Vol. 3, No. 1 (January 01, 2010)

Azerbaijan and the world at the start of 2010

Editorial Note: The Roman god Janus after whom the month of January is named is always shown with two faces, one looking forward and one looking backward.  Thus, it is at the turn of each new year that people both consider what they have been through and where they are going.  2009 has been a year full of events full of meaning for Azerbaijan and its relationship with the world.  Below are the reflections of some of Azerbaijan’s leading analysts and practitioners about both what has occurred in 2009 and what may lie ahead in 2010.

Azerbaijan in the World:  What were Azerbaijan’s major foreign policy achievements in 2009? 

Elin Suleymanov [Consul General of Azerbaijan to Los Angeles, California]:  Azerbaijan’s diplomatic service celebrated the 90th anniversary of its founding in 1919, thus offering a chance to talk about Azerbaijan’s place in the world.  Indeed, instead of cataloguing Baku’s achievements, I’d like to focus on Azerbaijan’s growing international profile and its assumption of a leadership role in the region.  These developments reflect President Ilham Aliyev’s pragmatic and resolute foreign policy, a policy whose implementation under the leadership of Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov was over the last year more pro-active and persistent than ever before.  Particularly important in my view has been Azerbaijan’s success in raising international awareness of the importance of the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for the future of the entire region, as well as Baku’s resoluteness in asserting itself as an independent and sovereign regional player basing its actions solely on its own national interests and perceptions.   

Asim Mollazade [Milli Majlis deputy and chairman of the Democratic Reforms Party]:  Among the achievements of the last year, I would point to Baku’s success in attracting international attention to its conflict with Armenia and the intensified talks about the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.   

Vafa Guluzade [former national security advisor and now an independent analyst]:  2009 was a difficult year for Azerbaijan in foreign affairs: we had a lot of difficulties, and as a result, Azerbaijan’s relations with other countries deteriorated somewhat.  Baku did gain ground in attracting attention to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but our relations with neighbors and other countries are more tense than a year ago.  On a positive side, though, the latter fact has not turned Azerbaijan into some kind of rogue or pariah state although, as world history teaches us, that could happen.   

Rasim Musabeyov [an independent political analyst]:  It is difficult to speak about concrete results from and achievements of 2009 just now, but I would point to the growth of Baku’s independence in taking foreign policy decisions, its confidence and insistence on the defense of its own national interests.

Azerbaijan in the World:  What were the major shortcomings of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in 2009? 

Elin Suleymanov:  Azerbaijan’s foreign policy has been overall on a positive track.  This success has produced some problems, which might be described more properly as growing pains.  The Azerbaijani diplomatic service is stretched thin.  It continues to suffer from a shortage of qualified and adequately trained mid-career personnel.  This, of course, is a natural situation for a rapidly expanding service.  The ministry’s introduction of an entrance examination and the establishment of the Diplomatic Academy have helped, but we have more to do.  

Another challenge is that we have so far failed to develop a dynamic way of presenting Azerbaijan in varying contexts.  This, too, is a result of insufficient training.   

Asim Mollazade:  Azerbaijan cannot be indifferent to the criticism it has received from the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United States with regards to the media situation here.  Armenia and Russia have similar problems at home but have largely managed to escape such criticism.  

Vafa Guluzade:  Our main problem, Nagorno-Karabakh, is still unresolved, and no one is really supporting Azerbaijani policy.  We live in a hostile environment: the country that is a victim of aggression – Azerbaijan – is not supported by the international community, while aggressor – Armenia – is beloved, by the United States and all allies in NATO.  Support for Azerbaijani position is limited to declarations, which do not offer real support.  We have also witnessed very negative television propaganda about Azerbaijan, like the film presented by Euronews which never mentioned the fact that Armenia’s military action forced one million people to flee their homes or that 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory remains under Armenian occupation.  

Another problem of the last year was increasing tension between Baku and Washington, with Baku increasingly incensed by US support for Armenia and by its criticism of Azerbaijani domestic affairs.  We need to work toward a better relationship with Washington and recognize that some of US criticism is objective.  Moreover, we should be trying to increase our integration with NATO.  But we are not doing it.  But most important: Our policy must be completely open.  We must stop trying to balance everything because the era of balancing has ended.  It is completely obvious that we are not able to be with Russia, because Russia itself is going to be with the United States.  That is why there is no sense in balancing.  Toward that end, we must adopt a cautious and sophisticated approach.  
Rasim Musabeyov:  Our main shortcoming continues to be that we react rather than act, something that gives others the initiative.  Obviously, the possibilities of Azerbaijan as a small country are limited in the international arena.  However, it is necessary to search and use new possibilities and to formulate a discourse on problems that immediately touch our affairs. 

Azerbaijan in the World:  Some analysts have suggested that 2009 was dominated by an effort of all countries in the region to adjust to the new conditions created by the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.  How well do you think Baku has done in this regard?

