Part of America’s identity is its reputation as a nation of immigrants. With 37 million legal immigrants living and working in the United States, America is one of the most diverse countries in the world. As part of the effort to highlight some of the stories about immigrants, we decided to cover a journey of a young immigrant from the Republic of Azerbaijan, a country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is bound by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west and Iran to the south.

Born in the Soviet Union, Geysar Gurbanov moved to the United States in 2011. But Gurbanov’s path before immigrating to the U.S. is as remarkable as his achievements after moving across the ocean. “Imagine being born in one country, growing up in another and, then, immigrating for the rest of your life to a third country,” says Gurbanov. “It changes who you are forever.”

The Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991 when Gurbanov was about 5 years old and his native Azerbaijan became independent from communist Russia. During those difficult years, Azerbaijan was also involved in a territorial war with neighbouring Armenia. The experience of war and calamities brought by a violent collapse of the Soviet Union, laid a solid foundation for Gurbanov’s academic and professional aspirations. “Growing up in Azerbaijan during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, I was curious about how sporadic acts of communal violence gradually transitioned to civil war, a more organized, extreme, and destructive form of violence. In searching for a better answer, I knew I wanted to devote a large part of my life to human rights and peace building. One reason for this was that I had been an eyewitness of this conflict and experienced the war through my own life and lives of those with whom I had a chance to interact prior and after immigrating to the United States,” explains Gurbanov of his interest in social justice and conflict resolution.

Gripped by the misery inflicted due to constant political and military conflict, Gurbano chose to be the change he wished to see. Working towards creating a career drawn toward his mission, he received his law degree from Baku State University in Azerbaijan. In order to improve his academic skills further, he studied Administration of Law and Justice in the United States through the fellowship program of the U.S. Department of State. “I wanted to learn how criminal justice and human rights were taught in America. Azerbaijan’s legal education system was struggling on so many different levels. Therefore, going to study in America at the age of 18 was one of the best decisions I had ever done,” says Gurbanov, as he remembers how excited he was to spend a year in the U.S.

Upon returning from the U.S., Gurbanov devoted his career to education, human rights and conflict resolution. He has, to his credit, a Graduate Certificate in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from Duke University in North Carolina. Receiving an invitation to co-author “Europe’s Next Avoidable War: Nagorno-Karabakh,” a book published by Palgrave McMillan about the war in Azerbaijan, was Gurbanov’s milestone achievement.

Beginning as a program coordinator for IREX in 2006, he has come a long way from Azerbaijan to the U.S. Serving as the Director of NATO Information Centre, he has volunteered with Rotary and worked as an advisor at the Council of European Union. He officially migrated to the U.S with his name officially appeared on the WikiLeaks website, being called an interlocutor of the U.S Embassy in Azerbaijan. There had been no mention or suspicions to his name prior to the 2009 declaration, hence, that was unfounded due to the failure to produce any other substantial evidence.

While in the U.S., Gurbanov became involved with a number of non-profits. He is currently a member of Tacoma Sunrise Rotary Club and a Board Member at Puyallup Watershed Initiative, a regional organization that strives to improve social and environmental conditions throughout a large area stretching for more than 1,000 square miles from Mt. Rainier to Commencement Bay in Washington State. In his free time, Gurbanov writes articles for national and local news publications.

From a war-stricken refugee to a visionary establishing his own ground, Geysar Gurbanov is a type of immigrant America needs the most.

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