Probably Julius Caesar’s soul will not be bothered as I adapt “Veni, vidi, vici” to the context of my article given that this expression belongs to him according to historical sources. Caesar’s triumphal expression has fit perfectly to share my impressions and discoveries about the “Land of Fire”, namely Azerbaijan.
I happened to be in Azerbaijan in the fall of 2012 as a tourist. While we were watching the 35 thousand year old rock carvings depicting the ancient civilizations in Gobustan, I witnessed a group of children coming up to us and whispering something to each other. They approached the guide and apparently asked for my origin. Having known that I was from Romania they made some courage and came up to me. With the help of my guide, they apparently named all the countries neighboring Romania. I couldn’t conceal my astonishment, for as far as I knew, geography classes in most European schools did not put emphasis on the countries such as Azerbaijan, when concerning the political map of the world.
By the way, Azerbaijan’s political map is just as interesting as Europe’s. The piece of land called Nakhchivan is separated from the main land which reminds an eagle from its appearance. Armenia is located between the Nakhchivan enclave and main land of Azerbaijan. So interesting, what was the necessity to draw and arrange borders of South Caucasian countries in a way they exist currently? Why should the country refuse from part of its land and cut its borders?
Later on, I got to know that under the support and aegis of Tsarist Russia Armenian Republic which had not had any sort of state formation until then was established in the territories that separated main land of Azerbaijan from Nakhchivan. Thanks to its successful attempts Tsarist Russia conquered the hearts of Armenians whilst leading Azerbaijan to unrecoverable pain of territorial aggression. Unfortunately, the aspirations of “incomers” as locals say didn’t cease and as a result of undeclared war in 1991 Armenia occupied almost 20% of Azerbaijani land including Nagorno-Karabakh and expelled 1 million of Azerbaijanis. The unfulfillment of UN Security Council resolutions, as well as, decisions of other international organizations demanding the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from occupied territories and the return of internally displaced persons to their homeland remains a serious concern of Azerbaijan. The international community, especially Europe should not turn blind eye to the grave situation that Azerbaijan faces today.
I am not interested in dipping into details of the problem in order to propagate the position of any conflicting states. I simply wonder why the leaders of OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries defer the requirements of 4 UN Security Council resolutions regarding Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict settlement which are universally accepted key legally binding documents to long-lasting peace. Meanwhile, I cannot help remembering how George Bush once upon a time alarmingly convened the extraordinary session of UN Security Council alleging that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, therefore Security Council would issue a rushy resolution so that US would act immediately next day to prevent rising threat. The implementation of resolution mandating international intervention to Iraq did not wait long. Indeed, G.Bush army flooded into the Iraqi lands and like Caesar he “came and conquered” but didn’t “see” any proof of nuclear weapon.
If insolence to international law has become so ordinary, or in other words, if international law exists to distinctly legalize the crimes of superpowers, then this tendency may lead to the rise of other conflicts and threats like a dynamite. In other words, it may accompany with imminent threats to international security and peace like a chain reaction. The protraction of settlement of Armenian – Azerbaijan, Nagorno – Karabakh conflict in compliance with international law should not solely trouble Azerbaijan, but should also tease the brains of global actors, such as France, Russia and US. In the meantime, the explicit position of the Azerbaijani leadership cannot be discounted. Azerbaijan will never allow the establishment of second Armenian state in its territories. Is there indeed a need for that? Countries committing bloodsheds, lynching innocent civilians during World Wars has been initiators and authors of European Union, a powerful political block in the modern world. Burying all radical, racial ideologies and suppressing the territorial claims against each other, these countries have become amiable neighbours. Today if a German citizen can travel to France freely without any border-check and can build his carrier and private life there, then he owes these advantages to his farsighted leaders who had engaged in peaceful and constructive dialogue with his neighbours in order to save their nations from bloody wars. This model is not difficult to be applied in resolving Armenian – Azerbaijan conflict. And there is no reason to redefine the internationally recognized borders of countries through use of force. International community, mere people, advanced states, international organizations should reject ongoing injustice.
Today Azerbaijan is oil and gas rich country. Even during the World War II Azerbaijan supplied 70% oil demand of USSR. Hitler in his Caucasus assault plan was obsessed with taking over the Azerbaijani oil in order to ensure that it was at his army’s disposal. Gaining its independence after the collapse of USSR Azerbaijan elaborated its energy strategy and set up the grounds of independent foreign policy through realization of Baku-Tbilisi-Jeyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum regional oil-gas projects. Today Azerbaijan makes giant leaps, such as TANAP project in order to deliver its natural gas to Europe starting from 2017. Azerbaijan builds huge refinery worth 5 billion USD in Izmir, Turkey. I wonder whether Azerbaijan is only chasing billions from energy supply. Couldn’t Kazakhstan’s and Turkmenistan’s Russian sympathy in terms of long-term energy cooperation remain a guarantor of those billions?
