Winter 2000 (8.4)
If There Were Peace
Guliyev, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Since October 26, 1999,
Vilayat Guliyev has served as Azerbaijan's Minister of Foreign
Affairs. By profession, he's a professor and holds a doctorate
in philological sciences.
He has a passion for studying the historical development of Azerbaijani
literature and social thought. Guliyev has authored ten books
related to Azerbaijani literature and the Azerbaijani-Russian
relations of the 19th and early 20th century.
Since 1988 when the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict first broke out,
he has played an active role in political affairs. He has served
as a Member of Parliament (1996 to 2000) on numerous committees,
many related to Foreign Affairs. Today Guliyev is on the road
much of the time, helping to forge economic and political relations
and foster friendships as part of what he describes as "an
extremely difficult and demanding position."
Despite the fact that my background in philological and historical
research may seem far removed from what I'm doing today, I find
many correlations. It goes without saying that, first of all,
an effective politician must have a broad outlook and scope of
knowledge. He must be a person who has a deep grasp of the spiritual
wealth and culture of his own nation as well as that of numerous
A politician cannot be confined simply to political doctrines
and statements. If he wants to represent his nation with all
its values in the true sense of the word, he has to have a great
depth of knowledge.
From this point of view, my knowledge of Azerbaijani, Turkish,
Persian and Russian literatures and their respective cultures,
of course, provides an enormous foundation for my political work
today. It helps me to both represent my nation and build better
communication with others.
During this last year as Minister, I've seen how most of the
foreign people who come to Azerbaijan bring with them misperceptions
about our country.
Left: Refugee women seek
relief from the scorching summer heat under railway boxcars that
have served as home for the past seven years. Azerbaijan's refugee
population of nearly 1 million people is eager for a resolution
to the war so they can return home to their towns and villages.
Nearly 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory is under Armenian
example, they think that they are coming to a Third World country.
But after they are familiar with Baku, see its architecture,
become acquainted with our people and our rich history and culture,
they realize that we are a nation with high European standards.
For example, foreigners are usually surprised to discover that
Azerbaijanis wrote the first opera as well as the first ballet
in the Turkic-Muslim world. Azerbaijanis published the first
newspaper among the Turkic-Muslim nations of the former Soviet
empire. Azerbaijanis opened the first European-style schools
in the region. Azerbaijanis set up the first European-style democratic
republic (1918-1920) in the region.
Foreigners are surprised when they become familiar with the cultural
past of our nation. They soon realize the implications of what
it has meant for our country to be situated at the crossroads
between Europe and Asia. Because of our unique geopolitical situation,
we've managed to synthesize and immortalize both Eastern and
Western values. Knowing these issues well - which is my specialization
- has more or less helped me in my work. But it's up to us to
be economically strong enough to make our culture and past better
Such misperceptions about our culture originate mostly in the
West. Unfortunately, there's a tendency there to equate Islam
with Islamic fundamentalism, or with separatism, or even with
I remember that when Armenian separatists started the problems
in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988, newspapers in the United States
always tried to describe the cause of the conflict in one simplistic
sentence. It was a carefully worded sentence that prejudiced
American public opinion against Azerbaijanis. The newspapers
wrote that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue was a conflict between
Armenian Christians and Azerbaijani Muslims. Invariably, that
one sentence was included in every story that was filed about
false impressions die hard. Today there is still a tendency among
Westerners who are unaware of what is going on in this part of
the world to side with the Armenian point of view, to be totally
naive about the strategy of such propaganda. Westerners have
a tendency to place blame on the Azerbaijanis because of their
own religious Christian inclinations without investigating the
reality of the situation.
too, now has its own embassy in Baku. President Aliyev (left)
with Russian Chargé d'Affaires Alexandre Prishepov at
the Russian national holiday in June 2000.
