Azerbaijan Journal – October 2017
It has been another day of a whirl of meetings that are effectively shaping my view of Azerbaijan.
It is clearer to me that Azerbaijan is constantly mapping its future and they like to share it with the world. It is important for a 25-year-old country to work along a guideline of improvement and development and Azerbaijan is facing an ongoing phase of growth. The country that ten years ago could have been seen as an economic basket case has resources to work with and brain power to bring visions to fruition.
Looking to have an impacting share in the global community, Azerbaijan invests in learning languages, the best communication skill one can have. In order to raise a generation who will be able to compete in the world, the government of Azerbaijan strongly believes that being versed in English and French, at least, is a must. For instance, Mr. Nasimi Aghayev, the Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles, is well versed in several languages.
Visiting the impeccably neat Lycée Français de Bakou school, in Baku, only proves this theory. At a toddler age, in 2-3 months’ time frame of intensive learning, the pupils learn and I mean learn to read, write and speak a language, with the emphasis on neat cursive writing.
Since in Azerbaijan they believe in woman’s femininity and that a woman should not do masculine, heavy lifting type of work, rather, it is customary for women to do more work suitable for woman, a large percentage of Azerbaijani women tend to become teachers.
Azerbaijani Economy, raising a strong horse to pull the carriage
Yes, Azerbaijan has been blessed with oil fields and the aroma of oil is in the air of Baku. But no country can survive on one product only; economic diversification is a must or a country can collapse economically. And that is the motto of AZPROMO, Azerbaijan Export & Investment Promotion Foundation.
Azerbaijan has natural resources of oil and gold but it also has climate that can support the growth of healthy sundry of agriculture produce. Being a corridor between east and west, the country can also be a tourist hub. For that purpose, the county needs improvements in all aspects. To attract tourism, it needs to develop better roads, better road signs and better stop points for travelers passing by where one can stop for a drink and a snack and have the use of sanitary bathroom. I am told they are working on this matter.
Established in 2003, and with an annual budget of $5 million dollars, AZPROMO is an arm of the Ministry of Economy. To sustain the existing economy and bring growth, it is busy directing investors – corporate and individuals – into the country’s non-oil related industries and also helps Azerbaijanis to export non-oil related products, enter into foreign markets where they are absent as well as help them expand in markets where they are already doing business.
AZPROMO’s work is based on identifying investment projects’ opportunity priority. After this portion has been assessed thoroughly, it seeks a match; identify potential investors – countries, corporate, private individuals. Once these potential investors are identified, AZPROMO tries to attract them to Azerbaijan and once they have been lured to the opportunity, AZPROMO helps them put their initial business foot in the country, making starting a business as easy as possible. But that is not all. Once a foreign entity or individual has launched their business, AZPROMO will be there to help them expand it.
In order to achieve all that, AZPROMO is constantly busy promoting Azerbaijan abroad. It explains and promotes the country’s business climate, works closely with governments to correct any business opportunity gaps that appear, organizes export missions and supports exporters in order for them to promote their product abroad.
Agriculture is one of the main economy sectors Azerbaijan is concentrating and expanding on. The country is already well known for its exported pomegranate, persimmon, hazelnuts, tomatoes, beverages and wine, mostly to Russia, but also markets in Europe, but it has a much larger margin of agriculture potential on which it can expand and that is the vision of AZPROMO for the country.
Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991. Mr. Rufat Mammadov, President of AZPROMO, does not leave out the fact that his country was 23-months-old when Armenia invaded the south-west part of its land while the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) crude oil pipeline began operating in 2005 and started paying back and helping stabilize the economy of the country only in 2007, meaning the country started its sovereign life in great financial deficit.
In 1994, Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire agreement with Armenia, meaning, the country is politically stable and it has an attractive investment climate. Azerbaijan’s value proven track record is stability, strategic location and available workforce. As I wrote above, the country is heavily invested in education to strengthen its brain power. That is its future.
Though the conflict issue is an integral part of each meeting I hold, regardless of the main topic of discussion, while repeatedly asking the international community to help solve it, the country is not waiting. Azerbaijan is on the move to improve all aspects of life, peacefully and transparently.
I sense that the Azerbaijanis are very willing to host forums and conventions of all sorts and varied sport activities. That puts the country on a path to be known as a welcoming host with a fully open window to the world, reaching out and exposing its democratic values and good intentions to all. Such behavior, no doubt, will get the attention and even more active support of the international community Azerbaijan so much needs and desires.
Repetition of the very same issue of all-around strong Azerbaijan, I heard from Mr. Javanshir Feyziyev, MP, Committee on Interparliamentary relations, with offices in the building of the parliament of Azerbaijan. I must admit, having excess to one’s government officials and representatives appears to be much easier in Azerbaijan than in any other country I help promote.
The vision this committee holds is that in ten years, Azerbaijan will be more integrated into the international community and more democratic.
In the office of Lt. General Karim Valiyev, Deputy Minister of Azerbaijan, I take my last class about the conflict issue.
Mr. Valiyev graduated the military academy in Moscow, then USSR, and served in the Red Army when Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union. He repeats what is told to me all the time, Azerbaijan is very open to meet and speak with anyone who can help solve the conflict with Armenia in a peaceful way. However, the office of defense is making sure that the military is strong and ready for its job to protect the country if and when necessary. It is a confident Azerbaijan that he represents.
Soccer/Football, and Patriotism
On August 23rd, 2017, Qarabağ FK (Qarabağ Futbol Klubu) the Azerbaijani football team, AKA soccer to Americans, qualified for the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Champions League group stage, being the first ever Azerbaijani football team to achieve such a result.
The home town of Qarabağ FK – arguably Azerbaijan’s greatest football club of present day and some would argue of all-time – is Ağdam, a town occupied by Armenia since 1993. Ağdam is called “ghost town” or “Hiroshima of the Caucasus,” due to its complete destruction and total ethnic cleansing following the occupation. Qarabağ FK is the only football team among UEFA 32 qualified teams that cannot play its home matches in its own stadium because their city is out of bounds. Because of that, since 1993, the team has played its home games in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
I went to meet the team about whom I wrote an article.
I met with Gurban Gurbanov, a retired Azerbaijani international footballer, now the team’s head coach.
“When your name has a political dispute attached to it, your responsibilities are greater,” he told me. “Our team represents an occupied land. When we play against teams from abroad, we help spread the injustice that we, as a team, and the country as a whole, are suffering from.”
As sports emissaries and indirect diplomats of Azerbaijan, the club works with all of the government’s diplomatic offices.
The irony is that if Qarabağ FK did not win championships no one would have known where Karabakh is, nor what took place there. But with its great game, this winning team shines a light on the conflict. Having no home stadium leads players from other teams to ask questions about the conflict. Though the players do not get involved in politics, for them winning means advancing the course of solving the conflict and that puts more responsibility on each player and the team, as a whole, to go on winning. Each win is a patriotic win.
Qarabağ FK’s winning represents the hope of all the displaced refugees and a ray of hope for the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic to achieve, peacefully and amicably, everlasting peace.
With peace comes renewal and replenishment.
As an American I see how right President Donald Trump is. Like any country on earth needs to think and act, Azerbaijan has put itself first and it is moving on the right track to a remarkable and successful democracy. One nation, as one, seeking to achieve peaceful prosperity.
To the Armenian people I tell: people who kill women and babies do not have freedom on their mind.
The Azerbaijani people made me feel at home and so, I feel at home in their country.