THERE ARE 556 AZERBAIJANI DIASPORA ORGANIZATIONS IN ABOUT 50 COUNTRIES WORLDWIDE. MR. FUAD MURADOV, THE CHAIRMAN OF THE AZERBAIJANI STATE COMMITTEE ON WORK WITH DIASPORA, IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE AZERI OBSERVER, SPEAKS ABOUT THE ACTIVITY TO BUILD TIES WITH THEM AND TO MAINTAIN THEIR HISTORICAL MEMORY AND NATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS; THEIR PROBLEMS AND ACHIEVEMENTS; AND THE ROLE OF DIASPORA IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS AND PROMOTION OF THE REPUBLIC IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD.
AZERI OBSERVER EDITORIAL STAFF
Question: Strengthening the solidarity of Azerbaijanis all over the world is one of the primary issues faced when navigating the complicated processes of the international arena. What is your opinion on the importance of the diaspora policy of our government?
Answer: In 2002, the National Leader Heydar Aliyev signed the Decree on the Establishment of the State Committee on Affairs with Azerbaijanis Living Abroad. In 2008, by order of the Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, the State Committee on Work with Diaspora was established on the basis of the State Committee on Affairs with Azerbaijanis Living Abroad. The essence of the diaspora policy is to develop relations with the historical homeland, to protect the cultural and political rights of Azerbaijanis living abroad, utilize the diaspora’s influence to contribute to the development of interstate relations, create conditions for the promotion of national interests of the country, and increase influence in the political arena. Our current situation gives us reason to say that Azerbaijan has made considerable progress in reaching these goals.
In the modern world, the concept of diaspora has become one of the most significant elements of international relations. Demands of the new world and globalization processes change the historical context of diaspora politics. Nowadays, diasporas are not regarded as social movements or unions, which are created by the same national identity settled in the territory of a particular state, but they are known as active advocates of interests for the nation they represent. Diaspora organizations are becoming a crucial component of the socio-political life of countries, as they have the potential to influence foreign policy and play a vital role in the development of relations between states. No matter where the representatives of a diaspora live, they try to not only protect their rights and freedoms, but also strive to promote their national and cultural heritage, form an image of their historical homeland, and maintain their wellbeing and development. Diasporas are unique in the way they manifest, recollect historical memories, perceive national consciousness, and maintain “national self-esteem.” Serving the interests of national communities living abroad in terms of political and economic aspects, and their impact on interstate relations are one of the prominent factors in international politics. After Azerbaijan gained independence, improving the prosperity of its diasporas around the world became a public policy priority. In a short amount of time, Azerbaijan became a leading state in the region in terms of national identity, economic and democratic development, and position in the international arena. Azerbaijan has also considerably contributed to forming and organizing Azerbaijani diasporas. Substantial achievements have been made in regards to strengthening Azerbaijan’s national interests and fostering solidarity among Azerbaijanis from all over the world. The steps taken by the National Leader to increase relations between our compatriots and their historical homeland have gradually started to yield results, including the First World Azerbaijanis Congress, which took place in November 2001 in Baku. During the congress, Azerbaijanis from all over the world met for the first time in Baku, discussed challenges, and devised ways to overcome them.
Through examining other countries’ relationships with their diasporas, it becomes clear that those who can establish close ties with their diasporas become a stronger force in the international arena.
Nowadays, our diasporas abroad help the Azerbaijani Heydar Aliyev Foundation pursue its goal of bringing the Azerbaijani realities to the world community and uncovering the facts of Armenian aggression.
Today, a new methodology is being implemented by Azerbaijani diaspora organizations. Since the challenges of the modern world require a new diaspora strategy, a new “Strategic Roadmap” has been developed, and steps are being taken make it a reality.
Q.: After your appointment as the Chairman of the State Committee on Work with Diaspora, one of your first duties was to meet with representatives of the diasporas abroad. What are the results of these meetings?
A.: Since day one as the Chairman of the State Committee on Work with Diaspora, intensive measures have been implemented as a part of an updated program on activities aimed at achieving strategic goals. Many countries, including Turkey, France, Germany, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, China, and the United States of America were visited. Meetings with our diaspora compatriots and activists took place, discussions on their problems were figured out, and practical measures were taken. Azerbaijani coordination councils were created in Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, [K1] and the United States of America to ensure cooperation between diaspora organizations and our compatriots to achieve common goals. Simultaneously, Committee officials held numerous historic meetings in these countries to increase the effectiveness of Azerbaijan’s diaspora activities and to gradually identify trends in strong lobbying traditions. Today, there are 556 diaspora organizations in about 50 countries worldwide. In general, for the last 11 months, the delegation of the State Committee has been holding meetings with our diasporas in 11 countries, where they became familiarized with regional situations and exchanged views.
