IIC is partnering with the Azerbaijan Psychological Association (APA) in a project designed to create a more open, democratic, and civil society in Azerbaijan. We have developed a learning community with a committed group of Azeri human service professionals—psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, community workers, teachers and others whose influence extends broadly.

Our goal is
to develop a core group of people with the sense of empowerment and the skills and attitudes necessary to help build a civil society in Azerbaijan. By civil society we mean one that operates in all systems—the individual, family, community, workplace, and society—with respect, clear communication, non-violence, honesty, cooperation, inclusion, creativity, and responsibility.

Participants are being trained in community building, group dynamics, group therapy, trauma, leadership, conflict resolution, problem-solving, organizational development and other skills needed to facilitate change in individuals and communities. The program fosters:

        Personal growth through ongoing participation in group therapy, community building, Theatre of the Oppressed, and body/mind awareness exercises

        Professional development through teaching professional skills such as individual and group counseling, group dynamics, conflict resolution, problem-solving, communication, community development, and social analysis.

        Social growth (change) through encouraging partnership, participation, and application of the new skills in families, organizations, workplace, and communities. 

The faculty, which is primarily American, includes psychotherapists, organizational and business consultants, workshop leaders and a psychiatrist from Croatia, well-known for his work in trauma.

Much of the learning is inter-active and experiential; some is lecture; some creative. The Satir Growth Model has been the basis for several sessions and Virginia Satir’s   humanistic, holistic philosophy underlies the entire program.     

To date, six training sessions have been held in Baku, Azerbaijan.  The first was in September, 2004 and the most recent in March, 2006. Each session was eight days. We hope to maintain the program with three or four sessions a year through 2008 to provide the continued learning and support needed to sustain real change. 

Funding has been an ongoing challenge. Future sessions will depend on success in obtaining grants and/or participants from the U.S. or other countries who will pay to be part of the learning community. Faculty have donated their time and even paid some of their own expenses so that this program can move forward

but funds are needed for travel, living expenses, room rental, and interpreters. Contributions from individuals have also been an important source of support.

Sessions are planned for late November, 2006, early 2007, and late May, 2007, if we can raise the funds necessary to bring trainers to Azerbaijan. Consider joining us in Baku for this experience in cross-cultural learning and friendship and to support the project.

Now entering its third year, the program has had a profound impact on its participants. (See below for two stories.)

Vugar’s Story    


Vugar Guliyev:  age 27, BA in Psychology, working on PhD in Psychology

Employment:  Human Relations Department, largest distribution company in Azerbaijan

Three years ago I would not have been able to write this story about my changes.  I used to think in workshops that all these other people have problems but not me.  Gradually I began to see that I sometimes live to please others or
to show them what I can do, rather than discover what I really value and what is important to me, what are my strengths and how I want to be with other people.

I am a participant of the IIC/APA project, “Movement toward a Civil Society.”  During last 2 years being part of this project I find that there are many changes in my personal and professional life. I have been working on increasing my self-esteem - increasing my ability to discover what I think, to trust myself, and use my judgment to make independent decisions.  In this way I build my life and am living it more comfortably.  I am much more aware of how our history and cultural background impact me, and each of us.  This gives me more empathy for our lot and makes me feel more a part of the growth we as a country are doing, instead of standing apart and seeing others as having problems.  I am learning to not shame myself or others or hold myself apart in fear and shame.  I am becoming more curious instead of blaming.

All these things make my work more effective.  I left my previous work which didn’t give me opportunities to growing personally and professionally.  Now I  train and provide counseling service for the office staff and sales representatives of my new company; I speak at business conferences.  Through communications and this new way of being,  I am passing to others my values, attitudes, convictions and beliefs and new learning.  Each of these sales representatives every week on regular base communicates with 80-100 clients(store directors or clerks) and they, by the way they are becoming and by their communications are passing to others new values of self/other respect, honest communication, and hope.  And each of these clients does the same things according to hundreds people that the meet and communicate every day including their families.  So, from my participation in the IIC/APA program, more positive, joyful, respectful and constructive way of being in the world are spreading to others.  This is how I think Azerbaijan can overcome our oppression, helplessness,  and anger we have had for many years. 

Leyla’s Story

Leyla Saifutdinova: age 27, BA in Psychology, current applicant to graduate school

Author:  “Representations of Armenians in Azerbaijani Post-conflict Fiction”, independent research paper

Past Employment:  United Nations Development Program Project Manager for their “National Human Development Report on Gender Attitudes”

Joining the “Movement toward Civil Society” program in June 2005 has been one of the best decisions in my life.  The program changed me in many ways.  Many of these changes are visible - like making new friends or starting a new job but single most important change has taken place inside, not outside.  Through this project I began to learn to take responsibility for who I am.

My life, like everybody else’s, is a network of many interrelated roles and relationships, including family, family history, friends, colleagues, occasional acquaintances.  For a long time I thought that this network is fixed and rigid, aing to or change some of my relationships with family and friends, as well as build new relationships.

The change inspired by this training program is also having a deep impact on my professional life. I study social transformation and cultural transition now.  Azerbaijan, my home country, is almost a perfect case to study with its Moslem culture, post-communist background and century long attempts at modernization.  This is a fantastic cultural mix, with diverse and often contradictory values.  I have researched some of these complications academically, but participating in this program gave me a unique opportunity to actually experience the conflict in our country.  This experience enriched my research greatly and gave me a lot of insight into problems which previously seemed impossible to solve in our country.  This insight, as well as the new self-confidence reaffirmed my decision to continue my research in this field and to focus my life work toward personal and social transformation as a way of making my contribution to the world in my lifetime.  The best gift from the program is the feeling of appreciation for my own past, pain, mistakes, learning and experience and that of my country.  From this springs hope for the future.


Azerbaijan is a country of 8 million people located in southwestern Asia bordering the Caspian Sea, between Russia and Iran, sharing borders with Armenia and Georgia. Although over 90 percent of the population is Muslim, Azerbaijan is a largely secular country, reflecting 70 years of Soviet domination. As a result of armed conflict between  Armenia and Azerbaijan over the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, an area that had been part of Azerbaijan under the Soviet Union, the country lost about 20 per cent of its land and now has about 1 million refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). (Source: website of the President of Azerbaijan)  The conflict is yet to be resolved although a cease fire went into effect in 1994.

The people of Azerbaijan have lived under a totalitarian regime for most of their lives, as did their parents and grandparents and so on down the generations. The country gained its independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. However the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that developed under tyranny and oppression did not disappear with the signing of a constitution and holding of elections. The fear, distrust, helplessness, and hopelessness that are the legacy of totalitarianism are still pervasive on many levels: the individual’s sense of identity, the family, the workplace, the government and the culture as a whole.  These patterns of identity and interaction are passed on from parent to child and so affect even those young people who have lived all their lives under a democratic form of government.


Laura Dodson, L.C.S.W., Ph.D., President of IIC, psychotherapist, Satir leader

Ivan Urlic, M.D. Professor of Psychiatry, Medical School, Split, Croatia

Barbara Jo Brothers, LCSW, CGP, group psychotherapist

Alexander Cheryomukhin, M.S. psychologist, President, Azerbaijan Psychological Assoc.

Linda Provenza, MA, Founder and President of Strategies for Change, Inc.

Steven Young, Satir Trainer, counselor, consultant

Jeanne Reock, Certified Rubenfeld Synergist

Craig Barnes, J.D., author, negotiations consultant in former Soviet countries

Jean McLendon, LCSW. LMFT

Regina Ragan, LCSW

Anne Cinque, psychotherapist, teacher



The Institute for International Connections