Local and foreign experts take political and geopolitical stock of the year 2021.
Namig Aliyev, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Doctor of Law, Professor, Head of Chair at the Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan: “2021 is the first post-conflict year. The year when our people took a deep breath and felt the pride of the winner, the liberator of their occupied territories.
“This year has also been a year of diplomatic victories for Azerbaijan, which consolidated our military success. We have made progress in the peace process, although perhaps not as much as we would like. The Armenian side hindered the full implementation of the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020. However, by the end of the year, the meetings in Sochi and Brussels pushed Armenia to implement the signed agreements, including the opening of the Zangezur corridor. The economic and political effect of the opening of the Zangezur corridor will be substantial. This effect will be felt not only by Azerbaijan and Armenia, but also by the entire region of the South Caucasus, as well as the Eastern Mediterranean. The corridor will boost the acceleration of the development of the “3+3” format and Georgia’s involvement in it.
“We went through a crisis in Iranian-Azerbaijani relations in the period from August to October this year, which ended with the actualization of the North-South international transport corridor that connects India with the Middle East and the Caucasus, Central Asia and Europe. The project is aimed at enhancing the efficiency of transport communications in the management of freight and passenger traffic, at contributing to the increase in the volume of international traffic.
“The rehabilitation of the Azerbaijani territories liberated from occupation is successfully underway. Unfortunately, they still have to be cleared of landmines planted by the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia in violation of the Ottawa Convention.
“Despite this, the magnificent international airport in Fuzuli has been put into operation, the Victory Road to Shusha has been built, soon, in January, regular bus routes to Karabakh will open, and other unique projects are being implemented.
“And, last but not least, during this period, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev played a key role in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, advancing various initiatives and emphasizing the need to ensure equal access to vaccines for all countries and peoples.”
Paul Goble, former special adviser to the US Secretary of State: “Azerbaijan achieved much in 2021, but not everything it had expected after defeating Armenia in 2020. It has become the dominant regional power in the South Caucasus, but has not yet been able to force Moscow and Yerevan to fulfill their promises to restore transit routes, in particular the Zangezur corridor.”
Colonel John Spencer, American researcher, Deputy Director of the Modern War Institute: “In my opinion, Azerbaijan achieved great success in 2021. It showed the whole world that it is a stable and peace-seeking country and a strong player in the South Caucasus. The restoration of Nagorno-Karabakh (the roads, Shusha, the airport) shows Baku’s striving for restoration on many levels.
“I do believe that Azerbaijan has changed the geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus and continues to build strong ties with countries like Turkey, but at the same time is open to others, such as Russia. Political stability is another sign of strength and something very valuable in the region and the world community.”
Mikhail Finkel, Doctor of Law, Israeli international law and international relations expert: “2021 has been the year of great victories for Azerbaijan as a whole, including in the diplomatic and political fields. Azerbaijan has scored many points with the international community as a serious regional power that does not just complain and talk about things, but achieves its goals.
“The President of Azerbaijan held several rounds of important negotiations, making very strong, confident proposals for a comprehensive peace with Armenia, to which the Armenian side, represented by Pashinyan, very often reacted extremely nervously. Pashinyan clearly did not want to sign a peace treaty, did not want to hand over the remaining landmine maps. What he wanted was to draw out the situation.
“Azerbaijan has gained serious weight and respect in Europe, Russia, and the US. Azerbaijan is a winner, an economically strong country, a commanding military power. And we know that everyone prefers dealing with winners.”
Irina Zuckerman, American analyst: “Azerbaijan has achieved a lot in 2021. In particular, you managed to get maps of mined territories from Armenia and start a large-scale demining process. An airport has been built in Fuzuli, which will unite and integrate the entire South Caucasus and attract tourists. Important negotiations were held with Russia and Armenia, at which the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed in the issue of demarcation and delimitation of borders and the opening of the Zangezur corridor. Azerbaijan received the support of the European Union on the peace plan and various joint projects, for example, as a partner in the development of green energy and innovation in technology.
