IX Global Baku Forum: Reflections of an unassuming attendee
By Orkhan Amashov
The IX Global Baku Forum that lasted throughout the second half of last week was one of those grand occasions that will continue to stand a testament to Baku’s newly-emboldened ambition to be a venue for critical exchanges and deliberative contemplations on the fate of humanity.
The event was of a purported scale that rivaled the most important platforms centred around the same concept. It entailed a huge amount of respectability and some unavoidable luxury. It is not that Baku wanted to be ostentatious, but it so happened that by doing what is judicious it impressed unmistakable points of grandeur on visitors.
The author of these words was one of the attendees, and now that the forum is over he feels it is a propitious time to reflect on the very gist and significance of the deliberations.
The philosophy and main creeds of the Baku Global Forum have remained unchanged, yet have been augmented to be inclusive of new challenges. The quintessence of the design is intact: the nation's capital becomes a venue for global deliberations and gains a renewed opportunity to be exposed to the world and to influence and shape it in its own inexorably evolving image, as far as is practicable.
The congregation comprised a wide array of affluent participants, ranging from current and former heads of states and governments to incumbent and erstwhile international functionaries, the uniting feature of which was the ability to influence the destiny of the human race by impacting worldwide strategic decision-making.
The wide range of themes cogitated upon reflected the breadth of
thorny issues that sully the minds of the intellectual elites. From
global health governance to rising inequalities and global security
architecture to the transformation of the food and agricultural
sector, myriad subjects formed the agenda of the forum, but it was
the genesis of a new peace order that was omnipresent throughout
the debates, with the war in Ukraine in mind.
Organised by the Nizami Ganjavi International Centre under the patronage of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, the IX Global Baku Forum found the world in mid-June 2022 seismically different from that of the previous congregation.
“What I am saying now is absolutely different from what I was saying six months ago, sitting in this place”, remarked President Ilham Aliyev in his introductory speech on the first day of the convocation, echoing the timeless Latin adage ‘tempora mutantur’ – times change and we are changing with them.
It is an understatement to say that the circumstances integral to today’s global agenda are not exactly identical to the challenges from the previous forum. Back in November, the West-Russia deadlock over Ukraine was unmistakably the case and the trappings of a further political escalation were present, yet an actual military confrontation was certainly not a foregone conclusion. Europe wanted to eliminate the dependency on Russian oil and gas, yet any pontification to this effect was in wont of an action-based resolve.
More locally, it is undeniable that circumstances have also changed on the Azerbaijani-Armenian front. At the time of the previous forum, Brussels was yet to become one of the two key platforms of post-conflict normalisation, subsequently outweighing the original Moscow format.
Story of one undercurrent
One high-profile attendant made a private remark on President Ilham Aliyev’s speech: “This man is a grandmaster of high politics, and evidently enjoys what he is doing". My interlocutor was impressed with the way the President succinctly articulated the concept of the food crisis.
He went on to suggest that “given who currently denies there is a food crisis and who says there is a massive problem, this statement speaks volumes”. Then I was reminded that the President's point was made a week after the UN’s dire warning on food insecurity, caused by the Ukrainian crisis.
Peace and multilateralism
Peace is the key objective and everything else must be subservient to it. It is undeniable that the world order agreed upon after World War II is not sustainable because it is no longer capable of safeguarding this primary objective. This understanding reverberated throughout the congregation in manifold ways.
“Humanity has never achieved anything without facing a crisis”, remarked Former Latvian President Valdis Zatlers, who was also a moderator for the panel entitled “South Caucasus, Reconciliation, Cooperation and Integration”. Indeed, today’s crisis is also about the erosion of the ‘rule-based multilateral order’ and the escalating danger of sliding back to a polarised world with each international heavyweight exerting control over a number of smaller entities in their sphere of influence.
