Vol. 6, No. 9-10 (May 15, 2013)

The Azerbaijani Diaspora in the North Caucasus

Sevinj Aliyeva, PhD
Institute of History
Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences

Azerbaijanis have been living in the northwest Caucasus for a long time, particularly in Krasnodar kray, Stavropol kray, and Rostov oblast.  In the first half of the 19th century, Azerbaijanis working in the oil industry arrived in Taman and Grozny to work in the oil fields there.  In the same period, other Azerbaijanis moved to other corners of the North Caucasus, including Azov, the Don and the Kuban.  Most of these were involved with agriculture.  But the largest group of Azerbaijanis who came to that region in Soviet times were engineers, teachers, and cultural workers.

At the end of the 1980s, there arose the first organizations of this Azerbaijani diaspora.  The political and social-economic crisis in the USSR generated inter-ethnic passions and sparked ethnic conflicts, which earlier had been in a latent state.  The ethnic and social mobilization of the Azerbaijani population living beyond the borders of its historical motherland arose in response to the processes taking place in the country including xenophobia, unemployment, problems with law enforcement, and the preservation of cultural and ethnic identity.

In 1988, Azerbaijanis in nine regions around Armavir set up the “Azeri” organization.  In 1996, Azerbaijanis in Krasnodar created the Azerbaijan-Russia Society.  And in 2005, a regional branch of the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress began to function in Krasnodar.  There were also other Azerbaijani groups in Rostov, Stavropol, Zheleznovodsk, Sochi and Maykop, most of which soon affiliated with the All-Russian group.  Many of these groups worked closely with the organizations of other ethnic groups.  Thus, for example, the Azerbaijanis of Adygeya have particularly good relations with Adyge Khase.

Today, most of the Azerbaijanis in the North Caucasus live in rural areas.  The 2002 and 2010 Russian censuses register some of these, but the figures they provide are clearly too low, both because local officials seek to boost the number of the local titular nationality and because some Azerbaijanis, especially if they know the local language or are culturally close to the local dominant ethnic community, declare themselves to be members of it.  More than half of the Azerbaijanis living in the North Caucasus have taken Russian Federation citizenship, something that makes this easier.  But studies show that they have never forgotten their historical roots, and many continue to send money back to their families at home.

Unfortunately, the reappearance of pseudo-nationalistic ideas and xenophobia play a negative role in the relationship of the peoples of the two countries.  However, Azerbaijanis living in Russia and especially those in the North Caucasus have maintained good relations with their neighbors of various nationalities.  According to observers, Azerbaijanis have the closest possible ties with Tatars, and Turks, who are culturally similar, but many Azerbaijanis are friendly with members of other groups as well.

As a result, Azerbaijanis and North Caucasians have frequently taken part in various meetings and organizations together.  They both attended the first congress of peoples of the Caucasus, and they have worked together in the Turkish agency for cooperation and development, TIKA.  The latter agency is helping many Turkic republics, regions and individual peoples to realize various scientific, academic and educational projects thereby leading to the rebirth of the culture of Turkic ethnic groups.  As part of that, the North Caucasians and the Azerbaijanis have attended numerous meetings in Turkey and elsewhere.  

Over the last few years, an increasing number of these meetings have taken place in Baku, which has become one of the leading centers of the Turkic world.  In 2007, for example, they both attended the 11th Congress of Friendship, Brotherhood and Cooperation of Turkic Language States and Peoples there.

Both through their all-Russian congress and via local groups, the Azerbaijanis of Russia hope for the preservation and development of Azerbaijani-Russian friendship and cooperation.  Strategic partnership, the strengthening of economic cooperation, the creation of joint enterprises, and the broadening of cultural and humanitarian contacts between the two are actively supported by the Azerbaijani diaspora in the North Caucasus.  Evidence of this is provided by the fact that more than a dozen regions of the Russian Federation have signed cooperation agreements with Azerbaijan.

Despite the presence of its own refugees as a result of the Armenian occupation of its territory, Azerbaijanis have repeatedly taken in refugees from unstable areas of the North Caucasus, a manifestation of their own tolerance and desire to be good neighbors.  The longstanding ties between the two regions means that this will continue into the future, to the benefit of both the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan itself.