Azerbaijanis look back at 2012 and forward to 2013

As in in the past, Azerbaijan in the World once again has surveyed officials and experts on the most important foreign policy developments of the past year.  What follows are the reactions of Azerbaijanis.  In the next issue, AIW will feature an article on the reactions of American, Georgian and Russian observers of the Azerbaijani scene.

Azerbaijan in the World:  What do you see as Azerbaijan’s chief foreign policy achievements during 2012?
Asim Mollazade [MP, Chairman of the Democratic Reforms Party]: Over the last twelve months, Azerbaijan had significant successes in the development of its relations with the United States and the European Union.  With regard to the US, Baku developed relations not only with the central government, but also with states and cities.  With regard to the EU, Azerbaijan hosted the second session of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly and made progress toward the signing of an association agreement.  

Baku was also successful in gaining international recognition of the Khojaly genocide.  On January 31, Mexico’s senate passed a resolution recognizing the Khojaly events in February 1992 as a genocide.  The following day, Pakistan’s Senate took a similar step, but went even further and condemned Armenia as an occupying power and called for the implementation of the resolutions the UNSC passed with regards to the ocupation of Azerbaijani lands.  

Finally, Azerbaijan achieved a signal success as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Rasim Musabayov, Dr. [MP, member of the Milli Majlis international and inter-parliamentary relations committee]: Azerbaijan’s place in the international arena expanded, something ever more countries acknowledged.  Its network of diplomatic representations increased, as did the number of visits to Baku of presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other senior officials, the latter number exceeding the equivalent number of visits combined for Georgia and Armenia.  Its diplomats presided over the UN Security Council and used that position and its new membership in the Non-Aligned Movement to gain support for a just resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  It signed an agreement with Ankara about the construction of TANAP, as well as on tariffs for its exported gas and its further transportation through Turkish territory.  Finally, it negotiated the end of Russia’s military use of the Gabala radar station.
Vugar Seyidov, Dr. [Political Analyst, AzerTAg]: The two key achievements of 2012 were Azerbaijan’s election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and the adoption by the European Parliament of a resolution (Res. 2011/2316[INI]) taking Azerbaijan’s side in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

AIW:  What were the major shortcomings of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in 2012 and what lessons were to be learnt? 

Mollazade:  Because of Armenian intransigence, we were not able to make any significant progress toward the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabkah conflict.  We need to find new ways to bring international pressure to bear on Yerevan.

Musabayov:  The lack of progress toward the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was clearly the most disappointing thing in 2012.  But the slow course of talks about Azerbaijani membership in the World Trade Organization and about an associataion agreement with the European Union were also unfortunate.  Tensions increased with Iran, particularly in the first half of the year, and a certain alientation in relation with Russia was felt after Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency.

Seyidov:  Azerbaijan sometimes appeared to fail to take into consideration the information war going on internationally.  While the Safarov case was a brilliant diplomatic triumph, the information battles afterwards were a complete disaster.  That needs to change.  It is high time to establish undercover information agencies and other media resources abroad, as well as begin the penetration into those that already exist.  

AIW:  How do you assess progress made in the resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2012 and what do you see as the prospects for a settlement of the conflict in 2013?

Mollazade:  No progress was made towards the resolution of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in 2012; indeed, a certain passiveness could be observed in the conflict resolution process.  The only exception was the meeting the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia held in Sochi at the initiative of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.  The results of the presidential election in Russia, as well as the inactivity of the OSCE Minsk Group were among the factors leading to this slow-down.  That foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia only met twice reflected this state of affairs.  I think Azerbaijan should raise questions about where we go from here in all international organisations, starting with the United Nations.

Musabayov:  There was no progress toward a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and even the pursuit of a resolution appeared to vastly slow down compared to earlier years.  Even the Medvedev-sponsored January meeting of the Russian, Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents in Sochi did not lead to a breakthrough.  The episodic contacts of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia were similarly unproductive.  And the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, despite several visits to the region, did not make any significant progress either.  With the two sides adhering to radically opposing viewpoints on the key issues, the conflict resolution process is indeed in a deep stalemate.    

