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Azerbaijan - Introduction

As of 2007, of the former Soviet Caucasian republics, Azerbaijan had the most numerous Armed Forces: 95,000 personnel, including 85,000 in the Army, 8,000 in the Air Force and Air Defense Forces, and 2,000 in the Navy. Aside from the Armed Forces, Azerbaijan also has a National Guard (2,500 personnel), Interior Ministry Troops (12,000), and Border Guards (5,000). Evidence of Azerbaijan's militarization can be found in its defense spending: in 2007 this exceeded the entire budget of Armenia, with which Baku has almost-hostile relations.

The Azeri economy has grown rapidly since 2000, outpacing all other post-Soviet republics, reaching a record of 29.3% growth in 2007 and 15% in the first quarter of 2008. Government expenditures have increased by a factor of ten over 2002-2008. The sharp growth of oil revenues to the budget has allowed Azerbaijan to increase its defense expenditures by a factor of nine since 2004: from 144 million USD in 2003 to 1.2 billion USD in 2008, which accounts for about 4% of Azerbaijans GDP. Moreover, according to a recent announcement of President Aliyev, total defense expenditures for 2008 reached $2 billion. This figure is comparable to the entire state budget of Armenia, which is projected at $2.5 billion for 2008. While Aliyev may be exaggerating Azerbaijans defense expenditures, the general tendency is clear enough. In Janueary 2009 Azerbaijan announced a rise in military spending for 2009 to $2.3 billion.

Location at the meeting point of southeastern Europe with the western border of Asia greatly influenced the histories of the three national groups forming the present-day Transcaucasian republics. Especially between the twelfth and the twentieth centuries, their peoples were subject to invasion and control by the Ottoman, Persian, and Russian empires. But, with the formation of the twentieth-century states named for them, the Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian peoples as a whole underwent different degrees of displacement and played quite different roles. For example, the Republic of Azerbaijan that emerged from the Soviet Union in 1991 contains only 5.8 million of the world's estimated 19 million Azerbaijanis, with most of the balance living in Iran across a southern border fixed when Persia and Russia in the nineteenth century.

The country's location, needs and history mean that the choice between Russian and western geostrategic interests is often a difficult one. Azerbaijan is also a country rich in gas and oil. Unfortunately, the economy has not benefited from this as much as it could have. A pipeline running from Baku through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan provides western countries with oil from the Caspian Sea area. The importance of the country's geographical location in terms of energy provision is evident. Moreover, although the frontiers between Azerbaijan and Armenia are closed because of the longstanding dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, there are other conduits to the West for drug and weapons trafficking (traditional, nuclear, proliferation of WMD) - two further issues that have not yet been solved. The Caucasus are situated on the route north-south between Russia and the Middle East, on the route east-west carrying weapons traffic between Asia and Europe, and on a route south-north along which small quantities of weapons are trafficked towards Chechnya.

Although Azerbaijan normally is included in the three-part grouping of the Transcaucasus countries (and was so defined politically between 1922 and 1936), it has more in common culturally with the Central Asian republics east of the Caspian Sea than with Armenia and Georgia. The common link with the latter states is the Caucasus mountain range, which defines the topography of the northern and western parts of Azerbaijan. A unique aspect of Azerbaijan's political geography is the enclave of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, created by the Soviet Union in 1924 in the area between Armenia and Iran and separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory. In 1924 the Soviet Union also created the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region within Azerbaijan, an enclave whose population was about 94 percent Armenian at that time and remained about 75 percent Armenian in the late 1980s.

For Armenia and Azerbaijan, the center of nationalist self- expression was the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region of Azerbaijan. After the Armenian majority there declared unification with Armenia in 1988, ethnic conflict broke out in both republics, leaving many Armenians and Azerbaijanis dead. For the next six years, battles raged between Armenian and Azerbaijani regular forces and between Armenian militias from Nagorno-Karabakh ("mountainous Karabakh" in Russian), and foreign mercenaries, killing thousands in and around Karabakh and causing massive refugee movements in both directions. Armenian military forces, better supplied and better organized, generally gained ground in the conflict, but the sides were evened as Armenia itself was devastated by six years of Azerbaijani blockades. In 1993 and early 1994, international mediation efforts were stymied by the intransigence of the two sides and by competition between Russia and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe ( CSCE) for the role of chief peace negotiator.

In July 1992, Azerbaijan ratified the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), which establishes comprehensive limits on key categories of conventional military equipment and provides for the destruction of weaponry in excess of those limits. Although Azerbaijan did not provide all data required by the treaty on its conventional forces at that time, it has accepted on-site inspections of forces on its territory. Azerbaijan approved the CFE flank agreement in May 1997. It also has acceded to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state. Azerbaijan participates in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Partnership for Peace. Azerbaijan currently maintains 90 troops in Afghanistan, and in November 2008 concluded its peacekeeping deployment in Iraq.

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