A look at the 25-year period of independence and modern foreign policy priorities
A look at the 25-year period of independence and modern foreign policy priorities
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of its state independence, like in all other fields, the Republic of Azerbaijan has gained great achievements in the foreign policy field over the past years. As the leading state of the region, Azerbaijan is one of the influential states in the world today. These successes have been achieved thanks to the far-sighted foreign policy strategy, which was founded by nationwide leader Heydar Aliyev and has been successfully continued by President Ilham Aliyev.

The domestic and foreign threats facing Azerbaijan in the first years of independence and the danger of losing the independence our people had been aspiring to for many years proved once again that it is as to maintain and strengthen the independence as it is to gain it.

Looking through political literature and media belonging to the early 1990s, we witness very pessimistic predictions about Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was characterized as a country in decline or about to lose its statehood. Unfortunately, there were real grounds for pessimism. Armenia's aggression against Azerbaijan and the occupation of 20 percent of our territory, the fact that more than one million Azerbaijani people became refugees and displaced persons and the humanitarian disaster facing our country, the failure of domestic and foreign policy due to the incompetence of political government and the danger of a civil war in our country were the bitter realities of the first two years of our independence. The disaster that has gripped some Middle Eastern countries at the moment was not far away from Azerbaijan in that period.

The history of world states, including the history of diplomacy and war shows that at times of hardship, which are regarded as a test, the role of personalities in the life of peoples and states is undeniable. The people of Azerbaijan demonstrated its wisdom once again, showed political will and at a time of vital importance, insistently demanded Heydar Aliyev's return to power. Heydar Aliyev's personality changed the course of history in a short period of time and proved pessimistic predictions wrong.

During his meaningful and comprehensive speech at the reception dedicated to the 25th anniversary of Azerbaijan's state independence, President Ilham Aliyev characterized that period and said: "Foreign policy priorities were determined precisely in those years. Azerbaijan began its development as a modern secular state. That's to say it was precisely in those years that strategic steps were taken in relation to the future of our country. Today history shows that this was the only right way."

Today Azerbaijan is a country that is conducting a foreign policy based on its national interests in the real sense of the word. Naturally, our confidence and independence in the foreign policy field come from our successful domestic policy.

Due to domestic development and confidence, our foreign policy is being conducted on a balanced and multipolar fundamental basis. Our head of state has repeatedly noted that Azerbaijan has an independent and transparent foreign policy strategy. At the same time, in its foreign policy Azerbaijan takes as a basis the norms and principles of international law and the UN Charter and is guided by the principles of equal rights, non-interference in internal affairs, mutually beneficial cooperation and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.

In line with the development dynamics of our country and the new stage of independence, the changing requirements of time and international relations, the priorities on our foreign policy agenda are also updated on the basis of the basic principles of Heydar Aliyev's strategy.

The following priorities are on the agenda of the successful foreign policy being pursued by our Head of state:

- Maintaining and strengthening the independence and sovereignty of Azerbaijan

It is to be regretted that the principle of states' sovereignty based on the Westphalian system is constantly violated and has become a subject of interference in modern international relations that have the nature of anarchy. Some states illegally try to regard themselves as "more equal" among the states that have equal rights and consider it their "duty" to interfere in the internal affairs of other states. As a result, there are developments that pose a serious threat to the future fate, sovereignty and unity of some traditional states, they turn from a subject into an object of international law, and new hotspots of conflict emerge. The people of Azerbaijan made numerous sacrifices to regain their current independence, and our people longed for this independent for years. For this reason, maintaining and strengthening Azerbaijan's independence and handing it down to the generations to come is one of our main duties. Based on the principles of sovereignty and equality, we respect the sovereignty of other states, do not interfere in their internal affairs and demand the same attitude to ourselves.

- Eliminating the consequences of Armenia's aggression against Azerbaijan and ensuring the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan within its internationally-recognized borders and a lasting peace and security in the region

In 1993, the UN Security Council adopted Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 and condemned the use of force against Azerbaijan and the occupation of its lands. In these resolutions, the Security Council expressed its respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan once again, confirmed that the Nagorno-Karabakh region is an integral part of Azerbaijan and demanded the immediate, full and unconditional withdrawal of occupying forces from all occupied territories.

