Nataliya Borys: I knew Milana from the EYP Azerbaijan, and I was always impressed by her character and her charisma. Such an intelligent and charming young Azerbaijani lady promoting the European values in Azerbaijan, I must admit, it was quite surprising. It was a great pleasure to speak to her, to share her experience and her vision of the future of Azerbaijan and Europe. So many questions to her! She changed my vision of Azerbaijan. She replied honestly and I really enjoyed this interview. I hope you enjoy it too.
Milana: I’m Milana Ibrahimova, 25 years old young lady from Azerbaijan. I did my double-master in International Relations and Diplomacy and currently doing my 3rd master in European Political and Administrative Studies at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. (What could be more fun than studying at 4th University in your life? 😉
I am a bit self-confident, a bit strict, sometimes too funny, sometimes too serious. Libra.
Nataliya: When the idea to organize the EYP came to you and other participants?
Milana:Oh, it’s very interesting and long story. I wasn’t actually the first person who came up with the idea to organize EYP in Azerbaijan. It was established in 2011, but due to some reasons it wasn’t that much successful and unfortunately was derecognized by the International Office a bit later. After the 1st National Selection Conference we, a group of young and ambitious people, decided to initiate renewed EYP Committee in Azerbaijan in the end of 2012. We created our small EYP Initiative Team and were meeting in a small auditorium in BSU Lyceum Complex. I can call that place a historical one, because there we came up with different ideas about further development of EYP in Azerbaijan. There we decided to organize our 1st School Session. It was a very first event of our Initiative Team and wasn’t that much professional, but it was very ambitious and interesting. The event has been held for the participation fee of 7 azn (it’s about 4 EUR) per person. Now, when we think about that, we can’t really understand how we managed to organize 2-days event for such a small amount of money. Now when we are looking for Editor for our sessions, we are opening a call, creating the application forms, selection panels and etc. At that time we asked our small team “Who has a camera?” One of our members said “ Me” and we decided “OK, you will be an Editor of the session”. We didn’t have resources, but we had some small team of ambitious people. And for me it’s the most important thing. We continued to work hard, to spread the word about EYP, to involve our friends, friends of our friends and more and more new people. Later, in April 2014 we have been recognized as a full EYP National Committee and now we are one of the biggest European NGOs in Azerbaijan. This year we have the first Board of EYP in Azerbaijan, which consists only of “newcomers”, all of the previous boards had the people from Initiative Team
Nataliya: Why EYP in Azerbaijan?
Milana: Since we are not the EU Member State, it was quite hard to organize and establish proper pro-European organization in Azerbaijan. We faced lots of questions meaning why should people trust us both from Azerbaijani and European side. But if you have a goal, the most important thing is to truly believe and make other people believe as well. Why EYP in non-EU country? Why not? This is something that comes from the personal ideology first of all. This is something that unites us- young people wishing to promote European values, help Azerbaijani youth to broad the mind and thoughts and be aware about the European problems as well as participate in debates on different European topics.
Nataliya: What the Azerbaijani youth is dreaming about?
Milana: I can definitely say on behalf of each and every Azerbaijani youngster- peace and prosperity in the whole Azerbaijani lands.
Nataliya: What Azerbaijani girls are dreaming about?
Milana: Well, it’s very personal. In this case I can’t talk on behalf of all of the ladies, but one thing should definitely be mentioned. Azerbaijani girls are dreaming about breaking some stereotypes in our society, which is in my opinion, problem that derives from the lack of education. I really think that it leads to different stereotypes and patterns of thinking that are not normal for the modern societies. For instance, if you are 25-26, you are already late to get married, or if you have been studied abroad, no one will marry you (hahah).
Seriously speaking, there are still a lot of young ladies who suffer from that kind of stereotypes and can’t find balance between private and professional life because of this and have to sacrifice one of them.
Nataliya: How are your plans for the future?
Milana: Since I’m pretty much interested in the EU and European issues, I see myself on the position related to EU as well, no matter in Azerbaijan or somewhere else in the world. Few years ago, while doing my internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, I was dreaming about working for the MFA, but now I realize that you can be a good diplomat and work for the benefit of your country even without an official status of diplomat. One thing I’m sure about is definitely wherever I will be and whatever I will do, I will always promote my country and try my best in order to be a good representative of my nation.
But for sure, family is also a big part of my future plans. I don’t know other more important value than family.
Nataliya: How is it to be a girl in Azerbaijan? Which are limits and possibilities for women in this country?
Milana: As I mentioned above, there are some stereotypes that should definitely be broken in our society. I can’t say that it’s super hard to be a girl in Azerbaijan, but it’s definitely harder than to be a girl in Europe or even Russia where I used to do one of my masters, but easier than, for instance, in Iran, where I also studied during summer holidays few years ago. Limits and possibilities are matters of your personal choices- you have to prioritize what is most important for you now and work hard to get it- no matter whether it’s a solid career or happy family.
Nataliya: What Europe means to you? How Azerbaijani youth imagine Europe?
Milana: Hard question. I would say that Europe means common values, traditions, better living conditions, big and strong family, but it shouldn’t be understood as Azerbaijan is suffering from lack of these factors. Once again-it is all about personal ideology. I would say that I’m more European in my soul rather than Caucasian. I feel like at home in any part of Europe.
