Vol. 6, No. 1-2 (January 15, 2013)

2012 was "very successful" for Azerbaijan and 2013 will be more so, President Aliyev says

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

In his message to the Azerbaijani people on the occasion of the Day of Solidarity of Azerbaijanis of the World and of the arrival of the New Year, President Ilham Aliyev said that 2012 “had been very successful” for Azerbaijan at home and abroad and that all signs point to an even more successful one in the year ahead. [1] 

Azerbaijan’s undoubted successes in foreign policy, the president argued, rested on two things: a strong economic performance which boosted its international standing as an energy supplier to Europe, and the country’s continuing “balanced approach” to international relations which has allowed the country to play an expanded role not only in international forums like the UN Security Council, but also in bilateral ties with an increasing number of countries around the world.

As he has in all such addresses, President Aliyev focused in particular on the interrelationship of domestic developments and foreign policy goals, particulary with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  He pointed out that during the last twelve months, Baku has “done a very great deal” for the resolution of the problems of those forced to leave their homes by the Armenian occupation.  Some 20,000 of them were given new apartments, and he promised that even more will be provided with such improvements in 2013.  

But the Azerbaijani president stressed that this humanitarian measure did not mean that Baku would not insist on the end of the occupation and the return of these people to their homelands.  When that happens, he said, Azerbaijan “will build new buildings, settlements and cities in order to provide good conditions for our citizens.”

President Aliyev said that he is “certaint” that “Azerbaijan will restore its territorial integrity.  Our strength is growing both in the economic and the military sphere, and our international positions are strengthening as well.” 

Azerbaijan did not achieve its primary goal of ending Armenia’s occupation of 20 percent of the country’s territory in 2012, but the president says he has hopes that what was achieved over the last twelve months will open the way for that outcome sometime in the next twelve.  Among the positive developments in 2012 in this regard was the declaration of the heads of government of the Minsk Group co-chairs that the status quo is unacceptable and cannot continue.  “The change of the status quo means,” President Aliyev said, “an end to the occupation.”

In addition, the president said, Azerbaijan continued in 2012 to gain the support of international organizations and individual countries.  Among the international groups backing its position, he pointed out, were the Non-Aligned Movement, which Azerbaijan joined this past year, and NATO with which Baku continues close cooperation and which specified that the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict must be resolved “on the basis of the territorial integrity” of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan, its president said, “will never permit the establishment on its immemorial lands of a second invented Armenian state.  Present-day Armenia,” he pointed out, “arose on historically Azerbaijani lands,” and “the establishment on Azerbaijani lands of a second Armenian state never will be possible.”  Thus, “Nagorno-Karabakh will never be offered independence,” and the Azerbaijani flag will again fly over “all the cities, which today are under [Armenian] occupation.”

President Aliyev expressed the hope that mediators like the OSCE Minsk Group will “advance more concrete proposals” in 2012 for the withdrawal of Armenian forces and thus the resolution of the conflict.  And he suggested that they should be mindful of the fact, “which is not a secret for anyone” that Azerbaijan is “seriously involved in the process of building up its armed forces.”

Already today, the Baku leader pointed out, “the Azerbaijani army is the most powerful force in the South Caucasus.  In 2012, it added “a large quantity” of military equipment to its arsenal, and “in 2013, [Baku] will strengthen [its] army even more.”  Already, Azerbaijan’s expenditure on its military exceeds the budget of Armenia by 50 percent, and that is creating a situation in which everyone, including the Armenians and their backers, will be forced to recognize that Azerbaijan can restore its territorial integrity by force if there is no progress towards that end by diplomatic means.

Turning to other issues, President Aliyev stressed that the signing of the TANAP pipeline project in 2012 and progress on the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway open the way for Azerbaijan to become an even more important player in the European and Eurasian petroleum marketplace.  Moreover, the holding of international meetings in Baku during 2012, including the Eurovision competition and the Second International Humanitarian Forum, attracted ever more attention to the country.  And the decision of the International Olympic Committtee at the end of 2012 to select Baku as the venue for the European Games in 2015 represents yet another “big victory” for the Azerbaijani people.

Other senior Azerbaijani officials supplemented the president’s words.  Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov pointed to the importance of Azerbaijan’s support in the United Nations for the Trans-Eurasian High Speed Information Channel as a supplement to the country’s rail and pipeline projects and also to Baku’s expanding “strategic” ties both with its traditional partner, Turkey, and with the Russian Federation. [2] 

Echoing President Aliyev, Mammadyarov said that Azerbaijan has become “the leading state of the region,” a status that has allowed it to transform itself “from a country in which others invest into a country which invests in other states.” That shift has given it new influence in the region and more generally.

And also, like the Azerbaijani president, the foreign minister stressed that Azerbaijan’s successes mean that time is working on its side rather than Armenia’s when it comes to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  As long as the occupation continues, he said, Armenia will not be able to participate in regional projects, a limitation that will restrict its ability to rebuild its domestic situation.

Mammadyarov suggested that among Azerbaijan’s greatest diplomatic “successes” in 2012 were its work in the UN Security Council and its participation in the G-20 ministerial in Mexico.  Both of those reflected “the heightened interest of the developed countries of the world in Azerbaijan and are an indicator of the leadership of the country in the region.”