Such serious points are also included in the numerous statements adopted by the chairman of the Security Council in 1992-95. It is to be regretted that the resolute demands of the Security Council for the withdrawal of the occupying forces from all Azerbaijani territories have still not been implemented and the mediatory efforts that have been continuing within the framework of the OSCE for more than 20 years have still not yielded a result.

Instead of engaging in goodwill negotiations, Armenia openly disrupts all attempts aimed at a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Totally ignoring the demands of the UN Security Council and flagrantly violating international law, Armenia refuses to withdraw its troops from Azerbaijani territories, prevents the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis, who have been displaced by force, from returning to their homes and is trying to strengthen the existing status quo by changing the physical, demographic and cultural nature of the occupied territories. These alarming facts were once again confirmed by the OSCE fact-finding mission.

Apart from that, Armenia is trying to divert attention from the main and substantial issues of the peace process to the technical aspects of the ceasefire and carries out military provocations from time to time. In April this year, Armenia carried out large-scale attacks on Azerbaijan's civilian population. Densely-populated Azerbaijani territories, including schools, hospitals and religious sites were subjected to intensive fire from heavy artillery and high-caliber weapons. As a result of Armenia's irresponsible attacks, many Azerbaijani civilians, including children, women and old people were killed and seriously wounded. Had it not been for the timely effective civil defense measures, the number of casualties among the population would have been higher. Armenia has mutilated the bodies of killed Azerbaijani soldiers.

During these attacks, 34 cities and villages of Azerbaijan were heavily damaged. Private and public property, including civilian infrastructure incurred significant damage. Hundreds of civilian buildings, especially residential houses, schools, kindergartens, cultural centers and other civilian facilities were destroyed.

After the April fighting, Azerbaijan said that it was in favor of continuing the talks on a substantial basis. The substantial talks must result in a change in the current status quo, which the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and heads of state regard as unacceptable and unsustainable, and in the liberation of the Azerbaijani territories from occupation. However, Armenia is trying to disrupt the negotiations with its provocative actions again. The April events showed once again that the presence of Armenian troops in the occupied Azerbaijani territories is the main cause of tensions.

Armenia's policy of occupation can never result in success. The Nagorno-Karabakh region has been and is an integral part of Azerbaijan and will always be like this. The only way of achieving a strong and lasting settlement and establishing civilized relations between the two countries is the liberation of the Azerbaijani lands from occupation, the restoration of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes by securing their undeniable rights. International law and the relevant resolutions of the Security Council demand this as well.

The sooner Armenia understands this reality and withdraws its armed forces from the occupied territories, the sooner the conflict will be resolved, and Armenia and its population will benefit from prospects of cooperation and economic development.

We have no doubt that one day the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities of Nagorno-Karabakh will live together again in this region of Azerbaijan in a secure and worthy atmosphere. For this reason, it is of vital importance to continue efforts aimed at peace, harmony and coexistence between both communities of Nagorno-Karabakh. We view these issues, which require special attention, as important aspects of the entire reconciliation process.

- Strengthening international peace and security and identifying and preventing foreign threats to Azerbaijan's security

Mentioning the rights and duties of states enshrined in international law and confirming once again the importance of respect for the territorial integrity and political independence of our country, the final documents of the UN Sustainable Development Summit 2015 said that there is no sustainable development without peace and there is no peace without sustainable development.

The world is still facing violations of the fundamental norms and principles of international law. The terrorist threat acquires new forms and manifestations. The international security system demonstrates its helplessness in front of terrorist groups, which present themselves as state entities. Tendencies of xenophobia, extreme national, racial discrimination and Islamophobia, which are considered an alternative to multiculturalism, are getting stronger. Organizations responsible for international peace and security are not effectively implementing their obligations. Along with transnational threats, traditional threats that are accompanied by the violation of states' territorial integrity and sovereignty through the use of force and undermine international relations are also raging. The policy of creating military blocs, which was typical of the "Cold War" period, is continuing, new dividing lines are being drawn and "iron curtains" are being put in place. The global financial-economic crisis is deepening and no new regulatory mechanisms are being formed to prevent it. The world oil market and global trade are turning into victims of the political situation and manipulation.

