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Neighbours of Azerbaijan in 2014: geopolitical landscape

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Baku, 16 December 2014 – Newtimes.az

The Republic of Azerbaijan located in an extremely volatile region from the geopolitical point of view marked the 23rd anniversary of its independence with greater increase in its political significance in the world. What note the neighbours will end the year on is of great importance for the country that sits at the crossroads of the East and West, North and South, Islamic and Christian worlds in order to evaluate the geopolitical situation. In the region where our country is located, the year 2014 was not so simple for 3 big powers – Russia, Turkey and Iran – with their different political preference. Foreign policies of all the 3 states have undergone serious changes in the outgoing year. They experienced complex processes. Georgia, the strategic ally of Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus, is experiencing historic 365 days in its sovereign development. This year was the year of choice between foreign policy priorities for Armenia, which is the permanent destabilizing factor.

This period went relatively smoothly for our neighbors on the eastern shore of the Caspian. But the analysis of processes shows that Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are set to step into the new stage in its foreign policy, which began in 2014. Thus, the tension between Kazakhstan and its traditional ally Russia, which are bound by the history of statehood and traditions and Turkmenistan’s changing its isolation policy on an international arena and opting for more active foreign policy begin from this year.

Thus, I would like to recall what processes were experienced by our neighbors in 2014 in order to evaluate the positions of Azerbaijan, which offers its own model of development to the world. This period was marked by important events for each of our three big neighbors.

Russia

Russia, our northern neighbor, is going through the most decisive period after the collapse of the USSR and most sharp one in terms of its relations with the West. It is not accidental that many international relations experts come up with ideas about the beginning of the new cold war, adding, it can escalate into the active military conflict. By and large, Vladimir Putin demonstrates uncompromising stance in relationship with the West during his second presidential term. Russia, which became rich thanks to the oil revenues, refuses to put up with West’s disregarding its global political ambitions. In this regard, much responsibility rests with the US-led western countries since the West`s interference into affairs of the Arabic countries after Afghanistan, revived the "might makes right” idea. In such a case, Russia can also show that it is not weaker than other countries at all. Besides, existing hot spots, unsolved conflicts and their freezing gave rise to disrespect for international law. According to many politicians, unsolved frozen conflicts, which are under Russia`s influence, caused the increase of such conflicts. The distasteful truth is that injustice of the West towards frozen conflicts in the post-soviet area including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is one of the reasons behind Ukraine developments.

Thus, 2014 entered history books for Russia as the beginning of the cold war. Chaotic actions of the West towards the civil war in Syria encouraged Russia’s self-belief. This is the reason why Russia does not backtrack on its positions in the Ukrainian issue. The West launched economic mechanisms against Russia, which already affect this country’s economy. The degree to which Russia is able to withstand this pressure with its economy heavily dependent oil and gas is questionable. The West had experience in undermining Russia in its economic competition. It is well known that the USSR failed mainly in its economic competition, in the tussle for the global influence in the end of the last century. We can assume that 2014 will go down in history of Russia as the decisive period.

Turkey

The departing year and its last month we are living through were rich in complex processes for Turkey too. The processes taking place within the country emerged in the foreign policy too. The most important event inside the country was the exposure of the network called the "parallel state” in 2014. It became a new event not only for the present authorities but also the history of statehood of the Republic at large. Some experts even interpret these processes as the events, which are to seal the fate of Turkey either as a civilized or as a religious state. By winning elections, the Justice and Development party survived these trials at this stage by gaining even more strength.

The other process inside Turkey is the government`s packet of reforms called "initiatives” that left its mark on the year 2014. These reforms referred to as "democratic initiatives,” "Kurdish initiatives,” "Armenian initiatives,” "Alawi initiatives” etc are aimed at regulating relations with religious and ethnic minorities. Although, there are no real results, it is not known what initiatives this process will bring again. This political course, in particular, the "Armenian initiatives” can be traced in the foreign policy of Turkey too. Turkey` relationship with the Armenian minority designed for the internal audience can be assessed in the aspect of Turkey-Armenia, Turkey-Azerbaijan, Turkey-EU relations.

In this regard, we have to note that many external forces led by the Armenian Diaspora as well as Armenian lobbyists used the "Armenian initiatives” to secure opening of the Turkish-Armenian border by allocating much money to fund the works in this direction. It is not accidental that the EU allocated in 2014 over USD 2 billion on these purpose. In addition, the USA and Switzerland increased the amount of money earmarked for years to the NGOs in Turkey and Armenia to encourage both countries to open borders. There are to important issues: Turkey`s obligations to join the EU and relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey.

First and foremost, they attempt to form the idea around this issue that if Turkey does not make concessions on the Armenian issue, in particular, over the fictitious "genocide”, Turkey’s EU membership bid will fail. We have to note that this preliminary idea is not based on real facts and the EU membership seem to recede in the background in the foreign policy of Turkey. The official representatives of Turkey realized that the country would have to wait at the gates of Europe for a rather long time and began to favor integration in other directions. The foreign policy of Turkey is dominated by cooperation with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, closer formats of cooperation with Turkish-speaking states in particular within the framework of the Cooperation Council of Turkish-Speaking states.

On the other hand, we have to look at principles behind Turkey`s opening its borders with Armenia. The borders were shut because of two important factors. First, Armenia officially does not recognize the Kars treaty, which determines borders between the two countries and it has territorial claims against Turkey. These claims were enshrined in both the constitution of Armenia and "Declaration of Independence”. Secondly, Turkey closed its borders with Armenia in 1993 as a protest against the continuing occupation of the Azerbaijani lands by Armenia. The forces that aim to open borders must remember that none of the factors have changed. Neither Armenia refused to raise claims against Turkey, nor was the Azerbaijani lands freed from occupation. In other words, common sense suggests that Turkey will not cast doubt on its territorial integrity and sacrifice the interests of fraternal Azerbaijan, its strategic ally. The officials of Turkey reiterated that changes are impossible unless the Azerbaijani lands are freed.

