On March 9, the first meeting of a new “Forum of Azerbaijani-Turkish Diaspora Organizations” convened in Baku, Azerbaijan. But as one participant described the event, “Lots of talk, but I wonder if all of this will turn into a real action. Perhaps the real goal of the event is to send a message to Armenians that ‘we are coming’.”
The forum was a significant accomplishment for the Azerbaijan State Committee on Relations with Azerbaijanis Living Abroad. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, attended the forum and delivered rousing speeches regarding the importance of unity among all Turkic-language-speaking diaspora organizations around the world. “This forum shows our unity. We deserve it,” said President Aliyev.
Baku hosted 513 delegates from 48 countries who came to Azerbaijan’s capital city for the event. Approximately 140 delegates came from Turkey, 14 from Turk-Meskheti groups, 23 from Iraq, and five from Northern Cyprus. Other participants came from Germany, the United States, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Romania, Norway, Lithuania, and Ukraine. Participants adopted three major resolutions: a “Joint Strategy on the Activities of the Azerbaijani and Turkish diaspora organizations,” an “Appeal to the Turkic-speaking Peoples,” and a broader “Baku Declaration.” In addition, the forum sent protest notes to countries that have adopted resolutions on the controversial Armenian genocide issue and provided information about the occupation of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region by Armenia.
Although not openly listed on the agenda of the forum, it was clear that the strong and effective Armenian lobby was the real target of the forum. Witnessing the pressure that the powerful Armenian lobby can bring to bear on the legislative bodies of many countries, the Azerbaijani and Turkish governments have realized that they should unite and coordinate the efforts of their diaspora communities to withstand those pressures.
“There is not much information about us in the world. The strong Armenian lobby is working against us,” noted President Aliyev. “The representatives of the diaspora organizations should actively take part in the political processes of their respective countries, be represented in those legislative bodies, and take an important place in the political life.” He also added that the Azerbaijani and Turkish diasporas have realized several achievements that need to be further developed and expanded. “We are ready to provide the needed assistance and carry out our tasks. But the diaspora organizations also need to work closely with their motherlands and further act as a united body. Only in this way we can prevent the work of the Armenian lobby against us,” Aliyev argued.
The presence and participation of a delegation from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus attracted particular comment. Mehmet Ali Talat expressed satisfaction with the logistics of the forum, adding, “For the peoples of Northern Cyprus, it is very important to participate in this event. This shows that we are not alone in the world.”
The timing of the forum was particularly important. The U.S. Congress is once again planning to discuss a resolution on the Armenian genocide issue, and April 24, which Armenians commemorate as the day of genocide, will be the highlight of heated discussions between Armenians and Turks on the accuracy of these claims.
“They [Armenians] have committed a genocide against us themselves and now accuse us with the invented genocide claims,” President Aliyev said during the forum, referring to the Khojali massacre in 1992 by Armenian military troops, in which 613 people were massacred overnight, and the 1918 massacre of more than 30,000 Azerbaijanis in Baku by Armenian Dashnak soldiers. Azerbaijani diaspora groups in Canada, Japan, Belgium, Germany, and Sweden have commemorated the Khojali massacre on February 26, and Azerbaijanis living in Washington and New York usually organize protest rallies in front of Armenian diplomatic missions on that date.
The Baku forum concluded with a series of small group discussions, allowing delegates from different countries to discuss various plans and projects for collaboration. Similar “World Azerbaijani Congresses” were held in Baku in 2001 and 2006, but analysts have noted little progress in the effectiveness of the Azerbaijani diasporas abroad. This year, however, the purpose might be slightly different: to scare before acting. Azerbaijani political scientist Rovshan Novruzoglu agrees, “The first forum of Azerbaijani and Turkish Diaspora organizations is the first serious political storm in the fight against Armenian terrorism.”
(Diaspora.Az, Day.az, Khalq Qazeti, Zerkalo, Ekho, Yeni Musavat, March 7-14)