Nasimi Aghayev: Consulate General carries out its activity in line with Azerbaijani president’s instruction to pursue pro-active diplomacy - INTERVIEW
Q: Azerbaijan’s Consulate General in Los Angeles was established in 2005. What was the necessity for opening this diplomatic mission?
A: Our Consulate General covers California and 13 other Western U.S. states. The establishment of Azerbaijan’s Consulate General in California was not accidental, but the result of the wise and far-sighted policy of President Ilham Aliyev. California alone is of tremendous importance not only for the U.S., but also for the entire world. California has recently become the world's fifth largest economy with its $2.8 trillion economy, leaving behind countries such as Great Britain, France, Russia and Italy.
Moreover, around one million Armenians live in California, with 500,000 of them in the Greater Los Angeles Area alone. Today California is one of the major ideological and financial centers of anti-Azerbaijani activities of the Armenian lobby in the world.
Given these factors, the presence of Azerbaijan, and representation and protection of its interests in this part of the United States is of great importance.
Q: How does the Consulate General build its work in such a geographical area?
A: Despite all the obstacles, the Consulate General carries out its activity in accordance with the instruction by the President of Azerbaijan to pursue a pro-active diplomacy. The Consulate General is working to develop strong friendship and cooperation in various fields with the states covered, and spread the truth about Azerbaijan as widely as possible. One can state with certainty that since the establishment of the Consulate General the number of friends of Azerbaijan has been rapidly growing in California and other Western states, and the strategic importance of Azerbaijan is understood much better. In particular, there is a better understanding of realities regarding the illegal military occupation and ethnic cleansing of 20% of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory by neighboring Armenia.
It should be noted that over the last five years legislative bodies and governors of 7 states out of 13 covered by the Consulate General have adopted resolutions and proclamations condemning the Khojaly Genocide that was committed by Armenia against hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians in 1992. In this regard, I would like to mention the states of Arizona, Idaho, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. In addition, the legislatures of a number of Western states adopted resolutions, harshly condemning the occupation and ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijan’s lands by Armenia. Also, the legislatures of such states as Alaska, Washington, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado and New Mexico have passed resolutions and proclamations that emphasize the strategic importance of Azerbaijan and commend the environment of multifaith harmony and tolerance in our country.
Q: What is being done to confront the anti-Azerbaijani activities of the Armenian lobby against Azerbaijan? In general, what are the most powerful tools of delivering the truth about Azerbaijan and putting the country on the map?
A: The Armenian special interests lobby, which has been in California for many decades, has succeeded in gaining a certain degree of sympathy for the Armenian cause. However, as the knowledge of the local communities about the crimes committed by Armenia against Azerbaijani people increases, this image of “an innocent and suffering nation” is gradually beginning to collapse. For instance, I have seen repeatedly Americans approach me following our public events on the 1992 Khojaly Genocide, telling me how frustrated they were to learn about these brutal atrocities committed by Armenian troops against Azerbaijani civilians, including children, women and elderly.
I would like to emphasize that as a result of the international "Justice for Khojaly" campaign led by the vice-president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Ms. Leyla Aliyeva, there is now increased interest in the United States to study and convey the truth about the Khojaly Genocide. In recent years, dozens of articles have been published by American authors in California and other U.S. media outlets about Khojaly, as well as several books have been written and a film has been made on the topic. A well-known American journalist Raoul Lowery Contreras, who lives in San Diego, California, wrote a book in 2016 titled "Murder in the Mountains”. This was the first ever book published in the U.S. on the Khojaly tragedy. The same year the book won the influential Latino Book Award. The second book on this subject was authored in 2017 by Rabbi Israel Barouk in Los Angeles, titled "Khojaly">Khojaly: Crime Against Humanity". Both books were published by Berkeley Press publishing house of California, and made available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major book networks in the U.S., as well as obtained by libraries of a number of prestigious American universities.
Also, in 2017 Los Angeles-based Jewish filmmakers made the first documentary film about the Khojaly genocide in the United States. Titled "Running from the Darkness," the film’s premiere screening was held by the Consulate General the same year at the world-famous Museum of Tolerance of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is one of the largest Jewish organizations in the world.
One of the most powerful tools for promoting Azerbaijan here is also the presentation of our rich cultural heritage. In recent years around 50 cultural events have been held by the Consulate General in California alone. For instance, I would like to mention the successful performance of the operetta "Arshin Mal Alan" in Los Angeles; "Seven Beauties" ballet in San Diego in 2014; screening of the colorized version of the film "Arshin Mal Alan" (1945) in Hollywood in 2015; and concerts of Azerbaijani music dedicated to the memory of Azerbaijan’s National Leader Heydar Aliyev in Los Angeles and San Diego in 2017. Each of these events was attended by thousands of Americans, who were mesmerized by Azerbaijan’s rich music and culture.
Q: How active is the local Azerbaijani community?
A: The Armenian community has existed in California for about 170 years. The Azerbaijani community mainly moved here over the last 30-40 years, and is smaller in quantity. Nevertheless, we have been witnessing certain unswing in activities of our local community in recent years. For example, last December California-Azerbaijan Friendship Association was founded, bringing together all Azerbaijanis living in California and the American friends of Azerbaijan. The new organization has already conducted several successful events. Moreover, when in February of this year the Armenian special interests lobby was holding an anti-Azerbaijani hearing at the California State Senate, members of the Azerbaijani community living in Northern California attended the hearing and offered comments, drawing the attention to solid facts and exposing the misinformation provided by the Armenian lobby. Azerbaijani community activists eloquently conveyed the truth about the Khojaly Genocide, as well as Armenia's policies of aggression, occupation and ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijan. After this unexpected backlash, the Armenian special interests lobbyists found themselves totally disgraced and embarrassed. The lobby was so perplexed by having to publicly face the truth on Armenia’s crimes they work so hard to whitewash that one of their lobbyists, representing the Armenian Assembly of America, admitted the fact that the genocide of 613 Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly in Azerbaijan's Karabakh region in 1992 was committed by Armenian troops.
Also in May, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was celebrated through a series of events by our community organizations operating in San Francisco and San Jose.
I must also point out that in the meantime many American friends are also engaged in building bridges between the people of California and Azerbaijan. An example is the recently established San Diego Baku Friendship Association. The Association hosted extensive events on the Black January tragedy and Khojaly Genocide this year in San Diego.
Q: What are Azerbaijan’s economic relations with California and other Western states?
A: In recent years, Azerbaijan’s trade turnover with California and some Western states has increased. In 2016-17, the trade turnover with 13 states covered by the Consulate General was one-third of the total trade turnover between Azerbaijan and the United States. Moreover, during the last few years we have seen an increase in exports from Azerbaijan to these states. In some states, especially in California, Alaska, and Arizona, there has been threefold, sometimes tenfold increase in the imports of various products from Azerbaijan. In general, there is a great potential and interest for further expansion of bilateral economic relations, and the work is continuing in this direction.
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