Tribute to Malak Shukurova
Celebrating Malak’s lasting contributions to nature conservation in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus.
In 2021 the Eco-Corridors Fund (ECF) lost a core member of their team. Malak Shukurova was the National Coordinator for Azerbaijan since the project’s inception, and embodied the project, finding her calling in the ECF project.
Malak earned a Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts in Regional Studies at University of Azerbaijan in Baku which launched her into a career in nature conservation. She held several important positions in nature conservation and development projects and institutions, including working for the UNDP, working at the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources Azerbaijan as the Head of the International Relations Department and acting as a Director at the Regional Environmental Centre for the Caucasus (REC) from 2009-2014 as a part of the Transboundary Joint Secretariat (TJS) Programme which eventually introduced the concept of Financial Participatory Approach (FPA) to the Caucasus. She spoke Azeri, English and Russian. She was then recruited to join the ECF team when the project commenced in 2015.
“Malak was very skilled and able to work both internationally and locally–she was one of few people fit for the job,” says Jernej Stritih, ECF Chief Technical Adviser. “She was not shy, and was very confident and very persistent. Once she set herself an object she really worked hard to achieve it. And she was quite successful.”
Rusudan ‘Tata’ Chochua, the ECF National Coordinator for Georgia was a colleague of Malak since 2012 when they worked together at the TJS and later on the ECF. “It is a great honour and privilege to speak about Malek,” Tata says. “She really put her personality and effort into the ECF and was very successful at motivating people to take part in the FPA,” recalls Tata. “She had a very good relationship with the local people and was also well respected by ministry and government officials. She lived for her job and really cared about nature.”
Malak grew up in an oil producing area of Azerbaijan, on one of the islands in the Caspian Sea where her father worked in the oil industry. However, her family originally came from high Caucasus mountains and belonged to an ethnic minority called the Tat. “Working with the ECF project helped Malek rediscover her ancestry,” says Jernej. “In terms of both nature and community.” Prior to her work with the ECF Malek was an expert in the field of environment but she didn’t have much experience hiking in the mountains or visiting villages. “That was a revelation for her and she became very passionate about it,” says Jernej. “She really appreciated her connection with mountains and the people and it became a big part of her life. She was always looking for an opportunity to go to the mountains and spend time there.”
“Malak came alive in the mountains. She also came alive in meetings,” recalls Jernej. “She was a very hard worker and dedicated herself to her work–she was so energetic, full of energy but also very honest,” says Tata. “She was also very human and very understanding.” Malek also liked to spend time with friends, she had many friends in Georgia as a result of years working there on the TJS. “She liked nature and she liked people,”says Tata.
In addition to her professional strengths, she was always up for an adventure. Jernej recalls a time they finally realized an idea that Malak came up with–to drive across a mountain range and see the entire landscape. “We drove across the eastern greater Caucasus once,” says Jernej. “Basically, there are no really good roads, only a corridor used by shepherds to bring sheep from winter pastures to high mountains of Azerbaijan. It is about 50 km long and out of that you are driving in a river bed for about 15 km. We set the objective that we have to do that together once–and we did it, but it took us all day! Interestingly, when we stopped in a remote village–which we had never visited before–to ask for directions, Malak was immediately recognised for her work with the (greater) community and we were invited for the obligatory tea.”
Coworkers remember her as being knowledgeable and passionate and willing to go above and beyond for the programme and the communities. She enjoyed horseback riding and was never afraid of a challenge – be it a long hike to a remote community, or a room full of people.
“Losing Malak was a big loss for our project and she will be missed – for our projects, for nature and for our field,” says Tata. “She played a huge role in nature conservation in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus.”
The legacy Malak has left lives on in the continuing success of ECF in Azerbaijan and she will be greatly missed.