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The Baku Process: An Effective Cultural Diplomacy Momentum of Azerbaijan

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The Republic of Azerbaijan is home of one of the earliest Christian communities in the world, the Caucasian Albanian-Apostolic Church in the village of Nic, the ancient temple of Caucasian Albania in the village of Kish, the round temple of Caucasian Albania, Khudavend Monastery Complex, the Momuna Khatun Monument, all of these unique religious and cultural monuments have deeply encouraged the Azerbaijani society and lifestyle to embrace a harmonious dialogue and preserve a combination of traditions and ceremonies of different cultures, ethnicities, civilizations and faiths.

The peculiar treasures, ancient historical sites, geographical position and the ethnic – national composition, make the Republic of Azerbaijan a special place where different cultures and religions can converge, harness an open dialogue and live in harmony.  Azerbaijan, the Land of Fire, has built an environment of tolerance, trust and confidence among the principal religious convictions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Catholicism; all of these elements of Azerbaijani society are shared throughout the world and the Baku Process plays an indispensable role towards harnessing intercultural dialogue, multiculturalism, spreading peaceful coexistence and prosperity across countries and regions.

On December 2-3, 2008, the President of Azerbaijan, H. E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, initiated the “Baku Process,” as an interactive international platform that encourages: a dialogue among different cultures and civilizations; promotes Azerbaijan’s Cultural Diplomacy and harnesses multiculturalism policies that ensure a healthy cultural pluralism.

Intercultural Dialogue: a pillar of Azerbaijan’s Cultural Diplomacy

The Republic of Azerbaijan, under the vision and guidance of national leader Heydar Aliyev, has established a solid national economy, strengthened its infrastructure and shaped an effective foreign policy during the first decade of its independence (1993 – 2003).  Founded on the solid statecraft institutions and foreign policy of Azerbaijan, on December 2nd-3rd, 2008, the current president of Azerbaijan H. E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev established the “Baku Process” under the framework of an International Conference dedicated to: “Intercultural dialogue as a basis for peace and sustainable development in Europe and its neighboring regions”, with the participation of official representatives and Ministers of Culture from over eighty different countries.

The “Baku Process” aspires to promote intercultural, inter-racial and inter-religious dialogue among individuals, international experts, journalists and government leaders, while respecting the diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds encountered throughout the five continents.

The First Baku Process Ministerial Conference was entitled: ‘“Baku Process” for the promotion of intercultural dialogue (2008)’; it was organized in cooperation with the Council of Europe.  On this occasion the Ministers of Culture, from Europe, Asia and Western Hemisphere, discussed viable effective methods that could promote and strengthen the cultural dialogue and preserve multiculturalism policies in many regions and countries.  This conference happened to be one of very few venues where European Ministers of Culture exchanged thoughts and views on multiculturalism, cultural diplomacy and public diplomacy with their counterparts from the Muslim Countries in Northern Africa, Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The Ministerial Conference of 2008 emphasized the vital role of effective dialogue, cultural policies, preservation of cultural monuments, and promotion of inter-religious tolerance and shared the values of Azerbaijani Multiculturalism Policy. The foreign dignitaries were introduced to a deeply rooted religious tolerance and cultural diversity that is presently flourishing among Azerbaijani people from Nakhchivan to Baku, from Shaki to Lankaran and from Quba to Tartar Region of Dağlıq Qarabağ (Upper Karabakh Region).  This conference was attended by representatives of the European Cultural Convention, Council of Europe, UNESCO, the International Organization of Turkic Culture TURKSOY; representatives of the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development shared their views on how to further strengthen cultural diplomacy projects in South – East Europe and in other regions of Europe, Africa and the Americas.  Under the framework of this event, the Ministers of Culture, adopted the ‘Baku Declaration for the Promotion of Intercultural Dialogue’ and established an interactive project entitled: “Artists for Dialogue.”  Through the platform of Baku Process, the cultural diplomacy of Azerbaijan has bolstered its presence in the world, promoted mutual understanding among different cultures and diminished the transnational perils and threats that come from extremism, intolerance, xenophobia and racism.  According to Dr. Rashad Ilyasov; “the ‘Baku Process’ has tremendously strengthened Azerbaijan’s geopolitical role in the global arena; modern Azerbaijan is actively contributing to the mutual development of cultures.”

On his meeting with Mr. Jan Dziedziczak, held on August 17th, 2017, Academician Kamal Abdulla emphasized the importance of intercultural dialogue and noted that: “in all international events, Poland has defended Azerbaijan’s just and right position and representatives of Poland have actively participated at international events.” The advanced cultural partnership between Azerbaijan and Poland is one of many concrete initiatives that have swiftly developed under the framework of the “Baku Process”.

Under the guidance of President Ilham Aliyev, the Government of Azerbaijan has established the Baku Process as an effective mechanism that fosters intercultural dialogue, shapes bridges of communication and confidence among nations and cultures.

In this context an important role has been played by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, a non-for-profit institution under the leadership of Dr. Mehriban Aliyeva, First Vice President of Azerbaijan that is focused on developing projects in the areas of preservation of cultural sites, intercultural dialogue, education, youth and sports.  The priorities and strategic mission of Heydar Aliyev Foundation are to promote the cultural policy of Azerbaijan, foster international cultural research and promote cultural events in art galleries and concert halls.  In 2014, the Arts Council of Azerbaijan worked together with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation on implementing a waste recycling project together with German and Romanian art professionals and environmentalists. Such a prestigious project propelled by Azerbaijan’s cultural diplomacy architects, unveils Azerbaijan as a country that is committed to promote intercultural dialogue both at home and abroad; the leaders of Baku, Nakhchivan and other cities of Azerbaijan, have a track record of concrete actions that support their genuine aspiration to build bridges of dialogue and trust among civilizations and cultures using Azerbaijan’s multicultural experience, interethnic dialogue, linguistic diversity, religious tolerance and historical heritage.  Furthermore, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Policy is focused to establish an International political community that Rousseau had envisaged, as a tool to man’s liberation from the tyrannies, ongoing deprivations; a community that serves as a staunch advocate of human rights, equalities, defense of liberties that have attained a great magnitude and thrust on many international conferences organized by the Government of Azerbaijan, under the framework of “Baku Process”.  Over the last decade Baku has served as a seedbed of pluralist dialogue, intercultural communication and incessantly serves as a platform where the consequences of constant xenophobia and regional war are diminished and in Rousseau’s words: the only way of combating this war is to find a form of government that will set the law above them all.”  Policies implemented by the Government of Azerbaijan are a genuine example of peaceful religious coexistence, were freedom and constitutional rights dominate the functioning structure of the state and its independent institutions.