“Ties with NATO are also strengthening: Azerbaijan has secured additional support from this organization by having played an important peacekeeping role in Afghanistan. Azerbaijan has also fought off Iran’s aggressive provocations and rebuffed Armenian terrorists on the border.
“During the energy crisis in Europe, Baku plays an important stabilizing role, increasingly coming to the fore as a mediator in diplomatic negotiations, such as between Israel and Turkey. Baku is becoming known as a central player in the South Caucasus, rather than as a small country in need of international humanitarian aid. Azerbaijan has earned a reputation as an independent player resolving its own and regional problems, not only by winning the war, but subsequently becoming part of the 3+3 dialogue in order to tackle the pressing problems of the region through direct diplomatic means.
“Still, not all geopolitical problems have been solved in the region yet: Yerevan continues to put spokes in the wheels, Russia, unwilling to lose its influence, is slowing down the peacekeeping process. A long process of repairing relations between Armenia and Turkey and Azerbaijan lies ahead, but progress is evident, and there is more and more talk about future initiatives and cooperation, and less and less talk about attempts to resume hostilities.”
Neil Watson, British journalist: “The year 2021 has been momentous for Azerbaijan in many ways. First of all, the country celebrated the 30th anniversary of the restoration of its independence from the Soviet Union, during which it has turned into the most independent former Soviet republic. But it was also the first year when independent Azerbaijan was fully unified, returning 20% of the country’s territory that had remained under illegal Armenian occupation for almost 30 years.
“Azerbaijan has proved to the entire world that it is a key country in the South Caucasus, whose geopolitical influence by far exceeds its geographical location. The construction carried out in the liberated territories—I cannot bring myself to say ‘reconstruction’, since the Armenian occupants sought to destroy any reminder of the Azerbaijani heritage—has been simply incredible.
“The only unresolved issue that seems to impede a full-scale return to the liberated territories is demining and whether the landmine maps that were handed over to Baku by Yerevan are indeed accurate. As usual, Azerbaijan turned to leading Western countries for assistance in modern and environmentally efficient construction.
“Secondly, Azerbaijan-Turkey relations have reached a new peak in 2021, I mean the signing of the Shusha Declaration. Turkey has always been a fraternal country to Azerbaijan, it played a crucial role in securing the victory in the second Karabakh conflict. Turkey is actively involved in the construction in the liberated territories, and the trade and economic relations between the two countries could not be stronger. President Erdoğan’s excellent approach to the unification of all Turkic peoples is yielding fruit, and Azerbaijan’s logical role in this matter makes it stronger. Therefore, even a hint of an invasion of Azerbaijani territory by Armenia or any other state is now extremely unlikely.
“Thirdly, despite some ill-wishers, Azerbaijan-Russia relations have definitely grown over the past year. Being under close international scrutiny, the Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh have performed well overall. The political situation and public opinion in Armenia remain unstable, and it is impossible to whittle down all Armenian provocations in Azerbaijan’s territory. However, it seems that in the absence of an active role of the UN and other international organizations, the Russian peacekeepers are doing what they should.
“Fourthly, we have witnessed numerous trilateral meetings between the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, the leadership of Azerbaijan in the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan’s meetings with NATO leaders and its participation in the EU Eastern Partnership meetings and many other important international summits.
“All this shows that Azerbaijan is a regional leader in the world arena, that it must play its role in international politics on all issues, from the fight against the pandemic to the future of renewable energy sources. This shows that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is a world-class politician. I believe that 2021 has become an annus mirabilis for Azerbaijan, and 2022 is expected to surpass it.”
Maxim Shevchenko, Russian political scientist, journalist, TV presenter and public figure: “In 2021, Azerbaijan achieved consolidation of the results of its victory in the Patriotic War of 2020. It built the road to Shusha through the liberated territories, a beautiful new airport in Fuzuli, which is capable of receiving the largest aircrafts. Baku is rapidly clearing the liberated territories from mines and preparing them for the return of the people. Azerbaijan is pursuing a clear, consistent international policy aimed at creating an atmosphere of cooperation in the South Caucasus, adhering to the concept of the “3+3” platform. Baku demonstrates its readiness to rebuff any provocations and attempts to disrupt the peace process. Azerbaijan consistently and confidently shows everyone that cooperation is better than confrontation, stability is better than chaos. Politically, Azerbaijan is the leader of the peace-building process in the South Caucasus.”