2014 is going to be the last year for the foreign policy of Turkey based on "zero problems with neighbors” principle and will mark a transition to the foreign policy based on relationship with strategic allies. This new stage of foreign policy spans the period after 2015. The new foreign policy year for Turkey will be not in January but in April.

Iran

2014 was remarkable or our southern neighbor – the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran is known to have been in international isolation in recent years. On one hand, Iran worsened its relations with the Western countries because of the use of nuclear energy and on the other hand, its relations with the Persian gulf countries were also poor, in particular, with other Islamic nations over its regional leadership ambitions.

Iran began the year 2014 with the Davos visit of the newly-elected President of Iran Hassan Rouhani. This visit marked the beginning of the new stage in the foreign policy of Iran. Iran attracted the most attention at the World Economic Forum in 2014, and the new foreign policy course of Iran was started. During the year, Iran maintained relations with Western countries. He began talks even with the USA and the United Kingdom with which Iran did not have official contacts for years. As a result, Iran managed to have sanctions softened to some extent and to diminish a negative impact on its economy. But the final result over the use of nuclear energy was not achieved but optimistic forecasts emerge.

On the other hand, relationship between the Persian Gulf countries and some African nations such as Kenya, Senegal, Sudan etc with Iran are extremely tense. The Iranian citizens were even apprehended in Kenya on suspicion of terrorism while a center of the Iranian culture was closed in Sudan and employees of the center were deported from the country. After Hassan Rouhani`s election as a president, important steps including reciprocal visits were undertaken towards rapprochement with such Gulf countries as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and event Saudi Arabia. Thus, 2014 went down in history of foreign policy of Iran as the year of breaking isolation.

Georgia

2014 year proved to be fateful for Georgia, our neighbor in the South Caucasus. First of all, Georgia must have determined its foreign policy after Mikhail Saakashvili. Georgia faced two important challenges: sticking to the pro-western policy and revisiting relations with Russia.

Prospects of Georgia`s normalizing relations with Russia, in particular, after occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia look dim. There is very little agreement about fundamental directions of the foreign policy within the coalition "Georgian dream”, which won the elections. It is not accidental that the policy of extremely pro-western group led by former Minister of Defence Irakli Alasania led to the split in the coalition. Georgia is moving to the 2015 year with great threats to internal stability and uncertainties. The Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey strategic alliance and stable joint projects in such a format is the only certain position in foreign policy of this country since these relations are based on reliable partnership. The year 2014 saw deepening cooperation in this direction, the summit of presidents in a trilateral format, meetings of ministers of foreign affairs, energy and transport.

Armenia

2014 once more demonstrated to the world the main feature of Armenia as an unreliable country in the region. This year was notable for Armenia with the two vitally important events. The first one is emigration, which has a decisive impact on demographic structure, questions existence of the country as such. For many years, the outflow of population has continued intensively. Emigration reached 70-100 thousand people yearly in recent years. This trend continued in 2014 in which up to 10,000 people emigrated. There is no natural growth of population. On the other hand, the fact that youth and men of the middle age make up the major part of emigrants causes a serious gender disbalance in the country. The number of marriages between Armenian women and foreigners skyrocketed. Even Armenian experts ring the alarm bell over this problem. This threatens the existence of Armenia as a state.

The decision to join the Eurasian Economic Union was the most important event in the foreign policy of Armenia in 2014. By taking this step, Armenia once again proved to the world that it cannot be trusted as a partner under no circumstances since Armenia had been undertaking steps towards European integration for at least 5 years as part of the EU`s Eastern Partnership and long before that. It surprisingly joined the pro-Russian economic union in 2014, proving that it misled everyone for many years. The most interesting is that the western countries did not seriously respond to such a step. Thus, 2014 was the year, which proved more that Armenia is not a reliable partner.

Azerbaijan

At last, the year 2014 was also memorable for the foreign policy of Azerbaijan too. Azerbaijan offered its own model of development based on stable foreign policy amidst unstable, changeable, complex political processes in surrounding countries. The Azerbaijani model in foreign policy is based on national interests, reliable and equal partnership. Azerbaijan demonstrated its commitment to its own path of development in 2014, by proving its reliability on an international arena. Thus, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev`s words "Turkey is not hear, but I am here to respond,” he said at the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague in May 2014 as a response to the attempt of the Armenian president to make anti-Turkish statements taking advantage of Turkey`s absence at the summit suggest how much devoted Azerbaijan is to its partners. It left its mark on the year 2014. Azerbaijan showed itself as a trusted partner in its relationship with other neighbors. During his meetings as part of reciprocal visits of the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Iran in 2014, President Ilham Aliyev noted that Azerbaijan would not allow any interference of the third state in the Azerbaijan-Iran relations.

In relations with Georgia, Azerbaijan showed its commitment to previous obligations. Trilateral projects among Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia remained a priority in 2014. For the past year, Azerbaijan was one of the major investors in both Turkey and Georgia. Another tremendous project Baku-Tbilisi-Kars will be brought online next year. This is an indication of the success of the trilateral format of cooperation.

In 2011-2012, Azerbaijan was a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, which enabled the country`s foreign policy to experience the unprecedented growth. This is the reason why the subsequent years are even more responsible. Azerbaijan is preparing for the upcoming year as a host of the first European games. This is another evidence of the high confidence placed by the international community in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan, which chose the path of stable and dynamic development and proved its worth as a country attracting the world community’s attention, as reliable and equal partner relying on national interests.

Arastu Habibbeyli

PhD in economics

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