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Young web-savvy Azerbaijanis take parents out of dating equation

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Amanda Erickson

(Read caption) Azerbaijani youth read dating profiles on cellphones.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

The way 22-year-old Fidan explains it, in Azerbaijan there is a way these things are done. She meets a boy, and maybe they hit it off. If so, he’ll send his mom over to her house for some tea. If his mom likes her family, the boy’s father will come over to her house for more tea. If all goes well, they could be engaged before the year is out.

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But Fidan, a teacher who asked to be identified only by her first name, has long since tired of waiting around for potential suitors. “I was always just waiting,” she says.

That’s where Rashad Aliyev comes in. His website, wap.xana.az, is one of the most visited wireless application protocol sites in Azerbaijan. WAP sites are designed to be navigated using cellphones. And though Mr. Aliyev’s site provides links to news, music, and chats, his clients are overwhelmingly drawn to its central feature – dating profiles for thousands of Azerbaijani men and women.

Fidan logs on two to three times a week. “I’m just wondering who is posting,” she says.

In many ways, oil-rich Azerbaijan feels completely modern. But rooted social tradition still rules. Many young people live at home until they are married.

This is particularly true for women, who are generally not welcome in Internet cafes where men meet to play video games and surf the Web. In this climate, WAP creators have seen a business boom. Here, “people can have two phones, but no computers,” Aliyev says. “WAP sites on simple mobile phones can be used without getting the attention of parents.”