2013 does not promise a lot in this area given that there will be presidential elections in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Moreover, Washington and in particular Moscow are not showing a desire to push the talks forward more actively, and Paris is focused on the continuing crisis in the European Union, rather than on the Caucasus.  Thus, there does not appear to be much chance of a resolution in the year ahead, especially since talks between the two presidents are unlikely.  There a possibility, however, that the European Union might show an interest in join the conflict resolution process in one way or another.
Fikrat Sadykhov [Professor of Political Science, Western University, Baku & Political Analyst]:  Unfortunately, progress toward the resolution of the conflict did not take place in 2012, but this does not mean that Azerbaijan did not do anything of importance in this area.  Azerbaijan used every international tribunal to advance its positions and gain support.  And this is a very important factor for strengthening the international position of our country.  Our government has conducted itself patiently and tolerantly to Armenia, but must contend with the unceasing hostility of the Armenian diaspora and Islamophobic forces.  The OSCE Minsk Group has conducted itself in a rather amorphous way, often taking far from objective positions.  Azerbaijan has done a lot to expose all this and thus has laid down the preconditions for future progress. 

Seyidov:  There was zero progress on this issue in 2012, and I don't see any prospects for a resolution of the problem in 2013 either.  When politicians say, “there is no military solution to the conflict,” I usually respond by saying that, “there is no diplomatic solution” either.

AIW:  How do you assess Azerbaijan’s energy diplomacy in 2012, and what does the future hold for it? 

Mollazade:  I very positively assess Azerbaijan’s energy diplomacy.  At present, Azerbaijan is fully integrated into the energy system of both Europe and the world.  It has got a considerable number of channels out and they boost the importance of Azerbaijan in the world.  More specifically, the TANAP agreement Azerbaijan signed with Turkey is a most serious success.  Given the important role TANAP is set to play in the energy security of Europe, Azerbaijan faced increased levels of pressure with regards to investments for bringing Caspian gas resources to Europe.  Both the TANAP project and other international and regional projects represent major achievements.
Musabayov:  On the whole, Azerbaijan has been successful in this area.  Given everything that is involved, it would be more appropriate to speak about energy policy as a whole and not just diplomacy.  I have already mentioned the TANAP project.  Azerbaijan could also reach understanding with BP on problems associated with the Azeri-Chyrakh-Guneshli field.  SOCAR has grown very active in the markets of Georgia, Turkey, Ukraine, and other states.  Azerbaijan is becoming a significant player in the energy market of Europe.

Sadykhov:  Baku’s energy diplomacy in 2012 developed in a very positive way.  The chief event in this regard was the TANAP agreement between Baku and Ankara on the construction of the pipeline that will carry a minimum of 16 billion cubic meter of gas every year beginning in 2017.

Moreover, Azerbaijan has moved in this direction without entering into any conflicts with the other regional producers.  TANAP does not contradict international principles and norms and is not directed against the interests of neighboring states.  The project will benefit everyone in the region, but in the first instance Azerbaijan.  It will benefit as an exporter, a transit country, and as the owner of 80 percent of the shares of the project.  And its success will only add to Azerbaijan’s status as a regional leader.

Seyidov:  It was quite good because of the TANAP agreement and the discovery of the Umid field.  BP needed to be taught a lesson, and it was.

AIW:  How do you assess the evolving dynamics of Azerbaijan’s relations with its immediate neighbors—Russia, Iran, and Turkey—over the last year and what is likely to develop over the next twelve months?

Mollazade:  Azerbaijan’s relations with Turkey are deepening day by day.  The slogan “one nation—two states” is being realized in actual foreign policy as well, because in various international organisations, these two states speak with a single voice, something of huge importance.  As was the case in the past, Azerbaijan sought to maintain good-neighbourly relations with Russia and Iran.  However, the problems these states have both domestically and in their foreign policies had some negative effects on their relations with Azerbaijan.

Musabayov:  No radical changes in Azerbaijan’s relations with its neighbors took place in 2012.  Ties with Turkey continued to strengthen.  Tensions with Iran rose, but were reduced by joint efforts.  As far as relations with Moscow are concerned, there was a certain pause, the result of a change in the Russian presidency and the need for Putin’s Moscow to clearly formulate its policy in the South Caucasus.  But as in the past, Baku has clearly indicated that it does not intend to accept any paternalism on the part of any state and will develop relations with global and regional powers on the basis of mutual interests and in a pragmatic fashion.

