Azerbaijan International

Winter 1996 (4.4)
Pages 9, 80


In Search of the Future - Editorial
by Betty Blair

Above: Editor Betty Blair presents President Clinton copies of Azerbaijan International, September 1996.

The major difference between Azerbaijani youth growing up today in the Post-Soviet period and those who grew up earlier, seems to lie in their freedom to express opinions. It's a simple privilege that many of us take for granted, that of disagreeing or saying "no" even to the influential and the powerful. But as simple as it may seem, it is an empowering difference.

Under the Soviet centralized government, there was always the fear of making a wrong move, of being watched by the secret police, of having disparaging remarks entered into personal files ("anket"). The severe consequences of making mistakes caused them to be circumspect and cautious, always tentative, always afraid to make firm commitments. To succeed, they had to be "politically correct" at all times, always saying the right thing to the right person.

The older generation learned these lessons all too well. And today, it's very hard for them to forget. That's why young people with fewer life experiences have the advantage, and that's precisely why the future belongs to them.

But in the case of most of the Newly Independent States (NIS), this emerging freedom is quite tenuous. Life could still revert to the old days, and these newly-born states could lose their independence. Here's where the international community can make a significant difference, not just for youth living in Azerbaijan, but for youth in all these young republics.

Back in December 1995 when we were identifying major themes for this year, we chose "Youth" for the Winter Issue, not realizing this topic would become one of the determining factors in the U.S. Presidential election. The majority of voters, it seems, viewed Clinton's opponent, Bob Dole, as simply too old to take on the responsibilities of one of the world's most powerful offices.

Bill Clinton, who was 46-years-old at his first Inauguration in 1992, is the third youngest President in U.S. history - only Teddy Roosevelt (42) and John Kennedy (43) were younger.

Last September I had the chance to personally meet President Clinton and to present him with several issues of our magazine. I detected in him a genuine interest and concern about Azerbaijan and the region. Clinton has met Aliyev on three occasions - twice in New York when Aliyev came to deliver speeches at the United Nations and once in Budapest at the 1994 OSCE Summit (Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe).

Clinton seems to hold a deep respect for Aliyev, this senior politician who once figured among the top five leaders of a superpower that stretched across 11 time zones. It doesn't matter that Aliyev now shapes the policy of a nation no bigger than the size of Maine. In fact, given its geographic location sandwiched between more powerful neighbors, Aliyev's responsibility may be even more daunting and formidable. He must create stability in the region which, in turn, will guarantee the independence of his own country and will secure global energy resources for the 21st century.

Now as Clinton begins his second term and identifies new Cabinet members, the United States has a chance to become more active in this stabilizing process. Many believe that the selection of Madelaine Albright as Secretary of State will bring a new dynamism to the State Department. Albright is very much aware of the complexities of the conflict between Azerbaijanis and Armenians. At the same time, she knows the importance of the energy - rich Caspian region to the United States and the West.

In the meantime, it should not be forgotten (1) that 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory is still under military occupation by Armenians, (2) nearly one million of its people are refugees and (3) its territorial integrity has been undermined by the Republic of Armenia (Lisbon Summit, December 1996) and Armenian ultra-nationalists living in Azerbaijan in the Karabakh region.

We hope that in 1997 the United States and other members of the international community will not stand idly by, but will actively work for the good of this entire region. Al Gore has recently promised Aliyev, "The United States remains prepared to actively support those willing to take risks for peace."

If the region can be secured and developed, this is the single most important factor in enabling young people in Azerbaijan to continue growing up unafraid to express their feelings and opinions. And this, in turn, will enable them to continue creating governing systems flexible enough to meet new challenges, rather than collapsing under the weight of rigidity as happened under the Soviet regime.

Our best wishes to all for peace, health and prosperity in 1997.

From Azerbaijan International (4.4) Winter 1996.
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All rights reserved.

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