Europe should imagine the scale of pressure constantly exerted on Azerbaijan by its northern neighbour aimed at discouraging any energy cooperation bypassing Russia. Therefore Europe should rightly acknowledge and value Azerbaijan’s independent energy policy which serves the interests of European partners. Azerbaijan’s unceasing efforts in absorbing secular and European values, progress achieved in democratic-juridical state building, promotion of civil society is equally important as billions generated from oil and gas export. One should note that, democracy is not a new notion for Azerbaijan. Established in 1918 and having survived for almost 2 years Azerbaijan Democratic State has entered into the history as a first democratic state in the Muslim east. If we consider that the right to vote and to be elected in US were granted to women in 1920, consequently, 1945 in Italy and France, the cradle of culture of Europe, 1971 in Switzerland, one of the most civilized countries in the world, then one should find out that the women in Azerbaijan already enjoyed these rights in 1918. Existing circumstances and perspectives in this domain must push Europe and US to engage in true, honest and loyal partnership with Azerbaijan.
I participated at the international conferences devoted to intercultural dialogue and humanitarian issues hosted by Azerbaijan recently. Probably, due to the ongoing acute pains of Nagorno Karabakh conflict on its people, Azerbaijan demonstrates solemn intention in addressing global humanitarian challenges. Today human factor plays a central role in rasing decent generation bound to secular values and able to address the fate of nations. The leadership of Azerbaijan acknowledges it very well and enjoys international cooperation in encouraging ethnic and religious tolerance in the country. By the way, I got to know later on that 35 thousand Armenians were still living in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, I was so curious to know how many Azerbaijanis remained in Armenia. At least, similar figures from both countries could be used as a common denominator capable to contribute to the humanitarian dialogue in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement.
The peculiarity of Azerbaijan stems from its uniqueness due to the tolerance, dialogue and religious faith. Especially tolerance could be a good example not only for oriental countries which suffer from religious and ethnic prejudice but also for Europe itself. All national minorities and religious sects coexist in peace. Racism, xenophobia, religious extremism are uncommon elements in Azerbaijan. Tolerance in Azerbaijan which has prevailed throughout the long history has become a peculiar tradition of Azerbaijan. As far as I am concerned, the experience of Azerbaijan in promoting tolerance, intercultural and religious dialogue possesses paramount value in lifting misunderstandings.
I cannot miss very important fact that makes up my conclusion. All the mosques in Armenia itself where Azerbaijanis were expelled before the eruption of armed conflict, as well as, in occupied territories are totally demolished, whereas Armenian apostolic church (Armenian Gregorian church) in the downtown of Baku is restored and now Saint Gregory the Illuminator’s Church is preserved as an architectural monument. I had the chance to compare the satellite images of occupied lands through which I could witness the destroyed buildings and cemeteries after the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
During my visit in Baku I attended the World Intercultural Dialogue Forum. Perhaps one of the advantages of international events organized under the host government support is that the invited guests are subject to protocol rules and they enjoy special attention. Frankly, I am fatigue of similar attitude and rules imposed during international events. Recently, I learned to refuse from standard attitude in order to feel myself at home, therefore, I am fancier now walking out the hotel, observe the lifestyle and discover the way of thinking of local inhabitants. Although 2-3 days may not suffice for that, sometimes I manage to take any opportunity to study public opinion through instant communication with people and some random episodes that I come across. At that time I called a taxi from the hotel I stayed. A couple of minutes later I saw a London cab approaching the hotel entrance. The driver gently opened the door as soon as he saw me coming. We were heading to Seaside Boulevard to listen beating Caspian ripples. On my way, I had the chance to engage in a long conversation with a taxi driver called Kamil. Kamil proudly told his story how he succeeded multiple tests, including English language exam to be hired by the current company and boasted with his professionalism. At times, he switched to Russian to be clear when he couldn’t manage in English. Probably he was doing it intentionally to test me. However, my puzzled mimics convinced him that I knew nothing except “tovarish” (comrade) “privet” (hello) and “na zdarovye” (cheers).
