In a world where the power of conquest, subjugation and the practice of intolerance is the norm, the Republic of Azerbaijan stands out as being different.
In my several visits to Azerbaijan, I learned a great deal about the meaning of the words harmony, coexistence, interculturalism, and pride. These are subjects I wrote about in relation to the Land of Holy Fire, what the name Azerbaijan translates to.
Although Azerbaijan was torn apart by Armenian forces’ invasion in the early 1990s, during which 20% of its sovereign territory was occupied, Azerbaijan extends its hands in peace.
A few months before the former Soviet Union collapsed, on December 26, 1991, under its yoke Azerbaijanis lived for 71 years, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence. It is Azerbaijan’s second independent republic. The first republic, the first secular democracy among all Muslim nations, was founded after the collapse of the Russian Empire by the Azerbaijani National Council and was proclaimed in Tiflis on 28 May 1918.
The dissolution of the totalitarian Soviet Union began in the second half of the 1980s, which gave birth to 15 independent republics, among which was Azerbaijan.
It took a team of well-educated Azerbaijanis and laying of a well-planned foundation for almost three decades to arrive at the current all-round plan for its next three decades.
Azerbaijan’s snap parliamentary election that took place on Sunday, February 9, 2020, was a proclamation of a peaceful ‘revolution.’ It is the beginning of a quiet ‘revolution’ along which Azerbaijan aims for a generational change in its governance. It is President Ilham Aliyev’s reformation strategy to appoint young western-educated administrators, who will deliver the reforms the country needs. One of those members of the young leadership is Leyla Abdullayeva, head of the Press Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Maintaining Independent Policy and Stability Is Azerbaijan’s Goal
In my visit with Leyla Abdullayeva I learned that a total balancing act is Azerbaijan’s strength.
The dynamic 40-year-old Leyla Abdullayeva, enters the room like the fresh breeze. The young lady is a very pretty face that goes well with this most professional and informative person who projects much love for her country.
“Azerbaijan is 29 year-old new democracy, an ex-Soviet Union Republic, located in a very sensitive and strategic region,” Mrs. Abdullayeva describes Azerbaijan’s geopolitical position in the region. “Geographically, we are neighbors with Iran, Russia and Turkey, and the war-torn Syria is in the proximity of our region. This requires a balanced act, based on the national interests of Azerbaijan.”
Mrs. Abdullayeva lays out the challenges Azerbaijan faces. A country that is rich in carbon reserves cannot ignore the danger of attracting bad actors. The country could be a terrorists’ target; it has gone through a war as a result of which 20% of its territory is still under illegal military occupation by neighboring Armenia.
I must add that Armenia’s strongest ally is Russia that has 5000 troops based on Armenian soil. Some 30 million ethnic Azerbaijanis live in Iran, mostly along Azerbaijan-Iran border regions that opens up another front for additional security risks.
That leaves Azerbaijan with one option, which is building a stable state, developing strong and diverse economy, based on local and regional projects.
One such project is the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline planned to run under the Caspian Sea from Türkmenbaşy, in Turkmenistan, to the Sangachal Terminal, at Baku, where it would connect with the existing pipeline to Erzurum in Turkey, which, in turn, will be connected to the Southern Gas Corridor, resulting in providing natural gas from Turkmenistan via Azerbaijan to Central Europe.
This pipeline will be followed by the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project, that will supply gas from the second stage of the Shah Deniz gas-field development in the Azerbaijani section of Caspian through the South Caucasus pipeline and the Trans Anatolian Pipeline, to transport Azerbaijani natural gas, starting from Greece via Albania and the Adriatic to Italy and further to Western Europe. The entire project’s cost is estimated to be $45 billion.
This pipelines’ network, transporting Caspian natural gas, in which Azerbaijan plays a central role, will enhance energy security and diversify gas supplies for several European markets, a project supported by the European institutions and seen as a “Project of Common Interest” and a part of the Southern Gas Corridor.
Another major project that Azerbaijan has been able to implement is the Iron Silk Road – a network of railroads connecting China with Europe via Azerbaijan.
“Day by day Azerbaijan, a focal connectivity point between East and West, is becoming more of an industrious provider. While connecting the Far East to Europe it is offering shortening delivery time for goods and services at a considerably lower cost,” Mrs. Abdullayeva notes. Her words affirm my observation that Azerbaijan might be a young country but already knows its role as a regional leader, a force for stabilization in the region and beyond, as well as a force for good.
