A Proud American with Azerbaijani heritage….
By Tomris Azeri, President of Azerbaijan Society of America (ASA).
I am a proud American of Azerbaijani heritage. Immigrating to the Unites States with my family in 1963, I had the good fortune to be reared and educated here where I had the opportunity to build for myself a successful and exciting career in management. My parents came to this country with very little in terms of financial assets but they had big hopes and aspirations of realizing the great “American Dream” for their family. And now, after celebrating more than 50 years of American citizenship, my parents can rest in peace knowing that their children and grandchildren have made them proud.
Coming to America in search of new prospects with an aim to establish new roots was never easy, but the possibilities and the numerous opportunities for a better education and a higher standard of living were enormous. My parents worked very hard and sacrificed much to give us a better life and this country appreciated that effort and opened many doors and gave me the opportunity to succeed and become my best. As a first generation American, my American Dream did come true, but more importantly; America taught me the value and importance of Civil Liberties and Democracy, two priceless gifts which I will always treasure.
Among them any values our elders impressed upon us was the preservation of our rich culture and traditions, which I try to articulate in many aspects of my everyday life. I have always cherished the beauty of living in the United States, an ever-changing and exciting “melting pot”. It has enriched me personally and helped to broaden my perspective to become a truly universal citizen. However, I also believe in safeguarding and preserving one’s own cultural heritage to pass on to future generations for without a solid foundation, one cannot build a sound future.
The Azerbaijan Society of America (ASA) was established in 1957 by the first wave of émigrés. It is the first cultural organization to represent the Azerbaijani Diaspora whose aim it was to preserve our cultural heritage and share the many facets and features of our rich heritage with our fellow Americans. With ASA’s dedicated leadership and the popular support of its well-educated, sophisticated and expanding membership base, Azerbaijani culture continues to thrive and flourish while inspiring numerous sister organizations across the United States. In addition to sharing the wealth and beauty of Azerbaijan culture in America, ASA expanded its mission over the years and now serves as a multi-purpose platform which includes assisting newly arriving Azerbaijanis integrate into American society. Currently, there are approximately half a million Azerbaijani’s living in the US, concentrated in California, Texas and the Northeastern part of the United States. Having quickly integrated and adapted to US society, Azerbaijani–Americans are making a meaningful impact in their respective communities through their professional and social contributions.
Unfortunately, ASA’s activities in recent months have declined as our Cultural Center was heavily damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and is now on the verge of collapsing. Sadly, we do not have the funds to rebuild the center. We have reached out to various entities for support but responses have been highly disappointing so we continue to organize various events and seek corporate donations to endow our Building Fund and restore the Center.
Azerbaijan has enjoyed a close relationship with the Unites States since gaining independence in 1991, and has become a valued and reliable ally particularly following the tragedy of September 11th.
Azerbaijan was the first Muslim nation to offer troops to support the United States in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Air fields in Azerbaijan have provided crucial logistics support for American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Azerbaijan has offered its territory and military bases to the US in support of anti-terrorism campaigns in the region. With expanding influence, Azerbaijani –Americans have helped to foster and inspire greater understanding and mutual respect between our two countries. Serving as a cultural bridge, Azerbaijani-Americans have made a favorable impression on Washington on issues of importance to Azerbaijan while the US has become more cognizant of the importance of Azerbaijan to US interests, both politically and in terms of business.
Since 1991, when the United States recognized the independence of Azerbaijan – as the Soviet Union fell under the weight of military excess and societal repression – our nations have developed a strong partnership, based on our strategic cooperation in the fields of energy, security cooperation, and combating terrorism and drug trafficking.
ASA has helped lead Azerbaijani-Americans and the Diaspora in educating Congress about the culture and history of their homeland and raise awareness of the importance of strong relations. Azerbaijan is a small nation of great geopolitical importance to the US, with our neighbors to the north and south (Russia and Iran). Azerbaijan is one of the United States few predominately Muslim allies in the region. We have walked the halls of Congress with our message. Over the years we have seen numerous Members of Congress make statements in the Congressional Record recognizing and appreciating Azerbaijan’s contribution to combating terrorism, commitment to democracy and religious tolerance. Where else but in Azerbaijan can you see Muslims, Christians and Jews sitting in peace over a cup of tea?
Members of Congress have stood with us as we remember the victims of the tragedy of Khojaly and Black January and celebrate our Independence Day. Within the last decade the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus has grown to seventy-one Members, both Republican and Democrat.
Azerbaijan is an essential U.S. ally in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the world. I am proud to see this friendship and strategic alliance strengthen through the years.
Azerbaijan has been central to transporting nonlethal supplies to support our troops in the international military effort in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The United States and Azerbaijan have a common strategic interest in international energy security, the great global challenge of our time.
Russia’s actions in Georgia and Ukraine have heightened the need for a more secure and stable supply of energy for world markets. Russia is not only a threat to the sovereignty of Ukraine, but threatens all Europeans who rely on Russia’s regional monopoly on natural gas. Azerbaijan provides a solution. Currently the BTC pipeline delivers Caspian oil to world markets bypassing Russia. Many Members of Congress have recently expressed support of Azerbaijan’s goal of establishing a southern corridor for natural gas exports to Europe.
As proud Americans, we naturally have a vested interest in wanting a strong US-Azerbaijani relationship, one based on mutual trust, respect and understanding. It pleases me to see Azerbaijan and the US in a “strategic partnership”, one founded on the interests of energy and military cooperation but this relationship can be sustainable only if reinforced with an exchange of political, cultural and social dialogue as well as mutual empathy. Commercial and military interests can naturally change over time but a well rooted relationship can thrive and ensure stability and longevity if the aforementioned underpinnings are strong.