Furthermore, in the Western world a certain prejudice exists
not only against us, but also against the Ottoman Turks who have
been integrated with Europe for several hundred years now. Of
course, in order to stop this, to show ourselves to the world
as we really are, we still have much work to do. And since we
haven't done that yet, the fact that such erroneous notions exist
is, of course, our own fault. We must carry a great deal of the
In your magazine, you've written several times about the Azerbaijan
Democratic Republic (1918-1920). During those times, Alimardan
bey Topchubashev, the head of that Democratic Republic's mission
to Paris, was time and again writing to his government that they
had signed contracts with various magazines in France, Switzerland
and Germany. He urged the government to transfer a significant
amount of money into the accounts of those magazines so that
they could propagate Azerbaijan and make the country known.
It's really a pity that during those times when Baku was so affluent
with oil, our natural resources weren't put to use to serve the
Azerbaijani nation. If we had started the process of making ourselves
known in the 1920s, certainly now we wouldn't be dealing with
these explanations set forth by the Armenians.
Of course, these days the Armenian Diaspora is conducting strong
propaganda against Azerbaijan. All these things create obstacles
in making the truth known. Today our foreign policy is very different
from ten years ago. Can you imagine that at the time when we
gained our independence in 1991, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry
only had 12 members. The diplomatic corps during the Soviet period
emanated from the center - from Moscow. But today we have more
than 250 members.
Now Azerbaijan has embassies in 20 countries and five permanent
representatives in international organizations, and our own flag
flies above those embassies. Today, we are a full-fledged member
of the United Nations, OSCE, UNESCO, GUUAM and numerous other
international organizations. Soon we will be a full-fledged member
of the Council of Europe. So much has happened these past ten
years. And there are nearly 30 countries that have sent ambassadors
or representatives here to Baku.
On my last trip to the United States this month (September 2000),
I observed that Americans had a much greater interest and much
broader knowledge about our country than in 1995, when I was
there for the first time. Back then, very few people among those
I met had solid information about our country. During the Soviet
period, only a few foreign experts knew about Azerbaijan. And
very few foreign diplomats ever got the chance even to visit
When it comes to international relations, without a doubt, the
oil projects initiated since late 1994 have been the driving
force. This has led to strong relationships with the U.S., Great
Britain, Norway, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Italy and Germany.
Our latest oil contract was signed between the U.S. company Moncrief
and SOCAR in September 2000 in Washington, D.C. It marked the
20th oil contract that we've signed in the past five years.
These countries have already invested in our country and are
cooperating economically with us. But now we are also seriously
interested in developing the non-oil sector. Last year for the
first time, approximately 60 percent of foreign investments were
directed to the non-oil sector in areas such as agriculture,
telecommunications and road construction. Also the construction
sector is developing. We want to increase these activities.
We've created a legislative basis for such cooperation. The Parliament
(Milli Majlis) has adopted laws that meet European standards;
however, we have yet to implement these laws to the extent that
they should be. Admittedly, we have yet to "turn on the
green light" for all those who wish to invest in the country.
But we're working on it. It's a pity that bribery, corruption
and bureaucracy still put obstacles in the way.
Up until now I'm the fourth person to hold this position as Minister
of Foreign Affairs in independent Azerbaijan [since late 1991].
Whether or not I'm successful in this undertaking, I'm already
a part of history. This, of course, puts a heavy responsibility
on me. Sometimes, I get surprised how the course of my life has
changed so dramatically in the past decade. Sometimes it's hard
for me to get used to my new position, to my new role and function.
But still it's a great honor for me to take on these responsibilities;
I've written books about individuals who sacrificed their lives
for Azerbaijan, who worked for the promotion of this country,
who opened schools, who developed the culture, who tried to turn
this nation into an independent country. And now fate and history
have created an opportunity for me also to play a role.
Of course, one of the most serious problems that we are dealing
with now is the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. To tell
you the truth, it's difficult for me to talk about Karabakh because
I'm from there myself. Of course, I left my native village some
30 years ago after finishing secondary school. But it's still
home to me. My relatives were still living there before the war
The problem of Karabakh is a very complicated issue. Unfortunately
today, the solution doesn't depend upon Azerbaijan alone, as
the problem has become an issue that many major states are concerned
about. The national interests of other countries have very much
complicated the solution.