In this situation, Azerbaijan is making efforts to establish a system of international relations based on the norms and principles of international law and the supremacy of the law in order to strengthen international peace and security.

- Developing bilateral relations

Interstate relations are based on relations between sovereign states. It is no accident that our Head of State has set the development of Azerbaijan's bilateral relations with states as a priority task for our foreign policy. Azerbaijan's election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council with the support of 155 states in 2012 is an indicator of the fact that our country has successful bilateral relations with other countries. In the development of bilateral relations, comprehensive cooperation with neighboring states is one of the priority fields. Except for Armenia, Azerbaijan is consistently developing bilateral political, economic, humanitarian and other relations with all neighboring states. Our bilateral cooperation with neighboring states is also continuing in the trilateral format as a mechanism of regional cooperation.

Our relations with Central Asia, CIS countries, the Arab-Islamic world, Southeast Europe, EU member states, Asian countries, South and North America and African countries are developing on the basis of mutually beneficial cooperation. In this regard, our membership of the CIS and ICO, institutional relations with the European Union, observer status in the League of Arab States, African Union, Organization of American States, active participation in the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process and our dialog partner status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization create favorable grounds for our cooperation with member states. We hope that the agreement on strategic partnership offered to the European Union will make it possible to raise our relations to a qualitatively new level.

- Expanding multilateral diplomacy

In the process of developing multilateral diplomacy, Azerbaijan attaches particular importance to cooperation with the UN and its specialized institutions as a universal international organization and to reforming and increasing the efficiency of UN main bodies such as the Security Council and the General Assembly. The United Nations is playing an important role as a universal organization for such noble goals as maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations between states and achieving international cooperation.

As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2012-13, Azerbaijan made its important contribution to the strengthening of international peace and security. On the initiative of Azerbaijan, the UN Security Council and the Islamic Cooperation Organization held a joint meeting for the first time.

In June this year, Azerbaijan gained the votes of 176 of the 184 countries that participated in voting at the UN General Assembly and was elected a member of the UN Economic and Social Council for 2017-19. Along with being the central platform for professional discussions about sustainable development, ECOSOC will give us additional opportunities to contribute to international development.

After the UN General Assembly, the Non-Alignment Movement is the largest international platform joined by 120 states. Azerbaijan joined the Non-Alignment Movement in 2011. Since its establishment, the Non-Alignment Movement has been playing the main role in the strengthening of international peace and security. In the 50 years of its existence, member states of the movement maintained their common principles and values and demonstrated their ability to create a common ground for activities that lead to mutual cooperation.

In the final document of the 17th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Alignment Movement held on the Margarita Island of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on 13-18 September, a decision was made to hold the 18th summit in 2019 in Azerbaijan. The 18th summit to be held in Baku in 2019 will also have a symbolic nature. Thus, the European continent will get an opportunity to host a meeting of the heads of state and government of member states of the Non-Alignment Movement again 30 years after the 1989 Belgrade Summit. In 2019-2022, Azerbaijan will chair the Non-Alignment Movement.

Azerbaijan also demonstrates activity in regional international organizations of which it is a member and makes proposals to identify new formats of cooperation. In this regard, we can note the OSCE, the Council of Europe, ICO, CIS, the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States, the Economic Cooperation Organization, GUAM, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization and others.