One of the next steps to strengthen the unity of the Azerbaijani youth living across the world will be the “First Summer Camp” in July, which is dedicated to the “100th Anniversary of Diaspora.” Participation will include 140 young people from 37 countries and the establishment of the “Azerbaijani Diasporas Youth.” In short, it is essential for our compatriots to integrate into their societies and play an increasingly active role in the socio-political, economic, and cultural life of their countries of residence. Concurrently, Azerbaijani cultural centers and Azerbaijani language schools, which have already begun to function in different cities around the world and are expected to open in other countries as well, will further expand the capabilities of our diaspora. The Azerbaijani government’s support and President Ilham Aliyev’s concern for his compatriots living abroad have created high hopes towards strengthening efforts of diaspora organizations.
There has been a multitude of benefits from conducting meetings in various countries including promoting a positive impact of Azerbaijan in the host country, boosting Azerbaijani unity, and confirming the attention and care of the Azerbaijani government towards the Azerbaijani diasporas. The meetings have also established strong cooperative ties between the Committee, Azerbaijani diaspora organizations, and amicable diaspora organizations of other countries. That cooperation has yielded historical agreements on experience exchange and enabled local officials to discuss their issues and generate solutions.
Q.: Which steps are being taken by the State Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Azerbaijanis Living Abroad?
A.: We have established direct cooperation with international organizations around the world, migration authorities from different countries, authorities directly responsible for diasporas, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and embassies of Azerbaijan all over the world to ensure the rights and freedoms of our compatriots living abroad. While visiting countries, we held meetings with relevant agencies, brought the difficulties of our compatriots to their attention, discussed ways to solve the problems, and tried to support them. The State Committee on Work with Diaspora joined the prevention of human trafficking abroad initiative to protect the rights of the Azerbaijani diaspora, and at the same time, the State Committee for the Salvation of Victims as well as the International Organization for Migration helped attract Azerbaijani diaspora organizations abroad. A working group was established with the participation of representatives of the Milli Majlis (parliament) to improve the legislative base of our compatriots and diaspora organizations, and an original version of a law was prepared in this sphere. The State Committee on Work with Diaspora continues to make efforts to solve the problems of Azerbaijanis settled without identity cards in Turkey. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of the Interior, and other agencies have created a working group made up of staff from other related institutions towards this issue. During the visit to Turkey, the working group collected the documents of our compatriots and handed them over to the relevant state bodies for their further preparation. According to appeals we received, our compatriots have had similar problems in other countries. Therefore, we are going to start working with other governmental agencies.
Speaking of the rights and freedoms of our compatriots, we should not forget about the problems of Azerbaijanis living in Georgia. The issue of Azerbaijanis living in Georgia is always a focus of attention for the country’s leadership and the Committee. The government of Georgia has also taken steps to address these issues. We visited Georgia in June 2018, met with the local residents in regions inhabited by Azerbaijanis, and became acquainted with their problems. We also met with official figures and executive representatives. However, the most pressing issue we are focusing on is the integration of Georgian Azerbaijanis into the local community. Only a diaspora that integrates into society and knows the local language and laws can protect its rights and ensure normal living conditions.
Preservation and survival of our language through the integration of our compatriots, not through assimilation, is one of the main tasks set before us. Continuous work is being carried out in this direction. For example, a new Azerbaijani language and culture school named “Garabagh” has opened in Switzerland for our compatriots, and this type of school is also being planned to open in Nantes, France.
The Committee takes logical steps to increase the number of Azerbaijani schools abroad, which enables our compatriots to get more information on the history and culture of their homeland. Relevant courses are launched in various countries to teach the Azerbaijani language and culture to our compatriots, their children, and to foreigners.
Q.: Which steps have been taken to cooperate with the diaspora organizations responsible for foreign policy and diaspora organizations of different nations? What are your future plans in this direction?
A.: The State Committee has signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Ministry of Romania on Romanians Living Abroad. The document envisages the cooperation and experience exchange of the two strategic partners. A specific working group related to the memorandum was created, and the requirements of the mentioned document are implementing.
The memorandum of agreement on cooperation in the field of diaspora was signed between the Committee of Turks living abroad (under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the Diaspora Committee. This document will create a more intensive and effective cooperation between brother countries. The conclusion of the memorandum with responsible state agencies in the field of the diasporas in Switzerland, Mexico, Egypt, and Israel is currently under negotiation. In recent years, relations with diasporas of other nations have been established, in particular, Jewish and Russian-speaking diasporas, as work is being done to establish cooperation with Pakistani, Mexican, and Korean diasporas.
Additionally, there was an exchange of experiences between ministries and agencies responsible for diaspora issues of the member states of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (CCTS – the Turkic Council), which was held in January 2019.
Q.: It is known that there are new challenges for each new era. What will the State Committee do to respond to these challenges? What innovative steps will you take in this direction?
