I recently had an eye-opening tour to the Republic of Azerbaijan where I discovered a country that is eclectic, yet homogenous. Azerbaijan offers a unique experience to anyone fortunate to visit the country. Here’s why Azerbaijan and the West need each other.
By the invitation of Nurit Greenger, President of US-AZ Cultural Foundation (USAZCF) I joined a group of prominent journalists for a one-week introductory tour of this South Caucasus country. My curiosity turned into an overwhelming experience.
These are the words of Dov Yarden, COO at JNS.org.
Azerbaijan, a Strategic Bulwark
Nestled between Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan’s location holds vital importance to the region and beyond. It is a strategically key country.
Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan have recently increased to new heights. Though the Democrats in Congress still play with the idea that Iran’s nuclear ambitions could be tamed, this opinion is no longer valid. The Ayatollahs’ regime constantly threatens the “Great Satan,” America, and the “Little Satan,” Israel.
The U.S. government should coddle Azerbaijan with much attention as a bulwark against Iranian influence.
Azerbaijan’s tolerant spirit of synagogue and mosque co-existence is a message to Iran, and a message to the entire world.
Azerbaijan can be defined as the middle corridor trade route that extends between Central Asia, the Caspian Sea, and the Caucasus Mountains, also known as the China-Central Asia-West Asia Corridor. Azerbaijan links China and the markets of East Asia with Georgia, Turkey, and Europe. This corridor’s major components include the Trans-Caspian East-West-Middle Corridor Initiative, the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, and the Trans-Caucasus Trade and Transit Corridor that will breathe new life into the ancient Silk Road.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has many prongs. Azerbaijan’s foreign policy towards this war is rather clear. Azerbaijan supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity; however, it is rather cautious about angering the Kremlin for the sake of its own national security. It appears that since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Baku has managed to maintain, if not strengthen, its multi-vector foreign policy approach.
Baku has not officially condemned the Russian invasion and opted out of voting in the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council. Baku kept a low profile in international organizations where Russia was otherwise widely condemned and remained silent when the Azerbaijani honorary consulate in Kharkiv was seriously damaged by Russian airstrikes.
Domestically, while, on February 27th 2022, hundreds of Azerbaijanis were allowed to gather in front of the Ukrainian Embassy in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the Azerbaijani authorities also forbade protests in front of the Russian Embassy in Baku, which can be seen as another element of Baku’s delicate balancing foreign policy act.
All the while and in order to strengthen its friendly and fraternal relations with Turkey, Azerbaijan signed the Shusha Declaration ‘on allied relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Turkey,’ and in March 2022, Baku signed an agreement with Teheran, a statement of manifestation of friendly relations between the two countries.
By benefitting from the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war against Ukraine, Baku also aims to enhance its relations with the European Union (EU).
Much has been recently said about the Israel-Azerbaijan 30-year alliance. This alliance has been strengthened with the recent opening of the Azerbaijan embassy in Israel while Israel has maintained its ambassadorial presence in Baku for the past 30 years. This alliance is based on strategic, economic, scientific, and medical foundations, that simply strengthens the existing allies’ relations.
Does the US Hold a Feeble Position in the Region?
According to the United States Department of State, Azerbaijan, and the USA work to promote European energy security, expand bilateral trade and investment, and combat terrorism and transnational threats. The United States is also committed to strengthening democracy and promoting economic diversification in Azerbaijan. It also supports efforts to promote regional stability, peace, and prosperity in the region.
Though the US, on March 6, 1992, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in late December 1991, opened its Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, in my humble opinion the US presence in Azerbaijan should reach a new and more visible level with perhaps entering a military strategic alliance based on intelligence and armaments. Additionally, more visible visits of members of Congress to the region and diplomatic support should take place.
Visibility as an attractive tourism destination is the key to improving Azerbaijan’s image. The country’s hospitality sector should be constantly promoting campaigns to visit the country and should receive strong government support. A good example is to emulate Dubai’s prominent ongoing tourism promotion campaigns. Azerbaijan should adopt the slogan: “A Country Worth Exploring.”
Azerbaijan’s oil and gas sector is its base for spearheading the country’s development success in all other aspects. A certain percentage from the lucrative oil and gas sales could be allocated to a ‘Sovereignty Fund’ that will be invested in the country’s overall development plans. This, in addition to outside investments that are so necessary for a country’s growth, and as the slogan goes, “if you build it, they will come.”
Food and Water Security
Azerbaijan certainly has all the elements to be a food and water-secured country with expanded consequential effects for the entire region. I am not here to suggest what is well known, just making a reminder point of reference. Being a nation rich in food and water can form the basis of regional economic security that may lead to lasting peace.
Economic and Social Motivation
Motivation and aspiration are part of society’s drive to overall success. Years of Soviet rule, wars, and a shaky future appear to have resulted in some lack of social motivation. That symptom will take time to be erased, with the help of Western free spirit cultural influence based on incentivizing the individual.
Azerbaijan and the West
It has been a blessing to be invited to Azerbaijan and make acquaintance with a country I knew very little about. Azerbaijan has much to offer and share with the world, just as much as it has to learn from the West. Both hands should join in accelerated cooperation.
I am thankful to The State Committee on Work with Diaspora of the Republic of Azerbaijan for its excellent hospitality during this visit. As jns.org COO, I certainly plan to be instrumental in addressing Azerbaijan as a key destination.