Vol. 6, No. 15-16 (August 15, 2013)

Ninety-nine percent of Azerbaijanis say Turkey is their country’s biggest friend

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

The attitudes of a country’s population to foreign countries both affect and are affected by that nation’s foreign policy, but measuring such attitudes is almost always problematic.  That is nowhere more true than in the South Caucasus.  But a study prepared by the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) on the basis of massive polling in all three of the countries here provides some interesting data on these underlying attitudes. 

Azerbaijanis are less interested in NATO and EU membership than are Georgians.  In Georgia, 67 percent and 72 percent say they want their country to join, while in Azerbaijan, the corresponding figures are 54 percent and 48 percent.  But Azerbaijanis are more interested in becoming part of these Western institutions than are Armenians, where these figures are 33 percent and 45 percent respectively.

According to the CRRC, Azerbaijanis are overwhelmingly interested in doing business with Russians, Greeks, Englishmen, and Americans, but they are slightly less interested in either case than are the Georgians and the Armenians.  While 87 percent of Georgians and Armenians say they approve of doing business with Russians, the figure for Azerbaijanis is 82 percent, reflecting a skepticism about such foreign ties that extends in roughly the same proportion to the other three nations about whom the CRRC queried.

The three countries vary widely in terms of which country or countries their populations view as their “biggest friend.”  Respondents were given five choices: the United States, Russia, the European Union, another country in the South Caucasus, and another country outside it.  Ninety-nine percent of Azerbaijanis chose the last category, almost certainly an indication that they view Turkey as their nation’s closest partner.  Georgians and Armenians, in contrast, were divided in their assessments on this point.  Sixty-two percent of Georgians see the US as their nation’s biggest friend, while 86 percent of Armenians say Russia plays that role.

The survey also included two other questions which bear on foreign policy: foreign language competence of the respondent and his or her views on what foreign languages should be required courses in the country’s schools.  With regard to foreign language competence, Azerbaijanis indicated a significantly lower level of English language knowledge than Georgians and Armenians, 77 percent, 66 percent and 60 percent respectively.  At the same time, Azerbaijanis said that they spoke Russian well far less often than did citizens of the two other countries, 38 percent as against 71 percent in Georgia and 85 percent in Armenia.

Just over half of Azerbaijanis said they would like English to be a mandatory foreign language in their country’s schools, slightly more than Armenians and about the same share as the Georgians.  Twenty percent of Azerbaijanis said that Russian should be mandatory, significantly less than the 44 percent of Armenians and 32 percent of Georgians indicating support for that option.  Intriguingly, nearly one Azerbaijani in five as compared to one Armenian in a 100 and one of every 14 Georgians said that no foreign language study should be required in the schools.

In reporting these findings, the CRRC said that the “substantial” differences of the three countries could become “more meaningful,” with “openness towards the West, especially in terms of doing business” being balanced by “a growing interest in Russian as a mandatory language in schools” and perceptions of “the importance of friendship between Georgia and the United States, Russia and Armenia and Turkey and Azerbaijan.”