As regarding the Azerbaijani youth, well, it really depends. Working in youth NGO sector with young people for about 5 years I can say that we have 2 types of youg people in Azerbaijan. Those who are willing to move to Europe imagining it as the only heaven in this world, and those who would never move abroad and absolutely satisfied with the life in Azerbaijan and think that Europe shouldn’t be example for us, Europe should follow our example. However, there is a paradox that I’ve noticed in this situation: in most cases those who want to move from Azerbaijan to Europe are stronger patriots than those who wish to stay.
Nataliya: A lot of European events are organized in Azerbaijan, for instance, NISA Summer/Winter Schools or European Games. How can you explain it?
Milana: First of all, I would like to say that I’m also NISA Alumni 2013 and it was really huge experience for me and I strongly recommend it to everyone. Coming to the question, it’s basically only one side that one can see. NISA means NATO International School of Azerbaijan, but we also have Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation (ICYF-DC) which is the organization affiliated to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). We organized European Games in 2015, and now we are going to organize Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017. We try to balance the foreign policy as well as the events being held in our country. It’s just an issue of angle from which you look at these events.
Nataliya: Which country would you like to visit? In which place do you feel good?
Milana: As I have mentioned, I feel good in any part of Europe, but especially in Germany. Belgium is also nice place to live and study, but I think it varies from city to city. Bruges is amazing place for studying. But you can do very limited things apart of studying here. As comes to the country that I would like to visit, probably it’s Japan, as I like Asian cuisine and culture very much and I have never been to that region.
Nataliya: What do you know about Switzerland? How Azerbaijani imagine this country? What do they know about it?
Milana: I have been to Switzerland in December, 2014. It was the year when Switzerland was presiding the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Swiss Chairmanship under the Presidency of Mr Didier Burkhalter together with the upcoming Serbian Chairmanship and Swiss National Youth Council decided to organize series of events in order to involve young people into the work of OSCE and prepare a Youth Action plan. They have selected 1 person- Model OSCE Youth Ambassador from each OSCE participating state (57 in total). I have been selected to represent Azerbaijan. During 2014 we have met several times in Vienna, Belgrade and Basel and worked on the YAP for OSCE. It was an outstanding experience and after the Swiss Chairmanship we continued our work for one more year as OSCE Youth Ambassadors. So, I can tell that I know a lot about Switzerland, starting from the breweries and ending up with the system of Swiss Federalism (one of the best ones in the world for me).
As it comes to Azerbaijani youth, in general, for some of them it’s a destination for good quality education, and for others- it’s a country of good quality watches, lots of banks and tastiest chocolate.
Nataliya: What you can say about young Azerbaijani generation? How are they different from the older?
Milana: There will always be differences between young and older generations, no matter where and when. But if to look broader- we are more west-oriented, more “anti-soviet”, more English speaking and more coffee drinking than our parents 😉
Nataliya: Azerbaijan suffers from a bad reputation, as a country, abroad. What should Azerbaijani do to improve it to your mind?
Milana: I can’t absolutely agree that Azerbaijan suffers from bad reputation. Of course, there are some fields in Azerbaijan that still are far from being very well-structured and perfect, as in any country in the world, I think. But it doesn’t undermine the fact that Azerbaijan is developing very rapidly and doing good job in many other fields. The biggest problem is that sometimes people are too subjective and try to “measure everyting with the same measure”. Yes, we have certain problems, and coming back to the question above- for me everything is about education. What can we do is to educate our children and future generations better in order to improve this situation and change what we wish to change. Yes, it will take some time, but I don’t see any other way.
Nataliya: Which Azerbaijani author can you advise us to read and why?
Milana: I would definitely advice to read Chingiz Abdullayev. This is a “must read” author for everyone. He writes detective stories and does it very well. Some of his works are based on the real stories and it’s really interesting. But if you want to feel Azerbaijani soul, I would advice to read the poems of Mikayil Mushfig- one of geniuses of Azerbaijani poems for me.
Nataliya: Are you more cats or dogs? Which one you prefer?
Milana: I’m definitely “cats” person. I even have one. My adorable cat Monnie, Turkish van. She is an amazing source of positive energy and happiness. Unfortunately, she is far from me now, but thanks to Skype, we see each-other from time to time.
Nataliya: What is your favorite Azerbaijani food? What can you advice to eat?
Milana: Azerbaijani cuisine, no doubts, is extremely delicious. I really miss here our tasty dishes and sweeties. I adore “toyug levengi”- chicken with special filling made of onions and nuts inside, and “3 badji” (“3 sisters”)- aubergines, tomatoes and bell peppers with meet inside. These are “must taste” dishes that one should have, as well as dolma, pillaff, pakhlava, shakarbura and of course- traditional Azerbaijani tea with thyme. Bon appetit!
Nataliya: Which is your favorite Azerbaijani city? What places can you advise me to visit?
Milana: I was born and grown up in Lenkoran, it is on the South of Azerbaijan. But I used to live in Baku for last 8 years, and I really love this city. If you want to see “where East meets West”, visit Baku. You will be amazed how oriental and western one city can be at the same time. If you want to see a beautiful nature- go to Goygol Lake, Lerik or Ismayilli.
All in all, I can say that my most favorite Azerbaijani city is Baku, because I have lots of memories there as well as my friends and family.