Vol. 1, No. 6 (April 15, 2008)

Public diplomacy: An Azerbaijani priority since 1918

Paul Goble
Director of Research and Publications
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

In the contemporary world, few governments fail to devote significant attention to public diplomacy, to all those means of influencing other governments by influencing their populations.  But most of these states began to use this strategy only in the course of the last several decades.  Azerbaijan represents an important exception: Its current efforts in this direction have their roots in decisions made by the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan in 1918-1919.

At that time, the Azerbaijani ministry of foreign affairs drafted a memorandum for the government on “The Organization of Propaganda in Western Europe,” a document remarkable not only for its detailed discussions of the tasks of what is now called public diplomacy but also and perhaps especially for the uncanny way in which its contents anticipate Baku’s outreach activities today. [1]

Prepared at the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919 by the foreign ministry’s secretary A. Subkhandberdikhanov for the foreign minister’s signature, the document specified that Azerbaijan must reach out to the peoples of the great powers of Western Europe because so few of them knew anything about the Caucasus in general and Azerbaijan in particular and because most of what they thought they knew was wrong, the product of “highly tendentious” propaganda by the Armenian government and by Armenians living abroad.

To that end, the document called on the Azerbaijani government to pursue three distinct but interrelated goals.  First, it said that Baku must counter Armenian propaganda because the latter had succeeded in poisoning the view of so many people in Europe.  

Second, the document continued, Azerbaijani diplomats must devote particular attention to working with the media of these countries to “popularize” Azerbaijan, thereby ensuring that the governments of these democratic governments would take Baku seriously.  

And third, the foreign ministry paper argued that Azerbaijani officials abroad must develop “close ties with Azerbaijanis living far from the Motherland,” to enlist them in Baku’s efforts to achieve the first two goals and also to reinforce the links between these communities and Baku itself.

Among the document’s specific recommendations were the following: 

“1.To begin the publication of a newspaper with an illustrated supplement in some politically important centers such as one of the cities of Switzerland;
2. To prepare brochures about Azerbaijani history, literature, art and current social-political situation;
3. To organize meetings with political and social leaders [of other countries]…;
4. To arrange public lectures and speeches;
5. To place in the foreign press articles on various issues [of concern to Baku];
6. To develop relationships with representatives of the foreign media in order to acquaint them with the actual situation [in Azerbaijan];
7. To organize banquets and receptions in honor of political and other figures arriving [in Azerbaijan] from abroad; [and]
8. To convene congresses of former citizens of the Russia[n empire] and especially its Turkic-Tatar population in order to position Baku to be able to speak on behalf of this broader community to various European countries” (Sadykhov 2004, p. 58). 

Given that Baku’s most important task at that time was securing diplomatic recognition for the Republic of Azerbaijan and that the chief obstacle to such recognition consisted of the anti-Turkic attitudes Armenians had sought to promote because of the events of 1915, it is perhaps not surprising that the Azerbaijani foreign ministry should have focused on what is now called public diplomacy.

Indeed, any perusal of Azerbaijani foreign ministry documents from that period shows that Baku’s representatives abroad took this advice to heart.  Especially suggestive in this regard are the dispatches of Ali Topchibashev during his stay in Turkey (Topchibashev 1994).  There, even when he was talking to other diplomats, he was thinking about how to influence them and their governments by appealing over their heads directly to the populations of the countries they represented.

But what is most intriguing about this 1919 document is that the issues it raised and the recommendations it made continue to inform Azerbaijan’s approach almost a century later, an indication both of just how prescient Azerbaijan’s diplomatists were so long ago and how little the challenges facing Baku have changed over the course of that time. 


Садыхов, Фикрет (2004). Дипломатическая служба Азербайджана: политические приоритеты, этапы формирования, Баку: “Адилоглу”.  

Топчибашев, Али (1994). Дипломатические беседы в Стамбуле (1918-1919 гг.), Баку: “Эргюн”. 


[1] See Gunay, October 24, 1994; and Sadykhov (2004, pp. 55-59).