From an expat point of view
BY GEMMA BIANCHI SLATER
AZERI OBSERVER EDITOR
After spending some time back in the UK, namely in Aberdeen, Scotland, I found myself feeling homesick for Baku. Then, an Azerbaijani acquaintance I met a few month’s ago who lives in Scotland, by the name of Fuad Alakbarov – an Azerbaijani-Scottish political commentator and human rights activist – had emailed me to advise of an upcoming event hosted by the Azerbaijani diaspora. I immediately started questioning him, “where will it be?” and “can I come?” as I was keen to mingle with Azerbaijani folk once again.
He put me in touch with the organiser, Salhab Abbasova, and I quickly sent an email informing her that I am the Azeri Observer Editor, and have been living in Azerbaijan for over seven years, and if I would be allowed to attend. Immediately Salhab responded with a very welcoming invite, saying they would be delighted at my attendance to the Azerbaijani community meeting with delegation of the Azerbaijani State Committee on Work with Diaspora, at the Sandman Signature Hotel in Aberdeen on December 5.
As I nervously approached the conference room, I was greeted almost instantly and offered a beautiful keepsake pin of the Flower of Karabakh, the ‘Khari bulbul’, which is the flower of peace and love, often associated with the town of Shusha. I thanked the kind lady and proudly pinned it to my clothing, as I glanced around the room.
At my rough guess, I would say there were about 35 attendees all bunched in groups, talking and laughing animatedly with each other. With their dark hair and eyes, I recognised their familiarity and felt at home with my Azerbaijani compatriots. I smiled and walked over to a small group and introduced myself. The friendliness of my new companions was evident and I relaxed as we chatted about where we all came from and what brought them to Scotland. Many introduced themselves as students, graduates or oil workers and I felt so happy they were all in Scotland! They were surprised to hear that I lived there for so long.
We were then invited to sit at one of the six or so tables, and I ended up sitting in the middle of the room as everyone on the table nodded and smiled shyly at me. As I looked around, I realised that I must have been the only non-Azerbaijani, and although I felt like I had gate-crashed a wedding, I met their warm welcoming gaze and knew not to worry.
We began by observing a minute’s silence for the fallen heroes of the Karabakh war, and once we had spent our time remembering, Salhab picked up the microphone and began to speak, although it was all in Azerbaijani, of course! As I cursed myself inwardly for not learning the language more proficiently as I would have liked, luckily I had a translator! As the introductions were made, the microphone was handed to an impeccably dressed gentleman on my table; unbeknownst to me, it was none other than Mr. Fuad Muradov, the Chairman of the Azerbaijani State Committee on Work with Diaspora! I remembered editing an article of his from the Azeri Observer the year before. He was very charismatic and held the room’s attention as they all listened intently to his stories.
The evening was spent talking, laughing and reminiscing about life in the UK, Azerbaijan in general, the Karabakh war, and the inevitable toll of Covid. A tour to Shusha of the Azerbaijani people living in the UK was even discussed as a possibility – and I’m kind of hoping I’ll get an invite to that too! Then Mr. Muradov passed the microphone to his neighbor, (a woman who I had met earlier, who had told me she had been studying her master’s degree in Aberdeen), she spoke for a few minutes before handing the microphone back to him. To my surprise, Mr. Muradov then handed the microphone to me! As they had all been speaking in Azeri, I was unaware of what was expected of me, but was quickly informed if I could introduce myself and explain who I was – as I’m sure most of the room probably wondered this as well! I explained my presence (in English!) but they all understood me well and nodded their approval. I thanked them for welcoming me and was most appreciative to be part of such a special occasion.
At the end of the evening, I personally thanked Mr. Muradov for the chance to be part of such an exclusive event. The friendliness and hospitality of the Azerbaijani people has always been such a joy for me and I am reminded time and time again, what a wonderful nation, culture and history the Azerbaijanis possess. As I plan my return to Baku soon, (I will be running to the airport!) I am reassured that no matter where I am in the world, I know I’ll always have a home in Azerbaijan.