Wayne hosts delegation of Azerbaijani women

Wayne hosts delegation of Azerbaijani women
By Sam Strike 02/10/2005

Wayne Suburban Newspapers, PA
Feb 10 2005

Eleven women, all specialists in women’s issues in the former Soviet
republic of Azerbaijan, visited the Women’s Resource Center in Wayne
last week as part of a two-and-a-half week program in the
Philadelphia area.
The group members are technically guests of the U.S. Department of
State through a program called Community Connections at the
International Visitors Council (IVC).
Participants apply and are selected by being emerging leaders in
various fields to meet their respective counterparts in the States
and to live in area homes and be exposed to a diversity of American
They spoke through their accompanying translators at the center.
Volunteer coordinator for the center Trish Larsen said that the staff
“thought it was informative and interesting in that some of the
pressing issues in our countries are similar, but cultural issues
make them different too.”
Among the topics discussed were emotional and physical abuse, divorce
and the traditional roles of women in their country. The visitors
said that in Azerbaijan many girls are marrying young, and once in
marriages are very limited in their personal freedoms.
“It seems that they still have quite a fight… I thought they were
about 20 years behind us in some women’s rights,” Larsen said. “I did
feel unfortunately they have a lot of work to do.”
Most questions asked by the visitors were directed at Counseling and
Legal Services Coordinator Sherrie Myers and how she would handle
certain situations that have been brought to her by area women.
“I thought they were trying hard to figure out how we make this work
here,” Larsen said of the women. They were curious how the Women’s
Resource Center is funded.
“They seem to get a lot of volunteers through the universities but we
have more women who are in different stages of life,” she said.
Wayne residents Art and Marge Miller have been hosting people from
Azerbaijan and Russia through the IVC for 10 years.
“We learn a lot, about as much as the people who are visiting,” Art
said. “It gives us a perspective on their lives, and it’s interesting
to see the things we have that they don’t.”
The two women staying with them now, newspaper correspondent Zulfiyya
Aliyeva and program officer for the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees Naila Valikhanova, had never seen a garbage disposal
function before. It was fascinating to them, he said.
What fascinated the Millers was the women’s tales of the country’s
long-standing tension with neighboring Armenia.
“We feel free to pretty much talk about anything and they are too…
and they’re free to express their opinions and they do,” Art said.
The Millers, who have lived in the area since 1974, currently write
books together.
“When we first began hosting these visits we assumed they didn’t know
much about computers because that was a new thing to us, but we found
out both are very up to date with computers, and they e-mail back and
forth to their families,” Art said.
“Americans tend to think we know everything and others need to catch
up – it was a humbling experience,” he said.
Azerbaijan – a nation with a Turkic and majority-Muslim population –
regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in
1991. Despite a 1994 cease-fire, it has yet to resolve its conflict
with Armenia over the Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh enclave (largely
Armenian-populated), according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s
World Factbook. Azerbaijan has lost 16 percent of its territory and
must support some 800,000 refugees and internally displaced persons
as a result of the conflict. It borders the Caspian Sea in Southwest
The women were not allowed to be interviewed by The Suburban as per
rules handed down from the U.S. Department of State.