visited Baku periodically over the past ten years to do research.
During the Soviet period, I wasn't able to visit Azerbaijan,
so I had to study the country while working in Turkey instead.
There were many limitations on visiting the Caucasus; Japanese
scholars weren't allowed to study or do research there. Even
though many studied and analyzed Russian matters and issues,
few studied the Caucasus or Azerbaijan.
During the Cold War, the relationship between Japan and the Soviet
Union had become rather strained because the Japanese islands
were occupied by Soviet troops after World War II. Japanese people
liked Russian literature, music and ballet, but they had a bad
sense about the Communist country in general.
Japanese businessmen weren't interested in trade or commerce
with the Soviet Union because the Soviet authorities imposed
so many strict limitations. Japanese engineering companies did
have some projects in Soviet Azerbaijan, but very few.
Many Japanese tourists visited Soviet cities like Moscow, Leningrad,
Kiev, Bukhara, Samarkand and Baku, but only on group tours. They
weren't permitted to go there on their own.
Once Azerbaijan became independent, American and European petroleum
companies began business activities in Baku at once. Japanese
companies heard of these activities through Western mass media
and started opening Baku branches about ten years ago. For example,
Itochu Ltd. participated in the "Contract of the Century"
and now plays an important role in developing the petroleum of
the Caspian Sea.
About five years ago, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto
announced a Silk Road Diplomacy intended for Central Asia and
Russian Siberia; unfortunately, the Caucasus was in the second
stage. Japanese diplomacy toward the Caucasus has moved rather
In the end of January 2000, the Japanese Embassy officially opened
at the Hyatt Regency Business Center in Baku. In February, Akira
Motoyama, who speaks Turkish fluently and has had a diplomatic
career in Ankara and Istanbul, began diplomatic service in Baku
as counselor, chargé d'affaires. In May, Tetsuya Hirose,
former consul-general of Vladivostok, will go to Baku as Japanese
Ambassador. He also speaks Turkish very well and has served as
a diplomat in Ankara and Istanbul.
My hope for the 21st century is that the relationship between
Japan and Azerbaijan will deepen and strengthen.
Sasakawa Peace Foundation (Tokyo)
Visiting Professor of Tafakkur University (Baku)
Editor's Note: Dr. Matsunaga told us about two books available
to Japanese speakers who want to learn Azeri: "Azerbaijan
Dilini Mustagil Oyrananlar uchun" (For Those who are Learning
the Azeri Language Independently), which she wrote, and "Azeri
Conversation Book" by Hironao Matsutani. Both books were
published by Daigakushorin Publisher in Tokyo in 1999. Matsunaga
writes, "I think that it's fairly easy for Japanese people
to learn Turkic languages, including Turkish and Azeri. Although
there is no overlap in vocabulary, the syntax is quite similar.
Unfortunately, there's not much opportunity to study Turkic languages
(8.1) Spring 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.
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