In addition to its gas pipeline projects and the new Port of Baku project, and while making well-planned strides to be incorporated in the global economy, Azerbaijan also exports its values and culture of interfaith and intercultural harmony, peace and acceptability.
Cooperation With the United States and NATO
The United States supports the initiatives linking Azerbaijan to Europe. Most appreciated is Azerbaijan’s participation in security and anti-terrorism dialogue and activities, both contribute to the regional stability.
On May 4th, 1994 when the late Heydar Aliyev, the first President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, signed the Partnership for Peace (PfP) framework document, the practical partnership between Azerbaijan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was laid down. Based on the PfP principles, Azerbaijan conducts political dialogue with NATO, held in different formats and levels, on a broad range of issues of common concerns.
Issues among which are partnerships, regional security, Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, peacekeeping supporting operations, emerging security challenges, at high-level political dialogue, are matters of bilateral discussions and consultations, based on mutual understanding to promote progress in the applied cooperation.
The Republic of Azerbaijan’s mission to NATO is a reliable partner in the Non-Alliance Club with no aspiration to be a member of NATO.
In terms of pursuing an independent foreign policy, Azerbaijan’s economic and military potential grants it a certain level of invulnerability. As a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, a non-membership in any military pacts, Azerbaijan carefully outlines its partnerships with different alliances and regional powers, while simultaneously benefiting from them. In the same vein, Baku approaches its important partnership with NATO.
Washington always looks forward to finding new ways for the two countries to continue cooperation within NATO, aiming to promote global peace and stability.
With Azerbaijan International Development Agency (AIDA), the country is proudly contributes its support to the international community and is part of building a sustainable, prosperous and better world. AIDA is committed to contribute to international efforts, directed at improving the living standards of people in developing countries, activities aimed at eradicating poverty, improving population’s health conditions and fostering social and economic development at the recipient countries. AIDA takes responsibility to deliver aid to the people affected by natural or man-made disasters, humanitarian crises and armed conflicts. One other of AIDA’s mission’s important element is building and increasing the level of education in developing countries.
Back to the Snap Elections
The Azerbaijanis are proud of their country and are happy for the freedom they were given. The right to vote is taken most seriously and the election process is closely observed to have honesty and integrity.
Bringing in new and energetic young people to take up top political positions will help the economy and the presidential team run more smoothly, and less entrenched.
Language is a dominant communication factor. While the old school leaders speak Russian, the upcoming new leadership prefers English, French and German. The preference to communicate in Western tongues is bridging Azerbaijan closer to the West while keeping its magnificent ancient ethos intact and preserving old fashion respect, pride and traditions.
Azerbaijan’s trajectory is more economic freedom.
Due to the ongoing reforms in all sectors, between 2007 and 2019 the country’s economy grew by 80% and during this period had attracted $111 billion in total foreign investments.
The country’s poverty level has fallen from 49 percent in 2001 to under 5 percent nowadays, with unemployment standing at a low of 5 percent.
The World Bank’s Doing Business Index, ranks Azerbaijan 34th among 190 countries and the country is listed among top 20 reformers in regards to registering property, obtaining credit, protecting minority investors, and enforcing contracts.
A Beacon of Stability and Inclusion
Capitalizing on Azerbaijan’s trade and strategic location, President Aliyev and his team strive for their country to be a beacon of stability and predictability in an otherwise rather troubled and unstable region. To achieve these traits, Azerbaijanis are taught to sacredly preserve religious tolerance and coexistence. This Muslim-majority country is a safe homeland for Christians, Jews, and many other religions and ethnic groups.
Though any resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict seems elusive, Azerbaijan is firmly fixed on a bright, peaceful and flourishing future. By electing a new generation of leaders, who will carry the reform flame forward, along with the country’s ambitious plans to further modernize its economy and administrative systems, Azerbaijanis are expected to reap rich dividends from being a forward-looking nation at the crossroads of two continents.
As I see it, Azerbaijan has come out of a naiveté stage and is now finding its way in the world, and the road it is paving is all so promising.
With sharp eyesight toward the west, and wide opened eyes to the east, Azerbaijan makes a relevant central country to the world and with that a country that needs to be taken most seriously, in all aspects.
Azerbaijan, with the majority of its citizens being Muslims, is an island of secularism and an example to all countries. A country that promotes peace, security and tolerance is a balancing act difficult to follow, that should be followed.
When drinking the Azerbaijani delicious traditional tea, something is injected into the person consuming the tea’s inner sense, making him or her grasp the fact that this country is heading toward being an effective influencing factor in global stability.