Late last year, Armenia was pursuing an independent foreign policy
- at least to a certain degree. They indicated that they were
prepared to take radical steps in solving the Karabakh problem.
On Oct. 27, 1999, terrorists attacked the Armenian Parliament
and killed seven Parliament members, including the Speaker, Vice-Speaker
and Prime Minister. Clearly, this attack meant that they would
not be able to solve the conflict, independent of Russia.
Kocharyan [President of Armenia] became an absolutely different
person after that attack. Up until then, it seemed that he was
ready to make certain compromises to resolve the problem as quickly
as possible. But now he is absolutely reneging on the promises
that he made.
If Peace Could
But if peace could come to this region, it would be beneficial
not only for Azerbaijan, but also for the entire Southern Caucasus.
Azerbaijan has a very important role to play in this region.
If there were peace, Azerbaijan would provide the corridor between
Asia and Europe. Armenia itself could take advantage of this
situation. If there were peace, the Baku-Jeyhan pipeline could
pass through Armenia's territory. But after this pipeline is
laid down, it will be Georgia that serves as the transit country
and will annually draw $55 million just from the oil transport
If there were peace, a very important transport artery - the
railway line to Kars [Turkey] could be set into motion from Azerbaijan
through Armenia and on to cities in Turkey and Europe. This,
of course, would bring great economic development to the region.
If the conflict were to be resolved, Turkey would open its borders
with Armenia, and this would stimulate Armenia's development.
It goes without saying that Azerbaijan's natural resources and
its geopolitical position would benefit both Armenia and Georgia.
But as long as the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh exists, neither
the Armenian Diaspora nor other foreign investors will take Armenia
or Azerbaijan seriously. Nobody wants to risk his money if there's
a chance that military conflicts will flare up. If this conflict
didn't exist, more capital would already have been invested in
Azerbaijan than what we have today.
Until Armenia arrives at an understanding with Azerbaijan, it
won't develop economically. And the Diaspora that they rely on
won't give them the aid that they expect and need. During President
Kocharyan's recent visit to the U.S, he asked for help from the
Armenian Diaspora, but they were very cold to him. The Armenian
mass media wrote about it. The Diaspora advised the President
to create order in Armenia first and to take advantage of Armenia's
Back in 1988-1990 when that conflict first started, the Armenians
were saying that Azerbaijanis hadn't paid enough attention to
Karabakh, that it had become a backward region, but that they
would soon turn it into the Switzerland of the Caucasus. They
said wealthy people from all over the world would be attracted
to invest capital there. Ten years have passed, but Karabakh
has not become a second Switzerland. Nor will it become one.
On the contrary. The population in Karabakh before the conflict
included 120,000 Armenians and more than 50,000 Azerbaijanis.
Today there are no more than 40,000 Armenians living there. And
the truth is that those who still live there are trying to find
every means to leave. Emigration is one of the most serious problems
that Armenia faces today. So many of their people are trying
I personally believe that there must be a great number of Armenians
today who are sorry that they got involved with these political
speculations and became the victims of major geopolitical games.
Naturally, the fact that Azerbaijan is a small country surrounded
by large countries creates major problems for us. Iran has its
own interests, and a number of circles in Russia still haven't
forgotten that Azerbaijan once belonged to the czarist empire
and then later the Soviet Union. That means that Azerbaijan must
always be clever not to become oppressed by these big neighbors.
We are always keen to maintain peaceful neighborly relations
with both Russia and Iran. Since Azerbaijan gained its independence,
enormous work has gone into this aspect of our foreign policy.
One of our classic poets once wrote that small nations need big
swords to defend themselves. But another poet contradicted him,
saying that small nations need big friends so they can rely on
them to ensure security. My opinion is that we must have both
mighty swords and mighty friends to ensure our future security
I think these ten years of independence have instilled within
us the belief that we definitely have to be strong, both from
the economic as well as the moral-psychological point of view.
Strength is not in the sword alone. We must become a nation that
believes in itself and in its own power. If we could have that,
we could solve all our problems, including Karabakh.
was conducted by Betty Blair, Editor of Azerbaijan International,
in the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Baku on September
(8.4) Winter 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.
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