We reproduce for your information an interview, which Mrs Leyla Aliyeva gave to Izvestia following the recent AYOR (Azerbaijan Youth Organisation in Russia) Conference.
Being the grand-daughter of a world-famous person carries great responsibilities. Those responsibilities only increase if you attempt a career yourself in social and political life – and there's even greater psychological pressure upon you, if you pursue such activities beyond the borders of your own country. Mrs Aliyeva – as we all know, you were personally involved in the founding of AYOR, the Azerbaijan Youth Organisation in Russia. It's a name with great resonance – what lays behind it?
The main idea is that it's a voluntary and open-access organisation aimed at bringing young people from Russia and Azerbaijan together. Putting it simply, AYOR aims to instill a sense of patriotism at the same time as encouraging values of tolerance to all – regardless of their nationality, age, local traditions or other differences. For our young Azerbaijanis who are living or studying in Russia, especially the younger ones, the issue of preserving their own national identity, culture and language is a very important question. It's exactly these issues which have prompted us to set up social clubs within Russian universities for young Azeris, and establishing them through the AYOR network. The priority of AYOR is helping young Azeris in their intergration into the social realities of a multinational Russia – where they live, study and work. Our greatest task is to ensure that all contact between young Azeris and their Russian counterparts work out for the very best.
When did you first have the idea of setting up an Azeri youth organisation that would cover the whole of Russia?
It wasn't an idea that had a particular moment when it appeared, nor was it spontaneous. I had often met with our young Azeri students who were studying at universities in Moscow, St Petersburg, and other cities in Russia. I got to hear about their frustrations and problems, and also about their aspirations. During those meetings these young people talked more and more about wishing they had more chance to communicate more closely – often wishing there was some kind of organisation set up, which would bring them together, and be a catalyst for greater cohesion and communication – to create a kind of social life in a more active way, and enable them to participate in worthwhile social projects.
Our first idea was clubs – clubs for Azeri students studying in Moscow. The first student club of this kind began two years ago at MGIMO (the Moscow University for the Diplomatic Service – translator's note). After that they began popping up at other universities in Moscow – at Moscow State Uni, The International Friendship University, at Diplomatic, Medical and Taxation Academies – at the main universities where Azerbaijani students enroll. The first wave of such clubs was in Moscow, but in just a short time they began appearing at other university cities around Russia. The beginnings of a youth organisation covering the whole country were already laid – and along with the physical network, the program needs of the future AYOR were also taking shape. Just as I said – the main idea was clear from the very outset.
So how many Azeri youth clubs are there altogether in Russia?
At present there are more than fifty, and they continue to open. Yet despite all the similarities in the conditions under which such clubs open in Russian regions, all of them have their own special ethos and program, based on the Azeri community in the region where they operate. That's hardly surprising, of course! The conditions of life in Tver Region (the Russian Region closest to Moscow – translator's note) are hugely different from those in the Siberian Amur Region – and life in the Ivanovo Region differs enormously from places in the Urals. Social life is quite different between St Petersburg, and Blagoveschensk in the Russian Far East – and then different again from Saratov, Murmansk, Samara, Kazan, Ufa, and so on. These means that clubs for young Azeris aren't clones of each other – instead they appear and grow to serve the conditions which prevail where they've been founded.
Do you yourself often have the chance to visit such clubs for young Azeris which are located beyond Moscow and the Moscow Region?
Yes, of course! I've been to visit youth clubs in the Ivanovo Region, Tula Region, and Tver Region. Wherever possible I've tried to get involved in the problems they face, and do my best to solve them. I often meet with the local Russian Authorities of regions where our clubs are based, and we've noticed that when the clubs are properly set up, they and their members play a very active role among young people in their specific regions. You know, I always found a sympathetic ear amongst the people I met – well, I can certainly say that I never found anyone who wanted to prevent our work.
What problems have you encountered most frequently, in which AYOR has been able to help?
