Azerbaijan-two decades of Independence: Challenges and Opportunities

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Today, TAA hosted Ambassador Elin Suleymanov of the Republic of Azerbaijan at its headquarters. His Excellency Elin Suleymanov spoke on a topic entitled “Azerbaijan-two decades of Independence: Challenges and Opportunities” to the audience that most of them are interested in Azerbaijan. There were attendees from the US Congress, Embassies, media and various agencies which are working on Azerbaijan as well as government officials. Delicious Turkish cuisine was served to the guests.

TAA President Dr. Faruk Taban warmly welcomed H.E. Elin Suleymanov and guests. And he thanked to Ambassador Suleymanov for his coming and speaking on Azerbaijan as a Distinguished Speaker of ongoing TAA Ambassadors Talk Series. Dr. Taban introduced H.E. Suleymanov to guests and then invited him to the podium with applauds of guests.

Ambassador Elin Suleymanov:

Good Afternoon! Thank you Mr. Taban, and thank you to the Turkic American Alliance for inviting me. That is an honor to be here. Thank you very much. I know many of you actually truly interested in Azerbaijan. Even if in this weather you are sitting inside, that is a great achievement. Thank you for being here.

I will keep my talk as possible as brief, and then there will be opportunity for questions and answers.

The topic of today is 20 years of Azerbaijan’s independence, and diplomatic relations with the United States, and how it works. Azerbaijan became independent formally on October 18th 1991. So it is around 20 years and couple months earlier. What has been done in this passing 20 years?

There are really visible achievements: now Azerbaijan is member of the United Nations’ Security Council, Azerbaijan is the major regional player and it has participated into the number of initiatives. For instance, Azerbaijan today plays very significant role in providing security to Afghanistan and also in terms of working with American coalition in Iraq previously and Kosovo as well. We have been major provider of energy to Europe for European energy security. So you could say that Azerbaijan has graduated -let’s say- at least its early years of independence.

However, what matter more is what forms Azerbaijani position; what is Azerbaijan itself? That is important to understand -because by understanding what Azerbaijan stands for then it is easier to understand what the region stands for, and each neighboring country stands for. Let me go little bit into philosophy that is important. Azerbaijan has achieved what it has achieved not because we have oil, not because where we located where we are. We have achieved what we have achieved because from the very beginning the fundamental understanding of Azerbaijani policy was based on certain principles to which we stick. And that is the important part of it. Let me give a couple of examples.

In 1994, what was signed in Azerbaijan – it was signed on September 20th 1994- was called as “the Deal of Century”. There was a contract of the century that was the largest single investment uniform in the former Soviet Union, 8 billion dollars, investment in offshore fields of Azeri, Chirag and Gunesli oil fields. 8 billion dollars of 1994 is maybe equivalent of about 60 or 64 billion dollars of today. So, why would international oil companies come to Azerbaijan?

Azerbaijan just signed cease-fire agreement in May of 1994 a couple of months before the agreement. Territory was still occupied, and refugees all over the place. There was a threat of civil war. And most importantly if you look at the Caspian countries Russia already has more oil, Kazakhstan has more oil, Iran has obviously more oil. Turkmenistan at least they say have more gas – they might we don’t know- perhaps. So, why do you come to Azerbaijan? Basically, among the countries of the Caspian it was probably the second smallest producer of the oil after Turkmenistan. So why do they do that?

It is simple, because Azerbaijan has looked at the long term benefits of the region and we looked and said look if we don’t bring this contract in today, if we don’t open up the region, this will ever change. We will always be backyard of someone. So, what did we do?

Under the leadership of our President Heydar Aliyev the decision was made to pioneerly practice which is still not replicated anywhere in the region that every agreement signed with the international oil companies PSA (production sharing agreement) has become the law of the land. It goes to the diversification of the power. Why did we have? Because Westerners came to the region of the former Soviet Union they looked at the region how can sign an agreement if there is no notion of scientistic content. How can we – these countries exist two and half years – so how can we sign an agreement for 30 years?

We have done everything possible to issue to our agreement was scientistic. To do that what we have done is we made legislative first place. That is the interesting thing, because basically that PSA has to be enforced by the law. Initially, Western partners were happy because mentally it was very difficult for us to have that integrated agreement. Now they are less happy because it is more difficult for them to have integrated agreement. But it goes in both way and that is the important part.

Now look what happened in 1994 Azerbaijan signed 30 years agreement to develop Azeri, Chirag and Gunesli. If you sign an agreement today – and we have certain number of agreements, significant number of agreements, I don’t think anybody has so many PSA in the region as venue-if you sign an agreement today 5 years ago, 10 years ago it would be absolutely different from the one signed in 1994. Nobody today would sign that agreement even though situation has changed, present world has changed, Azerbaijan is stronger, oil companies are weaker and many factors.

Yet, for 18 years accounting out of 30 Azerbaijan has not changed its agreement. We have not backed. It will benefit financially if we do it. We would gain more money if we do it but that is not Azerbaijan focused. Becoming an independent nation, as sovereign nation takes certain responsibility and that’s what Azerbaijan does. I think that is important thing to understand.

There is one word that when my President says something, when Azerbaijan makes statement I urgently listen to them. Because, we do stick our laws. We don’t just say things we actually act on it. That is one important thing in the case of agreement that is of course PSAs.

