Azerbaijani Ambassador to US: "Destabilization might lead to consequences which would be detrimental not only to Azerbaijan and Armenia"
Unsolved issues lead to the strongest radicalization of society on ethnic bases, the Azerbaijani Ambassador to the United States Elin Suleymanov said, speaking at the 'Security and Economic Development: Silk Road and the Caspian' forum, organized in Washington by the Heritage Foundation and co-hosted by the Caspian Policy Center and the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.
"One of the challenges we had in recent years has been that the State Department looked at each state at the separate terms. Georgia and Azerbaijan are part of the European space, but we border on Iran, we border on the countries of Central Asia, and it is difficult to imagine our own development without it. At the same time, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have a great potential to become part of the energy security in Europe. Afghanistan plays a huge role for the network, of which Azerbaijan is a very significant part. Azerbaijan is a key gateway to Afghanistan and Afghanistan, about 40% of the cargo going accounts just for Baku airport. It is difficult to imagine that without fully involving of Central Asian countries and East Caspian connected to the western Caspian," Elin Suleymanov said.
He spoke about the recent conference 'Trans-Caspian Silk Road', which was co-organized by the embassies of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Turkey, which discussed the problems of transportation of energy resources. "The conference also mentioned the future of Afghanistan. In our view, it is built on its integration into the region. The war has been going on for way too long. We need to confront the radicals, but the best way is the economic development of the region. And that is possible only if we do develop our Transcaspian projects, if we develop our transportation links. I mean, bringing goods to China, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, then into Georgia,Turkey and Europe in 14 days versus 45 days by sea - it is a big development, it's a real shortcut, it's very beneficial, it makes a lot of business cases," the ambassador of Azerbaijan said.
A few hours before the speech of Elin Suleymanov in Washington, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Istanbul and had a discussion about the works carried out within the framework of the Southern Gas Corridor project. Rex Tillerson assured that the US will continue to support the implementation of this project, appreciating the activities of Azerbaijan in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and its role in these operations as a transport and logistics corridor.
"The Southern Gas Corridor is an important project because it creates another highway for the Silk Road. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad has become the first ever link between the Central Asian and European rail systems. Today, software development is required. For example, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia have developed joint effort to harmonize customs procedures and transparency projects, which will allow for much faster transit. I mead the issue today is not physical barriers in moving goods, but of course it's transparency and issues of harmonization of customs procedures," Suleimanov said.
According to him, Azerbaijan today has a project which was universally recognized as a big success, the project is called 'ASAN Service': "If you want to get a driver's license, it will take you 20 minutes in Azerbaijan. I had a chance to be in the US Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and I think we could all learn from each other. "
As for the air infrastructure, according to the ambassador, a lot of flights flights are carried out on the Silk Road today: "I am happy to hear that Turkmenistan recently received another batch of Boeing jets. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are doing a serious job in this direction, and Azerbaijan also. Recently we acquired a one billion dollars worth of new airplanes for Silk Way Airlines, and we are doing more now, an additional a billion dollar investment in Boeing company".
Speaking about security, the ambassador called on not to forget about the issue of foreign militants in Syria: "We must solve this problem all together. Azerbaijan is uniquely located - it is the only country that borders both Russia and Iran. From the Arctic ocean to the tip of the Persian Gulf there are only Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran. Russia is a partner of us, a very big neighbor, and so is Iran. But Azerbaijan has a key location, it is a strong partner of the West ... We focus on the problems of the Middle East, but many Muslims communities live peaceful lives, quite normally, without engaging in any violence. And I think that the best representation of that would be Azerbaijan and nations of Central Asia - this is a great example of a coexistence of traditions, history, the leadership commitment in Azerbaijan, we should pay attention to this model of secularism. Why not to use this experience. But the world ignores positive examples, that's very sad. "
Elin Suleymanov emphasized that radicalization does not only happen on religious terms: "On July 4, there was an unprecedented violence along the line of contact between Azerbaijan and the territories occupied by Armenia - the death of a grandmother and a two-year-old child on the Azerbaijani side deliberately targeted by Armenian armed forces. The war is a terrible thing, it's a tragic thing, people do die, unfortunately, we have causalities, Armenians have casualties. But the reaction which came from the Armenian society was very disturbing - it shows that radicalization does not come just from religion. These conflicts, these unresolved issues produce the strongest radicalization of society on ethnic bases. Look what happens in other areas which have ethnic conflicts - Ukraine, Georgia, and other places. People become so divided, become radicalized. So we should be very careful not to let that slip into a confrontation when it's ok to kill a two-year-old child and say: "That is a good lesson for Azeris to know, they have too much oil!".
The Azerbaijani Ambassador expressed the opinion that the status quo of the unresolved conflict does not work: "People have different views on the future of our region, but any destabilization in a region, especially like the Caucasus, might lead to much wider consequences, which would be detrimental not only to Azerbaijan and Armenia. We want to see Armenia to develop as our neighbor to a conclusion of peace negotiations. And what we want to see is that this conflict never comes out into more destabilizing one, which would undermine many good initiatives such as energy initiatives, the Silk Road, the connection of Central Asia with Europe. And I think the US should continue its efforts on two fronts. First, try to be a really active partner in attempts to mediate the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There are three co-chais [of the OSCE Minsk Group] - the United States, France and Russia. And it's a balance. When the US is absent, then there is no balance. Second, the United States has been a very strong supporter on strategic issues of energy development in the region. The position of the State Department's Special Envoy for Energy has been very useful and helpful position. People and the world need to feel that the US is committed and is present in the region. The benefits of such a commitment is not even an issue".
"Despite all the challenges, the promise and the potential of our region is unique. And what the peoples of the region in Central Asia, the South Caucasus - Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, even Afghanistan - have achieved a lot and look forward to the future. That is something we should appreciate it and build strong relations on it," the ambassador concluded.