Vol. 3, No. 7 (April 01, 2010)

California and Azerbaijan: Real synergy

Jason Katz


Tool Shed Group 

California is increasingly the epicenter of American politics, diversity, creativity and innovation.  California is home to the largest United States Congressional delegation; indeed, it is home to some of the most powerful and notable elected officials serving on Capitol Hill today.  California also has the largest population of any state in the U.S. and is the hub and foundation for groundbreaking legislation that shapes social, political and business trends in the entire US.  With all of its flaws and idiosyncrasies, the manner with which California deals with competing ethnic, religious and cultural issues and situations stands as an example to the rest of the United States—and perhaps the rest of the world. 
The coined phrase “as goes California, so goes the nation” is accurate and apt.  California, by design, by accident or by fate, is home to an astounding amount of synergy on many fronts, a necessary component for all of this innovation to exist and happen in one place.  However, this synergy does not happen in a vacuum and does not come to be without outside influences, partnerships and collaborations.    

Genuine synergy is a wonderful thing and rarely can it be found in the world today.  It is perhaps a result of history or culture or geography or even a twist of fate that the Republic of Azerbaijan and the State of California should possess such a high degree of synergy.  There are a plethora of issues and common interests and stemming from them, real opportunities for the people of California and Azerbaijan.

Civil rights, tolerance and pluralism are a good place to start.  California, beginning with legislation authored by the venerable and powerful late Assemblyman Tom Bane, paved the way for significant strides in tolerance-related, civil rights and hate crimes legislation in California.  His legislative courage and drive for a more tolerant society gave rise to similar legislation throughout the United States.  To this day, California has some most significant and sweeping tolerance-based laws in the US.

In like terms, the Republic of Azerbaijan stands as an example to not just other majority-Muslim nations, but to the entire world as an exemplar of tolerance and a pluralistic society.  Indeed, Azerbaijan established the first parliamentary democracy in the Muslim world.  Unfortunately, it came to an abrupt end following its first 23 months of existence with the invasion of the Bolsheviks, but after independence in the 1990s, Azerbaijan picked up where it had left off.

Azerbaijan is home to a prosperous and diverse population, well adjusted in the ways of the modern world.  This majority-Muslim nation is staunchly secular and has a deep seeded and proud tradition of tolerance and pluralism.  Azerbaijan is home to Sunnis, Shias, Jews, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, among others.  These religious and ethnic groups live today as they have for centuries—without strife, persecution or segregation.  Azerbaijan’s laws, as in the case of California, protect this tradition by guaranteeing, among many other things, the right for all people to vote, regardless of race, religion, national origin or ethnicity. 

As California is the focal point for American ethnic and religious politics, Azerbaijan is, too.  It was Azerbaijan that the late Pope John Paul II, the patriarch of not just the Roman Catholic Church, but the patriarch for tolerance and freedom to all worldwide, chose to visit ahead of various Christian nations in 2002.  It was from majority-Muslim Azerbaijan that the Pope pleaded, "I ask religious leaders to reject all violence as offensive to the name of God," and pleaded for a “Spirit of Tolerance.”  It is fitting that the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church chose majority-Muslim Azerbaijan as his pulpit to speak to the world about tolerance and pluralism.

Politics is also a realm where there is great synergy between Azerbaijan and the State of California.  Nowhere can this been seen more clearly as in women’s rights and women in politics.  Women serve at very high levels in both elected and appointed positions in Azerbaijan and in California and are policy and decision makers in both.  It was merely a couple of years ago that a group of powerful women legislators in leadership positions from California visited Azerbaijan.  The delegation was led by powerful Senator and noted woman’s rights advocate Sheila Kuehl.  By their own accounts, women in Azerbaijan, from First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva to the numerous women members of parliament, play powerful and key roles in Azerbaijani politics, domestically and internationally.  It is interesting to note that Azerbaijan granted woman suffrage before the United States of America did.
Legislative delegations from Azerbaijan featuring women (and men) members of the Azerbaijani parliament, the Milli Majlis, regularly visit California.  Despite the typical angst, disgust and negative rhetoric from the Armenian community, these members are welcomed with open arms and hold substantive discussions on democracy, good governance and the synergy between the two political systems.  MPs Asim Mollazade, Ganira Pashayeva and Gular Ahmadova travel to California for these far reaching and important exchanges.  The value of these exchanges and discussions are not only in the transfer of knowledge and understanding of Azerbaijani and American politics, history and culture, but also in that they bring the synergy of Azerbaijan and California into focus.  Again, woman’s issues play a key role in these discussions, as Azerbaijan, again, a majority-Muslim nation, sees women as equals in government and in society as a whole. 

In the realm of business, Azerbaijan and California share a great deal, too.  Innovation, the alpha and omega of contemporary business, is a synergy between California and Azerbaijan. 
Azerbaijan, with an economy heavily dependent on oil and natural gas production, is today actively and in a forthright manner striving to diversify.  The sector of choice for diversification is technology—yet another synergy with California.  Regular Ministerial level delegations in this sector from Azerbaijan visit California to develop relationships that will bring state of the art internet and information security, with American and Azerbaijani expertise, to Azerbaijan, while providing training, jobs and an exchange of knowledge to both nations.  In addition, these delegations foster the exchange of scientific expertise in the realms of nanotechnology, information technology and communications. 

Ali Abbasov, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, often travels to California to hold an annual technology oriented business conference in Los Angeles.  These conferences are well attended by American business leaders who recognize the opportunities associated with working and doing business with and in Azerbaijan.  A large technology conference is planned for May of this year.  In addition, and related to this synergy are the memoranda of understanding signed with Californian universities, such as California State University San Jose, that enable the exchange of students.

In like terms, vast numbers of American business leaders and investors travel to Azerbaijan to avail themselves of Azerbaijan’s technology innovation zones, which enable US business leaders to tap into not only Azerbaijan’s vast reservoir of scientists and “techies,” but to that of the entire region of Eurasia. 

It is important to note that not because of oil wealth, but because of synergy and common interests, Azerbaijan is an attractive and stable platform for investment for American companies.  Azerbaijan also sparks the interest of prominent businessmen who happen to be Jewish due, in part, to the multi-billion dollar per year trade between Azerbaijan and Israel and the fact that Azerbaijan is Israel’s friend.  It is important to recognize that these business leaders don’t see Azerbaijan as Israel’s good Muslim friend.  That is beside the point.  The two nations have a pragmatic and beneficial relationship with one another, a plus for business leaders who happen to also be Jewish and a relationship that Californian business leaders wish to replicate with Azerbaijan.  

Engagement is an integral part of providing stewardship to synergy.  Regular delegations of Azerbaijani political leaders and business leaders are a requisite.  Likewise, regular visits by Americans to Azerbaijan are necessary.  It is necessary to have these groups of people meet and exchange ideas and learn to work with one another to foster the synergy that exists and to build even a greater degree of synergy.  I have traveled to Azerbaijan with many Americans.  In every case, each visiting American travels back home impressed by the modernism and cosmopolitanism of Azerbaijan’s cities and people and each immediately wants to go back to Azerbaijan.  

The model of Azerbaijan and California can and should be used as a model for other states in America.  Engagement—political, diplomatic, academic and in the realm of business—can only serve to benefit both nations.

Again, synergy, real synergy, is something very rare.  Who would have thought that Azerbaijan, twelve hours ahead and seemingly a world away, would have such significant and direct synergy with the State of California?  The reality is that they do.