I'd like young Azeri people working and studying in Russia to bear in mind where they have come from, that they love their region, and try to be of use to their home country. I hope young Azeri people will try to promote and popularise Azerbaijani culture – believe me, we have much to be proud of, and which we want to show the world. AYOR is there to support our young compatriots, so that they don't feel alone, and to help with their integration into a multinational Russian society. On this point, I'm absolutely certain, there shouldn't be any major problem. Let me tell you why? Even during the Soviet period Azerbaijan was considered the most well-integrated Republic of the USSR. People from all kinds of nations and ethnicities lived together in Azerbaijan in a spirit of harmony and peace – none of them felt like a stranger here. The basis for this was the natural tolerant nature which is indigenous to the people of our country, the Azerbaijanis. That's why I am so certain that young Azeris, brought up with traditions of love and respect for the traditions and cultures of neighbouring countries will have no problem in finding themselves in Russia. I'm sure that AYOR will help unite Azeri young people and help them take their place in society – to be useful to Azerbaijan, even when living abroad. Even so, I'd like to mention that I respect other organisations who also help promote Azeri culture, beyond AYOR. I respect their way of working and I am willing to provide support for them.
Perhaps you could tell us more about the events your organisation has run?
I'd be delighted. We organise conferences and focus group events which are aimed at international cooperation. For example, we organised the “Week of Azerbaijan Culture” at the Plekhanov Russian Economic University; we organised a club and participation in a festival of people's friendship at the State Economic University. Among our events and seminars for Russian students was “Azerbaijan at the Crossroads of Civilisations” which we held in Baky last summer. We also held a conference titled “Youth Politics in the Republic of Azerbaijan Today” at MGU. I'd like to make special mention of the photo-exhibition about Muslim Magomaev that was held at MGU, MGIMO, the Taxation Academy, The Friendship of Nations University, and the Plekhanov Academy. AYOR has also financially assisted students and graduates to attend the MGIMO conference of young academics in Baku, which was jointly organised with the Diplomatic Academy of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In order to be completely impartial, I'd invite you to have a look on the website and read the feedback that came in from the Russian participants. That's when you start to understand how greatly young people need collaboration and friendship. In the end it's the young people who will rebuild and live in this world.
But surely that's not the only kind of activity in which AYOR is involved?
Yes, that's true – more attention gets paid to our charity work. Our project “blood has no nationality” is worth mentioning here – a project which AYOR set up in collaboration with the Petrovsky Surgical Centre. Young people from Azerbaijan gave blood which went towards saving a large number of people. I'd also like to make mention of our education programs too.
Since 2008 you've been well-known not only for your social projects, and as the leader of the Russian branch of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation – you've also made your debut as a magazine editor, editing BAKU Magazine. Can you tell us a little more about that?
The main thing I'd like to say is that I don't consider myself to be, as you said, 'a leader of Azerbaijani young people'. I'm simply one of many representatives. Just like the rest of young Azeris, I love my country, I hold its culture in high respect, and I would like to represent it to the world. I see my role as helping to promote the best and brightest aspects of our culture – our spiritual values. We are all equal in our desire to do something worthwhile for our own country.
But turning to the magazine, you're absolutely right! The idea of starting the magazine arose from the desire to share the culture of Azerbaijan and its capital city with Russian readers. “Baku” is the only publication in Russia which discusses Azeri culture and traditions. Our magazine tries to do everything possible to make each edition a fascinating new insight into our country for readers – a chance to interact with its rich history. We try to tell Russian readers about everything that's really worth knowing about the Land Of Fire, and its people who live all over the world. There are so many misunderstandings between people and countries these days. Our magazine is about trying to reach out to readers' hearts. If you read an article in BAKU Magazine, you'll quickly see that our cities have so much in common. When people find they have much in common, it gives them fewer grounds for conflict. It's not accidental that people call Baku “the city where East meets West”. We really believe that this is true, and that it's a wonderful meeting – a meeting that spurs communication and creativity.
- Alexei POTAPOV.