A GROWING VOICE

Azerbaijan 2012 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: REGIONAL AFFAIRS

As the leading economic powerhouse in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan is working toward the consolidation of regional cooperation and political stability.

In late 2011, Azerbaijan achieved one of its most important goals in the 20 years since its independence when it was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2012-2013 with the support of 155 countries, highlighting the country's eagerness to resolve regional issues and maintain peace in the Caucasus region. In a speech delivered in October 2011, President Ilham Aliyev described the recognition as the country's “biggest victory." One of Azerbaijan's main aims has been to settle the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, an issue that will be propelled to the forefront of the agenda in 2012. Azerbaijan's membership of the UN Security Council will prompt further contributions to the country's efforts in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and encourage Azerbaijan's position as an international, political, and economic force.

Over the last few years, the country has doubled its diplomatic presence abroad and currently operates over 50 diplomatic missions. In addition, the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, founded in 2007, has begun the lengthy process of preparing the diplomats of tomorrow. Azerbaijan has placed great importance on the training of its new diplomats, who will play an increasingly vital role not only within the region, but at the international level.

Azerbaijan also has the privilege of hosting the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, one of the largest international events to be held in Baku. The contest presents an opportunity to promote the country, and is seen as a major milestone and a turning point for Azerbaijan in the international community. Behind the scenes, Azerbaijan will make important developments in its relationship with Europe, which is becoming stronger day by day.

Azerbaijan is also enhancing its role as a powerful economic hub in the Caucasus region. In fact, the country's economy constitutes more than 83% of the South Caucasus' economy. This figure is likely to increase in the near future, as the existing political stability and business environment prompts the further regional expansion of Azerbaijani companies, and above all the further involvement of foreign investors in the region.

In that sphere, one major development in the region was the signing of an agreement between Azerbaijan and Turkey regarding the construction of a joint gas project, the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), which will stretch across Turkey from east to west. The main aim of this project is to export Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe, thereby providing energy security to the region. This cooperation demonstrates that Azerbaijan has fully emerged as a key player in regional energy politics, and is eager to form strong economic ties with the EU. Energy policies have increasingly been influenced by the country's desire to secure a reliable transit route for the gas from the second phase of the Shah Deniz project to other parts of the region.

Azerbaijan is also actively working toward cooperation with its northern neighbors. The successful signing of a border delimitation agreement with Russia and the undertaking of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project are also clear examples of the importance of regional and international cooperation Azerbaijan has been long working on, and at the same time shows the strong ties the country has developed with its neighbors.

These breakthroughs have made Azerbaijan a very attractive political and economic partner for both European and Asian countries that see the Caspian basin as a key area to boost trade and political relations between East and West.

The country has managed to form tight relations with both regional countries and international organizations over the last few years. Azerbaijan has expanded its regional and international cooperation by cofounding the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, as well as joining the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The success of 2011 in terms of foreign policy will increase Azerbaijan's authority in the international arena and strengthen the country economically and politically. Such achievements are laying the foundation for the country to boost its diplomatic efforts and start a new and promising chapter in its brief but intense modern history.