over through Iran when it was sent out and then flown back over to Baku when it was returned. Or is it just Naxçıvan's efficiency that was at work? The region is known among other Azerbaijanis as a place where everything is strict, old-fashioned, and efficient. Some people even claim that they still live as though there were in the Soviet Union!

I cannot really make out the very first handwritten line at the top, but it seems to read, "1 eb." I cannot decode what that might mean Under it is written "qayıdır," which means "returns" so maybe "1 eb." has something to do with "1 piece"? Just a guess. At the bottom it says, "arxaya baxın," or the polite way of saying "Look at the back," since the return address was there.

This cover was sent to the mountainous neighbor to the northeast, Georgia, or "Gürcüstan" in Azerbaijani and Turkish.  It was sent out on 18.02.12 from the main post office (notice the meter postage) and arrived in Tbilisi on 22.02.12. It was then stamped again in Tbilisi on 28.02.12 although it is not clear why.

A notice of return slip was then attached to it and stamped on 20.03.12, stating that the item was unclaimed, which is strange since the address did not even exist, so of course it cannoot be claimed! It arrived back in my hand in Baku on 28.03.12

This next cover was something I sent out to Iran because I thought it would be great fun. From past experience, I knew that the Iranian Post rewrites the addresses of foreign letters in Farsi (I imagine that there is a special section of the central mail distribution center called "Address Translation Department). This is why I could not give up the chance to have a cool cover from Iran, and cool is this cover indeed! The return notice is not a slip of paper like it is in Azerbaijan and Georgia, but a nice, big, bold blue stamp! Wonderful!

This cover was sent out on the same day as the one above sent to Georgia (18.02.12) and received  backstamp in Iran (presumably in Tehran) on 6 Esfand 1390, which corresponds to 25.02.2012 of the common era calendar. There is no indication as to when it was dispatched back to Azerbaijan, but it was received back in Baku on 24.03.12, more than a month after it was sent out.

This last cover is something I sent from Germany to Naxçıvan using an envelope printed by Azeri Post and bearing the cachet design celebrating the 80th year of the Autonomous Republic's autonomy, which is not obvious since the pink slip attached to the cover is covering more than half of it. 

The cover left Deggendorf on 24.11.2012 and was received in Naxçıvan City, the region's capital, on what seems to be 30.11.12. It was then received in Ordubad, a town at the very tip of the nation, wedged between the Armenian and Iranian borders, on 03.12.12. The cover was then received back in Naxçıvan City on the fifth and back in Deggendorf on the fourth of January, 2013.


A Year's Worth of Azerbaijani Philately

Unbelievable! I haven't posted anything for almost two years! I guess it was just that too much has going on in my life - too much moving, at least. During my online absence, I lived in Azerbaijan for about a year and visited a number of countries: South Korea, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, North Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, and the UAE. I was also able to visit Abkhazia, but since it was the weekend when I was there, the post offices were closed!

Now I live in Germany, in a small town where the philatelic scene is not so lively. I have seen a collector's shop somewhere in the town center, but have never really visited as I suspect there won't be anything too exciting there.

At any rate, I suppose from now on I am back to regular programming, and for my first post I would like to share some SASE's that I managed to send while I was in Azerbaijan.

Of course, this is only a small selection of covers that I sent. I sent covers from as many branches in Baku (the capital city) and of course, when possible, from all the other towns I managed to visit in the country: Zaqatala, Ordubad, Naxçıvan, Şəki, Gəncə, etc. I also sent out some covers with wrong addresses in order to obtain postmarks from obscure, smaller towns like Daşkəsən and Astara.

Here are a few samples of the Azerbaijani covers that have enriched my collection:

The postmarks in Azerbaijan are, unlike in the Philippines, uniform. All of the ones I saw being used (although admittedly the ones I usually saw were in the bigger cities and towns) used the same machine and had the same format: "Azərbaycan" (Azerbaijan in the Azerbaijani language) on top, two eight-pointed Azerbaijani stars on the sides, and then the city or town name at the bottom, written in Azerbaijani. Under "Azərbaycan" is the postal code of the city/town (format: AZ-0000) and on top of the city/town name is where they add some sort of postal agent or department notation. In Baku, it is usually a letter, which I suppose refers to the agent who handled the letter. In other towns, there would be something that says "Letter section" or something to that effect in Azerbaijani.
The postmarks are almost always blue and use a self-inking rubber stamp machine. Only once did I see a non-blue postmark, and this was a purple one from Daşkəsən, which, as I understand, is an extremely small town in the middle of nowhere (as most of Azerbaijan outside of Baku is).

Here is a cover with meter postage. I saw a meter postage machine only at the central post office in Baku, and I suppose the one machine they have is more than enough for the entire country as mail is not so widely used there outside of business transactions and official notices, and I suspect most of these kinds of things happen only in Baku. 

I quite like the franking from the machine. The round part on the side reads " 1 Saylı Poçt Filialı (Post Branch Number One), AZ-1000." The top of the box part reads "Azərbaycan Poçtu" (Azerbaijan Post) and the bottom reads "Milli Operator" (National Operator).

The funny thing about this meter stamp is that it can only be used for registered letters and the ladies at the post office cannot be persuaded to use it for other types of letters, such as, say, normal airmail.

Azerbaijan's currency is called the Manat (AZN), and is divided into 100 qəpik. Manat was the word used for the Ruble during the Soviet Union and qəpik is the Azerbaijani version of the word "kopek." The Manat's value is at present almost equal to the Euro, but the case was not always so. The Azerbaijani currency was revalued in 2005 at the exchange rate of 5000 old Manat = 1 new Manat. It's actually quite strange because, although the Manat and the Euro are almost at par, there are unbelievable stark differences in the quality of life in the European Union and in Azerbaijan. The value of the Azerbaijani currency does not seem to reflect the true status quo in the country.

The Azerbaijani alphabet is similar to that used by Turkish in that it has ö, ü, ş, ç, and ğ, and there is a difference between i and ı.

Speaking of Turkish, the design of the meter stamp is very similar to that of one I got in Turkey, seen below:

Here is a registered local cover I sent from Naxçıvan, an exclave of Azerbaijan that is separated from the rest of the country by the nation's mortal enemy, Armenia. The only way to get there is by flying or going through Iran. If you are an American citizen like I am, then the latter is not an option!

Here are a few more covers:

Twenty years of the Central Bank of Azerbaijan, one of the last issues before I left

Azerbaijan - Mexico joint issue, among my favorites

90 years of the first Republic of Azerbaijan, which was proclaimed in 1918.