Baku: a Center of European Cultural Policy

On October 13-15, 2009, the “Baku Process” invited more than ten European Ministers of Culture to participate in the first session of the Sixth Conference of Ministers of Culture of Islamic countries.  The member states of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) organized the Ministerial Roundtable on “Fostering Dialogue and Cultural Diversity – Baku Process: New Challenge for Dialogue between Civilizations,” on this venue European ministers discussed the pressing cultural issues between the Islamic and European communities.  Furthermore, a special emphasis was placed to the involvement of governments, local communities and to the promotion of multiculturalism policies throughout Europe and the Middle East; as well as active engagement of youth, elected officials and teenagers.

On April 7-9, 2011, under the patronage of H. E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, the Republic of Azerbaijan decided to host the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, supported by renowned international organizations such as UNESCO, UN Alliance of Civilizations, World Tourism Organization, Council of Europe, North-South Center of the Council of Europe and ISESCO.  The objective of the 1st “Baku Process” Forum was to advance cultural initiatives promoted by Azerbaijan in the sphere of cultural diplomacy, intercultural dialogue at the regional and global levels and to mark the beginning of a consolidated International Forum that tackles cultural issues and pressing international security matters that are affecting today’s world.

The “Baku Process” Forum (2011) examined the hurdles that prevent communities from engaging in an effective dialogue and tackled intercultural issues based on geographic and historical contexts. Its main theme was: “United Through Common Values, Enriched by Cultural Diversity,” additional plenary sessions and workshops addressed the example of cultural diversity in Azerbaijan as a positive role model to other regions and nations that aspire to preserve cultural diversity, democratic institutions, top notch education standards, faith and religious harmony as well as a propitious investigative journalism environment.

Geographically located at the heart of European and Asian civilizations, equipped with outstanding religious tolerance and admirable intercultural dialogue, the city of Baku hosted 500 participants from five continents and the representatives of 102 countries, including: public elected officials, heads of international organizations, religious leaders and heads of state. Moreover, the Intercultural Cooperation Platform was established; this venue attracted a wide array of participants and encouraged an extensive discussion on cultural issues and challenges, in this occasion the ‘5A’ platform was established.  The symbolic “5A” platform marked the inception of the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue that would be organized every two years, guided by a presidential decree signed in May (2011) by H. E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

On May 29th – June 1st, 2013, Baku hosted the 2nd World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue dedicated to generate a meaningful platform focused on cultural diversity, cultural diplomacy, intercultural cooperation, public diplomacy, regional security issues and religious affairs.  The “Baku Process” Forum has emerged as a reliable juncture that deals with ongoing challenges and opportunities that derive from multiculturalism and intercultural dialogue, the following topics were discussed at a greater length on many parallel sessions: “How to build the world’s future together”; “How to build a popular support for cultural diversity”; “The New Era of Globalization: Hybridity of Cultures in a Changing World”; “Supporting Intercultural Actions.”  Furthermore, under this framework, there were other conferences organized such as: “Global Intercultural Cities Learning Community”; a workshop on “Intercultural Dialogue through History Teaching: Best Practices and Challenges”; “Tourism as a key driver of Mutual Understanding and Tolerance among Cultures”; “Intercultural Dialogue through Faith and Science.” This Forum was supported by UNESCO, UN Alliance of Civilizations, UN World Tourism Organization and ISESCO; it brought together principal national and international leaders and decision makers.  The 2nd World Forum hosted for the first time a conference that brought together – in Baku – more than fifty Ministers of Culture and Tourism from Europe, Middle East, Latin America and South-East Asia.

On May 18th – 19th, 2015, under the patronage of Azerbaijan’s President H. E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, Baku hosted the 3rd World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue.  This major global event was supported by the UN Alliance of Civilizations, UNESCO, Council of Europe and ISESCO.  Under the main topic: “Sharing Culture for Shared Security,” the international participants discussed “culture and sustainable development in the post-2015 development agenda,” this was a perfect opportunity to celebrate the World Day of Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (May 21st).  In 2015, “Baku Process,” highlighted once again the role of cultural policies, historical heritage, religions, faiths, immigration crisis, sports diplomacy, tertiary education, visual arts, business, university social responsibility and other aspects that promote effective intercultural dialogue; in such a convenient time when the United Nations has proclaimed the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022).  A number of sessions were focused on: “Sharing Culture for a Shared Security: Cultural rights in the modern age”; “Countering Violent Extremism: the Role of Religious Leaders in Promoting Religious Pluralism and Advancing a Shared Well-being”; “Shaping a Common Global Agenda: the Role of International Organizations in Building Trust and Understanding Between Cultures.”

