Azerbaijan: Moving from 2008 to 2009

Editorial Note:  The end of one year and the beginning of another are always occasions for reviewing what has taken place and projecting what is likely to occur in the future.  What follows are several perspectives on both the past and the future for Azerbaijan in the world, and on the ways in which developments in 2008 will affect those in 2009. 

Azerbaijan in the World:  In your view, what were Azerbaijan’s major foreign policy achievements in the last year?

Khazar Ibrahim [Spokesperson for Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs]:  First, concerning the major foreign policy issue – the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – two important documents were produced: the UN General Assembly March 14 resolution (A/RES/62/243) and the Moscow Declaration.  The first called for the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all the occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan and reaffirmed that no State shall recognize as lawful the situation resulting from the occupation of the territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan, nor render aid or assistance in maintaining this situation.  The second made it clear that the conflict must be resolved on the basis of fundamental principles of international law.  Also, with signatures of Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Declaration once again highlighted the interstate nature of the conflict, as well as the stage-by-stage roadmap for its resolution.  

Moreover, many international organizations, including UN, the Council of Europe, NATO, and OIC, as well as many nations reiterated their full support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.  The final communiqué of the North Atlantic Council’s December meeting at the level of Foreign Ministers reads: “We continue to support the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova.  Peaceful conflict resolution founded on these principles has gained increased relevance for overall stability in the region.”   

As a country which is part of the Caspian, South Caucasus and Black Sea regions, Azerbaijan contributed to the development of cooperation in all of them.  President Ilham Aliyev said that Azerbaijan’s initiatives opened up opportunities for the neighbors, while also advancing Azerbaijan’s national interests.  Thanks to Azerbaijan’s leading role, countries of Central Asia, as well as Caspian Sea, Black sea, and prospectively Baltic sea regions work together in joint projects.
Euro-Atlantic and European integration agenda of our foreign policy has advanced.  Azerbaijan continued its mutually beneficial cooperation with EU through Neighborhood Policy and welcomed plans for a new Eastern Partnership.  NATO IPAP’s implementation continued within its second phase. 

Azerbaijan’s contribution to international peace and stability multiplied with a sizable increase in number of troops in Afghanistan.  Moreover, Azerbaijan assisted many nations during natural disasters and other calamities with expertise and financially.  In recent years, Azerbaijan provided some 4 million USD in cash.
And the country continued to play an important role as an energy supplier.  The energy summit, held in Baku, emphasized increased interest to the Caspian energy resources and underlined diversification as a core for Azerbaijan’s energy policy.  The Summit declaration specified that “the Caspian region is one of the largest centers of production of the hydrocarbon resources and transportation of energy to international markets and represents the significant element in the system of the Euro-Asian Oil Transport Corridor.”

Hulusi Kılıç [Ambassador of Turkey in Azerbaijan]:  Although some might not call it a “foreign policy achievement,” President Ilham Aliyev’s re-election has significant international consequences, reassuring Azerbaijan’s friends, including Turkey, of continuity in Baku’s self-confident and stable approach to the world.    

Vugar Seyidov [Independent Analyst]:  In 2008, Azerbaijan retained its leading role in the South Caucasus and continued its rise as a regional economic and political power.  Azerbaijan managed to stay out of the military conflict in the western part of the South Caucasus and ensured the operation of the strategic energy supply pipelines.

In 2008, Azerbaijani diplomacy gained another success – the adoption of the UN Resolution on Nagorno-Karabakh, which once again called Armenia to liberate the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and re-affirmed Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.  

Later, the Moscow Declaration re-affirmed that there are two parties to the conflict – Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Finally, the Energy Summit that took place in Baku cemented Azerbaijan's key role in the East-West and South-North hydrocarbon transport corridor.

AIW:  There have been many important changes in the international environment over the last 12 months that may prove crucial in defining Baku’s future foreign policy.  Among those are the August crisis in Georgia, the election of Obama as the US 44th president, and the global financial crisis and the radical slump in oil prices.  What specific challenges do these events have for Azerbaijan and its foreign policy? 

Amb. Kılıç:  More than almost any other country in the region, Azerbaijan has to maintain a careful balance in its foreign policies.  It is by all accounts a central country of the Caucasus but it is also a country with a larger geo-economic and geopolitical position.  It is situated geographically and politically between East and West.  It is a secular democracy but also a Muslim state.  And consequently, its foreign policy must and does reflect all these often competing factors.  In my view, this underlying situation continues to be far more important in determining Azerbaijan’s foreign policy than any of the sometimes dramatic events of the last year.     

Kh. Ibrahim:  Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is shaped by national interests and by developments in the regional and international environment.  The events you mentioned have influenced regional and international landscape and Azerbaijan takes them into due consideration in executing its policies. 
Azerbaijan has strategic interests in Georgia, including the major pipelines delivering the Caspian energy resources to the world markets.  So, Azerbaijan is a strong proponent of peaceful and stable Georgia and region.  We believe that there are too many conflicts in the South Caucasus and that they should be solved rather than exacerbated. 
The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States will have a major impact globally and on the region because of widespread expectations that he will be more multilateralist than his predecessor has been and predicate his policies on the norms of international law. 