Meanwhile, I asked Kamil how he projected the destiny of Nagorno-Karabakh as a simple Azerbaijani citizen. We both burst out into laughter when he jokingly said that he was half Azerbaijani, given that his mother was Russian and his father was Azerbaijani. But immediately his face turned solid and he sighed deeply. He claimed that he seriously followed the news about conflict settlement which was aired every hour in radio though he hated the politics, also adding that he yearned for the return of Nagorno-Karabakh, the bleeding wound of his nation. I posed my next question immediately as I felt that our conversation was just warming up. “Will you be able to coexist together with Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh?” Kamil furrowed his brows and raised his voice “We, Azerbaijanis are not barbarians. It was my innocent people which was massacred, insulted and abandoned with its troubles for years. Though my people is racked by severe pains, believe me, we will forget and cross out everything occurred in the past at instance, thus new life, welfare will start with Armenians as if nothing has happened before. And I will go to drive my London taxi in Shusha where I will lure in well-heeled Armenian clients. Is this a utopia indeed?”
Instantly, I recalled the dialogue of an Armenian intellectual with Scott Taylor a Canadian war correspondent, editor-in-chief of “Esprit de Corps” magazine who had reported from global war spots such as Sahara, Balkans and Afghanistan which he described in his book “Unreconciled differences: Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan” published in 2010. While responding the similar question posed by S.Taylor the curator of Khankendi (Armenians renamed it with Stepanakert) museum Galya Arstamian sharply reacts that “We cannot live with Turks ever again. No land bought with the blood of our Armenian soldiers – the blood of my son, shall ever be given back to the Azeris.”
In order to avoid polemics and clashing opinions of an intellectual and a mere citizen from different countries, I revisited the issue from larger angle. I am sure that there are quite a lot of intellectuals and mere citizens like Kamil in Armenia who are extremely exhausted of years of conflict, longing for and believing in the possibility of the peaceful coexistence of both communities in Nagorno-Karabakh. If the state policy in Armenia is built on the will of people, then it is high time to reconcile people like Galya Arstamian and Kamil.
I pondered for a while how to get his insights about the worst case scenario I could figure in my mind. I built up my courage and asked him “What will happen if Nagorno-Karabakh will not be returned?”. Kamil’s sarcastic answer surprised me: “Karabakh was not lent to remain in a borrower for an unpredicted time. The one not coming to heel with censure deserves drub. Azerbaijan is ready to sacrifice as many martyrs in order to repossess its lands. In case you have some free time I will take you to the martyrs’ alley where Azerbaijani soldiers were buried” I simply thanked him for his generous offer even though he promised me to take there for free.
Although I am far from making judgments on figures, my curiosity to study the major macroeconomic indicators of some countries has significantly increased recently. Austerity measures accompanied with shrinking expenses of budget institutions does not herald any gleam of hope for the welfare of the people, at least in the next two years. I frequently come across such news in mass-media and I cannot but deplore the situation that global economy faces today. It is noteworthy that the global economic decline, which has manifested itself in Europe with negative tendencies, did not hinder the annual growth and FDI flow in Azerbaijan. I suppose, 2,2% growth and 9 billion FDI in 2012 should be crucial indicators demonstrating the sustainability of economy from analytical perspective. Moreover the outflow of Azerbaijani investments, especially a steady shift from traditional CIS markets to European space should not be underestimated by Europe itself.
One should note the immense role of years of rigid political stability in the core of these achievements alongside favorable economic environment in Azerbaijan. Yet, no one should disregard the critical geostrategic location of Azerbaijan. The pressure exerted by imperialistic policy from the north, ongoing conflict with western neighbor, growing risks posed by imminent radical move from southern country which is overheated by western sanctions, disputed issue in Caspian Sea continuously squeezes Azerbaijan like a clamp. A rigid political will and determination is a vital precondition to conduct an independent policy, embrace of the European values and retain its reliable partnership status in bridging east and west in such a complicated situation through wisely escaping from any external orders that may cause critical situation resulting from the clash of interests of superpowers and neighboring countries in the region.
The solution of persisting problems in South Caucasus is of paramount importance for Europe. First and foremost all protracted conflicts should be handled by Europe equally in order to guarantee a complete secure, risk-free neighborhood. Bearing in mind the unwavering commitment of Azerbaijan to the European energy security, the latter must aid the country to progress in democratic reforms through its demonstration of genuine spirit of collaboration and practical measures. However discrediting Azerbaijan through hurriedly cultivated prejudgments may cause the rupture of bonds of the whole region from Europe which the country belongs to. It may also burn the bridges for dialogue with Central Asia.
One of my discoveries about “Land of Fire” is a defiance of Azerbaijani nation against slavery. In 1990 while smashing human shields, the Soviet tanks could not suffocate the raging call of independence of Azerbaijani nation who refused to bow to injustice and imperialistic oppression. Thus, the only way to inspire the Azerbaijani nation goes through the enhanced dialogue and truly engaged cooperation. Otherwise, these people are vigilant and conscious enough to chop the hands stretched to tear off the ties between state and nation for its evil purposes. It was really impressive for me to see how even though for Azerbaijanis, memories are “freshly opened wounds”, forgiveness is the most natural of human emotions.