Vol. 1, No. 5 (April 1, 2008)
New book outlines Baku’s approach to consular affairs
Director of Research and Publications
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy
Most of the governments that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union and most of those who study them have focused on the diplomatic relations their countries have established with other countries, on the state-to-state relationships that first provided the recognition of their independent status and now are the basic framework for working with other governments as they seek to navigate through the new, globalized world.
Far fewer of these states or of those who study them have focused on consular services, on the institutions, often housed alongside those who conduct diplomatic relations and sometimes staffed by diplomats, that first and foremost defend the rights of their citizens abroad - and thus to a degree are seldom appreciated by those who do not have direct contact with them, - establish links between individuals and their country and define the nature of citizenship and national identity.
A happy exception to this pattern is Azerbaijan, whose leaders from the very beginning understood that for their country, consular work is just as important as diplomatic efforts internationally and may be even more important in transforming Azerbaijanis, both those living inside the borders of the country and those living abroad, into full-fledged and completely committed citizens of Azerbaijan.
The reasons for this Azerbaijani understanding and commitment are not far to seek. First, because of the accidents of history and geography, far more ethnic Azerbaijanis live outside of the borders of Azerbaijan, and many of them identify with and want to be citizens of that country. Consular activities, including providing information, approving visas, and even arranging for naturalization, occupy an enormous part in Baku’s political calculations.
Second, Azerbaijani identities have been subject to an enormous number of shocks over the last century. The name of the country, its language, and hence its people has changed three times. It has been independent, occupied and independent again, an alteration that has sent many of its people into emigration. And Azerbaijan has emerged again in a new globalized world in which ever more of its people are traveling, studying and working abroad and ever more of the world’s people are traveling, studying and working in Azerbaijan. Consequently, Baku’s consular officers have no shortage of work.
And third – and this both reflects and informs the current Azerbaijani government’s interest in and attention to this area of international relations – consular affairs have been a key concern in Baku for almost a century, often at times when no one would expect it and sometimes when that was the only part of international life in which Azerbaijan was able to be a genuine participant.
Despite its brief and turbulent history, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918-1920) drew up rules for consular work, welcomed consulates from other countries, and established its own consulates in places where many Azerbaijanis were living or where Azerbaijan’s economic interests required the greatest defense. Following the Soviet occupation, Azerbaijan’s consulates abroad were closed more or less immediately, but some of the consulates of foreign countries in Baku continued to function and, Moscow’s rule notwithstanding, Azerbaijani officials continued to deal with them for several years. 
From the mid-1920s to 1944, Azerbaijan did not have a diplomatic service or a consular one. But when Moscow directed the union republics to set up foreign ministries at the end of World War II, Azerbaijan developed one that was more attentive to consular matters than almost anything else. That is because it had to deal with all the questions of citizenship, identity and residence that were presented by the rise and then collapse of the Soviet-backed Azerbaijani government in Iran.
As historians of Azerbaijan have pointed out, even as Azerbaijan and the other union republics were permitted by the Soviet government after the death of Stalin and especially after the 1970s to play a larger role in foreign relations, often hosting foreign guests and participating in international conferences and meetings of various kinds, relative to more senior republic party and state officials the union republic foreign ministries saw the scope of their activity never large restricted even further.
In Azerbaijan, that had the effect of leading to a concentration on two things – the gathering of information about neighboring countries for Moscow and the providing of consular advice and assistance both directly and via the Soviet foreign ministry which retained the power to make all decisions.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and Azerbaijan recovered its independence, Baku like the other post-Soviet governments actively sought diplomatic recognition from other countries in order to solidify its status. But unlike many of them, the Azerbaijani government from the very beginning also focused on the opening of consulates either independently or within its new embassies and welcomed the opening of foreign consulates again independently or within embassies in Baku. And thus it is not surprising that documents about Azerbaijan’s establishment of diplomatic relations inevitably include a section on consular affairs, something not found in similar accords reached by most other post-Soviet countries.
Given this focus and given the importance of consular work in the life of Azerbaijan, one can only welcome the appearance of a new book, Contemporary Diplomatic and Consular Law, by Allimirzamin Askerov (2007), which gives almost equal time to consular and diplomatic affairs, a balance seldom found in analogous texts on the activities of foreign ministries in other countries.
Askerov, who has served for many years in Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry and particularly in its consular service, is the ideal man to prepare this study, one intended to serve as a textbook for students but which will inevitably become a basic reference for all those who work in or with Azerbaijani diplomats and consuls.
Divided into five thematic chapters and including more than 200 pages of the basic documents which define Azerbaijan’s diplomatic and consular activities, the book makes clear that Azerbaijan’s current practices, especially in the consular area, have three sources: current international law arising from the various Vienna accords on diplomatic and consular practice, Soviet practice both in Moscow and in Baku, and the traditions of Azerbaijan’s own diplomatic and consular history.
Askerov’s book is in Russian, a language that all Azerbaijani diplomats know. But it is to be hoped that it will be translated into other languages not only to help those who work on a regular basis with Azerbaijani diplomats and consular officials but also as a guide to how other countries, old and new, may want to proceed in their own countries. To the extent that happens, Azerbaijan’s longstanding commitment to consular affairs, to the protection and integration of its own citizens into the life of the country will make yet another contribution to the larger world.
Аскеров, Алимирзамин (2007). Современное дипломатическое и консульское право, Баку: “Нурлан” (496 стр., 500 копий).
Садыхов, Фикрет (2004). Дипломатическая служба Азербайджана: политические приоритеты, этапы формирования, Баку: “Адилоглу”.
 On the history of Azerbaijan’s remarkable consular service, see Sadykhov (2004). Unlike most historians of foreign ministries, Sadykhov devotes a significant part of his text to consular affairs and even includes the full text of the 1993 law defining its current consular practice. Perhaps significantly, that law is several times longer than the laws, also reproduced in his book, devoted to diplomatic activities.