Factors that Strengthen the Positions of the Diaspora – VIDEO

  05 June 2023    Read: 781
  Factors that Strengthen the Positions of the Diaspora –  VIDEO

Many countries in the modern world try to employ the influence of their diasporas in foreign policy. Some have even penned significant success.

Teymur Atayev, political contributor and host of ‘Aspects of Foreign Affairs’ at CBC, talked to AzVision.az about his ideas on shaping the diaspora and the factors that strengthen its stance in the world.

- What are the tools for shaping the diaspora?

‘We must first visit the origin of the term. I honestly believe it constantly evolves. Dictionaries define the concept of ‘diaspora’ as closely connected to the Greek world ‘scattered’. This means dispersion is implied, primarily showing that it originated in Ancient Greece, then as their territories expanded, merchants (entrepreneurs in modern terms) moved from their own lands, which was migration in essence. Naturally, they represented the interests of Greece, albeit among the merchant class. The expression was later used to refer to the Phoenicians in relation to the Jews.

However, the format of the term changed a little with regards to the Jews. It was first used to describe the Hellenized Jewish Diaspora, which was not the case in the Promised Land. When there was a powerful migration wave from the Kingdom of Judah under Babylon in the 6th century BC, they were already called the diaspora. At first Jews meant those were Hellenized, then it expanded to include the migrants who were expelled.

Towards late 20th century, the world community started understanding diaspora in a somewhat different context. Today the term is even interchangeable with ‘community’, which means the concept has taken on different perceptions.’

- How much does the presence of a diaspora play a role in attracting substantial investments into the historical homeland?

‘The diasporas that come to mind in this context are the Greek, Armenian and Jewish ones. The Azerbaijani diaspora has also been manifesting itself in this regard. There are two aspects to consider, as it is not always about investments only.  

It is also assistance to the state in various directions. The Second Karabakh War was the perfect illustration. The diaspora sent wheelchairs, organized delivery of medical staff, visits of journalists. These are the ideological aspects.

Financial support is also a crucial aspect. Azerbaijan has been developing the liberated territories. How does this happen? Azerbaijan set up the Yashat Foundation and the diaspora structures invested through it. But there were no foreign companies consisting solely of Azerbaijanis. It is also a rare phenomenon among our geographical neighbours, including Türkiye. Let’s take Lukoil when it was headed by Vagit Alekperov at the time. It was a Russian company ran by an Azerbaijani. So, is it considered a Russian enterprise or an Azerbaijani one? But Azerbaijani capital, or capital of the Azerbaijani to be more precise, is something else. We have not outwardly seen any nationality organize or gather to do so. The Armenians had it going for some time, especially when it concerned the Etchmiadzin.’

- Funds eventually transform into political interests. How does a strong diaspora in a particular state serve to promote the political interests of their historical homeland? How can they influence the policy making in their respective countries regarding their homeland?

‘The diaspora can firstly shape the mindset in the country they live in. The way they work, conduct themselves, their outlook and opinion about that country and community moulds the attitude towards their native states.

The second aspect is the diaspora organizations, who hold various events and invite their local community. These events usually revolve around their home culture or language, which are extremely important. But when these functions are timed to coincide with the important dates for the people they are held for, such as the day of the city or the Independence Day, they help the diaspora to be accepted as their own. The communities abroad must have a strong sense of national identity to promote the interests of their own countries. They must accept the values, laws, and worldview of their host countries as their own, but also stand strong on their own cultural and spiritual roots. They must demonstrate respect, know the language of the country, and teach it to their children so that they have a voice on a certain level. They might go to Sunday schools, study their own language and culture, sing and dance, and support their own country. But if they do not study the language and history of the country they live in, they will not be accepted as a part of the community. If the diaspora does not become a part of the society, they will not be able to voice the interests of their historic homeland, especially if they at times affect the interests of that society.

The third facet concerns the elected bodies. They must be acknowledged to be nominated for certain posts, regardless of ethnic origin. This naturally applies to those, who have been naturalised. The situation in the UK politics can be used as an example to paint the landscape more vividly. Both the head of the government and the head of opposition are of Indian origin. The Scottish National Party, at times called the Nationalist Party, is also headed by an Indian.

I would like to talk about how the Chinese shape their diaspora interests. I am not even referring to Chinatowns, which have a certain kind of history. When the Chinese first enter a country, they firstly position themselves as citizens of that state. Above all else, they start speaking the language of that people. Naturally, they do not and probably will not forget their own culture. They take on the laws of the country they live in, while remaining Chinese. There was a period, when the Chinese were also coming here, which was mainly about trading. You probably remember how they used to approach the people in different parts of the city and offer to buy something in fluent Azerbaijani. That is the advantage they have. They also study the mentality of the society they live in.

