By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS
San Francisco–August 12–Curiously, with the crisis in Georgia (an Orthodox Christian country) raging last week, I was able to catch up with the first Post-Soviet high level Parliamentarian Delegation to this country from its overwhelmingly majority Turkic Muslim South Caucasus neighbor, Azerbaijan. A leading M.P., Asim Mollazada, gave a formal address on “Post-Soviet Azerbaijan: Progress Since Independence” with his colleagues sitting at his side.
The Consul-General from his government at Baku, Elin Sulyeymanoy, who is stationed in Los Angeles, said Moscow should draw back from its invasion of Georgia. Further, he stated that there were “many Azarbaijanis – citizen and non-citizen alike — who called [Georgian capital] Tiblsi their home.”
The Azerbaijan Parliament is celebrating its 90th year – it is the oldest in the Muslim world. Baku has been blessed with contemporary wealth in oil and gas.
Strangely Azerbaijan had adopted Western cultural forms from the earlier Russian Empire. This Westernization began before the Bolshevik Revolution (1918): for instance, consider the first full Symphony Orchestra (followed more recently by the first Jazz Band in Asia), both headquartered in the Azeri capital.
Even under Stalin’s regime, Azerbaijan has been able to develop a secular, democratic republic. Although Muslim by ancestry and tradition, personal expressions of Islamic identity have been dulled by decades of autocratic Soviet rule. Now there is barely a nominal individual and civic identification with Islam.
The Honorable Mr. Mollazzada was first elected to office in 2005, but formerly was the Director of Foreign Affairs for a previous administration; he now serves on Parliamentary Committees on External Policies.
The largest internal problems in Azerbaijan are with Armenia. Asim believes that the difficulties between these two nations (one Muslim; the other Armenian Orthodox) go back before the Soviet period – in fact among many Armenians there is a deep-seated hatred of Islam which is partially rooted in the use from ancient times of Armenians by Russians against the Ottoman Empire and the more recent pogroms against Armenians at the end of Ottoman rule.
Although an Islamic state, the Republic holds to a canon of ethnic and religious toleration. This principle evolved from the suffering of the peoples during the Soviet regime. Therefore, Mr. Mollarzada stated that “We are building a Democracy! Our goal is to join the European Union (EU) and its military wing — NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).”
The Azeris have already joined the Council of Europe. Mollarzada made an interesting statement, that “all former Soviet nations are making Western-style reforms, and Europe can do much in helping the C.I.S. (the Commonwealth of Independent States, an organization of the Republics of the former Soviet Union) achieve Democracy.”
This Muslim nation in the Southern Caucasus mountains bordering the Caspian Sea is quite rich in oil and gas. This is the reason they are close to the Georgians, for Azerbaijan’s pipeline goes through Georgia to its port on the Black Sea, and then on to Europe.
Regarding Georgia, he asserts, “We are brothers moving together…” Because of Europe’s prerequisite for [our] energy, a new trade system between East and West has developed. “This has increased the pace between the exchange of ideas.” This new dynamism for the acceptance of European views is accelerating.
The Country has serious Challenges, though: The most perilous security threat to it is its Eastern neighbor, Armenia.
Yerevan’s (Armenia’s capital) central argument with Baku (Azerbaijan’s capital) is over Nargorno-Karabakh, that is nominally part of Azerbaijan but is in actuality an independent Republic due to Armenian influence.
Further, Azerbaijan wishes transit rights through Armenia to connect with Baku’s enclave of Narcian. Asim Mollarada is of the opinion that Armenia should join in partnership with Georgia and Baku in the Organization of Central Asian Republics. Because the Southern Caucasus republics are sandwiched between Iran and Russia, the Parliamentarian deems that that the United States should take more responsibility for its security.
Probably the most pressing predicament in the Caspian Sea region is that it is perhaps the most ecologically devastated zone in the world.
If Baku and its neighbors are to thrive, they must cleanse their environment as soon as possible!