Peter Tase, American expert in the field of European politics: “The Azerbaijani armed forces have made a huge impact on the prosperity and economic growth of the South Caucasus. The well-trained Armed Forces of Azerbaijan have achieved what neither Washington nor Brussels could—implementation of international laws and the complete territorial sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
“Under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, the Republic of Azerbaijan maintains an admirable level of economic growth, supplies natural gas and oil to Europe, which were vital for overcoming the global energy crisis that brought the world to its knees. Under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s geopolitical role is growing. Azerbaijan is a major geostrategic player in the Eurasian space, and its economic performance on a national scale is a good example for other countries.”
Tofig Abbasov, Azerbaijani political scientist: “Everything that has been done this year should be viewed through the prism of victory in the Patriotic War. Of course, the completion of the process, which was marked by Azerbaijan’s victory, remained one of the key priorities. A post-war atmosphere is always sensitive, even nervous.
“Karabakh was destroyed almost completely. It is a disaster zone and its revival requires financial resources, technology, and additional creative capacities. Of course, Azerbaijan has its own potential, but we also invite the business leaders of friendly countries to participate in this process. The Eastern Zangezur region will play an important role in the development of communications and integration schemes not only for our country, but also for our neighbors. As an important transport hub, Azerbaijan will play a key role in intercontinental transit.
“Azerbaijan has proved that domestic stability is a great asset in the development of international cooperation, because we are a multicultural country. Diversity based on unity and common goals creates a solid foundation for stability and cooperation.
“One of the main results was the social reforms in the country: building a social economy fully justifies itself. The 2020 war demonstrated the solidarity of our society, our army, and our political leadership. A domestic consensus is created and developed on the basis of clear interaction between the authorities and the citizens of the country, when social problems are in the focus of attention of the President of Azerbaijan.
“This year we have witnessed a rise in wages, the payment of benefits to citizens of special categories. All this is of key importance, even though we have conducted an expensive military campaign. In 2022, the state budget will be increased, social spending will grow by 32%—this is a serious indicator that the tenets of domestic stability and security are growing stronger.
“In 2021, the Shusha Declaration was signed between Azerbaijan and Turkey—without exaggeration, the most important achievement of the new geopolitical reality in the South Caucasus region. The declaration officially consolidated the fraternal relations between Baku and Ankara as an alliance.
“Over time, our positions will be strengthened on international platforms. The President initiated charity campaigns to provide social assistance to other countries in the fight against COVID-19. Azerbaijan has provided assistance to more than 30 countries around the world and the UN approved of Ilham Aliyev’s initiative to overcome vaccine nationalism.
“The President spoke at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. Very serious proposals related to security simplification have been voiced. The Cooperation Council of the Turkic States has become a full-fledged influential organization. Much of this success is owed to Ilham Aliyev, and it is no coincidence that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan presented the Supreme Order of the Turkic World to him at the summit of the organization in Turkey. Azerbaijan’s policy finds mutual understanding among many of our allies and partners, as they appreciate its constructive role.”
Patrick Walsh, Irish historian: “Azerbaijan has undoubtedly changed the geopolitical situation. The 44-day liberation war drastically tipped the balance of power in the South Caucasus. Since Azerbaijan demonstrated its ability to ensure its sovereignty and regain its territory, other powers had to recognize this reality.
“Now Russia and Europe are forced to deal with Azerbaijan, who has reinstated its authority in Karabakh. Armenia has lost every advantage it had. This is important because over the past three decades, the international community held a passive position by default.
“Unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan has demonstrated the ability to act as a regional power, both economically and politically. Such things command respect in international relations, and even those who doubted Azerbaijan in the past have been compelled to come to terms with the new reality.”
Translated from Caliber.Az