The 3rd Forum, paid attention to the current global security and the role of nations in addressing the needs of vulnerable people and immigrants at a time of significant geopolitical instability, regional turmoil and European Union’s large bureaucracy.  Under the framework of this forum was hosted: the second Ministerial Conference on “culture and sustainable development in the post-2015 development agenda”; the first meeting of the new Academic Forum of UNESCO Chairs on intercultural and interreligious dialogue and was launched a book by UNESCO-Tudor Rose publication entitled “Agree to Differ.”  According to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, H. E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev: “today, representatives of all religions, ethnic groups live in Azerbaijan and are contributing for its successful economic development; I think this is one of our biggest assets. And we are proud of that. Therefore we organize numerous international events to promote the values of multiculturalism, values of peaceful cooperation, mutual understanding. I think the world needs this kind of events, needs open discussions, exchange of views in order to strengthen the positive tendencies.”  The results of the Baku Forum will be included into the UNESCO publications focused on intercultural dialogue and support the development of future mission and strategic objectives, including the framework of the UN Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022).

The “Baku Process” is making a prominent contribution to solve contemporary challenges and promote an international environment where living together peacefully and intercultural dialogue acquire the necessary attention to become two major pillars that guide European Countries’ Cultural Dialogue and further strengthen the state of Azerbaijan’s Cultural Diplomacy in the world.  The “Baku Process” creates a rare opportunity for global conversations to take place between state and non-state actors; over the last ten years, it emphasized practical actions and pragmatic cultural collaborations.

One of many concrete examples of such a pragmatic cultural approach is the visit of Bulgarian Vice President, Mrs. Margarita Popova to Baku Slavic University (BSU).  On October 1st, 2016, the Vice President Margarita Popova held a meeting with the Chancellor of Baku Slavic University, Prof. Dr. Nurlana Aliyeva.  The Vice President of Bulgaria emphasized “the education and cultural cooperation between Baku Slavic University and other Bulgarian Public Universities.”  In the same vein, Chancellor Nurlana Aliyeva provided an overview of the Bulgarian Language and Culture Centre that is working at the Baku Slavic University.  In an interview for Azerbaijan State News Agency (AZERTAC), Chancellor Nurlana Aliyeva stated: “the Bulgarian Language and Culture Centre aims to develop cultural relations between the two countries.”

On October 19th, 2016, Baku Slavic University (BSU) Chancellor Nurlana Aliyeva hosted a meeting with Bulgaria’s renowned archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov, a Counselor in the Ministry of Culture, Government of Bulgaria.  During this meeting Chancellor Aliyeva discussed the prospects for cooperation between the higher education institutions of Azerbaijan and Bulgaria.  This meeting was attended also by Editor-in-Chief of Standart daily newspaper Slavka Buzukova and her deputy, Mrs. Ekaterina Nikolova.

Chancellor Nurlana Aliyeva stated for Azerbaijan State News Agency (AZERTAC) that: “the cultural and scientific cooperation between Azerbaijan and Bulgaria are at excellent levels and Azerbaijani students demonstrate a special interest in the history, ethnography, economic and cultural life of Bulgaria.”  Furthermore, Azerbaijan’s First Lady and president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Dr. Mehriban Aliyeva, has played a fundamental role in strengthening the cultural cooperation between Azerbaijan and Bulgaria.”

Later on Dr. Nikolay Ovcharov had a working meeting with State Adviser on Multinational, Multicultural and Religious Affairs, Academician Kamal Abdulla.  On this occasion Azerbaijani Academician Abdulla gave an overview of cultural events organized by the Baku International Multiculturalism Centre.  Dr. Ovcharov shared the interest and possibility to have courses of Azerbaijani Multiculturalism Model be taught at various European universities, to promote the religious tolerance of Azerbaijan throughout many countries of the world.

VII Global Forum of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC)

On April 25th-27th, 2016, the Government of Azerbaijan hosted the 7th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) under the main theme: “Living Together In Inclusive Societies, A Challenge and A Goal.”  At the official opening ceremony of this historic event, held at the heart of Baku, the President of Azerbaijan H. E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev stated: “It is not accidental that Baku hosts the 7th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.  Because as the land of tolerance and our commitment to multicultural values, independent Azerbaijan has an extensive experience for development of the dialogue of cultures, realization of important projects aimed at the preservation of cultural diversity and to regulate the mutual relations between civilizations and to host prestigious forums”.

According to Mr. Milikh Yevdayev: “The delegates flew to Azerbaijan from every corner of the world, to discuss the power of inclusiveness in a world that is overwhelmed by division and strife.  Security experts, political scientists, heads of state, diplomats, organizational leaders, activists, students, and brave heroes, those who spend every day risking their lives at the frontlines of change – all came together for a meeting of their hearts and minds. Throughout the two days of intense programs and panels, the forum leaders gave particular attention to the role of religious leaders, women, youth, culture and education in perpetuating the message of building peace by actively and cooperatively coming together against hate and extremism. I saw many new faces, and also the familiar representatives of Azerbaijan’s own diverse religious communities: Muslim, Christian and Jewish friends, and important leaders in this effort. …”

On his article: “Reflections on Global Peace and the 7th Forum of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations;” published at The Jewish Journal, Mr. Milikh Yevdayev, emphasized: “There was something very powerful about this forum and its theme, as it relates to Azerbaijan in particular. The forum’s theme ‘Living Together In Inclusive Societies: A Challenge and A Goal’ made me feel a sense of pride. There could be no better fit for such a program than Azerbaijan.  Positive inclusion is central to our national character, and also to our historical identity.  We are a nation defined by our success with inclusivity, multicultural and multi faith respect – now and in times when there is so much division and hatred in various parts of the world.”  In his analysis Mr. Milikh Yevdayev underscored: “the UNAOC program was nothing short of uplifting, after weeks of immense worry and stress especially, as our homeland Azerbaijan came under attack again.  Before this, I wondered how to face the Passover Holiday while so many of my fellow Azerbaijanis were mourning their loved ones lost to the renewed aggression by Armenia in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region.”