- Developing bilateral economic relations and implementing our country's energy and transport strategy

Developing Azerbaijan's foreign economic relations, promoting the country's economic potential abroad, diversifying the non-oil sector, promoting and expanding export, attracting foreign investments into our country, promoting Azerbaijani investments in partner countries, organizing visits for representatives of the state and business circles of Azerbaijan and foreign countries, holding meetings of intergovernmental commissions and working groups of Azerbaijan and foreign states on economic cooperation, placing products and services produced in our country on new markets and at the same time, attracting modern technologies used abroad into our country are the main fields in bilateral cooperation. In this field, the Foreign Ministry, together with the Ministry of Economy and other related government agencies, is carrying out work to organize meetings of joint intergovernmental commissions and business forums. Cooperation in the field of tourism also takes a special place in the development of bilateral relations. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the diplomatic offices of our country are working together with countries that are attractive in terms of tourism in order to promote Azerbaijan's tourism potential.

The energy and transport projects initiated and implemented by Azerbaijan within the framework of cooperation with regional and international partners have contributed to regional cooperation. We are actively participating in the implementation of the North-South and East-West transport corridors. The creation and commissioning of the trans-Caspian international route and the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway are important projects. The full implementation of China's Silk Road Economic Belt concept will make the aforesaid railway one of the most important infrastructure projects of the region. 

We are sure that the early completion of the Qazvin-Rasht-Astara (Iran)-Astara (Azerbaijan) railway project, which is an integral part of the North-South transport corridor, will give a new impetus to economic growth and expand transport opportunities for the countries involved in the project and for the entire region.

Azerbaijan is the initiator of a major energy project called the Southern Gas Corridor. This is an energy cooperation and energy security project. These energy and transport corridors do not just imply energy and cargo transportation. These are comprehensive cooperation corridors. Members of the Southern Gas Corridor project are Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Italy. We are sure that the Balkan countries will join the project in the following stage.

Azerbaijan is continuing its sustainable policy together with its partners in the implementation of Shah Deniz-2, TANAP and TAP projects, which are important components of the Southern Gas Corridor.

- Developing the Caspian Sea as an area of peace and cooperation

In the course of negotiations, significant work was carried out to agree the provisions of the draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. The political decisions that were made and the agreements reached at summits of the heads of Caspian littoral states in general help the effectiveness of future talks on the draft convention.

The Caspian Sea is an integral part of a number of international and regional projects aimed at ensuring the economic development and welfare of the peoples of Caspian states and the world's energy security.

Strengthening international cooperation, improving the investment environment related to the extraction and transportation of energy reserves to the international market, creating reliable and secure relations and using high-income and eco-friendly technologies remain an important priority for Caspian littoral states.

The Azerbaijani side is sure that all issues related to the legal status of the Caspian Sea must be resolved in the spirit of respect for the sovereign rights of Caspian littoral states and mutually beneficial partnership, as well as through the strengthening of faith and trust between the sides, especially in issues related to regional stability, security and economic and scientific-research activities in the Caspian basin. Confidence-building measures should also include equal security conditions for all Caspian littoral states. We are also sure that the strengthening of stability in the Caspian Sea should be based on respect for all sides' interests, as well as on prevention of damage to each others' interests, respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Caspian littoral states and non-interference in each others' internal affairs.

We share the concern of Caspian littoral states about the environmental situation of the Caspian Sea and are interested in expanding cooperation for resolving the ecological problems of the Caspian Sea.

- Developing the dialog between civilizations and multiculturalism

For centuries, Azerbaijan has been an area where religions, cultures and civilizations come together. Our country is not just a geographic bridge between East and West, but also a bridge between cultures. For centuries, representatives of various religions and cultures have been living together in Azerbaijan in peace and with dignity. Religious tolerance and multiculturalism have always existed here. Even when the word multiculturalism did not exist, those ideas always existed.

As a result, Azerbaijan is now a multiethnic and multi-religious country. Representatives of all religions and ethnic groups live in peace and security here. This is our policy and way of life. Azerbaijan has preserved this wealth for centuries despite the political and social situation in our country.

Multiculturalism is a state policy for us. A forum on intercultural dialogue is organized in our country every two years. Azerbaijan regularly hosts the Baku International Humanitarian Forum. The main purpose here is to bring together representatives of various religions and create a greater mutual understanding between us.

