Caviar Diplomacy Comes to the Borough of Kings
It seems the Azerbaijani capital of Baku is hoping to cash in on the Brooklyn brand.
Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough, has established a global reputation for hipness. Thus, imagine the delight of Azerbaijani officials when Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams signed a sister-city agreement back in November with Baku’s Sabail District, a central area of the city once known as the Stalin District.
The sister-city pact is perhaps the highest-profile initiative in a broad campaign by Azerbaijani officials to foster a positive image of Azerbaijan among the American public. The Brooklyn-Sabail District agreement calls for the development of cultural, educational and economic exchanges.
On January 29, Adams in Brooklyn met with a high-level Azerbaijani governmental delegation led by Minister of Culture and Tourism Abulfas Garayev, according to a report distributed by the News.az website. Garayev expressed a desire to use the sister-city agreement as a means to promote Azerbaijan as a tourist destination for New Yorkers. “The minister highlighted Azerbaijan’s tourism potential,” the report said.
Adams’ office declined to answer multiple queries from EurasiaNet.org seeking details about the partnership arrangement.
According to a November 19 press release issued by the borough president’s office, Adams said the sister-city pact would highlight the contributions of Brooklyn's roughly 5,000-strong Azeri community to the borough.
The pact brings together two urban districts with distinctly different political flavors. Brooklyn, also known as Kings County, is routinely ranked as among the most liberal counties in the United States. Meanwhile, watchdog groups rank Azerbaijan’s government as among the most repressive in the world. Over the past year, Azerbaijani authorities have carried out a far-reaching crackdown on all forms of dissent, and Sabail District Court has been the scene of many high-profile proceedings involving prominent government critics, including investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who is currently serving an extended stint in pre-trial detention.
An oil-rich nation on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan has been ruled by the Aliyev family since 1993, with incumbent President Ilham Aliyev taking over from his father Heydar, who died in 2003. In 2013, Ilham Aliyev was named corruption’s “person of the year” by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an investigative news organization.
Adams' interest in Azerbaijan dates back at least to 2012, when he traveled to Baku as part of a delegation attending the Eurovision Song Contest. Dozens of American politicians at the national, state, and local levels have been flown to Azerbaijan on similar trips, usually occurring in the spring, and involving extensive wining and dining. The trips have resulted in dozens of proclamations and other initiatives lauding Azerbaijan, in effect providing the country with cheap, lasting publicity.
These and other publicity tactics have become known collectively as Azerbaijan's caviar diplomacy. The country has also spent millions of dollars on lobbying in Washington, as well as among European politicians.