The just resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict based on norms and principles of international law is long overdue.  The United States as a co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group has a key role to influence the resolution process and Barack Obama can bring this change.  Another important issue of concern for Azerbaijan, which unjustly lasts almost two decades, is section 907 to Freedom Support Act.  The section sanctions (it is waived annually by the US President) Azerbaijan, a victim of foreign military occupation, while rewarding Armenia, the aggressor.  This moral issue, if solved, could in large measure contribute to the positive image of the United States in Azerbaijan.

V. Seyidov:  The major events mentioned in the question indeed have implications for Azerbaijan.  The country borders with Georgia, and the outbreak of a real war there cannot go unnoticed in our country.  The election of the new president in the US – Azerbaijan’s strategic partner – will certainly have a great deal of impact on the development of the bilateral relations between the two countries as well.  And since oil is the main item of the Azerbaijani export, the dramatic fall in oil prices will have an impact on the economic policy of Azerbaijan. 

AIW:  Looking ahead, what do you see as Azerbaijan’s major challenges and opportunities in the year of 2009? 

Amb. Kılıç:  Azerbaijan’s most immediate challenge in 2009 will no doubt continue to be its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.  Baku has reaffirmed its commitment to resolve the issue within international law and via the Minsk Group process, and we are hopeful that some progress will be achieved in the year ahead.  After the August crisis in Georgia, that is particularly important lest there be new violence in the Caucasus.
Azerbaijan also has a very significant interest in seeing a resolution of the Georgian crisis because of its interests in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines and of its ties with the West both as an energy supplier and more generally.  Azerbaijan is a key country for the diversification of the energy resources of the European Union countries, and the European Union should do more to achieve peace in the region. 

Kh. Ibrahim:  Azerbaijan will continue to be a predictable international player; it will continue to contribute to a better and more stable region and the world while advancing its national interests.  

In 2009, a just resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will remain a priority.  Azerbaijan will also continue to participate in European and Euro-Atlantic integration projects, work to advance bilateral relations with neighbors and key partners, and to contribute to international peace and stability, as well as to energy security.  

While it is hard to name specific challenges and opportunities we should expect in 2009 due to a constantly changing nature of the international system, whatever those challenges and opportunities are, the strategy of Azerbaijan will be founded on its national interests and international norms and principles. 

V. Seyidov:  In 2009, the main challenge for Azerbaijani foreign policy will be to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.  Every effort must be made to make the process move forward.  Restoration of the country’s territorial integrity, outlined in the international documents as the basis for the conflict resolution, remains the ultimate goal of the Azerbaijani diplomacy.

AIW:  In your opinion, what are the prospects for a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute after the developments of the last year? 

Amb. Kılıç:  After the latest developments in the Caucasus, there are real prospects aroused for the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Turkey, as a member of that group, is supporting the Minsk Process and we believe the Moscow declaration is a step in the right direction.  The momentum achieved now should not be ruined by all the relevant parties.  

With regard to the Turkish initiative of the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform, I would like to give a brief explanation of Turkey’s motives and policy aims.  

The August events in Georgia underscore how dangerous the Caucasus remains and also how little the existing mechanisms of conflict resolution have been able to achieve over the past 17 years.  Turkey is convinced that all these conflicts can and must be solved by peaceful means with due respect to the territorial integrity of states, their independence, and national sovereignty.  And consequently, we have launched this new initiative to give new impetus to the resolution of these conflicts. 

We recognize that at present there is insufficient confidence among the countries of the region and that confidence building measures are needed if negotiations are to proceed in a productive way.  The CSCP will thus work to strengthen regional peace, stability and security by encouraging regional political dialogue, enhancing economic cooperation, and developing good-neighborly relations in the region.  
Our proposal is thus not an alternative to any institution, mechanism or any international organization which deals with the problems of the Caucasus.  On the contrary, the CSCP is an additional platform to facilitate the communication among Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.  The CSCP is a facilitator, not a competitor. 
We believe that the CSCP will have a triggering effect on the previously existing but currently dormant processes.  We believe that it is the only forward looking initiative now available to facilitate the formation of a common platform for countries of the region.  Today, it is important to bring together Georgia and Russia as well as Azerbaijan and Armenia and Armenia and Turkey.

What are the next steps?  First, we believe that maintaining the channels of dialogue among the regional countries is an absolute necessity under the current circumstances.  Second, being a country in the region and of the region, we feel a special responsibility to promote that.  And third, we are open to new ideas as this process goes forward.  
The first meeting of the CSCP took place during the 16th Ministerial Council Meeting of the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Helsinki, and all countries that participated in the meeting have agreed to go forward.  We believe there will be positive developments regarding the platform in 2009.

V. Seyidov:  The Moscow Declaration opened new opportunities for the resolution of the conflict.  It reiterated that the conflict can and must be settled based on the norms of international law and adopted within its legal framework international documents.  But prospects for the resolution of the conflict largely depend on the ability of the international community not only to show the ways how to resolve the conflicts but also to enforce the realization of international conflict resolution mechanisms.  Unless Armenia is compelled to comply with the norms of international law, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh will remain frozen.