In her keynote speech, the First Lady of the Republic of Azerbaijan Dr. Mehriban Aliyeva stressed that tolerance and multiculturalism are a lifestyle in Azerbaijan.  She also informed the participants about the severe humanitarian and environmental consequences of Armenia’s aggression against Azerbaijan and gave detailed information about the projects implemented by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in the country and abroad on the basis of public-private and civil society partnerships.

The 7th Global Forum of the UNAOC was addressed by: the President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, and the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.

Furthermore this global event hosted a breakout session entitled: “Constructing Peace, Deconstructing Terror,” where a number of matters in the Middle East and other regions of the world were addressed. Similarly, Baku hosted other sessions; according to Dr. Rafig Novruzov the following topics were embarked upon: “a new global social contract for regions destroyed by internal and interstate conflicts and ways to reduce attraction towards extremist behavior; effective ways to restore a sense of dignity among people feeling disempowered; the changing narrative from religious and sectarian to political and strategic dimensions of violent extremism.”

In these unique panels, some of the keynote speakers were: Baron John Thomas Alderdice, Former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly (1998-2004); Mr. Novruz Mammadov, Mr. Egemen Bağış, Former Minister of European Union Affairs, Republic of Turkey; Mr. Samir Barhoum, Editor-in-chief of The Jordan Times.  In his remarks, Mr. Novruz Mammadov emphasized that 20 (twenty) percent of Azerbaijani lands are under the Armenian occupation. Mr. Mammadov stated: “United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from our territory, but these resolutions remain on paper. These resolutions demand immediate and unconditional withdrawal; in some cases, resolutions of the U. N. Security Council are being implemented within hours or days.  But in our case it is more than twenty years of no action. That shows that there is a lack of political will.”
In the framework of UN Alliance of Civilizations’ objectives focused on: the promotion of cultural and interreligious dialogue; respect and mutual understanding among civilizations; encourage solutions that bring societies together based on the UN fundamental principles of peace and security, human rights and sustainable development; more than 4,000 delegates from 147 countries participated in the 7th Baku UNAOC Global Forum. This event was widely covered by 117 foreign and local media representatives.

In the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations was adopted the Baku Declaration during the high level ministerial meeting.  This document emphasized Azerbaijan’s role as the host country of the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations under the name “Living Together in Inclusive Societies: A Challenge and A Goal”, as a way to bind multiple perspectives and strengthen inclusiveness and diversity throughout many countries and regions.  According to Mr. Sarkhanbay Khuduyev: “the Baku Process, started in 2008 under the guidance and leadership of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, whose aim is to develop inter-civilizational dialogue and address intercultural convergence beyond the boundaries of Europe; the Azerbaijani head of state is raising the current multiculturalism matters at the global level.”

IV World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue

On May 5-6, 2017, Baku hosted the 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, under the main theme: “Advancing Intercultural Dialogue: New Avenues for Human Security, Peace and Sustainable Development.” This major global event focused on the role of faith, religions, migration, human security, sports diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, sustainable development and on ways to curtail violent extremism. The Forum provided a platform to discuss the best practices that ensure genuine respect for everyone, including freedom of religion, equal employment opportunities, good governance, effective healthcare systems and economic growth.  Heads of governments, ministers, representatives of various international organizations, senior policy makers, cultural diplomacy professionals, goodwill ambassadors, experts, journalists, practitioners, prominent intellectuals and activists, participated throughout the sessions of the 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue.  According to Prof. Mehmood – Ul – Hassan Khan: “the IV World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue has already prioritized its agenda by placing intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity higher on the international agenda, it is critical for human security and a prime responsibility of our time. Prof. Ul – Hassan Khan emphasized: “[Previous] World Forums have reached remarkable achievements by bringing together heads of governments, ministers, and leaders of various international organizations, senior policy makers…” to discuss pressing challenges of our time.

Conclusion  

The Republic of Azerbaijan is a very special country where various ethnic groups, cultures, religions have coexisted for centuries since The Byzantine Empire.  The favorable geographic location of Azerbaijan has exposed this country to admirable features of European and Islamic Civilizations, making Baku, Nakhchivan, Shaki, Dağlıq Qarabağ and Quba, to become genuine archaeological and ancient commercial routes between the East and the West, as well as from the North to the South.  Azerbaijan, the Land of Fire, unlike any other country in the Eurasian landmass has preserved cultures of many ethnic groups and has become a candid bridge among millenary cultures, multiculturalism and religious dialogue.

Under the patronage of H. E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, over the last ten years the “Baku Process” has hosted the following major events:

  • The I World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue held on April 7-9, 2011; addressed matters pertaining to intercultural dialogue with the participation of 500 representatives from 102 countries from all continents. The main topic of the Forum was: “United Through Common Values, Enriched by Cultural Diversity.”
  • The II World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue held on May 29 – June 01, 2013, tackled ways on: “How to build a global future together”; “How to build a popular support for cultural diversity”; “Matters on the New Era of Globalization: hybridity of cultures in a changing world”; “Supporting intercultural actions.” Another important session was focused on: ““Tourism as a key driver of mutual understanding and tolerance among cultures.” The main topic of the Forum was: “Living Together Peacefully in a Diverse World”.
  • The III World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue held on May 18-19, 2015; reflected matters on human security, the importance of sharing different cultures; understanding that human security must be a fully shared responsibility among community leaders, educators and spiritual leaders. The main topic of the Forum was: “Culture and Sustainable Development in the Post 2015 Development Agenda.”
  • The IV World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue was held on May 5-6, 2017, tackled the role of faith, many religions, immigration policies, human security, cultural diplomacy, education, sustainable development and other matters. The main theme of this Global Forum was: “Advancing Intercultural Dialogue: New Avenues for Human Security, Peace and Sustainable Development.”

All of the aforementioned major international forums have generated tangible results in the realm of Azerbaijan’s Cultural Diplomacy and strengthened the role of the Government of Azerbaijan in the implementation of its foreign policy at the bilateral and multilateral platforms.

