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.