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Azerbaijan - Foreign Relations

Azerbaijan is the largest of the three South Caucasus states, bounded by Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and the Caspian Sea. There is also a short border between Turkey and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic (pop. 295,000), which is separated from the bulk of Azerbaijan by southern Armenia. Under Russo-Turkish treaty arrangements Nakhichevan's sovereignty cannot be transferred from Azerbaijan.

The majority of Azerbaijan's population is Shia Muslim. There are ethnic and cultural links with the large ethnic Azeri population of Iran. Azerbaijan's system of government is secular, and the country has a westward-looking foreign policy. Azerbaijan is of the view that Georgia was a friend to Azerbaijan and that despite Azerbaijan's own economic difficulties, Azerbaijan still sold gas to Georgia when Russia refused. Azerbaijan sees Armenia as being "fully governed by Russia" with Russia considing Armenia to be part of Russia, given that Armenia's economy was deeply integrated into Russia's economy. Some of the regional tension was reduced when the Russian military closed their bases in Georgia, but the fact that Russian military equipment had been moved from Georgia to Armenia can potentially create further problems.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 brought an end to the Cold War and created the opportunity to build relations with its successor states as they began a political and economic transformation. Azerbaijan's post-Soviet foreign policy attempted to balance the interests of three stronger, often mutually hostile, neighbors -- Iran, Russia, and Turkey -- while using those nations' interests in regional peace to help resolve the Karabakh conflict. The Elchibey regime of 1992-93 leaned toward Turkey, which it saw as the best mediator in Karabakh. Armenia took advantage of this strategy, however, to form closer ties with Russia, whose economic assistance it needed desperately. Beginning in 1993, Aliyev sought to rekindle relations with Russia and Iran, believing that Russia could negotiate a positive settlement in Karabakh. Relations with Turkey were carefully maintained, however.

President Ilham Aliyev inherited from his father a clever, realistic foreign policy that he has largely maintained. With the overarching goal of maintaining and increasing Azerbaijan's independence and sovereignty, he encourages involvement with NATO and Euro-Atlantic security and political structures and supported a policy of westward transit of Azerbaijani oil and gas through non-Russian channels. Otherwise, though, he alternated between assertiveness and appeasement where his powerful neighbors Russia and Iran are concerned. For example, Azerbaijan routinely accused Russia of supplying Armenia with weapons and pointedly absented itself from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), while participating in GUAM. At the same time, Aliyev constantly played up his relations with President Medvedev with frequent visits and kept open the channels of negotiation on energy issues, concluding a small but symbolically important agreement with Gazprom to supply gas to Dagestan. He was assertive enough to defend Azerbaijan's prerogative for an independent policy, but discreet enough that he is in no danger of joining Saakashvili on Moscow's hit list.

In foreign policy, Aliyev has also been able to maintain generally the distinction between "business and personal." For all his bluster about Azerbaijan's legal right to liberate the Armenian-occupied territories by force, Aliyev has worked constructively on the Minsk Group-proposed Basic Principles and developed a reportedly good rapport with Armenian President Sargsian - in contrast to the much more confrontational relationship between the countries' foreign ministers. Similarly, even as Aliyev regards with horror the prospect of Turkey-Armenia rapprochement ahead of Nagorno-Karabakh resolution, the President instructed SOCAR to continue gas transit and supply talks with Turkey, and no one in Baku dared to consider a cut in oil exports through the BTC pipeline. The gas transit talks were a hardball affair to be sure, but Aliyev recognized that Azerbaijan cannot really afford a total rupture with Turkey and certainly is not going to go so far as to foreclose on options out of pique while the Turkey-Armenia question remained open.


Azerbaijan sees Turkey, whose people and language are closely related, as its natural bridge to the west. Azerbaijan shares a number of affinities with its large regional neighbour from which it draws considerable support. Turkey’s stance on Azerbaijan’s dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh is to maintain a closed border policy with Armenia until it makes concessions over Nagorno-Karabakh. On energy issues, the context of Caspian oil and gas pipeline routes linking Azerbaijan via Georgia and through Turkey represents an important area of close co-operation which moved into another gear with the official opening of the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

Azerbaijan's main military-strategic partner is Turkey. Educating military personnel in the pan-Turkic spirit is considered highly important. The relations with Turkey which was the first to support Azerbaijan's position from the first days are of great importance for Azerbaijan. The relations between these two countries close in the ethnic and cultural properties and language are expanding and developing to date. The attitude of Azerbaijan and Turkey to the development of the geopolitical and economic situation in the region and the implementation of the trans-regional economic projects and Ankara's efforts to resolve the Armenian-Azeri conflict, including the steps undertaken within the framework of different international organizations shows the correspondence of their positions and the highly developed cooperation between the two countries.

Ankara angered Baku in October 2009, when it signed a protocol with Yerevan aimed at restoring diplomatic relations and eventually ending Turkey's economic embargo against Armenia. Turkey had pressing reasons to mend fences with Armenia. Ankara saw rapprochement with Yerevan as key to stemming the persistent calls for Turkey to recognize the mass killings of its Armenian minority during World War I as genocide. Ankara strongly denied the charge, saying the deaths occurred during a civil war.

By 2012 Turkey and its neighbor, Azerbaijan, were increasing diplomatic and economic cooperation following the collapse of rapprochement efforts between Turkey and Azerbaijan's rival, Armenia. Turkey is increasingly aligning itself with its Azerbaijani neighbor. Senior Turkish government ministers have visited Azerbaijan to offer support to Baku in its efforts to reclaim the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

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Page last modified: 27-07-2018 23:51:45 ZULU