Elin Suleymanov:  Indeed, the August events of 2008 have brought about a dramatic change in our region.  In my view, the Azerbaijani leadership managed this complicated situation with great success.  This, in turn, highlighted both Baku’s ability to operate calmly in a regional crisis and the fact that Azerbaijan’s long-standing pragmatic approach has been a correct policy to pursue.  Azerbaijan, which has always perceived itself as a part of a greater region, has continued to deepen cooperation with all partners.  Rather than seeking short-term benefits from the situation, Baku has worked towards strengthening regional stability for the long term. 

Asim Mollazade:  Azerbaijan provided humanitarian help to Georgia and at the same time continued normal relations with Russia, and it has maintained the energy corridor through Georgia despite the expectations of many of the converse.    

Vafa Guluzade:  In my view, the United States wanted Russia to act in August 2008 the way it did in order to demonstrate to all the countries of the region that Russia is an aggressive and revisionist state that threatens them.  On the other hand, Georgia now, without Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is able to join NATO.  In a way, the August war of 2008 and the ensuing occupation of Georgia’s territories was about Georgian membership to NATO.  

For Azerbaijan, the war meant that people in Baku again focused on the reality that fighting Armenia is about fighting Russia, something that could give Moscow a pretext for attacking Azerbaijan and occupying even more territories.

Rasim Musabeyov:  In the wake of the war, Azerbaijan confirmed its strategic partnership with Georgia by inviting President Saakashvili to Baku in the beginning of 2009.  Moreover, despite Moscow’s dissatisfaction, Baku sent a group of officers to work with NATO in Georgia.  But all of this even taken together did not create obstacles for the development of partnership relations between Azerbaijan and Russia, especially in economic and humanitarian fields.  Political dialogue continued at all levels.  In a word, Azerbaijan demonstrated stability and faithfulness to the obligations it had assumed with all its partners.

Azerbaijan in the World:  What specific challenges do you see the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement presenting to Baku now and in the future?  

Elin Suleymanov:  Dialogue between Turkey and Armenia could have a positive impact on our region.  The concern here is not the dialogue itself but an attempt to pursue symbolic gestures instead of addressing real issues.  Azerbaijan has, from the very outset, stated that the real, most pressing problem for the region continues to be Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani lands.  No sustainable normalization can be expected in the South Caucasus unless and until this challenge is dealt with.  The problems involved in ratifying the protocols have proven Azerbaijan’s point.

In fact, Turkish-Armenian discussions have reminded the world about the centrality of resolving the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for the future of the region and that of Armenia itself.  The main objective for Azerbaijan, therefore, is to work together with Turkey and other partners to continue efforts towards a fair settlement of the conflict instead of playing politics of symbolic gestures.  Among the key factors for that is the need to engage in an intensive multifaceted and wide-ranging outreach to the Turkish society.

Asim Mollazade:  When President Aliyev refused to attend the Istanbul conference, Baku showed once again that no serious progress can be made in the South Caucasus without Azerbaijan’s full participation.  Azerbaijan explained that it is not against the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement per se, but that the latter could only proceed once that Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been resolved.

Vafa Guluzade:  In my view, the latest effort at Turkish-Armenian rapprochement has failed, in large part because Ankara did not take Baku into consideration in the beginning of the process.  It is now clear that the Turkish parliament is not going to ratify the Zurich protocols until there is some progress in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Indeed, one could say that blocking the ratification of the protocols represents a major victory for Azerbaijani foreign policy in 2009. 

Rasim Musabeyov:  Azerbaijan has been able to insist on its point of view without provoking a rupture with Ankara.  The Turkish government not only has confirmed the impossibility of moving forward without progress on Nagorno-Karabakh but has provided Azerbaijan with a new supply of arms.  It is important for Azerbaijan to consolidate its latest gains and arrive at a situation when Russia’s regional policies would grow increasingly friendlier to Azerbaijan and its concerns without a similar positive turn in the Armenian-Turkish relations.  That will secure Azerbaijan’s leadership position in the South Caucasus. 

Azerbaijan in the World:  What do you see as the prospects for a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2010?

Elin Suleymanov:  One can only hope that the progress registered during talks in 2009 will lead to a settlement.  In recent statements, President Aliyev has stressed the urgency of resolving the problem and demonstrated a constructive approach at the talks.  Other factors point in the same direction including a growing international realization after August 2008 of the dangers presented by unresolved conflicts, Turkey’s commitment to seek progress on Nagorno-Karabakh as the price of ratification of the protocols, and Russia’s involvement at the presidential level in talks about the conflict.  

Asim Mollazade:  There appear to be good chances for the completion of at least a framework agreement early in 2010.  That should lead to an acceleration of the talks. 
Vafa Guluzade:  I do not think that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will be settled in 2010.  The great powers are not interested in resolving it.  Russia benefits from a policy of no war-no peace, and the US supports Christian Armenia rather than Muslim Azerbaijan.  I fear we may soon face a problem like the one the Palestinians have: ever more international declarations and ever less progress toward a genuine settlement.     
Rasim Musabeyov:  The OSCE Minsk Group talks on the basis of the so-called Madrid Principles are headed toward a time at which participants will not be able to avoid saying yes or no.  Because the cost of failure would be so high for so many, I believe that the participants will find a way to reach an agreement.  The chances for that are not so small, and it is important not to miss this chance.