Ali Hasanov, head of the social-political department of the Presidential Administration, also highlighted Azerbaijan’s ability in 2012 to weather the economic storms, to “liquidate on its own emergency situations,” and to provide the Azerbaijani military “with contemporary technology and military equipment.” [3] 

He said that the Eurovision competition had been “a major success,” but noted that “unfortunately” some of the additional attention Azerbaijan gained as a result was openly hostile and sought to falsely portray Azrbaijan as a country in which “the rights of citizens to property and freedom of expression” are regularly violated.

“The basic goal” of this campaign, he said, was “to undermine the reputation of Azerbaijan and create a negative view among world public opinion about [the country].” But ultimately this hostile effort failed, Hasanov continued, because “democracy as a system of fundamental values” underlies “the state system of administration” in Azerbaijan and has become “the norm of social life and civil society” there.

At the present time, he said, there are 55 registered political parties, “more than 2700 NGOs, and about 4800 media outlets, both print and electronic.  The Seventh World Forum on Internet Freedom held in Baku in November, the presidential aide said, called attention to this, but unfortunately, it did not succeed in keeping certain groups like Freedom House, Article XIX, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reports without Borders from continuing to take part in that “campaign against Azerbaijan.”

Azerbaijan’s real standing in the world, he suggested, is shown by the 155 countries that voted to elect Azerbaijan to the UN Security Council, the support it received as chairman of that body last spring, and the praise world leaders gave Baku at the UN Security Council special session in Istanbul at the end of May.

The senior aide said that all of this reflects the policies of President Aliyev, his commitment to balanced diplomacy, and his commitment to using “energy diplomacy” and cultural diplomacy to advance Azerbaijan’s goals.  Hasanov said that a signal indication of the latter was the launch of the Azerbaijani Cultural Center in Paris by First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, the president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

Hasanov pointed to another case of Azerbaijani diplomacy, which attracted international attention and some unfavorable comments.  Baku succeeded in having Hungary extradite an Azerbaijani officer who had been convicted of murdering an Armenian there and had served part of his sentence.  On Ramil Safarov’s return to his homeland, the presidential aide notes, he received a pardon, something that pleased most Azerbaijanis who felt he had been punished enough, but angered some in the international community.

Looking ahead to 2013, Hasanov said the most important event for Azerbaijan will be the presidential elections and Baku’s drive to reach a settlement to end the occupation of its territories by Armenia.

Another Aliyev aide, Novruz Mammadov, who heads the foreign relations department of the Presidential Administration, focused on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.  He said that, “despite the lack of progress on the resolution of [that] conflict in 2012, Azerbaijan does not consider that year lost” and looks to the future with confidence. [4] 

Mammadov said that “however much the Armenian side attempts to drag out talks … it will not be able to achieve” its goals of continued occupation. “The status quo must be changed, and it will be changed.” International law requires this, and there should be a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but if there isn’t, Azerbaijan is fully justified in using force to reclaim its territories. “No one should have any doubts about that.”

Fikrat Sadykhov, a leading Azerbaijani political scientist, explained why Azerbaijan feels so good about its prospects as the year turns from 2012 to 2013.  He suggested that Baku had been successful in dispelling “the myths” promoted by Armenia and in convincing the international community that Armenia is not quite what it attempts to present itself as being.  That, he says, is the “chief measure” of the success of Azerbaijani diplomacy over the past twelve months. [5] 

And another political scientist, Milli Majlis deputy Rasim Musabayov, talked about why Baku’s patience with the Minsk Group, the co-chair countries, and the international community more generally is running out as the latter “turned out not to be in a position to give a positive dynamic and a constructive approach to the talks.  Instead, they limited themselves to local initiatives, such as pulling snipers back from the line of the front or having a dialogue between civilian groups” on either side of the line.  Even if these steps are successfully carried through, there is little chance that they will succeed in promoting a rapprochement of the sides on “the main problems of the conflict,” Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani lands and its policies in those territories.

According to Musabayov, talks about the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are at “a dead-end.” But that is not the end of the matter.  Armenia is growing ever weaker at home, the Armenian diaspora is losing influence, and Azerbaijan is gaining strength both diplomatically and militarily.  The Minsk Group needs to take that into consideration, he continues, because “as long as the Armenians are not given a clear and harsh signal from all the capitals of the three co-chair countries and especially from Moscow, there will not be any reason to expect them” to move in a positive direction.

One diplomatic way forward, he argued, is for the Group to work on a final agreement on those issues that have been agreed to, but so far, Armenia has succeeded in blocking that constructive approach insisting that there cannot be any movement in that direction until everything is agreed upon.  If Yerevan is able to continue to block this path, then Azerbaijan will have to explore other venues and other means to recover its lawful territories.  Thus, thanks to the Armenians, he said, the entire process is “fraught with growing risks for the world and for regional security” in 2013.


[1] See http://news.day.az/politics/375729.html (accessed 05 January 2013).

[2] See http://news.day.az/politics/375650.html (accessed 05 January 2013).

[3] See http://news.day.az/politics/375468.html (accessed 05 January 2013).

[4] See http://news.day.az/politics/374777.html (accessed 05 January 2013).

[5] See http://news.day.az/politics/375562.html (accessed 05 January 2013).