Last week’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels facilitated constructive talks between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, marking a milestone for lasting peace in the South Caucasus region, writes Dr. Ceyhun Osmanlı, co-founder of the Azerbaijan Green Movement, former MP and analyst on international relations and political economy.
European Council President Charles Michel’s peace initiative was seen as a significant contribution towards the normalization of relations between the two neighbours, which may lead to a comprehensive peace agreement, the delimitation and demarcation of their borders (which the EU will support through an EU expert mission and technical assistance), strengthened confidence-building measures, establishment of people-to-people contacts and the construction of crucial transport infrastructure, especially the railway connection from Azerbaijan through Armenia to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic also known as the Zangazur Corridor.
Michel commended steps taken by both leaders to ensure the de-escalation of tensions following recent armed clashes along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In particular, the successful establishment of a direct communication link between the Ministers of Defence of both countries, facilitated by President Michel, was acknowledged while the recent release of ten Armenian detainees by Azerbaijan and the handover of all remaining mine-maps by Armenia were welcomed.
Following the 44-day war, which ended the-30-year-long Armenian occupation of the internationally recognised Azerbaijani region Karabakh, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia had signed a tripartite agreement on 10 November 2020 but sporadic skirmishes have been reported until recently at the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and unresolved issues have continued to constitute a threat to regional stability. The normalisation of relations was also supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), where President Aliyev met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as well as the North Atlantic Council with all 30 Allies this month. Underlining the “importance of dialogue and understanding in NATO’s partnership with Azerbaijan”, Stoltenberg stated that “Azerbaijan made important contributions to our former mission in Afghanistan. And Azeri forces played an important role providing security at Kabul Airport during this summer’s evacuation”.
These recent positive developments in Brussels as well as a redefined OSCE Minsk Group in accordance with the new geopolitical reality to support the resumption of direct dialogue between the two countries could help creating a peaceful atmosphere in the South Caucasus in the near future. This is good news for the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, whose popularity reached its peak during the war. By de-occupying the ancestral lands of Azerbaijan, he restored historical justice – not only for 1 million Azerbaijani IDPs and refugees, who were displaced during the prolonged conflict, but for the entire nation, which had been decrying the Armenian violation of international law despite several resolutions by the United Nations (UN), the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) calling for the immediate withdrawal of the Armenian army from Nagorno-Karabakh and its 7 surrounding regions. Now, he is about to become a symbol of peace, stability and security in the region.
Guided by its national interests, including the principles of good neighbourliness, peaceful coexistence and equal cooperation, Azerbaijan has been implementing a multi-vector foreign policy since its independence from the Soviet Union. The Republic of Azerbaijan is a full-fledged member of all leading international intergovernmental organisations, such as the UN, the OSCE and the Commonwealth of the Independent States (CIS). While being anchored to Europe through its membership of the Council of Europe and other cooperation mechanisms, Azerbaijan is also a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which unites the countries of the Islamic world. The wisdom and pragmatism of this policy is reflected in the fact that Azerbaijan is not represented in military alliances, preferring multilateral cooperation rather than bloc confrontation, as evidenced by Azerbaijan’s membership in the Non-Aligned Movement. Azerbaijan is also host to numerous cultural, sports and social initiatives, including the first European Games “Baku-2015” and the Islamic Games in 2017, as well as forums on multiculturalism, interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.
President Aliyev, who will turn 60 on 24 December, took over as President from his father Heydar Aliyev (also known as the founding father of the nation) in 2003. Since the early 2000s, Azerbaijan has seen a major transformation. It has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty and increasing shared prosperity. High economic growth rates, rising employment and high real wage increases all contributed to this decline in poverty and to the expansion of the middle class. According to the World Bank “Following a period of economic volatility in 2015 after a dramatic fall in oil prices, Azerbaijan embarked on an ambitious programme of economic diversification and has subsequently reported continued economic growth”, including an increase in gross domestic product (GDP) from $5.3 billion in 2000 to $42.6 billion in 2021.
The international rating agency Moody’s has affirmed Azerbaijan’s credit rating at Ba2, predicting that the situation has changed from “stable” to “positive”. This reflects the ability of the Azerbaijani leadership to increase the stability of the country’s credit profile. In addition, according to the Economic Freedom Index 2021 compiled by the Heritage Foundation, Azerbaijan rose by 6 places, ranking the 38th just below Belgium and Spain. Azerbaijan’s position in the World Bank’s Doing Business report has been also improving year by year. Whereas the country occupied the 71th place in the World Bank Doing Business ratings in 2012, then it ranked 34 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business in 2021.
In addition, Azerbaijan implements a state programme on education of Azerbaijani youth abroad, which is partly financed by the State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The country has also made significant progress in implementing gender policy and protecting the rights and legitimate interests of women while embarking on important environmental initiatives implemented by the International Dialogue for Environmental Action (IDEA). The normalisation of Azerbaijan-Armenia relations is expected to improve Azerbaijan’s record further in the area of foreign policy as well as in economic, social and environmental spheres.