Last Saturday evening, members of the Azerbaijani diaspora, Triangle officials and Washington, D.C.-based foreign policy analysts gathered to celebrate the second annual Azerbaijan Victory and Flag Day.
The event, hosted by the Azerbaijan Friendship Organization of North Carolina at the Chapel Hill Sancar Turkish Cultural and Community Center, marked the second anniversary of Azerbaijan’s victory against Armenia in the six-week Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which occurred in 2020.
Faisal Khan, a human rights activist, founder of the Carolina Peace Center and former Azerbaijani-based journalist, gave the keynote speech at the event.
He led the crowd in a moment of silence for those who sacrificed themselves to restore Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and those who were killed during atrocities such as the 1992 Khojaly massacre, which took place during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.
In his speech, Khan said the day of commemoration and mourning was also an occasion to celebrate Azerbaijan’s enduring cultural legacy and values.
“Azerbaijan’s a nation of rich heritage, beautiful customs and colorful traditions," he said. "Azerbaijan has made great contributions in literature, philosophy and economic development throughout the region."
Khan was followed by other speakers from various backgrounds, including Chapel Hill Town Council Member Michael Parker, Apex Mayor Jacques Gilbert and Laleh Bagherzadi, an Iranian-Azerbaijani researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In their speeches, they each expressed pride in their connections to the Azerbaijani people through direct heritage or secondhand knowledge.
In a video statement broadcasted at the banquet, Gilbert recited the Town of Apex Proclamation to make May 28 Azerbaijan Victory Day.
During the formal programming, audience members ate traditional Azerbaijani dishes such as plov, a hearty rice and meat dish. After the speeches, they ate pakhlava, a layered pastry dessert native to the region.
For the remainder of the evening, performers including Adults Karabakh Dance Group, the Tabriz Baku Istanbul Community Chorus Group and renowned Azerbaijani singer Elariz Mammadoğlu entertained guests.
“The hospitality, the warmth of the people is overwhelming,” Khan said.
He encouraged college students, journalists and all young Americans to visit Azerbaijan, calling it "a beautiful nation, a pearl settled by [the] Caspian Sea."
History of the Nagorno-Karabakh War
According to Colonel Rustam Gozalov, defense attaché for the Azerbaijan Embassy to the United States, the war was caused by the 1994 to 2020 Armenian occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
“For almost 30 years, the Azerbaijani government had done everything to resolve the problem peacefully,” he said in a speech at the event.
However, Hamdi Rifai, a foreign affairs commentator, said military intervention became necessary when peace negotiations failed to protect the human rights of Azerbaijani citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Azerbaijan still had close to a million IDP (internally displaced persons), refugees, people that were forcibly migrated out of their homes, and Armenia was still dragging its feet,” Rifai said.
After forty-four days of fighting, Colonel Gozalev said, Azerbaijan managed to recover all of the land that had been occupied since the first skirmishes broke out between the two countries.
However, he said mines in the Nagorno-Karabakh region had made it difficult to repatriate all Azerbaijani citizens.
Bagherzadi added that concerns for the safety and sovereignty of the Azerbaijani diaspora were also still prevalent.
She is particularly worried for those living under an Iranian regime which she viewed as hostile. She also expressed gratitude for Turkey’s geopolitical support of the Azerbaijani state.
“Iran and Armenia are together and they’re working against Azerbaijan," Bagherzadi said. "And we have an Azerbaijani population — millions of people living in Iran."
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