A few concrete results are:

  • On November 18th, 2016, Mr. Aslan Aslanov, Director General of Azerbaijan State News Agency (AZERTAC), was elected as the new president of the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA) for a three years term (2016-2019). AZERTAC in cooperation with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation hosted on November 16-18, 2016, the 5th News Agencies World Congress and the 22nd session of the Council of CIS Heads of News Agencies.  Furthermore, on this occasion AZERTAC hosted the 16th General Assembly of the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA).

Mr. Vugar Seyidov, Special Correspondent of AZERTAC in Germany was elected as OANA Secretary General.

  • The Government of Azerbaijan has helped inspire a number of regional governments, and international bodies, to pursue an active role towards strengthening their multiculturalism policies and religious dialogue, as well as intensify – and shape – these nations’ respective efforts in reducing religious violence, acts of terrorism and improve regional immigration policies. In this context it is valuable to indicate a few recent events that are held in Europe: the 2nd International Conference on “Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East,” held in Athens (Greece) on October 30-31 (2017); organization of the 1st Ministerial Meeting of the Ancient Civilizations Forum, held in Athens on April 24-25 (2017); and the establishment of “Ancient Civilizations Forum” or GC10.  In September 23rd, 2015, leaders of European governments met in Brussels to try to shape a common action “plan on refugees following months of recriminations and amid a sense of spiraling momentum of which the leaders have lost control.”

It is certain that the Republic of Azerbaijan has always harnessed an avant-garde foreign policy that addresses many global challenges that are deeply affecting Europe and Asia today.  Baku has supported, and become a global player, on all efforts led by the international community right at their inception stage; the Government of Azerbaijan under President Ilham Aliyev has proactively brought together Nobel Prize winners, heads of state and cultural experts to promote intercultural and interfaith dialogue — always intertwined with the world’s pressing challenges and obstacles of today and of the future.

The nation of Azerbaijan, with its tolerant attitude and admirable acceptance of other cultures, upholds the special values of intercultural and interreligious dialogue; characteristics that are essential to foster regional peace, economic development and ensure respect for international law.  The “Baku Process” will continue to promote intercultural dialogue between governments and nations, strengthen cooperation among many ethnic groups and encourage cultural partnerships among people living on different continents.

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Eastern Europe

Moldova: Time to Overwrite the Mind Traps

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Image By Andrez1 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39746488

Moldova is usually assigned the title of the poorest country in Europe mired in financial and corruption scandals. The ’frozen’ Transnistrian conflict is said to further divide the country between chimeric pro-Russian and pro-Western camps. Oligarchs are blamed for having captured the state and preventing democracy to flourish; and so goes on the litany of reputational prejudices about Moldova.

Although these clichés hold some water, they have generated mind traps and have prevented any alternative reading of Moldova. Caught in a thug of war between Brussels and Moscow, Europe has three options on how to approach Moldova: oppose Moscow on Moldovan territory; scale back its engagement; or honour its commitment to strengthen the rule of law and deepen economic cooperation with Chisinau. The last option requires the political maturity to accept that Chisinau can be a partner of both Brussels and Moscow.

The Bright Side of Scandals

Moldova made headlines in 2014 when the banking sector was defrauded of one billion dollars. Courtesy of the testimony of one oligarch, Ilan Shor, who himself has been convicted of involvement in the fraud, the former Prime Minister Vlad Filat was convicted and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. Despite his own conviction, Ilan Shoris now the mayor of the small town of Orhei, heads the Shor party and recently won a seat in the parliament. For many, this was a typical “à la moldave” scenario where most of the thieves got off scot-free whilst only one sits behind bars. Taken from another angle, even though Ilan Shor has been granted some form of witness protection and has escaped punishment himself, at least some part of the truth has been divulged and justice has been partly served. Following Shor’s revelations about the scandal, people took the streets and a citizen movement emerged under the name of Dignity and Truth, now a political party headed by politician Andrei Nastase.

The one-billion theft has understandably attracted a lot of public attention, as did the role of Moldova in the Russian Laundromat, a scheme that laundered tens of USD billions from Russia between 2010 and 2014, involving over one hundred countries. Following these two scandals, Moldova launched a large package of reforms of its banking and judiciary systems, and put in place a National Integrity and Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2017-2020. These improvements have not gone unnoticed: the World Bank extolled the efforts of the National Bank of Moldova and the country’s economic progress, which should boost investors’ trust. Furthermore, criminal activities, such as smuggling, have been curtailed thanks to international cooperation, but the grey zone of Transnistria remains a thorn in Moldovan development.

Transnistria – A Peaceful Frozen Conflict

The active phase of the short 1992conflict lasted four months and left a thousand people dead. Due to the prolonged absence of military engagement, the situation was branded as a frozen conflict – thisvague concept was coined to qualify the blurry simmering situations of violence that followedthe several wars in various post soviet republics. As time passed, the term conflict has become redundant in the context of Transnistria; not much is frozen: population travels freely, students from Transnistria study in Chisinau and Transnistrians voted for the first time in the most recent February elections. There is a need to rethink our reading of this so called frozen conflict in Transnistria – violence is unlikely to resume between Tiraspol and Chisinau as long as escalating tensions between Moscow and Brussels do not boil over.

Former Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Osmochescu, asserts that the settlement was on right track with the 1992 Settlement Agreement, although he questions the decision to include Transnistrian representatives in the joint commission as it eventually gave Russia – allied with Tiraspol – the upper hand. The former diplomat is convinced that settlement dialogue should only include Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, excluding Tiraspol authorities that continue to insist on international recognition as a state. It is highly unlikely that European countries will recognize Transnistria owing to the fact that the EU Council has adopted restriction measures against the leadership of Transnistria for stalling progress of the political settlement.