Sadykhov:  Beyond any question, one cannot expect relations between Azerbaijan and Russia in such a complex geopolitical atmosphere to be without any clouds.  But despite periodic difficulties, relations continue to develop and remain friendly and those of partnership.  Our republic has always spoken for broadening and improving bilateral relations.  And we are doing everything necessary so that cooperation will develop in as many spheres as possible.  In the negotiations about the Gabala radar station, Azerbaijan demonstrated its ability to defend its position and achieve the goals it set itself without provoking any conflict.  That is something very important, because as a result relations between Baku and Moscow remain friendly and partnership-like. 

As far as relations between Azerbaijan and Iran are concerned, they have not changed for many years.  But in 2012, they reached a peak of particular tension.  And the fault for that does not lie with Azerbaijan.  We clearly see that certain circles in Iran, most likely for certain historical reasons, do not accept our country as an important regional player and an authoritative state which is playing a significant role in the world arena.  But despite this, Azerbaijan supports good neighborly and friendly relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Azerbaijan has been very clear that it will not interfere in the internal affairs of that state, and has spoken out against the use of military force there by those concerned by Iran’s nuclear program.  Teheran knows this very well.

Azerbaijan’s relations with Turkey continue to be those of full partnership.  We take practically the same positions on many international problems and highly value the Turkish position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  At the same time, Turkey has begun to understand very well the importance Azerbaijan has for it as a key player in the region and a guarantor of Turkey’s energy security.

Seyidov:  Considering that Iran and Russia are not the best neighbors one could normally wish to his/her best friend, Baku should have acted extremely careful with them, and it indeed did so in 2012.  Azerbaijan should continue pursuing the non-irritation policy towards them.  With Turkey, everything was fine.  But still Baku should, from time to time, remind Ankara that our position about keeping the Turkish-Armenian borders closed contingent upon the settlement of the NK problem is not going to change.   

AIW:  How do you assess the dynamics of Azerbaijan’s relations with Georgia over the last year and what is likely to develop over the next twelve months, particularly in light of the change in government in the latter?

Mollazade:  Azerbaijan managed to keep and further develop its relations with Georgia.  The visit by Georgisa’s newly elected prime-minister to Baku showed that relations between the two states are not contingent on any third governments or state leaders and pointed to the importance of continuing cooperation.

Musabayov:  Objectively, Azerbaijani-Georgian relations are developing along an ascending line.  Trade is increasing as are Azerbaijani investments in Georgia and the number of business and tourist trips in both directions.  Major regional projects in transportation and energy are being carried out.  And intensive political dialogue is taking place at all levels.  Although there was a change of government in Tbilisi, it is indicative that the new prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili made his first bilateral visit to Baku (he had visited Brussels earlier than thatm but only as the centre of the EU).  He may lack some political experience, but like other Georians, he has come to fully understand the importance of strengtehning relations with Baku.  I predict that the strategic partnership of Baku and Tbilisi will strengthen further.  The attempts of the Georgian government to extract more from that cooperation than it has will not disturb the general trend.  As a businessman who has made a multi-billion dollar fortune, Prime Minister Ivanishvili should recognize that without mutual cooperation there will not be a successful and longterm partnership and that in order to receive something, it is necessary to offer something significant in exchange.

Seyidov:  Baku should insist that the railroad in Abkhazia remain closed.

AIW:  How do you assess the evolving dynamics of Azerbaijan’s relations with the United States in 2012 and what does the year 2013 promise for the bilateral relations?

Mollazade:  Azerbaijan’s relations with the United States did indeed develop during the course of the last year.  A decision was made to continue developing these relations on the level of the fifty US states.  In this regard, I very positively assess work carried out towards creating fraternal ties between certain cities and towns in Baku and cities and city councils in the US.  A number of governors, senators and congressmen cooperate with Azerbaijan.  During the Eurovision song contest, some 200 US congressmen paid a guest visit to Azerbaijan, something that was a reflection of the attention they pay to relations with Azerbaijan.  I expect that relations with both the newly elected US administration and the Congress will further develop in 2013. 

