Thursday, 24 February 2011

Diaspora? What Diaspora?

People often ask me if there is a big Azeri Diaspora in London. I shrug my shoulders and give a simple answer that I don’t know. 

I used to think I knew nothing of the Azeri Diaspora because I was not married to an Azeri man, and was not here on a rotation or work experience from an oil company back in Baku; thus was not connected to other fellow Azeris in any social, family or work ways. 

Maybe other Azeris do feel a part of some sort of community, I thought. And I do occasionally hear about an Azeri society, an Azeri newspaper, an Azeri club, etc etc. There used to be an Azeri restaurant which now is closed. But overall, I am not sure any of it I personally would classify as a Diaspora. Somehow, even though that is entirely my personal interpretation of the word, Diaspora always sounded too powerful to me, to associate it with the Azeris in the UK. When I hear Diaspora, I think of a strong, closely bound community with large number of people working and living together and most importantly, looking after each other. I say Diaspora and I think of a Jewish or an Armenian Diaspora.  I would not automatically think of an Azeri Diaspora, somehow.

And a few days ago I thought of why.

A friend of a friend opened a new restaurant in London. It is not as Azeri as the one I went to before. It is more of a, I would say, ex-Soviet place. The dishes range from something Azeri to a few famous Georgian and typical Russian dishes, as well as things like Chicken Kievs, which even locals would be familiar with. 

So, recently, a large group of young Azeri women booked a table for dinner at the place. There was live music that night, played by an Iranian musician, who was familiar with ex-soviet repertoire due to him being married to a Russian girl. The Azeri ladies requested a specific Azeri song, which the musician did not know. 

The owner, trying to be accommodating, offered to play the song on a CD.

No, one of the girls said, I want it played live. In the end she proposed that she played it on the synthesizer. Her friends danced and drunk and sung songs. A very typical ex-Soviet night  in a friendly, family-owned Azeri place. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? 

So the owner thought, until the next day, when the girl placed a bizarre reference about the new restaurant on her Facebook page. She said it was pro-Armenian.

I am not sure what part of the evening caused that comment. I assume it was the choice of songs played by the Musician. Or the fact that some dishes were Georgian and Russian. Who knows? Maybe the pattern on the tablecloth looked suspiciously Armenian to her. The most important fact, to me, is that an Azeri woman had a nice evening with her Azeri girlfriends in a friendly new place, owned by a fellow countryman. And all she wanted to do after that is say something that, despite sounding just moronic to me personally, in her understanding, would be damaging to the reputation of the restaurant. 

An older Azeri relative of mine, having heard the story, reminded me of an old parable. 

An Azeri man, she said, would set his boss up and say nasty things about him, so the boss would get sacked, and he could get his position. A Georgian man, in comparison, would speak highly of his boss in the hope that the boss would get promoted, and the man could then take his place. 

And even though it is an old tale, that is precisely what annoys me when I hear such silly stories. No nation can ever succeed or become great when people attack fellow countrymen behind the facade of fake patriotism. When people stab each other in the back, and when the only time they are happy to help each other is when there is an obvious reward or pressure from the more powerful above. 

The restaurant owner was upset and hurt. His friend, who told me the story, was concerned the pro-Armenian reputation would be damaging in the eyes of those Azeris for whom such a remark would be an important factor. 

I, however, suddenly had a strong desire to gather a bunch of ex-Soviet friends, travel all the way across London to Sobranie, order some ex-Soviet dishes, whether they are Georgian, Russian , Armenian or Azeri, have some vodka and toast the owner for his hard work and efforts. And who knows? Maybe the pro-Armenian reputation will bring in an open-minded, cool international crowd now that the mental nationalists and fake patriots stay away.


  1. Azeries are not unique in this regard and Georgian's or anyone else are not somehow better. We are all human and some of us are worse than others, but each one of us doesn't represent any particular group of people, just ourselves in all our glory (or stupidity).

  2. @solnushka: let's go. let me get this baby out of me first, and we shall plan!

    @Nata: Yeah, I know, i know. still...there is something disturbingly familiar in this story. to me,anyway.

  3. If i were the owner of the restaurant i would have been upset as well. I assume that the restaurant for that Sobranie owner is like his newborn baby. he creates it, names it, decorates it and shows it to the public.and the feedback is kind of shocking. would you like if someone holds,hugs your newborn baby and next day says that the baby more looks like neighbour rather than parents.

  4. I hope this man feels better by now.
    As for the word diaspora, it feels very strong to me too. When I find it on a text, I prefer to say "XXXXX living abroad".
    About your tale, we Peruvians have a saying: the worst enemy of a Peruvian is another Peruvian. So it's kind of universal... or maybe our peoples are very much alike. Who knows?

  5. Sounds just like China!

  6. @ Nata: Even assuming all humans to be basically, intrinsically the same, their cultures do shape them into different things. I can say with little reservation that Brits are better than Americans - American culture inculcates its people with a moralistic outlook that diminishes appreciation for outcomes or for the future. Also, you must take into account the fact that American beer tastes like goat piss. I should know, because I raise goats.