Thecurrent process is a 5+2 settlement format, named after its composition including 5 negotiators (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, Moldova and Transnistria) + 2 observers (EU and US). Unfortunately it has not yielded any meaningful results with the tensions between Russia and the West increasingly running counter-productive to the intent of the mechanism. During the recent conference on Transnistria, Russian academic Natalia Kharitonova underlined the unprecedented situation whereby relations between the external participants to the settlement process are far worse than between the parties to the conflict.

Today, some observers claim that a new conflict is poised because of Russian troops’ presence in Transnistria and in 2018 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution introduced by Moldova on the withdrawal of foreign troops, specifically targeting Russian troop and armament presence. These elements demonstrate that Transnistria is being utilised by both the West and Russia in pursuit of their own strategic objectives and, arguably, Transnistria is more an international affair than an internal one.

An Unhelpful International Involvement

For decades the presence of Russian troops in Transnistria has been a major concern for NATO, which has been amplified by the situation in Ukraine; and in its efforts to counter Russia, NATO opened an Information Office in Chisinau in December 2017. In view of the militarisation of the region and the recent collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF),the NATO-Russia confrontation directly affects Moldovan sovereignty and security. The Foreign Policy Advisor to the President, Mr Ciocoi, acknowledged that his country is trapped between a rock and a hard place:‘as a constitutionally neutral country, we are not pleased with the presence of Russian troops or NATO on our soil. It is a legacy of the past and a consequence of today’s geopolitical realities. We have to deal with it.’

With most international efforts focusing on security issues and more recently on the fight against so-called Russian propaganda, little effort has been comparatively made to promote sustainable economic development and the rule of law in Moldova. Moldovans’ daily concern is about making ends meet and employment, whilst Brussels and Moscow use the carrot and stick approach to promote their policies. Using economic incentives and sanctions, Brussels and Moscow are forcing Chisinau to choose between the West and the East. This dilemma is leading nowhere as Moldova is both West and East with the country depending on Russia for its energy and the EU market to export its goods. No reasonable politician or businessman in Moldova today embraces a west or east approach, but all favour a mixed approach. It is thus misleading to label President Dodon as a pro-Russian or the tycoon Plahotniuc as a pro-Western.

Blame it on the Rich

An oligarch turned politician, Vlad Plahotniuc presides over the Democratic Party, which won 30 seats at the recent parliamentary elections. Often described as the puppet-master who captured the state, most people blame him for all wrongs in the country and believe that he pulls the strings of the country including the judiciary system.

In a recent discussion with Vitali Garmurari, the Spokesperson for the Democratic Party said that the accusations against Vlad Plahotniuc need to be substantiated. Only a court can rule over the guilt of a person and so far, Mr Plahotniuc has not been sentenced, he added. Recently, Interpol rejected the request of Russia to place Mr Plahotniuc on their wanted list for alleged involvement in the attempt on the life of German Goruntsov, a Russian banker. For Vlad Plahotniuc’s detractors, the absence of condemnation is not a proof of his innocence but evidence of his control over the judiciary.

In Moldova and abroad, rumours flourish about this man who has unquestionable power thanks to his key role in the energy sector. As a veteran in the oil and gas business, he has forged strong connections in the US, who are obsessed with replacing Russia as the leading gas exporter to Europe. The situation though is not as straightforward as it seems. Moldova relies completely on Transnistria for its energy and the region acts as a small hub for Russian gas to the Balkans. Moldovagaz – a joint venture between the Ministry of Industry of Transnistria, the Moldova Government and the Russian giant Gazprom – has the monopoly over gas transactions. One of the issues is that Moldova has committed to the European Third Energy Package that calls for the unbundling and opening of the energy market. As part of its commitment Moldova must strip Moldovagaz of its privileged position and, given the complexities at play, Chisinau was granted an exceptional delay until 1 January 2020. This European requirement corners Moldova as the country is totally dependent on Russian gas and Gazprom holds 50% of Moldovagaz shares and, de facto, the 13% nominally held by Transnistria. The situation gets even more complicated as the contract between Gazprom and Moldovgaz are valid until the end of 2019and Moldova does not have a meaningful gas alternative in place. Mr Plahotniuc understands perfectly the gains to be by playing Russian, the US and European against each other in the energy sector. In 2017,his close ally Vasile Botnari was appointed as the new head of Moldovagaz.

The ruthless energy competition between Russia and the United States for the European market is driving their political and security agendas. The year 2019 will be pivotal in the Moldovan energy market and, as this deadline approaches, the manoeuvrings of those invested parties both within Moldova and externally will be a riveting game to observe.

An Oligarchy on the Way to Democracy?

In the meantime, the Moldovan constitutional court has validated the result of the 24 February elections and Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party has emerged as the party with second largest number of seats. Alongside the Democratic Party with 30 out of 101 seats, the Socialists gained 35 seats, the ACUM group gained 26 and the remaining 10 seats were shared between the Shor party and independents.

One of the features of the Moldovan political landscape is the fact that oligarchs head several parties: Vlad Plahotniuc heads the Democrats, Ilan Shor has his eponymous party and Renato Usatii is the president of Our Party. According to popular narratives, oligarchs are involved in politics to further their own profit and wealth; however their involvement does not necessarily pose a barrier to democracy. Commenting on the recent elections and the political landscape, Professor Osmochescu sees the emergence of these parties as a genuine mirror of the diverse opinions held by the population. Looking back at the political developments over the past thirty years, Professor Osmochescu recalls the evolution from an early enthusiasm with plethora of parties, the uncertainties around the future and the disillusion with both Russia and Europe. Today, he is hopeful that the leading parties will observe democratic principles and contribute to a new political paradigm.

The OSCE statement on the recent elections echoes the same opinion: although violations were recorded, fundamental rights have been generally respected, says the preliminary report. Taken as a whole, Moldova is transitioning and some are definitely looking at the cup half full rather than focusing on shortcomings.