A.: The State Committee is implementing various innovative projects by using information and communication technologies. The official website of the State Committee has been translated into three languages, and website security has been maximized. Statistical indicators have been taken into account, and a mobile app of the site and other facilities are supported. The site is fully integrated with social networking sites and now maintains extensive analytical reporting on both websites and separate social networks. We have put information charts on the diasporamap.com and gathered diaspora organizations and well-known Azerbaijanis from different countries. It should be noted that our work is continuing in this direction and that the uniform base of organizations has improved. Thanks to numerous suggestions, the logo and style of the State Committee has been redesigned, and we have managed to fill in the information gap about the State Committee by increasing the number of multimedia products.
The Internet TV of the State Committee has been established with the aim of distributing relevant information to the public through multimedia outlets. One such outlet is Diaspora TV, which is implementing the “Meet Azerbaijanis Living Abroad” project to show videos about our compatriots who have succeeded. Other outlets include online Azeri language classes and broadcasts such as “Foreigners Speaking in Azeri” and “Garabagh,” in which five sentences about Karabakh are published in five languages. There is a show called “Good Morning, Azerbaijan” during which our compatriots living abroad, mostly young people, greet our country and say “Good Morning” to the motherland. At the same time, within the framework of the joint project of the State Committee with Public Television, the program “Homeland is Not Far Away” is broadcasted once a month and interviews with our compatriots living abroad, videos about implemented projects, etc. are featured.
We will support the management of diaspora organizations’ websites, creation of e-mail services, and other innovative issues, as well as social media marketing. For this purpose, the process of registration of diaspora organizations continues, and more than 85 organizations have been registered.
The Diaspora.FM radio of the State Committee on Affairs with Diaspora of the Republic of Azerbaijan test broadcast has been started. This broadcast functions through the website and mobile app.
A bank of biographies of Azerbaijanis, who have made their contribution and a mark on human history will be created. The bank will operate online and have a detailed search engine.
One of our main goals in implementing such projects is to provide the Internet with information on the Azerbaijani reality.
Q.: Ensuring active participation of Azerbaijanis living abroad in public and political processes is one of today’s main issues. What is the current picture about it?
A.: The consistent policy pursued by our state in the field of diaspora construction gives new impetus to the new programs implemented for each particular period. Consistent measures, as well as specific strategic directions developed by the state, allow us to expand positions of our country in societies where our compatriots are located. It provides the promotion of our country to the world, boosts our rich culture, and displays the effectiveness of our measures against some of the anti-national forces that are antithetic to our state and our nation. However, we believe that our diaspora organizations will further increase their efforts and work more purposefully and flexibly in cooperation with the relevant state bodies of Azerbaijan and diplomatic representatives in foreign countries in line with the new “Road Map” prepared by the Committee. Analysis of relevant outcomes of the new action programs shows that Azerbaijani diaspora organizations in different countries recognize the launch of a new and effective work phase in their activities. Heads of these organizations appreciate the State Committee’s guidance, reforms it conducts, and most importantly, warm relations. There are almost no diaspora organizations in the country which struggle with each other. Healthy governance and sincere attitudes create conditions for almost all of the patriotic forces to come together. The Diaspora Co-Foundation, created by President Ilham Aliyev, will form a solid foundation for the further development of diaspora traditions in the world. Diaspora organizations in foreign countries will be able to get closer to the state, to the nation, and to national values by establishing close relations with the Committee. The preliminary results of our analysis show that there has been a substantial motivation for effective and efficient activities in diaspora organizations. Important steps are being taken within the newly established Coordination Councils. These diaspora organizations establish separate concepts of their operations, promote not only national-moral values but also the truth about Azerbaijani realities, prevent the wrongdoing of the Armenian diaspora organizations, and clarify prospects of integration into the public-political life of the society in which they live. Maintaining a strong organization and sustainable activities, and promoting a significant role in the political and economic life of foreign countries are goals for the new stage. The broad objective is to protect the national interests of the state and people of Azerbaijan through a gradual transition to lobbying traditions in all organizations.
Q.: Which steps are planned to be implemented to bring Azerbaijan’s realities to the world community for 2019? In particular, what kind of measures did the State Committee undertake in the international arena to expose the aggressive policy of Armenia against Azerbaijan and bring the truth about the Khojaly genocide to the international community?
A.: The most important issues that the President has established for us are bringing the Karabakh realities to the international community, informing the international community about the atrocities committed by the Armenians against the Azerbaijanis, and conveying the facts of the events to the world community.
This work is the responsibility of not only certain actors and individual public figures but of every patriotic Azerbaijani, as well as anyone who respects the norms of international law. As the State Committee on Work with Diaspora, we also talk with our compatriots in this direction and provide all possible support for organizations in promoting the truth. We provide organizations with all the necessary visual aids and publication support. In February 2019 for instance, the European Karabakh Rally took place in Brussels and was initiated by Azerbaijani diaspora organizations based in more than 20 countries. There was also an event on the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the Khojaly Genocide arranged by the American Sephardi Federation with the help of the State Committee. We do not adjust or affect any action plan of any diaspora organization as organizations know the goals and objectives of our state, including the tasks of the Committee, and build their action plans accordingly.