Azerbaijan’s Ambassador Mr Tahir Taghizade writes on his country’s twenty-fifth anniversary of independence
The 18 October marked the 25th anniversary of re-establishing the Republic of Azerbaijan’s independence. The story of the progress that Azerbaijan has made as an independent country over the past 25 years is one of a fully-fledged transformation.
The country has had to grapple with a whole range of challenges, including domestic political instability (Azerbaijan was on the brink of disintegrating at one point in 1993), ongoing military aggression from Armenia, and economic and financial difficulties in the early 1990s. However, what makes modern Azerbaijan stand out today is its strong political stability, reliability and predictability with regards to foreign relations, its status as contributor rather than consumer in terms of international security, and the fact that it is a meeting place for different cultures and civilisations.
Economically, Azerbaijan has achieved stable growth and has created a sizable middle class by taking advantage of its vast oil and gas resources. The government has overseen a drastic reduction of poverty from over 49 per cent of the population down to less than five per cent. As fluctuations in the global oil market continue, the government has swiftly identified logistics, transportation, agriculture and tourism as the main driving forces of economic growth in the post-oil era. Currently, extensive reform processes are taking place across economic and financial sectors with the aim of better preparing the country for any economic shocks, also laying the foundation for putting the economy on a new, non-oil dependent and self-sustained track. Its public reforms – and in particular the creation of ASAN, an effective and transparent ‘one-stop-shop’ public services centre network across the country – have drawn widespread praise and recognition from international organisations. The successful completion of several regional energy projects including Baku-Tbilisi-Jeyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum oil and gas pipelines have made Azerbaijan a reliable and trusted energy partner for the West, and in particular Europe. The ongoing implementation of the South Gas Corridor (TANAP, TAP) project will add a new dimension to vital energy cooperation between Azerbaijan and Europe by bringing natural gas from Azerbaijan’s Shahdeniz gas field to the European markets.
Diplomatically, Azerbaijan has expanded its presence by opening dozens of new missions, raising the total number to 70. Azerbaijan has become a trusted and respected member of a wide range of international organisations, including the UN, Council of Europe, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and OSCE to mention just a few. It has successfully served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2012-13 by gaining the support of over 150 countries, a testament to its increasing diplomatic influence and international recognition. Historically a fertile ground for geopolitical rivalry, the country is now an initiator of regional trilateral dialogue formats like Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia, Azerbaijan-Turkey-Iran and Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey, highlighting the mutual advantages of regional cooperation. With regards to the global war on terror, Azerbaijan has made well-recognised and consistent contributions to international efforts in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Building on its centuries-old tradition of tolerance and peaceful co-existence, Azerbaijan’s government has successfully pursued an official policy of promoting multiculturalism at a time when there are deep-rooted hostile relations between adherents of different cultures in other areas of the world. Furthermore, 2016 has been officially announced as a Year of Multiculturalism in Azerbaijan. In May, I had the pleasure of hosting a visit of Azerbaijani faith leaders in the UK, where they held fruitful meetings and discussions on all aspects of the Azerbaijani model of multicultural life and the state-religion relationships. Our capital Baku has recently turned into a meeting place for policymakers, academics and faith leaders, by providing a platform for the exchange of ideas on how best to promote understanding, respect and tolerance on a global level. Pope Francis’s visit to Baku in October and his praise for Azerbaijan’s exemplary tolerant society is yet another testimony to the success the country has achieved in strengthening inter-cultural and inter-ethnic harmony and tolerance.
As Azerbaijan looks ahead to achieving the objectives set forth in its strategic development paper ‘Vision 2020,’ many challenges lie ahead, the most intractable being Armenia’s continued occupation of Azerbaijani territories. The ongoing results of military aggression by Armenian armed forces coupled with the failure of international diplomatic efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict is a source of frustration for Azerbaijani society; in particular hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees. The flare-up in early April saw the biggest military engagement since the fragile ceasefire of 1994, and was a reminder that solving rather than ‘managing’ the conflict should be priority for international peace efforts. The intensified peace talks that aim to boost diplomatic efforts have yet to make any substantial progress. Only extensive diplomatic pressure on the aggressor would help increase hopes for a peaceful solution, which in turn can potentially turn the South Caucasus into a region of peace, prosperity and intensified regional cooperation, and consequently increase its attractiveness to the international community.