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Culturally Relevant Food Series – Azerbaijan Society of Maine

We’re back with another celebration of inspiring work from a Community Redistribution Fund grantee, Azerbaijan Society of Maine. Azerbaijan borders Europe and Asia, and its culture bridges both Eastern and Western influences. In this way, Azerbaijani people are diverse in many ways, including ethnicity, religion, and language.

The Azerbaijan Society of Maine operates statewide to promote and celebrate Azerbaijan’s culture and heritage. To learn more about their current programs and community building, the Food Bank spoke with Founder and President Tarlan Ahmadov. The work of the Azerbaijan Society of Maine reflects this diversity and serves folks from various backgrounds. Though they formally became an organization in 2019, services and community support have promoted and celebrated Azerbaijan culture in Maine for over fifteen years.

In addition to creating a community around Azerbaijani people who settled in Maine many years ago, the Azerbaijan Society of Maine also provides integration and cultural support for New Mainers. Among many other things, the organization’s integration support includes distributing food boxes with culturally relevant food and helping immigrants and refugees navigate job applications.

The organization offers a wide array of support, and its work continually evolves to meet changing needs. Their current services include supporting Ukrainian refugees by addressing mental well-being and providing culturally relevant foods despite a steep cost increase triggered by Russia’s invasion. The Azerbaijan Society also responded to several challenges presented by COVID-19. While continuing its various services, such as food distribution and integration support, the organization also began to focus on its community’s most at-risk population. Older neighbors were educated on best practices for health and safety, and food boxes included information on vaccines and other materials to increase awareness about the pandemic. The Azerbaijan Society also frequently hosted virtual gatherings, such as concerts and devotion services, to bring folks together and out of isolation.

With the return of in-person events, the Azerbaijan Society has continued building community, celebrating culture, and promoting mental well-being. Bringing folks together with food plays a central role in their events; sharing a meal allows people to take pride in their cuisine and celebrate their culture.

While there is often a focus on culturally relevant food and activities, the organization also hosts various events that invite folks to engage with American culture. A recent Pizza and Jazz event featuring Azerbaijani-American jazz composer Emil Afrasiyab allowed community members to enjoy traditional American music, which was previously banned from Azerbaijan.

Tarlan expressed that the Azerbaijan Society of Maine is truly guided by cross-cultural exchange. Community members are invited to share their Azerbaijani and American cultures fully and openly with each other.

Thank you to Founder and President Tarlan Ahmadov for taking the time to speak with us. To learn more about the Azerbaijan Society of Maine and its upcoming cultural events, visit their website here.

One of the Food Bank’s core values is inclusion, yet many of our programs have historically excluded the needs of communities of color. We acknowledge this exclusion and are actively working internally and alongside communities of color to source culturally important foods to ensure all communities have the foods they need to thrive.

To learn more about the Community Redistribution Fund and awarded grants, please go here.