Azerbaijan’s new style of politics

The 3rd Baku International Humanitarian Forum took place in Azerbaijan between Oct. 31-Nov. 3. More than 750 participants from 100 countries came together at this event to discuss and debate important topics in the areas of politics, culture, ecology, media, science/technology and biotechnology. 

When one compares this forum to ones in the past — which did not boast this wide of a range of content — one can easily see the multi-dimensional changes that have come to Azeri politics.

In a speech made very shortly after being re-elected to the position of president, Ilham Aliyev noted that Baku was in fact hosting an important cross-section of global intellectuals at this forum. Noting that the Zoroastrian temples and other religious spots belonging to various divine religions have all been restored, and that this was a reflection of tolerance levels in Azerbaijan, Aliyev went on to assert that regional problems could certainly be solved through the politics of compromise. The president also noted that since Azerbaijan has embraced this sort of politics, these types of forums would continue to be a vehicle to spread peace and problem solving throughout the Caucasus.

One of the most important names to be invited to this forum was the ninth president of the Turkish Republic, Süleyman Demirel. Both media sources and regional politicians present heralded Demirel as one of the most unforgettable players in Central Asian and Caucasian politics.

The 3rd Baku International Humanitarian Forum in fact also offered some important clues about various policies set to be followed by Azerbaijan soon. It is quite clear now that Azerbaijan — which is increasingly developed and in some very influential positions on various energy related projects — is following a very resolute path these days toward introducing itself to the rest of the world. In particular, it appears that Azerbaijan is more determined than ever to explain accurately to the rest of the world the situation involving a full one-fifth of its land being under Armenian occupation, and how this poses a risk for the region as a whole. Examining actions taken by global Armenian lobbies, it is widely known that, including the massacres that took place in Nagorno-Karabakh, there have been many actions taken against Azerbaijan. As a country slammed with a variety of both political and economic sanctions as a result of being blamed in a case in which it was actually right, Azerbaijan’s determination to carry on with various types of new public diplomacy is important from the perspective of building peace in the Caucasus.

In the meantime, various media sources publishing news about the forum in Baku shared stories about the false sense of modernity visitors to Baku might be picking up; these media sources asserted that the hundreds of visitors to the 3rd Baku International Humanitarian Forum were being kept from seeing the rest of Azerbaijan. Visits organized to regions such as Guba, Gabala, Lankaran, Ganja and Nakhchivan as a part of the forum framework wound up showing, however, that intentions were in fact much different at this Baku forum. And in fact, intellectuals from all over the world who had come to attend the Baku forum ended up getting to experience the true atmosphere of tolerance which has typified Azerbaijan for so many centuries. One example of this was the visit to the city of Gabala, which lies in the middle of the Caucasus, where archeological digs in the local village of Chukhur have turned up graves of pagan, Jewish, Christian and Muslim people all in the same area, each buried according to his or her own traditions. The sights here astonished visiting foreigners. In Gabala, which was once an important stop on the historic Silk Road, the gravestones and gravesites indicate that various religions here have all been protected to this day.

The carefully preserved churches of Alban and Udin in the Azeri cities of Gabala and Shaki were also of great interest to the visiting delegations from the forum. Interestingly, while Azerbaijan is often accused by Armenian diaspora sources of having carried out cultural genocide, it is certainly impossible for Armenia to show off sights similar to what visitors can behold in Gabala and Shaki. This is because the Yazidis of Armenia, who of course represent only a small portion of the general population, were fearful, and so they preferred to live in a way that did not draw any attention to themselves. As for any structures or traces left from Seljuk times or other Turkish administrations, either there is nothing left of these, or what remains has become dilapidated over time. Of course, the truth of this situation is one which can only be learned by the rest of the world through programs similar to the recent Baku forum.

Azerbaijan’s new form of politics is certainly one which deserves some acclaim. The new set of politics and policies — which aims not only to underscore the real importance of Azerbaijan, but also to show the rest of the world the true source of some of the deepest problems here — will no doubt carry Azerbaijan to an important position within its region. One can only hope that the issues surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh will be solved peacefully, and that regional governments as well as global delegations will continue to get the opportunities to come and see the Caucasus on their own.

Mehmet Fatih ÖZTARSU

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