Azeris in Georgia, Staying Put
I hadn’t come across this story until today, but I find it a fascinating dynamic concerning migration, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, from Eurasianet:
Economic collapse, war and nationalist government policies prompted thousands of Georgia’s ethnic Azeris to head to neighboring Azerbaijan during the early 1990s. About 80 percent of the remaining estimated 350,000 ethnic Azeris in Georgia live in the southeastern region of Kvemo Kartli, a predominantly agricultural area.
The Azerbaijani government has no specific data on how many ethnic Azeri migrants are currently in Azerbaijan, but migration expert Azer Allahveranov, president of Baku’s Eurasian Platform for Civic Initiatives, a non-governmental organization, estimates that more than 95 percent of the 100,000 Georgian citizens believed to live in the country are ethnic Azeris.
Faced with problems legalizing their status and settling “successfully” in Azerbaijan, some of these migrants now are returning to Georgia, said Aliovsat Aliyev, director of the Baku-based Migration Center, a non-profit think-tank. Improved economic and living conditions in Georgia, relative to the early 1990s, are contributing to the trend, he added.
When you travel from the far western tip of Azerbaijan, from Qazax in to Georgia, on your way to Tbilisi, thats ethnic Azeri territory. And not only in that area, but also in areas north of the finger that ends with Balaken. Likewise, there are significant ethnic Georgian populations in those northwestern Azerbaijan regions bordering the Caucasus neighbors.
One of the reasons this above article is interesting to me is that I’ve met quite a few Azerbaijanis who were born in Georgia or who still have family there, but have since moved to Baku or other regions (but mostly Baku). Rahman, the branch manager at Lənkəran’s AccessBank is one. We have some Peace Corps staff, as well, who follow that same line. At least one of our Azeri language instructors was born in Georgia and moved south. Interestingly, none of these people know the Georgian language, so it seems integration that way wasn’t really a high priority.
Another interesting part about that story, beyond those personal connections, is how the Azerbaijani government sees those ethnic Azeris residing in Georgia. The article posits that Azerbaijan would actually prefer for those Azeris to stay in Georgia in an effort to increase Azerbaijani influence in the Georgian government. Azerbaijan wants to use another state’s democracy to its advantage. Smooth move, slick. And, incredibly, the article describes how the incentives currently favor those Azeris staying in Georgia, and more Azeris moving back there:
A group of Azerbaijani entrepreneurs, for example, is planning to open hospitals in Georgia, added Shovgi Mekhtizade, an attaché at the Azerbaijani embassy in Tbilisi, the Turan news agency reported.
In addition, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR) is providing economic incentives for Azeris to remain in Georgia. The company’s Georgian subsidiary, SOCAR Energy Georgia, one of Georgia’s largest investors, has created about 3,000 new jobs in Georgia; half of those jobs are held by ethnic Azeris, SOCAR Energy Georgia Chief Executive Officer Mahir Mammadov told Vesti.az in a June 12 interview.
“I know many such people who did return to Georgia,” said Mammadov in reference to ethnic Azeri migrants. “If earlier there was talk that Azerbaijanis and Georgians are leaving Georgia, I think now there will be talk about their return.”
Some ethnic Azeris migrants complained that Baku hampered their ability to resettle by erecting bureaucratic barriers. Azerbaijani legislation does not permit dual citizenship, and many Azeri migrants “face red-tape and corruption” to receive the papers needed to stay and work in Azerbaijan, according to one migrant.
The movement back to Georgia probably isn’t going to be huge, as Azerbaijan is the country with the more rapidly growing economy. Yet, the movement is still significant. One wonders how Azeris there feel about the differences in the political and corruption situations from one side of the border to the other. Also, if the Azerbaijani health system is any indicator, you may want to remain skeptical about those hospitals.