When I recently addressed the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum, I explained why Azerbaijan – a predominantly Shia Muslim country – enjoys close ties with Israel and Muslim states, and is an important strategic partner of the United States.
Azerbaijan’s unique and essential role in the world is based on five pillars: our tradition of tolerance; our strategic location; our economic performance; our understanding of regional security; and our quest for peace in our neighborhood and around the world.
At a time of turmoil, the world community can be introduced to how Azerbaijan – an ancient civilization whose current independence was declared in 1991 – serves as a bridge-builder and peacemaker between different countries and cultures.
Azerbaijan is known for its tradition of religious tolerance and cultural diversity – qualities unfortunately in short supply in today’s world. A secular yet majority Muslim society, Azerbaijan has enjoyed centuries of peaceful coexistence between the three great monotheistic faiths: İslam, Christianity and Judaism. Indeed, our 35,000-strong Jewish community has been living in Azerbaijan for 2,500 years without persecution, with full dignity and respect – among the few places on Earth where people may not know what anti-Semitism is. With the close bonds between our peoples, we in Azerbaijan strongly believe in democracy building, protection of human rights and the rule of law.
In addition to substantial oil and gas resources, Azerbaijan has a pivotal position on the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Azerbaijan is uniquely situated to serve as a regional transportation hub and to supply Europe’s energy needs. As we reach out to our neighbors, we remind them that we may not share borders but we share the region.
Energy exports and the development offer ample opportunities for international cooperation. Our landmark Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline ships around a million barrels of oil daily to the Eastern Mediterranean - supplying Israel, among other countries, with some 40 percent of its oil consumption.
Having transformed itself from a gas-consuming to a gas-producing country, Azerbaijan is increasing its contribution to European energy security. Bringing gas from Azerbaijan will further diversify energy supplies for our European allies. The multinational Shah Deniz consortium just announced its selection of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) to transport Azerbaijani natural gas from the Trans-Anatolian pipeline (TANAP) into Europe.
In every sector, Azerbaijan accounts more than 80 percent of the economy of the South Caucasus. Between 2004 and 2011, our GDP tripled, industrial production increased by 270 percent, and the non-oil sector doubled. Our bilateral trade with the US is $2.3 billion, and our trade with Israel totals $4 billion.
The election of Azerbaijan as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council testifies to the international community’s recognition of our growing role in maintaining peace and security. Azerbaijan contributes to the consideration of issues central to international peace and stability, including counterterrorism, reduction of human and drug trafficking, sustainable development, multicultural understanding, and assistance to the conflict resolution process in the Middle East and elsewhere.
With more than 40 percent of supplies bound to Afghanistan crossing through our country, Azerbaijan stands shoulder to shoulder with the US and NATO.
As a member of European multilateral institutions, such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, uniting 56 Muslim countries around the world, Azerbaijan serves as a crucial link for partners such as the US, Israel and other Muslim nations. During my recent visit to Israel and Palestine, I expressed Azerbaijan’s hope that both peoples will enjoy the benefits of peace that they both deserve.
Pursuing peace with and among our neighbors, Azerbaijan seeks to avert further suffering brought by the ongoing conflict with Armenia which resulted in occupation of about 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory, followed by ethnic cleansing of around one million indigenous Azerbaijani people from their native lands. The resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is essential, since more stable and prosperous Azerbaijan and Armenia promise a more stable and prosperous Caucasus. It is not a coincidence that four UNSC resolutions clearly demand the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from all the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.
For Azerbaijan and other emerging countries, what really guarantees our security is a culture of peace and tolerance within our societies. To promote peace abroad, one must build peace at home.
Elmar Mammadyarov is the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan