by Dr. Kamran Balayev

Azerbaijan stands as a significant beacon of strength in an otherwise turbulent region. Azerbaijan shares a border with great powers when it comes to thinking about international security. These countries include Russia, Turkey and Iran.

As a result of Azerbaijan’s place as a leading nation in the Caucasus region, this country is a vital strategic partner for the West. Azerbaijan offers assistance when it comes to dealing with global terrorism, secularism and international security. There are many considerations to take into account when trying to establish what elements have helped achieve this. It is almost remarkable that in light of this geographical location Azerbaijan persists in offering an example to other regional actors. This article contends that Azerbaijan’s security arises from its uniquely tolerant society, the successful and growing economy, its participation on the international stage and its management of external aggression.

It is important to begin by tracing the origins of the religious equality and ethnic diversity in Azerbaijan. Much of this arises from its history but there are also current policies from its ruling government that have helped entrench and solidify the position of minority people. It must also be noted that this bucks the trend of other countries in the region such as Russia and Iran. Azerbaijan is a country in a region that is typically associated with ethnic diversity and tolerance. The Middle East is currently undergoing some of the greatest tragedy and suffering in recent history. The world is witnessing unending bloodshed in Syria and the ramifications are being felt across the globe. It is this article’s contention that Azerbaijan can and should act as an example to its neighbours. We have already mentioned that it is located between powers such as Russia, Turkey and Iran. Academics constantly point towards tolerance and cultural integration as being a vital element in Azerbaijan’s economic success story. In a time of escalating sectarian conflict, Azerbaijan provides a unique case study for tolerance. There are two big Jewish communities in this Muslim country. One is situated in Baku, which is home to several synagogues. Other Jewish communities live in the Guba region of Azerbaijan. In the late 19th century Azerbaijan had the only village beyond Israel completely inhabited by a Jewish community.

Furthermore the Constitution of Azerbaijan provides that a person may choose and practice his faith without interruption or restriction. Religious groups are able to meet and congregate without any interference from the government. All of the ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan also enjoy the same rights as the majority ethnic population. This includes such critical rights as the right of education, which is a vital requirement for positive change and stability.

An additional and often overlooked factor in Azerbaijan’s role in international security relates to economic stability, both internal and external. This is a vital element when it comes to ensuring and assessing security. Similar to public diplomacy, economic stability is a form of soft power. Economic stability stands alongside with other examples such as having positive relations with one’s neighbours. These are the soft elements of security whereas military might would be a hard element. Security and economics is now based on cooperation between nation-states. This has arisen from processes such as liberalisation, globalisation and the emergence of institutional structures such as the UN and the EU. Much of this occurred because of the end of the Cold War.

A unique element in Azerbaijani stability and security has been its ability to cooperate and integrate with Western powers. Notably the US has a very long-standing partnership with the government of Azerbaijan in relation to security concerns. In November 2016 the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Carpenter has meetings with Azerbaijani ministers for the purpose of discussing long-standing cooperation between Azerbaijan and the United States. Michael Carpenter was quoted as saying that the US’s relationship of the Azerbaijani “one of the most important pillars of our bilateral relations”.

The former US Secretary of State John Kerry also emphasized the role of Azerbaijan in the international security framework at the 4th Nuclear Security Summit. Azerbaijan plays an essential role in ensuring the energy security of Europe through the Southern Gas Corridor project. Azerbaijan also plays a significant role in counter-terrorism operations and is credited for its contribution to the peacekeeping operations. They offered logistical support and land transportation. Azerbaijanis were some of the first troops who comprised the NATO-led peacekeeping operation in former Yugoslavian region from 1999 to 2008. Similarly Azerbaijan is an active member and supporter of the United Nations.