Distant but Close: What the Diaspora can do for their homeland –  Interview + Video

  05 June 2023    Read: 439
  Distant but Close: What the Diaspora can do for their homeland –   Interview + Video

Diasporas have grown especially important in gaining partners and allied countries in modern times. Every country is now interested in shaping a strong diaspora abroad.

Zaur Aliyev, Ph. D. in history and expert on diaspora issues, described the diaspora in his interview to AzVision.az as an institution capable of protecting national identity abroad and of chancing the policy making through forming an electorate where they reside.

‘Some confuse diaspora with a community, which is a different concept altogether, such as the Turkish communities living in Europe, Australia, and China, for example. They have their own neighbourhoods, their own lives. They gather, celebrate holidays, which makes them a community. Diaspora is more of a political concept. If a diaspora is active, it must firstly have an information source. Secondly, they must have a legal organization to be able to participate in the local state projects. The Indians are a good example of this. They are not merely a community. They have centres and have shaped a diaspora. They have built separate cultural, legal, and informational centres. As they combine these three networks, they can represent their Indian identity abroad and try to cooperate with voters to win votes in their respective countries.

The sole reason for ex US presidential candidate John Kerry’s pro-Armenian inclination was the Armenian community in his neighbourhood. His gardener and hairdresser are Armenians. He buys his farmers’ produce from Armenians. He admitted to it when I met him in America. ‘Why shouldn’t I love these people?’, he asked. They have managed to secure John Kerry’s vote through little acts of care and attention instead of paying millions of dollars to buy it.’

- What are the factors that allow the diaspora to attract investments to their homeland? Should the diaspora work for its historical homeland or vice versa?  

‘The diaspora does not raise investments; it simply represents the country. Let’s say you own a large company and are trying to build a business. The diaspora then invites you, introduces its country and talks about the opportunities it can offer. The Greek, Irish, Chinese and others do not expect investments from their diasporas. They only want them to promote their country so that the investments can then follow.

The Armenians have several information networks in California alone. They often advocate for Armenia as a tourist zone with ancient churches and sights to see. The businesspeople then choose to visit the country and invest in those tourist attractions. The role of the Armenian diaspora is the first introduction. If you can do that, investments will follow. No one will have any interest in a country they know nothing about.

The state must also be interested in the diaspora. There are three large institutions that work with the diaspora in China: the first promotes the country, the cuisine. They go and set up Chinese neighbourhoods and restaurants. The second group disperses the Chinese around the world and creates business opportunities to travel the world, sell domestic goods and introduce China.

The third group works solely with the diaspora so that they do not forget their historic homeland. For example, the state offers them support on certain days and the diaspora feels safe. The state employs the dual citizenship mechanism. It allows the children of those people to get free education in their home country. It offers affordable packages for the families to travel, thus attaching the diaspora to the homeland.’

- How does a diaspora with a strong stance can affect the policy of the countries they live in towards their motherland?

‘Azerbaijanis living in Britain have managed to completely shapeshift the attitude towards Azerbaijan in the UK. So have the Pakistanis and Indians there. The main reason that allows this is promotion.

The Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, when they have festivals and dress in green. This has lured the American businesspeople and entrepreneurs so much that they have inevitably become lobbyists for Ireland. Let’s look at the Turkish marches that I have personally witnessed in New York. It is a beautiful sight. It is not only about walking around with flags. They introduce the locals to the Turkish cuisine; they promote the music and Turkish traditions. The stronger the promotion, the more they can influence the state policies in the countries they live in.

The Chinese have solved so much through their cuisine. It is now served to politicians all over the world. All these aspects also influence the position of the politicians.

Azerbaijan still lags, unfortunately. The Jews and Armenians have built such strong networks that statesmen understand that they can do business with their businesspeople and turn to their law firms when needed. Those law firms are also lobbyists that serve Armenians.’

- What are some examples we can follow?

‘We must firstly study the psychology of Azerbaijanis. German Azerbaijanis and American Azerbaijanis have completely different thought patterns, whereas French Azerbaijanis would think otherwise. If we take one step towards an Azerbaijani, they will take ten to meet us halfway. We must offer affordable travel, better work conditions, congratulate them more often, do projects together. If our state offers a project worth 5,000 USD to the diaspora organizations, they will do work worth 15,000. This is the Azerbaijani mentality. We try to do quality work for each other. The diasporas could be given projects twice a year. This will slowly bring investments into Azerbaijan, encourage patriotism, produce greater results, such as publishing books and cooperating with journalists.

I was speaking at a regional private TV station along with an Armenian in the US. I paid the journalists to promote my speech a bit more than the other. Not everyone in the diaspora is wealthy. The businesspeople there might have good conditions, but we could also offer them tax and investment concessions, such as China. Schools could be interesting for them. We have very few diaspora schools. It would be great if the youth could visit more often and sit at certain lectures in our universities.

On the other hand, we could also join the political parties and circles, in the US for instance, and then voice our demands as their supporters. We could do what the Armenians have been doing all along. And we have quite a big community there, too.

I would very much like the dual citizenship to be brought up on the agenda, which could allow the Azerbaijani businesspeople to become the citizens of both Azerbaijan and their respective countries. We have quite reputable doctors abroad. We could promote our country through them as well.

We could provide legal assistance to our diasporas living in the vicinity. They must often resort to expensive law forms for legal advice. It would be excellent to have our own legal services. Our diaspora could have its own legal consultancy, who could rapidly resolve the issues the Azerbaijanis come across with the local legislation. I believe that the Azerbaijani diaspora can be strong if such issues are resolved.’


Sahil Isgandarov

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