During her presentation at the Wilson Center, Dr. Wistrand encountered numerous questions from the audience, including those from representatives of the Armenian embassy and community, as well as those from the Azerbaijani embassy and community.
We present you Jennifer Wistrand’s interview to APA’s Washington correspondent.
-- Are there many other scholars studying the subject of Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs?
-- There are people who are studying refugees and forced migration, there are journals of refugee studies. Refugees is a big topic but Azerbaijan is not looked at. Let’s say if you look at other secessions, like Kosovo, Abkhazia, Ossetia, you don’t see Karabakh in there to the same extent. When you read the scholarly literature it’s not there in the way that some other populations are there. Despite the fact that World Bank had this very interesting report in 2011 that Azerbaijan has one of the highest per capita percentages of IDP populations. It’s just that I don’t think Azerbaijan has got the attention.
-- Can you think of any possible reasons for that?
-- To be honest, I don’t know. Azerbaijan is a very important place. It’s a small country with small population but it’s got enormous wealth from oil and gas, so that should put it on people’s maps , on geopolitical map it’s between Russia, Turkey and Iran. It is a little bit perplexing to me as to why it has not received more attention because I think there are a lot of factors which should propel it in people’s minds.
Aid agencies, such as UNHCR for example, have that timeline, something that’s considered imminent refugee crisis. Right now Syrian crisis and refugees going into Turkey - that’s considered ongoing immediate crisis. Unfortunately, given that the cease-fire was signed in 1994, from a perspective of a lot of organizations, a lot of world crises fall of people’s radar screens, which is very unfortunate.
The more I studied this, the more it was perplexing to me, and I said, “Why isn’t this getting more attention?” That’s why I am trying to get some sort of article published, so there is something representing Azerbaijan because there are many other refugee and IDP situations that do seem to get more attention from media aid agencies. So, who is making that determination?
-- How was your transition into the politicized world of Washington? Did you expect as much controversy when you presented the results of your research as you received during your presentation?
-- I have to say that I was a bit shocked that some of what I observed in Azerbaijan, that his dialogue would be taking over and still exist in Washington DC. While I anticipated some, but not to the extent that I have seen. I understand on the one hand that if you represent an embassy that’s your job to some extent – to represent your government’s line. And obviously the Azerbaijani government’s line and the Armenian government’s line are different, so they represent different perspectives.
It does make it a little bit different. When I present my research on Azerbaijan and get questions like “Why haven’t you looked at Armenia and Karabakh?” That’s because I haven’t. It hasn’t been the focus of my research. May be that’s not accepted in the political environment, I am not sure. It is something I anticipated but not to the extent I have seen though.
--Could it affect your research? Would you be willing to put out the results of your research and risk being criticized by the groups that have their own interest?
-- So far, I don’t feel impeded by it. My interest was in how outward migration is affecting people who are staying behind. I am looking at how this affects the IDP’s everyday life, their families, goals, aspirations. My interest is with them and this is the information I am hoping to get out there.
I can’t control how people use that information. I hope that they understand that I present information from the perspective of these IDPs, not necessarily taking a governmental position.
At the recent presentation I gave at the Wilson Center I anticipated may be one person from either side asking questions. But I was a bit shocked by the number of Armenians presenting their perspective. Again, given that I said upfront that this is what I am showing I am not taking a political stance, I am presenting information based on what I saw.
--Do you have any policy recommendations?
-- I know that the World Bank is still very interested in Azerbaijan. I recently looked at the report -- they are trying to give IDPs and refugees more job skills’ training to help them get integrated.
I understand that a lot has been constructed for them and I think that’s great but since it may be a long time before they can go home, no one really knows… What’s important to me is that young people who were born into this situation, now in their late teens or early twenties, they need to have more self-sufficiency. Just to see more integration, so people would think that even if they live in these communities they have ties to the greater community.
-- What are you plans for future research? Do they involve Azerbaijan?
-- I would like to continue looking at the refugee and IDP situation just because the more I look at it, the more interested I am in the fact that it does not seem to be covered as much as I think it should.