    @ Scary: What fascinates me is the way you seem to care so much about an Azeri restaurant belonging to this friend of a friend. I think this is unusual from a Western standpoint. It reminds me of what you write about being sensitive to comments people make about Muslims even while you don't like religion.

  7. @Mark: You made me laugh with your goats. You said beer tastes like goat piss and you know it because you raise goats...Hope raising goats does not involve tasting their urine samples.

    As for the sensitivity and getting upset, I think you misunderstood. I don't really care much about the comment, or the place itself- I don't even know if it is any good as I have not been yet. :) It just made me think about other issues that are, in my opinion, quite common for a lot of Azeris. Also, being an immigrant abroad, I think it is nice to support each other.

  8. @Nata: Actually, I have no idea what Azeri community in the US is like. Do you feel like there is an Azeri Diaspora there?

    @Gabriela: Your sayings are always so cute, I love them. :)

  9. I wouldn't think too highly of the Armenian Diaspora. Any inkling of being "Pro-Azerbaijani" or "Pro-Turkish" (which means in reality being fiercely and often insanely anti-Azerbaijani and especially anti-Turkish) is treated in much the same way. As you can imagine, my name is already dirt in such circles... ;)

  10. @Onnik: Well, I always heard Armenians abroad were very supportive of each other, and supported their home country with investment, political efforts, etc etc. Perhaps that is what we heard on "the other" side. :)

  11. @ Scary: No, it's just that once we saw a man poking around in the backyard by the goats; we thought he was just a meter reader. But when he left, he was carrying a one gallon jug into a huge truck with BUDWEISER emblazoned on the side. The indignity of it all is that we never got paid!

  12. Oh, I heard the same about Congolese in Brussels- which is supposed to explain why all shops in the African neighbourhood are said to be owned by Indians!

  13. @Scary: Nope, not where we live anyway. I'm sure NYC & LA have some small clusters, but not in the Midwest. But there is a big ex-soviet Jewish community pretty much everywhere.
    @Mark: I don’t know much about goats or beer, but I’m a Sociologist by training & I work for a global corporation with people from over 50 countries. There are of course cultural differences, but I find them superficial. In Bill Clinton’s words, “our common humanity is more important than our interesting differences”.

  14. @Nata: I like that quote, too bad the person you're quoted has violated more human rights than Khadaffi and Mubarak put together :)

    @NotsoscarybutratheramusingAzeri. Really, what's with the Azeri bashing all the time? For all you know it actually was a pro-armenian restaurant, with maps of Greater Armenia all over the walls.
    While some self-deprecation is funny and certainly healthy at times, making Azeri's look like people who only stab each other in the back is pushing it. A good joke is one which has a core of truth in it.
    in Azeri culture the opposite is true, dishonest acts are frowned upon much more so than western European cultures. Not saying it doesn't happen, humans are humans after all.

    Anyway great blog. been lurking for a while, thought I'd lose my post virginity :D

  15. Actually, you have to determine what a Diaspora is. It certainly isn't one cohesive force. Instead, the Armenian Diaspora is divided among political lines even in the same city let alone countries. Also, the majority of ethnic Armenians outside of Armenia don't get involved with their official community bodies and also don't view Armenia as the 'homeland.'

    True, those that are active do donate to charities, but the level of actual investment is very low. Whether you're an ethnic Armenian or not, what determines whether you an do real business in Armenia is not dependent on your origins, but rather the economic climate, size of market, connections to government, and levels of corruption.

    But true, they used to say that "Georgia has its location, Azerbaijan has its oil, and Armenia has the Diaspora." However, I think this is actually over-rated because we're not seeing a viable economy in place. But, I digress...

  16. @KaWeH: Well done for loosing your post/comments virginity! Look forward to more feedback now that you have opened that door. :)

  17. I don't think it's nationality related, there are ignorant people in every nation.

  18. @Anonymous: Of course there are. But, as someone pointed out on Twitter and I never looked at it that way....some nations or groups of people- whatever the technical term is; are more supportive towards each other, and more united. And he thought that it might have something to do with surviving a tragedy together.Like the Holocaust for the Jewish people. I think it is an interesting theory.

  19. @ Scary. We should go! But I need to get this baby out of me too. Did I tell you I'm due the same week as you I think?

    And I totally blame baby brain for wandering back here so late...

  20. @Solnushka: wow, no, you did not tell me?! One of the other guys here, Mark, told me his wife was due around the same time, too. How spooky is that?
    wow, we definitely must meet up. :)

  21. A Joke: There are 3 pots in the hell with boiling souls in them. 2 are with closed lids, and 1 with open. Watchman is asked: "Why is so? 2 are closed, 1 is open?
    Watchman answers: "The closed ones boil Georgian and Armenian souls, we should keep a good eye on them, otherwise they will escape. The third one we shouldn't worry about. It is the Azeris boiling there. Even if one will want to escape, the others will pull his legs down".

    @Onnik: We have a saying about Armenians, hope it does not sound offensive to you. "One Armenian - poor crying man, 2 Armenians - Association, 3 Armenians - Diaspora, fighters for the Greatest Armenia"