In November 2018, Azerbaijan’s State Committee on Work With Diaspora, chaired by H.E. Fuad Muradov, held an important meeting with leaders of various US-based Azerbaijani organizations in New York. That meeting created Azerbaijan’s Coordination Counsel in America (“ACCA”), which would bring together the representatives of the young but growing Azerbaijani diaspora from across the United States. The purpose of ACCA is to coordinate the activities of its constituent organizations, to facilitate their development, to embody national and international interests of the member organizations, to work jointly in the defense of the rights of the Azerbaijani diaspora members, and to address issues and organize programming in solidarity.
The ACCA is tasked with various activities, includin workin together with the diaspora to present and promote a positive image of Azerbaijan in the United States and to facilitate people-to-people relations, to connect Azerbaijanis living abroad with their historical homeland, and to develop and to transmit national, historic, cultural, and spiritual connections to the future generations, to establish relations with the local, state, and federal executive, legislative authorities and to promote the diaspora’s active role in the socio-political spheres of the United States, to promote knowledge, understanding, and respect for the laws, values, and traditions of the United States among newly arrived immigrants, to contribute to the integration of the Azerbaijanis into political, economic, cultural, and social life of the United States and to promote cooperation between the countries and people, to prepare and submit to the relevant state bodies various programs and projects on solutions to diaspora’s problems, and to ensure practical implementation of the above-mentioned tasks.
ACCA is endowed with the authority to make relevant decisions on work with diaspora organizations and to cooperate with international organizations and US agencies for the purpose of acquiring international experience and applying it to research. It would be empowered to create working groups and activities, to conduct research, engage in analysis, and provide proposals. It would involve independent experts and specialists to participate in the activities of the various member organizations, and organize relevant conferences, seminars, workshops, and other events. It would create and share internet resoures, papers and newsletters. Finally, they will combine forces of the member organizations to put together bigger social events and professional training focused on the younger members of the diaspora.
I had a recent opportunity to interview the representatives of some of the organizations comprising ACCA about their activities and vision for the future. So, who are some of these organizations and what is their vision for ACCA?
Azerbaijan New York Association
Erjan (Ercan) Yerdalanli is head of one of the older organizations which had evolved from an umbrella group that had started in 2006. Since then several organizations had splintered off, but now are being reunified under the aegis of ACCA. Throughout the years, ANYA served as an inspiration to many others and had also been frequently joined by newer organizations in the execution of various events. Among other events, ANYA has marked Black January (Qara Yanvar), a commemoration of the brutal Soviet crackdown on the civilian population of Azerbaijan on January 19-20, 1990.
THose days became infamous for the Baku pogrom resultin in the massacre of civilians and took place during the state of emergency in the course of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The organization also observed a commemoration of the Khojaly massacre, which took place in the vicinity of the Azerbaijani community of Joju Marjanly on February 25-26, 1992, when Armenian forces attacked Azerbaijani civilians leading to a massacre and bringing the simmering conflict between Yerevan and Baku into the state of a full scale war.
What started with a massacre resulted with a massive refugee crisis, ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis from Armenia, and mass expulsions. ANYA commemorated such somber events with visits to a mosque in Brooklyn, but also celebrated both religious holidays such as Ramadan and national Azerbaijani holidays, such as Independence Day and other festive occasions, such as the cultural spring holiday of Novruz, which marks the New Year.
One of the most successful activities by the organization had been a highly acclaimed COVID-19 parcel distribution campaign, made possible by the dedicated efforts of the volunteers for the organization..
Erjan also participated in political activity such as the WHite House calls related to health insurance issues affecting the community, rallies against Armenian occupation of Azerbaijan territory, and engaging as an ethnic coordinator council member for the 2016 DNC delegation, but also meeting with Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev.
Azerbaijani-American Women’s Society of New York
Minavvar Vahabova, who heads the AAWS, describes her organization’s mission as focusing on providing assistance to and engaging with recent immigrants, most women, from various diasporas, not limited to Azerbaijani. AAWS has worked in conjunction with other diaspora women’s association, including from the Jewish, Turkish, Turkmeni, and other communities. SHe has been honored for her contributions to diaspora in Azerbaijan.
Her organization’s work includes a combination of cultural events and somber commemorations, but also professional programs, educational, social,and psychological support to women immigrants, and efforts to help them acclimatize to and integrate into the new society. Minavvar told me that the ACCA came as a result of a growing need to streamline the activities of the scattered and small, but growing Azerbaijani communities the United States, to help with the success of individual missions and to have greater impact.
She explained that ACCA was inspired by similar successful efforts such as Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, which is essentially an organization of organizations, representing the alphabet soup of diverse member groups under one umbrella, as well as similar Turkish associations which bring together distinct individual organization in an effort to coordinate a more impactful group activity. SOme of this activity is now being supported by the Diaspora Committee.
North American Azerbaijan Youth Association
Aytaj Gasimova is the president of a recently registered organization focused on representing, giving voice to, and empowering young Azerbaijanis in North American. Originally registered in Canada, the organization has now expanded to the US, where Aytaj has promoted it on campus and now promotes it in the public school district where she works.
Aytaj’s involvement with looking to present a positive and informed image of Azerbaijan began with her first days in the US, when, as a recently arrived student at the University of Washington, she realized the importance of first impressions and that many American students, who otherwise knew nothing about Azerbaijan could be easily affected by the handful of students from Azerbaijan they might encounter.
Aytaj began with cultural activity which might be appealing and engaging to the campus groups, including demonstrating a traditional Azerbaijani folk dance, which was such a popular event that she was soon being asked to dance for groups from all around the university. Aytaj was initially embarrassed because she is not a professional dancer and for her first performance did not even have a traditional attire. But after her performance went viral in real life, the Diaspora Committee reached out to her, provided her with a dress, and engaged with her to continue promoting her activities.
In 2019, the Diaspora Committee invited Aytaj and other young people to join the Global Village Youth Camp, where a group of young Azerbaijani activists lived together in one village and engaged in workshops and seminars related to Azerbaijan’s history, politics, culture, and society and the rest of the time spent doing icebreakers and bonding with other young people. She said this experience was very inspiring to her and others, creating a sense of camaraderie and a common purpose.
Upon returning, she dedicated a lot f her free time towards creating an organization along with several other young people –
- Ramil Gasimov – Vancouver, Canada
- Chilanay Safarli- Washington DC USA
- Namig Aghayev – Toronto Canada
COVID-19 slowed down some of the cultural activity but in the summer of 2020, following Armenia’s attack on Azerbaijan, Aytaj and others focused their energy on an outreach and information campaign about these events. They are currently focusing on planning events and developing relations with the media, while also mentorin other young people on effective cultural and political engagement.
ACCA is now active
ACCA held a meetin in August to discuss the direction of the organization, share ideas for joint programming, and start building a foundation and ground game. In October, the representatives from each organization will come together in Chicago, meeting as a group formally in person for the first time, for a series of seminars, workshops, and discussions on various topics.