Musabayov:  Bilateral relations became more pragmatic.  Out of Washington have come fewer instructions and instead the US has focused on the resolution of practical questions, such as securing the transit of material for Afghanistan across Azerbaijani territory, energy projects, cooperation in the UN Security Council, the struggle with international terrorism, and cooperation on the control over proliferation of nuclear materials and rocket technology.  Bilateral trade turnover is also increasing.  However, there are also problems.  The discriminatory provisions of the 907 law and also the meaningless impact of Jackson-Vannik retain their negative influence on our relations.  The US continues to co-chair the OSCE Minsk Group, but American activity in that direction has declined significantly.  It is necessary in 2013 to work actively on all these issues with the White House and the Congress.  The well-known pro-Armenians attitudes of the future head of the State Department, Senator Kerry, must not lead to any break with the US.

Seyidov:  There were not many changes in 2012, but in 2013 we expect several pro-Armenian personalities to assume key positions in Washington—John Kerry as a secretary of state, and Bob Menendez as the head of the Senate foreign relations committee.  Azerbaijani diplomacy needs to send a clear message that this shall not affect bilateral relations.  Moreover, Baku should seek the complete repeal of S-907 as its number one priority.  

AIW: How do you assess Azerbaijan’s activities in the public diplomacy sector in 2012?   

Mollazade:  There were some positive developments in the public diplomacy sector as well.  One could point to Azerbaijan’s cooperation with the European Union within the Eastern Partnership program, as well as to Azerbaijan’s active participation in the EU’s NGO forum.  In its efforts to develop civil society in the country, Azerbaijan has now begun to cooperate in this direction with a number of European states.  Cooperation is under way with a number of European NGOs.  A new European Movement was established in Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijani NGOs also actively participate in international institutions and projects.

Musabayov:  Several important steps were taken.  Notably, Russia rather than the Western countries was the main initiator of meetings of Azerbaijanis and Armenians in the public diplomacy context during the last year.  Moscow hosted a meeting of the media leaders, experts, NGOs, and parliamentarians for that purpose.  And our parliamentarians actively participated in various international meetings and this should be mentioned in particular.  The Azerbaijani Karabakh community contributed mightily with its efforts to organize dialogue with the Armenians.  Baku supported this both morally and financially as it did several other efforts in public diplomacy.  

Seyidov:  There have not been many visible achievements in this direction.

AIW:  What specific challenges do you think Azerbaijan’s foreign policy faces as the country moves to the year 2013 and what needs to be done to address those challenges?

Mollazade:  The key challenges of 2013 relate to Azerbaijan’s conflict with Armenia and to Azerbaijan’s efforts to bring the problems generated by Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani lands to the attention of the world and the world’s influential political centers and by virtue of that submit Armenia to peace.  A new direction has also opened in our foreign policy.  That is cooperation with Latin American countries.  Parliaments in a number of Latin American states have seen Azerbaijan friendship groups established and some relevant documents have been passed.  Azerbaijan has now established cooperation, both in economic and political fields, with Argentina, Brasil, Mexico, Columbia and other countries in the region.  Activities in this direction should be further strengthened. 

Musabayov:  The most dangerous challenges for Azerbaijan and the region involve the situation around the nuclear program of Iran.  It is important to ensure that a cooling of relations with Russia does not lead to a growth in tensions in bilateral relations.  At the same time, in order to overcome the stagnation in the process of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it is necesasry to conduct intensive dialogue with our partners and grow more active within international institutional settings.  Talks about joining the WTO and about an association agreement with the European Union need to be accelerated.  I believe that the multi-vector and balanced character of the foreign policy of Azerbaijan should be preserved and that Baku should proceed cautiously at this dangerous time. 

Seyidov:  In 2012, there has been a complete failure in the information area abroad.  It is long past time to move from buying properties and real estates to opening news agencies, newspapers, media resources where Azerbaijani ownership and presence are not obvious.  We need to remember that politicians read newspapers and watch television channels.  And consequently, we need to ensure that at least some of them are watching or reading outlets we have an influence on.