Baku, February 3 – Azerbaijanis in the United States have set up a new grassroots organization to lobby on behalf of themselves and their homeland, a step they hope will enable them to move from the margins of American political life and more successfully compete with the larger and far more influential Armenian diaspora there.
Like other Turkic communities abroad, Adil Baguirov, executive director of the new group, wrote in the Baku’s Echo newspaper on Saturday, Azerbaijanis in the U.S. have traditionally suffered from “fragmentation, apathy, insufficient information, a lack of purpose and a low level of activity” (http://www.echo-az.com/tochka01.shtml).
And that is especially difficult for many Azerbaijanis to tolerate in this presidential election year there, given the ability of the Armenian diaspora there to influence on the positions of presidential aspirants and the media on issues like Karabakh (http://mosaz.ru/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1985&Itemid=8).
Indeed, many in Azerbaijan appear to believe that with regard to the United States and other major powers, their country is contending less with the views of these countries than with the actions of the Armenian diaspora, a view other Azerbaijanis now take pains to dispute (http://www.1news.az/articles.php?item_id=20080131123602425&sec_id=7).
But such attitudes help to explain Baku’s longstanding efforts to reach out to Azerbaijani diasporas around the world as well as the ongoing attempts by these communities to organize themselves to defend their corporate interests and promote the views of their homeland. Nowhere has the latter been more intriguing than in the U.S.
In his article, Baguirov argued that these efforts led to the formation of the U.S. Azeris Network (USAN) in 2007, a group that “for many reasons” is atypical not only for diasporas in general but for Azerbaijani ones in particular. Among its innovative features, he said, are the following:
First, USAN is a “grassroots” organization, one funded not by a government or wealthy individual but rather by small contributions a large number of the more than 250,000 Azerbaijanis now living in the United States, a coming together of “the most ordinary” Azerbaijanis that “few believed” was possible.
Second, and precisely because of the first feature, USAAN is “absolutely obligated to be transparent about its finances for all of its donors.” That not only promotes a sense of “ownership” among contributors but allows the group to work “as an independent, non-party and more precisely mass organization.”
Third, Baguirov continued, USAN has “no presidents, vice presidents, chairman, chief officers, or other high-sounding titles.” Instead, the group makes all of its contributors members of its advisory council, an arrangement designed to make the group “democratic and modest to the greatest possible degree.
And fourth, he said, it is “a purely American social-political project – that is, it is not a business association, cultural foundation, or a social or humanitarian organization.” Because of that, it is “a unique initiative which has no analogy in the history of Azerbaijan.”
According to Baguirov, USAN has as its basic mission “increasing the number of politically active Azerbaijanis and pro-Azerbaijani residents in the U.S.,” building closer ties with other Turkic diasporas there, and using modern communication technologies, including its website – www.usazeris.org – to communicate its views.
To those ends, he said, USAN over the next three years plans, among other things, to “improve the opportunities for mass lobbying” by Azerbaijanis in the United States, support officials and their staffs who already back Azerbaijan, and push for the elimination of Article 907 trade restrictions and for the expansion of security ties.
Other Azerbaijani groups in the United States have sought to promote some of these goals in the past without the success Baguirov hopes for, but he acknowledged that USAN as “a pioneer” faces some enormous challenges as it seeks to organize and put in political play “all the Azerbaijanis of America.”