Azerbaijan has hosted a summit of world religious leaders dedicated to such an important issue as dialogue between religions. This subject is one of the most important issues on the world agenda today, and the role of the Alliance of Civilizations is growing.

In 2008, we initiated the "Baku Process", which turned into a broad platform for intercultural dialog. At the same time, Azerbaijan is one of the few countries that are members of the Islamic Cooperation Organization and the Council of Europe at the same time. Thus, we invited culture ministers from member states of the Islamic Cooperation Organization to the Baku meeting of the culture ministers of member states of the Council of Europe in 2008. More than 100 ministers representing these two organizations came together in Baku for the first time.

2016 was declared by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan a "Year of Multiculturalism" in Azerbaijan. As a result, a special Action Plan, which provides for measures to maintain and spread the universal ideas of multiculturalism at the national and international level, has been prepared.

On 25-27 April 2016, Azerbaijan hosted the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations dedicated to the subject "Living Together In Inclusive Societies: A Challenge and A Goal". The main result of the forum was the Baku Declaration. The Baku Declaration is becoming the main guiding principle for states and international organizations in promoting international dialog and multiculturalism as a means of struggle against violence, extremism and xenophobia.

In April next year, Azerbaijan will host the 4th Global Forum on International Intercultural Dialog, which has been held every second year since 2011.

Pope Francis' pastoral visit to Azerbaijan on 2 October this year was an important example of our country's contribution to dialog between cultures and religions.

- Continuing cultural, humanitarian and sports diplomacy

Baku has already become a venue for authoritative political, cultural, sports and business events on a global scale. The infrastructure of our country and Baku on the one hand and the good will policy of our state on the other create important grounds for holding such events. The holding of the First European Games and then the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe will be completed by the Islamic Solidarity Games, which our country will host in 2017.

Under the leadership of the First Lady of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation is carrying out important work to promote Azerbaijani culture worldwide and expand Azerbaijan's partnership on cultural-humanitarian grounds.

Along with measures to implement the right of development inside the country, Azerbaijan plays a role in international development efforts through the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Azerbaijan International Development Agency (AIDA). As a new donor country, Azerbaijan responds to the humanitarian and socio-economic challenges of developing countries through AIDA and other channels.

- Defending and restoring the rights of our citizens and countrymen, as well as legal persons living in foreign countries, and working with the Azerbaijani diaspora

One of the main directions in the implementation of the successful foreign policy line of our state is to defend the rights of citizens of the Republic of Azerbaijan, increase the effectiveness and intensity of consular services to them and in general, carry out activities aimed at giving an impetus to the development of diplomatic and consular relations with foreign states. It is for this reason that substantial measures were taken in 2015 to defend the rights of Azerbaijanis living in foreign countries, solve their problems and expand bilateral and multilateral cooperation with foreign countries in the consular sphere.

Activities are being carried out to defend the rights of our countrymen living abroad, to improve the regulatory-legal acts that regulate their legal status while they are in the Republic of Azerbaijan and to explore opportunities for applying relevant privileges to our countrymen.

Speaking at the Second Congress of Azerbaijanis of the World held in Baku on 16 March 2016, our head of state noted that Heydar Aliyev's policy was continuing in every field in Azerbaijan, our foreign policy was very successful and active, Azerbaijan had a very important place in international organizations, our positions were strengthening and Azerbaijan's steps were producing positive results in all spheres, including in foreign policy, and identified specific tasks and duties for strengthening diaspora activities, increasing relations with representative offices and organizing our diaspora.

Being loyal to the philosophy and essence of the far-sighted and wise words of nationwide leader Heydar Aliyev that "our independence is eternal and irreversible", as a logical continuation of our successful domestic policy, our foreign policy has served to protect our national interests at the international level and to strengthen the international position of our state in the 25 years of independence. We can confidently say that our active and sustainable foreign policy will continue in the coming years to implement our priorities on the agenda under the leadership of our Head of State.

Elmar Mammadyarov,
Foreign Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan

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