Aliyev's peace agenda: Emanation of virtue via connectivity
By Orkhan Amashov
As of 2022, the kaleidoscope of the South Caucasus remains in a somewhat shaken state. Its constituent parts are in flux and, before they settle into a sedimentary state, it is incumbent upon President Ilham Aliyev to complete the first phase of reordering the entire region around his country.
The Second Karabakh War was a test of gargantuan proportions for Azerbaijan and its leader. At that Shakespearean moment of "to be, or not to be", President Aliyev felt the testosterone of a high crisis, which he navigated with verve and aplomb. This triumph at a time of existential import vindicated his own faith in his judgement, his ability to command the nation's confidence and his powers of persuasion on the international stage.
But success is never final. However grand, age-defining and epochal a given triumph may be, the ultimate point of irreversible fixation is always elusive. Conclusiveness in international affairs can only be potentially imagined and envisioned, but not outrightly experienced as such, except for interim periods, which are mere spells in the history of the human race.
Imbued with a strong sense of history, President Ilham Aliyev is acutely aware of the critical importance of translating the hard-won gains of the Second Karabakh War into a grand and pervasive peace agenda. Only when this happens will Azerbaijan's colossal triumphs remain as such in perpetuity.
During his address to the high-profile participants of the "South Caucasus: Development and Cooperation" meeting hosted at ADA, President Aliyev articulated his vision of the future. Needless to say, his worldview has Azerbaijan and its priorities at its epicentre, but it is by no means parochial. In fact, it is quite the reverse. The Azerbaijani leader views the future in holistic terms and believes that lasting stability, prosperity and growth can only be achieved through the enhancement of connectivity.
In President Aliyev's mind, the reconstruction of Karabakh and East Zangazur is inextricably connected with wider regional integration and prosperity. Azerbaijan's military victory has, amongst other achievements, created fertile ground to reverse the historic processes that led to the original conflict and achieve a higher degree of cooperation in the South Caucasus on a megalithic level.
If there is one actor who may drive this process, it is Azerbaijan, due to its resources, independence, non-aligned status, vision of the future and internal consolidation. Baku feels the weight of this responsibility and acts accordingly. President Ilham Aliyev understands only too well that, for Azerbaijan to be an even more consequential player, it needs to be at the driving seat of change.
The "3+3" format is a case in point. This is not a mere aspirational manifestation of how Baku sees the future of the region, but the journey upon which it has already embarked. It is integral to President Aliyev's foreign policy that Azerbaijan must have excellent relations with all its three big neighbours - Turkey, Russia and Iran.
Ankara is Baku's first-rate ally and the relations have already been brought to an unprecedented level thanks to the Shusha Declaration, which was ratified in both parliaments forthwith and became enshrined in law. The Moscow Declaration signed on 22 February strengthened ties with Russia, upgrading them to the level of allied interaction.
Some of the difficulties Baku experienced with Iran in the past may have seemed intractable, but relations have improved immeasurably over the past few months. The tripartite gas swap deal with Iran and Turkmenistan was the first step towards adding a sufficient dose of mutual trust in relations with Tehran. This was followed by the Memorandum of Understanding signed in March of this year, enabling Baku to connect its East Zangazur region with Nakchivan.
Azerbaijan and Georgia have already become highly integrated through transport and energy linkages, and there is room for even greater harmony. Then Armenia... And here we need to go back to the original premise of the "3+3" platform which predicated on wider integration. Aliyev does not only call for an all-embracing connectivity, waiting to see the reaction. He is taking the necessary measures to create sufficiently auspicious circumstances for that ideal to be within easy reach.
The peace-enforcement measures meticulously executed by Azerbaijan eventually compelled Armenia to capitulate and sign a ceasefire deal in November 2020. That was an emanation of virtue through the swift application of the nation's will via military means.
We are now at the post-conflict normalisation stage, yet Yerevan continues to be obdurately stubborn in its reticence to accept what is undoubtedly beneficial to its future, as this is hard for the deluded populace to stomach. What Aliyev is doing now is also some form of non-military peace-enforcement. Baku is set on changing the wider region through its multilateral diplomacy, and the logical end of this process is bound to Armenia's unreserved acquiescence and understanding of the new reality.
A man of strong emotional intellect, President Aliyev is by no means a romantic. His politics is aspirational, but there is no place for wishful thinking. Aliyev does not believe the world owes him and his country anything.
But he also expects justice. When the EU distinguishes between Azerbaijan and Armenia on the basis of their economic strength, and provides a far bigger financial package to Yerevan, this is perceived as a measure militating against proportionate justice. It is Azerbaijan whose liberated lands are in dire need of reconstruction; demining is incredibly costly, and the fact that only 25 percent of the mine maps provided by Armenia are authentic exacerbates the difficulties associated with the task.
"Your President knows his files well, he is precise and straight to the point, unlike many world leaders today," I was told by one high-profile guest who attended the meeting with President Ilham Aliyev at ADA. This is undeniably the defining trait of his rhetoric. Sufficient crispiness and the ability to explain inherently complex subjects in simple language have long been recognised as the key characteristics forming the President's indubitable forte.
The post-war future of Azerbaijan and the wider region is a complex subject encompassing everything from political accord to economic connectivity. Unlike Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who is continuously forced to vacillate, President Aliyev is crystal-clear on very much everything upon which he deliberates. He does not need to prevaricate or obfuscate.
President Aliyev has already gone down in the annals of history as Azerbaijan's greatest war-time leader. But continuously striking triumphalist notes is not something he delights in indulging. Neither is he given to schadenfreude over the enemy's misfortunes. The timeless adage mandates that the future is happening today, and the past, however glorious, should not divert the nation from the journey to the innermost depths of profusion.
Now President Aliyev's Azerbaijan is dictating the tempo and forging the future. It is not that the nation has entered a new age of credulity, but there is an unmistakable sense of optimism in the air.
The task ahead is again of Shakespearean scope. In magnitude, it is no less colossal than winning the war. Before and during the Second Karabakh War, sinews were stiffened and the nation's spirit was elevated to its full height, although this is no longer needed in its wartime sense.
Today, Azerbaijan is engaged in propounding and then gradually implementing its vision. The fate of this venture will seal the future of the region, and failure is neither expected, nor perceived to be the remotest possibility.