PENDLETON - Focused on rural financing, 10 Azerbaijani businessmen came to Pendleton last week, but they took home more than they expected.
The three-day side trip to Pendleton was part of a 22-day stay in Oregon for the Azerbaijanis, who are involved in an international visitors program organized by the World Affairs Council of Oregon. Ramal Jafarov, one of the travelers, said they learned about the opportunity to visit Pendleton while they were in Portland.
"I was not interested," he said. "Then I heard it was a city of cowboys. I sense the cowboys had a really significant role in America."
Jafarov said American Western movies are popular in Azerbaijan. He particularly mentioned the Clint Eastwood classic, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly."
Jafarov said he was excited to have the opportunity to meet cowboys, ride horses and learn about the Western lifestyle.
"Everyplace in Pendleton you can remember them," he said, adding that during their visit to Blue Mountain Community College Thursday morning they "saw lots of cowboy shoes."
Some of the visitors who stayed with Rotarians spent Thursday evening at a Rotary gathering at Hamley's Slickfork Saloon.
Jafarov said they were treated to live cowboy music and "beefsteak, the cowboys' famous meal."
"It was all very exciting," he said.
For an even greater Western flavor, the entire entourage spent Friday evening at the Bar M Ranch, 31 miles east of Pendleton up the Umatilla River.
The visitors were pleased with the reception Portlanders and Pendletonians provided.
"We have appreciated a high level of hospitality in your country," said interpreter Alida Isgandarli, speaking for the group.
"We found your town very clean and beautiful," added Azar Mammadov, who was among those who spoke excellent English.
Sabuhi Jahangirov added, "Although Pendleton is small, we have found lots of banks and insurance and credit offices here."
Jamal Mammadov said through the interpreter the group discovered many similarities among lending practices in Azerbaijan and America, but learned America's system is more advanced. They were particularly interested to learn about America's centralized banking system and that disaster insurance is available for American farmers.
"It's very helpful that the federal government is involved in this insurance," he said.
Jamal noted the differences between the nations has a lot to do with their level of advancement. While they view America as an "ancient country," he said Azerbaijan is just 17 years old, having gained its independence from Russia in 1991.
"We have similarities, but it's not so advanced and developed," Jamal said. "We have a lot of experience to take from you."
Azar Mammadov agreed the Azerbaijanis have learned a lot and can learn more.
"Obviously, there is huge support of the farmers from the government. That's extremely important," he said, adding he'd like that practice applied at home. "We need to make it nationwide. I think it makes sense to apply some of the things we have learned here."