Vienna, January 2 – Ever more post-Soviet governments are seeking to expand their ties with diaspora communities in the hope that these groups will be able to lobby on their behalf in other countries, a trend that likely to introduce some new complications in relations among the former Soviet republics and between them and other governments.
Armenia, Ukraine, and the three Baltic countries have long counted on diasporas to speak out on their behalf, viewing such groups as adjuncts to their foreign policy efforts. And the Russian Federation has notably sought to use ethnic Russians abroad to maintain Moscow’s influence in the former Soviet republics and to increase it elsewhere.
But other countries across this region are now either getting involved in this area for the first time or dramatically expanding their efforts to increase their diplomatic leverage, support the growing number of the nationals living abroad, and, what may be especially significant, counter the influence of the diasporas of other groups.
One of the countries which has recently increased its efforts in this regard most dramatically is Azerbaijan, whose leaders increasingly view their co-ethnics abroad as a foreign policy resource to be deployed not only generally but specifically against the historically influential Armenian lobby in the U.S. and other Western countries.
At the end of December, Azerbaijanis in more than 70 countries marked the Day of Solidarity of the Azerbaijani World. Perhaps the largest of these took place at the United Nations in New York where more than 300 Azerbaijanis, Turks and others attended a party and viewed films about the 50 million Azerbaijanis in the world.
Other gatherings took place in Turkey, Britain, France, and Israel -- where the Azerbaijani organization has the delightful acronym Az-Iz -- but officials in Baku stressed that the largest Azerbaijani diaspora, as opposed to longstanding Azerbaijani community in Iran, is in the Russian Federation.
There, now live more than two million Azerbaijanis, making them one of the most important nations within the Russian population and thus the object of particular concern on the part of both the Russian authorities and the government in Baku (http://www.newsazerbaijan.ru/newsaz/20071230/42090885.html).
Given the rising tide of xenophobia among Russians and the continuing importance of transfer payments from Azerbaijanis working among them to Baku, this is a potential flashpoint in the relations between the two countries, a flashpoint that such diaspora ties may exacerbate or moderate depending on the intentions of all involved.
But the most significant comment on what Baku hopes to accomplish in its work with diasporas more generally came in an interview Valekh Gadzhiyev, the head of the State Committee for Work with Azerbaijanis Living Abroad, gave to the Azerbaijani newspaper, Day (http://www.day.az/print/news/society/103005.html).
Although Azerbaijan has celebrated Solidarity Day since 1991, Gadzhiyev said, the past year has been a turning point in Baku’s work with these groups. Specifically, he said, Baku now wants the diasporas to serve as “an Azerbaijani lobby” fully capable of taking on the powerful Armenian lobby in the United States and other Western countries.
Thanks to the money that his organization has provided, Gadzhiyev added, Azerbaijanis in other countries have the information and resources they need to expand Baku’s circle of friends in these countries and finally put the Armenian lobby on the defensive.
Such efforts, of course, are certain to elicit a response from Yerevan, and consequently, with this new push by Baku, the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is likely to spread to Moscow and Western capitals with a new intensity, again something that cannot fail to affect negotiations over the future of Karabakh.