The situation in the Arab countries, such as the Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or in Qatar is also quite interesting. You hear English speech in almost any store, even by the Arabs who are employed there. There are a lot of immigrants from the Philippines, who speak next to no Arabic. The perception of the locals is different, which does not even require speaking Arabic. Almost all Arabs speak English and do not demand others to learn their own language. They need labour force. Immigrants from the Philippines are usually the ones who work as maids and shop attendants. The fact that they are not from Muslim countries does not even concern the Arabs. The important thing is that the jobs get done, the employees get paid, and no issues remain.’

- Which diasporas have made the biggest leap in the past 5 decades in terms of shaping and strengthening their positions globally?

‘The Indians have in the UK. There is also a strong Arabic line with serious financial ties in New York, if we study the US experience. Let’s also have a look at the football teams of Great Britain and France, which is also based on the Arab capital. The locals usually do not protest this, with the rare exceptions of individual issues. When a person outside from the diaspora, representing their own countries, buys a club out, they usually seek out their compatriots among the locals, some of which have long since been naturalized.

The Pakistanis have a serious line in the UK, while the Arabs are extensively represented in France. The Turks have strong positions in Germany. The Indians have started holding ministerial posts in Great Britain. The English and French football teams are also very diverse. When the French became the world champions, and the European champions before that, there was even a joke about the African team becoming the European and world champions represented by France. This does not upset the French, as most of them are third or even fourth generation immigrants.

The same landscape is painted by the Turks in Germany. I am using sports as an illustration because it is usually the mirror of the processes in global geopolitics.

Mehmet Scholl played for Bayern football club when the German player Franz Beckenbauer was the president. I remember reading an interview with him when Scholl left the team. When he was asked who would replace Scholl, he directly answered that they were in the lookout for another Turk. He was then asked why the replacement had to necessarily be a Turk, he explained that the Turks accounted for 12% of the seasonal tickets. They went to the games with Turkish flags to cheer Scholl on, which was welcomed by the club management. There are one or two Turks playing in the main German and Italian clubs, even if they come on as substitutes. That is the line they have chosen to follow.

So, why aren’t the Turks that strong in the parliaments? Because they still must go through this stage, which the Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Indians already have. The Indians got there two generations earlier. We have been noticing that the Turks are now perceived as their own in many associations, organizations, and such. They represent the interests of Germany. We have been seeing more and more Turkish surnames, especially in journalism, where it all begins.’

- What steps do we need to take to strengthen the positions of the Azerbaijani diaspora globally?

‘There is now a cohort of Azerbaijanis, represented in world structures, such as the UN, the World Bank, or Google. The list is not as big as we would like it to be yet, but it is a long process. The Turks started moving towards the 1960s, whereas the Azerbaijanis began towards the late 90s. Even then, there were few. Mainly Jews left the county at the time and built a lobby. The Jews are our lobby. They act as our diaspora even in Israel. They also represent the Azerbaijani diaspora quite often in many other countries.

We now have many Azerbaijani houses. Another one opened in Canada mere days ago. So, why do we call it the Azerbaijani house and not the house of Azerbaijanis? It is not just about pastries, dancing, and some creative nights. It is a house for everyone, not only our compatriots there. They can visit whenever they want and attend events, depending on what they are dedicated to. These must be tailored to the important dates of the country we mentioned earlier. Austria celebrates Mozart’s birthday, while Germany also celebrates their composers. These can be an excellent training wheel for Azerbaijan. The local authorities and community must accept them as their own at the end of the day.

We have an excellent medical representation in Germany. We have an organization of doctors. There are clinics run by Azerbaijanis, who also employ Germans, which means that they are not exclusively Azerbaijani. The same is relevant for Austria and Denmark. A group of doctors have recently visited Zangilan and offered new ideas. These might go beyond green energy to include artificial intelligence and medicine. I am using medical industry as an illustration as it has become more urgent after the pandemic. We used to invite foreign doctors, but we now have the luxury of requesting our own from abroad. The same applies to education. These people come back to share their expertise and best practices, to tell their success stories of reaching as far as the Pentagon or certain ministries in Europe, for instance.

Music has also become a popular niche. There is a great number of Azerbaijanis, who have graduated from conservatories in Austria. They are now touring abroad and have grown audiences all over the world, performing on behalf of the state.’


Sahil Isgandarov

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