Summary of a week-long bulletin.
One can attribute novelty to this small country in the Caucasus, the size of Austria, with a population of 10 million. The country takes no side and it sides with everyone, so long as it can protect its sovereignty and prosperity. And though the country has some major security concerns, it knows how to navigate in stormy waters rather safely, building its international relations on a bilateral basis.
It was my third visit to Azerbaijan. Each time I visited, I unraveled more interesting aspects of this country with a majority Muslim population.
Twenty-seven years ago, on October 18, 1991, when the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan adopted a Declaration of Independence, the second Republic of Azerbaijan was formed. It started as a basket case; the country had to make a decision, to be or not to be. Its determination to be has made Azerbaijan a member of the world’s community of nations and getting stronger.
I already wrote ample articles about this country, geographically located between Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Iran and hostile Armenia, and about my fascination with what is transpiring there on a daily basis.
Azerbaijan is an oil-rich land. Oil lifted this country’s economy. However, psychologically, mentally and physically it is ready for any down-turn in oil revenue. It is taking actions and developing an innovative free trade-zone port, its agriculture remarkable potentials and its tourism industry.
Though relentlessly strengthening its military might, Azerbaijan prefers not to join any military block. Therefore it has become a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, which is the second largest global organization after the United Nations (UN), and will chair this organization in 2019-2022.
In an interview given to Trend News Agency, Hikmat Hajiyev, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry’s Spokesman, stated that his country “is committed to the spirit and principles of the Non-Aligned Movement. The country pursues a foreign policy course aimed at developing partnerships with all states and pursues a balanced policy without joining any military bloc. Therefore, in 2011, the country decided to become a full-fledged member of the Non-Aligned Movement, where it had an observer status.”
Sovereignty and independence came at a very high price and thus Azerbaijan constantly strives to preserve and pass them, intact, to future generations.
Azerbaijan, though small in size, has enormous economic potential. At present it claims to have 2%-3.5% economic growth, with the non-oil sector claiming 7% growth. With its geopolitical position, Azerbaijan makes a natural partner of the European countries (EU) and is one of the largest trading partners of Italy.
Food security is a nearby reachable goal for Azerbaijan and with it the country is targeting food export to all its surrounding countries.
In the planning is the expansion of the existing Agriculture University in order to prepare a new generation of professionals in the field and maintain its pride in its tasty fruit and vegetables.
In the Tartar Region, counting 103,000 population, located 4 kilometers from the contact line with Armenia, there are approximately 13,000 Internally Displaced people (IDP). Despite the existing human anguish load, the region already produces $61 million in agriculture sales and that revenue is on a constant exponential growth.
In a meeting at the International Affairs Department of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense (MOD), I heard that the country is a leading military force in the Caucasus. The country has invested much in the region, due to the fact that it cares a great deal about security and stability.
Press and Media
Claiming freedom of the individual, the government of Azerbaijan offers Internet connectivity to the majority of its population; 80 percent of the population now has access to Internet. The goal is 100 percent. The government claims no interference in the press, with Trend News Agency, established in 1995, being an Internet aggregator and the leading news provider from the Caucasus, Caspian and Central Asian regions; the latest news from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Turkey.
Trend sells its news and reports to Internet magazines, large corporations, consulting companies and bank, and thus expands its media tentacles on an international scale.
Seeking transparency in its internal politics, in its recent presidential election, on April 11, 2018, 7 TV stations, 15 newspaper outlets and 10 information agencies covered Azerbaijan’s election from close quarters.
Tolerance and Coexistence in a Majority Muslim Country
In a visit to Guba Region, known for its pristine beauty and with a goal to become a tourism center and ski resort, and a meeting with the region’s governor, an appointee of the President, I found myself in a district most famous for its tolerance. I was told that among the 170,000 population of the region there are 20 ethnic minorities, all are living in harmony and each is encouraged by the central government to preserve its identifying ethnic traits and dialect.
In the Red Town of the Guba region, which is known for its unique ‘Mountain Jews’ community, said to be the descendants of Persian Jews from Iran, proudly making the largest Jewish settlement outside the state of Israel, they celebrate all the minorities’ holidays – Muslim, Jewish, Christian and others – and everyone participates.
A Jewish museum, the first in the caucus, is under construction in Guba and I heard that in Baku they are planning a kosher restaurant to be opened soon.
Religions are practiced freely and every Azerbaijani is most proud of this characteristic of their country.
There is much to be done in the country’s tourism arena. Shahdag Mountain Resort was opened to the public in 2012. Located in one of the most beautiful mountainous regions of Azerbaijan, the site of the resort – the Shahdag National Park – is known for having an intact ecological system and an untouched flora and fauna. For centuries, the north-east corner of Azerbaijan has been the gateway between Europe and the Middle East and in the shadow of the majestic Caucasus Mountains hides untold natural beauty, pristine glaciers, deep ravines, stunning mountain lakes and canyons, and an ecological treasure trove of plants and animals. This is Shahdag in all its splendor.
With elevation peak of 4,243 meters above the sea level, the Shahdag Mountain Resort already claims one million visiting skiers a year. With the constant improvements of the highways’ grid, a Baku-Guba-Shahdag Mountain Resort trip will not only be fast, but also touristically rewarding.
Most often Azerbaijan initiates regional cooperation and creates influential presence in the region. The result, a constant influx of international conferences, conventions, and assemblies, on any scope and subject that comes to mind, as well as international sports events.
The country is in a healing mode since the conflict with Armenia begun. The conflict, known by the name Nagorno-Karabakh War, was a territorial conflict that took place in the late 1980s till May 1994 and claimed many innocent lives and close to 1 million internally displaced Azerbaijanis. To date, Azerbaijan is helping to heal the disrupted life of approximately one million internally displaced people (IDP) and refugees, who were forcefully exiled by the conflict. With all that, the country is diligently working to rebuild a viable economy and restore functioning democracy.
I see Azerbaijan coming out of a naive stage and finding its way in the world and the road it is paving is all so promising.
With sharp eyesight toward the west, and open eyes to the east in the back, Azerbaijan makes a relevant central country to the world and with that a country that needs to be taken most seriously, in all aspects.