It’s All About the Money

Conflict specialist Iulia Cozenco has worked on various projects in Transnistria over the past decade and today she has one message: efforts should be directed towards social inclusion, and not only in Transnistria. Due to all the challenges Moldova has gone through over the past three decades, the population has become increasingly vulnerable and the country lacks a social protection system capable of responding to all the problems. She concludes that international assistance should be directed at broader social inclusion and protection initiatives rather than narrow Tiraspol-Chisinau confidence-building projects.

Commenting on the situation in Transnistria, Dumitru Budianschi, an economist at the Moldovan ExpertGrup,has observed that, the lack of a political settlement between Tiraspol and Chisinau does not prevent economics agreements from forging on. These agreements cover energy and mobile communications, however Mr Budianschi has raised the concern that these agreements lack transparency and have been extremely profitable to a select few people on both sides of the river. Unsurprisingly, the lack of settlement is perversely convenient for such shady deals. According to Mr Budianschi, the international policy of small steps in Transnistria will not pay off and a crackdown on the criminal activities in the region is needed in order to give any settlement a chance of succeeding. The growing trade with Europe, Moldova’s first export partner, is a positive development that can no longer accommodate the black holes around Transnistria.

International involvement in Moldova is both a part of the problem and the solution. Should involvement take the shape of interference advancing eastern or western interests, it will only serve to polarise and destabilise Moldova and will ultimately backlash on European security. Disengagement would be equally damaging as Moldova today relies on both Brussels and Moscow and wishes to maintain relations with both partners. At this point in time, Chisinau needs international cooperation with Moscow and Brussels to assert itself as a solid partner to both the West and the East.

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Eastern Europe

Georgia Stands With Azerbaijan: Strategic Partnership In The South Caucasus

Aliyar Azimov

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Authors: Aliyar Azimov and Aynur Azimzade*

South Caucasus has always been a focus of geopolitical competitions for centuries with its geo-strategic location and natural resources. The transportation and energy projects, which implemented in the region, have further increased strategic importance of South Caucasus due to being in the junction West and East in the globalized 21st century. After the dissolution of USSR two major processes occurred: 1) regional cooperation between independent states in terms of common threats and economic-political projects; 2) geopolitical interests and competition among the regional powers (Russia, Iran, Turkey) and the US and the EU.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the three South Caucasus countries found themselves in a new geopolitical vacuum, which resulted in serious events also (territorial conflicts and separatism). On the other hand, this vacuum enabled two of the newly independent South Caucasus countries – Azerbaijan and Georgia – to build and maintain good neighboring relationships, to jointly implement major and strategic regional oil and gas projects (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline) without any intervention of Russia. Until 2008, Russia was a major gas supplier to Georgia. However, the August War in 2008 ended with cut off relations between Russia and Georgia. Starting from 2007, Azerbaijan has steadily been supplying the majority of Georgia’s oil and gas demand, especially after the August War Azerbaijan provided more energy flow by completely meeting its strategic ally’s energy needs.

The development of east-west energy corridor in the South Caucasus allowed Azerbaijan and Georgia to involve in the projects as the main partners and to promote the development of the infrastructure by improving the macro-economic environment and international integration. Turkey also gives support to the international projects in the region and deepening the multilateral relations between Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey also promotes and intra-regional cooperation and diplomatic resolutions of regional problems. This cooperation is the most functional; it is built on interdependence by trade and transportation relations.

Since 1992, political relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia has reached a high level, cooperation in all fields has become more strategic year by year, and neighborship relations are based on the principles of the strong friendship and mutual respect. Because of this, all officials in Georgia have always firstly visited Azerbaijan in their terms.

Why Georgia needs Azerbaijan?

The East-West strategic energy cooperation helped to strengthen the state independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The projects, which implemented and proposed to be realized, are the basis of a strong foundation for economic stability and prosperity for both countries, even for South Caucasus. Considering this fact, in 2009 Georgia was not affected by the energy crisis thanks to Azerbaijan and energy contracts for the supply of gas and oil. Georgia is especially interested in energy transportation from Azerbaijan because since the gaining independence Georgia has had a permanent and stable supply of energy which allowed industries to operate smoothly and contributed the economy of Georgia significantly by making it as a transit country.

Azerbaijan also plays a vital role in the transformation of Georgia into the EU and the development of EU-Georgia relations. The lack of stability in the Middle East increases the role of Caspian Basin not only as a significant energy source but also more secure and shortest supply route for both countries as well as for the EU. Azerbaijan-Georgia good neighborhood relations are vital for the EU in the context of east-west energy cooperation. As the EU is more interested in ensuring a reliable flow of energy resources to the Member States and cooperates with Azerbaijan and Georgia, it makes both countries to be a significant player in the projects and economically and politically powerful in the South Caucasus region.

Salome Zourabichvili’s first official visit to Azerbaijan

On 27 February 2019, newly elected Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili made her first official visit to Azerbaijan. It was a signal of Georgian administration’s desire to continue its strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is one of the biggest investors to the Georgian economy and considering large regional projects between both countries, her first official visit to Azerbaijan in the region was not surprising.

In the recent past, there was a tension between Azerbaijan and Georgia due to:

  • The monument of an Armenian separatist, who fought against Azerbaijan during the occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory of Azerbaijan by Armenian military, in the Akhalkalaki region of Georgia, where ethnic Armenians live, and the participation of Georgian administration in the opening ceremony of this monument,
  • In the response of this event, protest of Baku against the unveiling of a monument to a separatist in Georgia.

