“With Azerbaijani citizenship, Karabakh Armenians will live much better”
Head of the Bulgarian community on Caliber.Az
INTERVIEWS 16 September 2023 - 12:40
Our interlocutor today is Maria Pavlovna Atanasova-Guseinova. She is a purebred Bulgarian, but born and raised in our country. The woman worked as a history teacher in an Azerbaijani high school for 40 years and is proud that many considered her Azerbaijani. Her ancestors, like dozens of other Bulgarian families, moved to Ganja from Zaporizhzhia in the 1930s. Many then moved to their historical homeland and to other cities of the USSR, but the Atanasovs remained. Maria Pavlovna has headed the Public Association for Promoting the Development of Azerbaijani-Bulgarian Friendship for almost two decades and devoted most of her life to strengthening ties between the peoples of Azerbaijan and Bulgaria.
- How long has your organization existed and how do Bulgarians live in Azerbaijan in general?
- Our organization has existed since 2005, and in parallel with this, our magazine Akord was registered, which tells about the life of Bulgarians in Azerbaijan. One of the main goals of our society is assistance and assistance in the social and cultural integration of people from Bulgaria in the territory of Azerbaijan. I would like to emphasize an important point, which immediately explains a lot about the national and multicultural policy of Azerbaijan - our magazine has been published here in Bulgarian for 18 years, and there have never been any problems with this.
I would like to confidently say that Azerbaijan is a very tolerant country, where my fellow countrymen have lived in peace and harmony with the Azerbaijanis since the 1930s, that is, for almost a hundred years. I am from Ganja myself, and most of my fellow tribesmen are from there, and I remember from childhood how we celebrated national holidays, prepared national dishes, and spoke our native language. At the same time, I have never heard any comments or dissatisfaction to this end from Azerbaijanis. My father, for example, went from Azerbaijan to Zaporizhzhia back in Soviet times and, having met my mother, returned from there with his young wife. He simply could not imagine a homeland other than Azerbaijan and my mother stayed with him.
I often visit Bulgaria and talk there about life in Azerbaijan, and our organization regularly holds events on this topic in our homeland. For example, when we first came to Bulgaria in 2006, we presented our project “National identity of ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan” using the example of the Bulgarians. By the way, I then felt that the Bulgarians would like to know more about Azerbaijan, its politics, science, culture, and moral values.
Having come to this conclusion, we decided to make one of the main tasks of our organization to inform the Bulgarian public about the history and culture of the country in which we live, and we are implementing these plans to this day. For example, last year we developed the project “Representation of the spiritual and moral values of Azerbaijan in Bulgaria,” which, I hope, contributed to strengthening friendship and trust between our countries and peoples.
- What questions are you asked most in Bulgaria?
- They often ask how I, a Bulgarian, and my family members live in a Muslim country, what we are happy with and what we are not. I will say that I have always imagined myself and my family as part of the Azerbaijani people, because in Azerbaijan, all national and ethnic minorities, and I say this absolutely sincerely, can calmly speak their own language, and preserve customs, traditions, and culture. And this has always been the case. As for the language itself, this has always surprised my fellow countrymen.
They asked how we could maintain the purity and dialect of the Bulgarian language while living in another country. To which I always answered that this is possible in Azerbaijan - no one here has ever demanded that we stop communicating in our language, no one has infringed on our rights, our linguistic culture. Of course, I know the Azerbaijani language very well and I believe that everyone living in this country, if he is a citizen of this country, should know it.
- Over the years, in the wake of Armenian propaganda, many countries treated us with prejudice. Armenian propaganda even now claims that the Karabakh Armenians will not be able to integrate into Azerbaijani society. What do you think of it?
- In order to answer this question, it is enough to look around. Completely different religious confessions and national diasporas coexist peacefully in Azerbaijan; there are Christian churches, Muslim mosques, synagogues, and Catholic cathedrals. I have always said that Karabakh is Azerbaijan, and the policy that some countries and coalitions stubbornly imposed during the years of occupation of Azerbaijani land is unacceptable to us. However, we have liberated our lands and intend to be friends and cooperate with all our neighbors, including the Armenians, and are committed to dialogue.
I think the point is in the very strategy of our country: Azerbaijan has always strived for peace and the creation of a multinational society. The country has a Center for Multiculturalism, where students from different countries come to study. Moreover, we, as citizens of Azerbaijan, find a great language with people of different nationalities. In addition, I talk about this a lot in Bulgaria, where, by the way, many Armenians live. Unfortunately, I came across the fact that some of them are trying to sow discord between peoples and spread misinformation about what is happening in the Karabakh economic region. Our society is constantly trying to break these stereotypes by presenting its projects in Bulgaria and communicating with Bulgarians.
- What would you advise those Karabakh Armenians who are still under the influence of anti-Azerbaijani propaganda?
- I would advise all doubters to read the constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which talks about the equality of all citizens before the laws of the country, regardless of nationality and religion, the right to use their native language, the right to protection of honor and dignity, and freedom of thought and speech.
As for the Karabakh Armenians directly, whose integration into Azerbaijani society is now especially relevant, I know that if they decided to take this step, they would feel how comfortable it is to live in Azerbaijan, how many opportunities and prospects open up for them as citizens of Azerbaijan compared to the tension and disorder of life that they experienced for more than 30 years while under the control of the leaders of the separatist regime.
I advise them to use their chance and listen to the voice of reason, to what President Aliyev tells them. Ilham Heydar oglu clearly said that the reintegration of the Armenian population into Azerbaijani society will give them the opportunity to live peacefully, and freely, where their rights and opportunities will be ensured in the same way as other citizens of Azerbaijan. I am not even talking about the standard of living - it will certainly increase significantly and will be qualitatively different from the life they had under the control of the separatist leadership. Karabakh Armenians will live better with Azerbaijani citizenship.
I can confidently tell the Armenians of Karabakh that they will not regret anything if they reintegrate into Azerbaijani society and state.
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