Peacebuilding and honest broker
An “honest broker" is one who is not interested in ensuring that a given conflict remains continuously in a so-called ‘frozen’ state, opined Lazar Comanescu, Former Romanian Foreign Minister, whilst describing the credentials of an ideal mediator. Gennady Burbulis, First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, stated that, although today's Kremlin is not what he would "associate himself with" in the light of the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow's involvement in the present trilateral format and the prospects of a durable peace were to be viewed from a positive glance.
Not every one that the author of this humble submission heard or spoke to during the forum uttered sentiments that were music to his ears. But, after all, this is what an honest and deep discussion must be about - hearing and responding to opinions and theories that one does not exactly like or find to one's immediate advantage.
One erstwhile and fairly distinguished EU functionary told me that the first aspect for Azerbaijan and Armenia to consider is that peace is better than any other alternative and that they have to find an 'institutional scapegoat' to be blamed when the situation goes a little awry. "The EU is such a scapegoat for the Member States," he continued, explaining his views on the nature of European unity. Then we engaged in a long, very stimulating, and rewarding discussion on what makes the EU tick.
On the point of 'scapegoat', I immediately recalled the misbegotten and beleaguered OSCE Minsk Group. Over its 30-year lifespan, this was a fine example of creative inertia and having connected the conflict with the European project's less-than-admirable sides, I found myself taken aback. Perhaps that was a 'knee-jerk' and precipitated reaction.
However, the self-same man told me another very interesting fact, with which I gladly concurred and it will allow me to move smoothly to the current phase of Azerbaijani-Armenian normalisation. The foundation of durable peace is, in many ways, akin to the independence of the church from state and vice-versa. The primary objective is to ensure that the sides agree, not necessarily on all common principles, but do not disagree with each other's objectives. There has been an exchange of points between Baku and Yerevan, but there is much work to do.
Gravitas and clout
Azerbaijan offered a five-point package in February and received a plausible reply from Armenia, albeit with reservations. In May, there followed Yerevan's 'six-point' offer, which incorporated two problematic elements that Baku was not in a position to accept. In some ways, Azerbaijan and Armenia have not yet reached the point of "not having problems with each other's principles", this is going to be part of the thorny journey that both nations will need to make.
As has been the case in the previous fora held since 2013, the occasion presented another opportunity to reiterate what one may call the 'Karabakh essentials'. President Aliyev's keynote address to the guests on the opening day specified some of the key points. Firstly, Azerbaijan has set up a working group or commission on a peace treaty, unlike Armenia. Secondly, Baku is steadfastly determined to ensure that the Zangazur project goes through and that there will be no backtracking.
Thirdly, If Yerevan fails to recognise Azerbaijani territorial integrity, Baku will act accordingly and refuse to issue a corresponding recognition in relation to Armenia. This, denuded from its context, has been widely and falsely circulated in Armenian media as proof of Azerbaijan's extraterritorial claim on its neighbour, which is nothing but cheap sensationalism and will fade away into oblivion, as have similar past claims.
Fourthly, the stillborn OSCE Minsk Group is dead and deserves a 'goodbye, but no thank you", which, in the eyes of any discerning observer, has amounted to a passive-aggressive consignment to the dustbin of history. The nature of the disbandment of the institute of the 'Co-chairs’ remains obscure, but it is evident that Baku has almost done everything possible to make its position crystal clear.
President Aliyev also set out his vision for the future of the South Caucasus as being of 'full and deep integration'. The results engendered by the Second Karabakh War provide strong foundations for this unity to be built. "President Aliyev is a true peacebuilder and I agree with everything he said today," remarked Gennady Burbulis. "Azerbaijan is now an engine for peace," articulated Lazar Comanescu whilst expounding on the post-war clout of Baku and the nature of its regional influence.
Many other similar lines permeated the debates in different guises but were guided by one unmistakable tenet. Azerbaijan, with a renewed sense of purpose, is primed to transform itself and the immediate world outside its boundaries. Baku is a new player with gravitas and clout on the international stage. Its ambition is justifiable and robust, and growing exponentially. The journey has just begun. The best is yet to come.
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