For this reason, the Georgian President’s visit to Azerbaijan was of particular importance. The Georgian President knew well that Azerbaijan plays a crucial role in the energy supply and settlement of the problems in the region. At the same time, because its energy sector is dependent on Baku-Supsa, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines and Southern Gas Corridor, Georgia does not want to lose Azerbaijan as a strategic partner. Georgian President’s visit to Azerbaijan also showed that some provocations could not affect the relations between the two countries. Zourabichvili’s speech in Baku once again confirmed that Georgia always stands together with Azerbaijan on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh by stating, “Conflicts and violation of territorial integrity are tragedies for both countries. We still fight together to restore and recognize our territorial integrity in international organizations.” The Armenian media expressed assurance that Zourabichvili would change her statement during her visit to Armenia on March 13-14.However, Georgian President protested visit to Abkhazia and South Ossetia paid by Nagorno-Karabakh separatists by stating “It is very unfortunate when delegations from Nagorno-Karabakh visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia and discuss these two conflicts as of the same type. This is very sad and painful for us. These conflicts impede the development of our region. Georgia has two occupied territories, and if we talk about the country’s interests, then one single concern for us is recognition of our sovereignty in deeds than in words.” After the meeting, the Russian newspaper “Kommersant” mentioned about the Georgian president’s visit in its article by stating, “These statements by President Zurabishvili were not seen in the Georgian post-Soviet history, because Georgia has pursued an impartial policy in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict till now.”

Armenia has tried to position itself as a bridge between Iran and Georgia to transport Iranian energy resources to Europe. However, in 2008, its position in the Russian-Georgian war strained relations between Georgia and Armenia. Armenia was interested in North-South cooperation in order to escape from regional isolation and to revive its economic condition. Nevertheless, newly elected Georgian President’s visit to both countries and her statements declared that relations with Azerbaijan are a high priority for Georgia and for being leading countries in East-West cooperation, Georgia has extensive interests in establishing strong friendship relations.

Azerbaijan and Georgia have been cooperating in several political and economic projects since the early years of independence. Several factors influence the dynamics of the Georgian-Azerbaijani relations in a positive way. Firstly, cooperation in transportation, energy, and economics is interdependent. Georgia’s location makes it more essential for Azerbaijan in terms of to reach European and World markets. On the other hand, Georgia has increased its economic prosperity by participating in regional projects. In 2018, Azerbaijan was a third-largest direct foreign investor (33 million dollars) to the Georgian economy, second in Georgian imports (14.4%) and third in Georgian exports (10.7%).

Another key factor in the Azerbaijani-Georgian relations is that Azerbaijan and Georgia support eachother’s positions on important issues in the international arena. Georgian officials always stress all the official statements that the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which occurred as a result of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia, within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. 

When it comes to energy cooperation, Azerbaijani oil-gas company SOCAR is the main supplier of gas to Georgia as a reliable energy partner. Despite the gas agreement signed between Georgia and Russia in 2017, SOCAR has a large share in the Georgian energy sector. In 2018, gas transportation volume was 2.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Georgia. High dependence on Azerbaijani gas arose the concerns about national security, but in fact, Azerbaijan never used energy shipments as a political pressure tool. Even Azerbaijan have supplied more energy to Georgia in order to resolve energy shortages during difficult times.

S. Zourabichvili’s recent visit to Baku declared that Georgia does not want to lose its strategic ally. Because political and economic support by Azerbaijan is essential for Georgia in terms of its integration to the West. Also, because of Georgia plays a transit role between Azerbaijan and the West in the field of transportation and energy, losing this position is unacceptable for the Georgian administration.

*Aynur Azimzade is research fellow at the Institute of Caucasus studies of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences

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Eastern Europe

To be or not to be the Baltics’ and Poland’s defender

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Usually, when we speak about the US we keep in mind its might and influence. This country plays one of the main roles in the world politics. It does its best to be the leader. Everybody used to it. Even Americans used to it.

We, Europeans, take its role for granted. Very often Europeans call for the US assistance and help in politics, trade, finance and even on war issues. But at what cost does the US manage to keep its omnipotent image? Do its people deserve the destiny to resolve foreign conflicts, defend foreign countries, finance foreign political projects and so on.

It is interesting that America First become the official foreign policy doctrine of the Trump administration. But Donald Trump’s motto is completely contrary to reality.

According to the Wiki, “America First refers to a foreign policy in the United States that emphasizes American nationalism and unilateralism. It first gained prominence in the inter-war period and was advocated by the America First Committee, a non-interventionist pressure group against the American entry into World War II. Since 2016, an identically-named foreign policy that emphasizes similar objectives has been pursued by the administration of US President Donald Trump.”

The today’s US policy does fit the slogan. In order to bolster the NATO deterrent against possible Russian aggression the US has again been increasing military activity in Europe. That includes stationing four multinational battalion-size battlegroups in four eastern nations of the alliance, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, led respectively by Britain, Canada, Germany and the US. Poland would like also permanent US base (what Polish president Andrzej Duda dubbed “Fort Trump”) as a deterrent to Russia.

The Center of Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), located in Washington, DC, issued in March a report – “Strengthening the Defense of NATO’s Eastern Frontier” which supports the idea of US further military involvement.

In the document the experts “offer a new strategy for deterring and, if necessary, defeating Russian aggression against NATO in the Baltic region and make recommendations for enhancing the US forward posture in Europe and improving Poland’s military capabilities and force structure to support this strategy.”

On the one hand, the US increasing its presence in Europe, shows its power and military capabilities. One the other – this is an exceptional case when Europe has reached its goal to feel safe at the expense of others – mainly, the US.

And what about Americans? Do they really feel the need to protect somebody far away from their homeland? Do they need long deployments? Are they proud of being defenders or are they victims of Trump’s ambitions? Who are they in Europe?

European states have become absolutely helpless before their problems and found nothing better than using the US, its money and soldiers. Europe has outwitted the US! Of course, it is much better to deploy in Europe American soldiers in time of war or conflict, than burn natives.

Is the US really aware of the European countries authorities’ plans? Do American soldiers want to be cannon fodder?

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