From that PSA has come something which is very interesting outcome. It is Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. As you know this is the pipeline which begins in Baku, transports our oil by Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan and open to the Mediterranean Sea. Nothing in this value has happened before; think about that an open Mediterranean port in the NATO Ally nation of Turkey with the entire infrastructure available for the international energy pass. What better can happen? And even, about our 30% of oil supplies going to Israel is actually coming from Ceyhan. Think about this the major issue. So, how did this happen?

One very important thing is that BTC is not just a pipeline. It is a backbone of energy cooperation in the region. Go for say so what? It is just oil right? Well, European Union how to begin, it was coal –by the way coal is much more than oil-it began with a coal union, and then it became a political union. And then became something that if basically said expanded into integration.

Today, Azerbaijan’s State Oil Company (SOCAR) is the largest taxpayer in the neighboring country Georgia. Can you imagine? Azerbaijan is not richest country in the world. It is not the richest country in the region too. But we are the largest taxpayer in Georgia. We are contributing to the wellbeing and welfare of our neighbors, not only to our own, but to our neighbors. Azerbaijan is on the way to become the largest single investor in Turkey. It is easier to become largest taxpayer in Georgia than to be largest investor in Turkey. Turkey is not an easy market in terms of investors. This country is booming economy. People are earning in Turkey. So, Azerbaijan shall become the single largest investor in Turkey. How does it happen in 20 years?

If you look at back to the US foreign policy in the region, if you ask the US a couple of years ago what is the main success of the US foreign policy in the region, 5 years ago people would say color revolution in one country or another maybe something else, disarmament. Does anybody mention those things today? No, there is only one actual success on the ground and that success is BTC pipeline. That is the single, largest and the most effective success of the Western foreign policy in the region the whole. How does it happen?

It happened because Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia worked together very successfully. The leadership of the three countries have come together and worked voluntarily – not forced by anybody else-voluntarily, because they had a vision for the future of their nation and people. That’s how it happened.

Which meanings to another point, our region is very much interlinked to each other. Azerbaijan is – people ask are you Western or Eastern; are you European or Asian – Southeast and it is also could be considered as Western frontier of Asia. We are people of Caucasus which basically means that we have everything you need. That is a very open place. If those influences affect how we worked and how we lived, and also how we developed I know that I have been following the debate in Turkey for a long time where is the success of Turkish policy?

I remember it was 1996 and 1998 there was a very deep depression in Turkish foreign policy circles. Where do we succeed? European direction doesn’t work very well; Middle Easters are not well too. What happened? There is one thing that makes me happy is I kept in my mind that Turkish brothers said look you actually succeed in Caucasus so gracious. Do not dismiss your own success.

Turkey and the United States are working together and have produced more successful projects in two decades in Former Soviet republics in Caucasus and in Central Asia. If there is any model of working together Caucasus stands positive not only in Azerbaijan what Turks have done together with America in Georgia is they opened up an Airport. I mean if you go to anywhere in Georgia it is all Turkish built with Americans working together. That’s how it should be. Actually, very often it is underestimated over the look as part of success which is maybe good – there is a good saying- none use good things.

But there is another element toward Azerbaijani identity stands for; in 20 years we have developed and built something which has not been build before. In 1923, the Turkish Republic was established and was considered to be the most successful example of the democratic secular state in the Muslim world. I don’t like the notion of Muslim world I would say the state with a predominantly Muslim population. Turks succeeded much more than anybody else.

However, I would insist the first Republic in the Muslim world appeared in Azerbaijan in 1918 and that was the many of same people who were establishing the Azerbaijan Republic move to Turkey. People of Baku actually became part of the establishment of the Turkish democratic republic. But the seed which was planted in the Republic of Azerbaijan in 1918 became something that helped to establish the Republic in 1991, same flag, same anthem and same emblem and of course same spirit.

In 1919 Azerbaijan granted everybody equal rights to vote regardless of the religion, ethnicity, race and gender that are ahead of the United States of America which is very interesting. Many people don’t forget that. When the Republic of Azerbaijan emerged as an independent state it started to apply those principles. This an important photo, actually it was so stable that most state border is with Iran and Turkey kind of between Iran and Turkey which is strange because do you think about nations in the region nexus of instability and order. That is actually very stable root.

Find enough the photo of two Turks one was Shah Ismail Safavi and another one was Yavuz Sultan Selim. Both were Turks but apparently their personal ambitions were more important as accommodation of views. Azerbaijan also wrote the photo of Sunni and Shia views, Asia and Europe, Central Asia and West and Turan and Iran all the same. So, that in the middle of the oldest, if you establish your state in the city of Baghdad it has to have several elements to that.

One, you have to be designed by definition and I would insist by conviction in tolerant and inclusive society. There is no other way. I mean, how do we survive otherwise? You have 25 years old Jewish community and you have Christian community. Those are important factors. We have neighbors we have people of different religions and faith. That’s not in a way of tolerant that doesn’t work here because it is a certain issue of tolerating someone. That is who we are.

The Republic of Azerbaijan is in the way similar to notion of the United States and Turkey. The idea there is not you are Anglo Saxon, African or Mexican you say I am an American, right? You could be Turkic or American. In the Republic of Azerbaijan, it does not matter what is your ethnicity or religion what matters is you are the citizen of Azerbaijan. We are very proud of that and that is very invaluable thing. In 20 years old country that is very impressive…

 

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