By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Like most embassies in Mexico these days, the Azerbaijani chancellery was unable to host a diplomatic reception this year to mark its independence day.
But that didn’t keep Azerbaijani Ambassador to Mexico Mammad Talibov from commemorating the Caucasian nation’s 30th anniversary, albeit a few days late.
At the request of Mexico’s National Academy of History and Geography, Talibov offered a conference on Azerbaijan’s recent history on Thursday, Oct. 21.
After briefly noting that his nation first gained its independence in 1918, only to lose it 23 months later when the Soviets invaded, Talibov spoke about how his country had transfromed itself over the last three decades.
On Oct. 18, 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan once again became an independent state, he said.
Still, freedom did not come easy for the fledgling republic, and severe poverty (the result of decades of economic ravage by Moscow), internal political struggles and an invasion and territorial occupation by Armenia threatened to unhinge Azerbaijan’s frail democracy.
Finally, with the election of President Heydar Aliyev in 1993, the threat of civil war was averted and a new era in Azerbaijan’s history was born.
By adopting progressive free-market policies and opening up the country’s vast oil and natural gas reserves to international corporations, Aliyev was able to dramatically transform the once-impoverish Azerbaijan into a booming economy with a stable political foundation, Talibov said.
And through a visionary effort to establish transnational oil and gas ducts, along with an international “Iron Silk Road” railway linking China with Europe, Aliyev was also able to catapult the once-sleepy nation into the global spotlight as a major crossroads of Eastern and Western cultures and business.
The subsequent economic benefits were nothing short of phenomenal: In just three short decades, Azerbaijan’s Gross Domestic Product increased by 60 times. Poverty levels dropped from 55 percent to just 5 percent. And between 2004 and 2020, Azerbaijan attracted $128 billion in new foreign investment.
With a per capita income of $4,300, an enviable 2.8 percent inflation rate and a real 4.8 percent unemployment rate, Azerbaijan — a country of just 10 million inhabitants — is today a net exporter, selling $13.7 billion a year in goods and services, while importing $10.7 billion in products.
And Azerbaijan’s economic miracle doesn’t end there.
Ranked ninth among 190 nations for openness to business and first place in credit access by the World Bank’s annual Doing Business report, Azerbaijan also holds second place worldwide in commercial electricity management, according the the 2019 Global Competitivity Report.
“All of this, all of this, was accomplished while 20 percent of our national territory was being illegally occupied by Armenia and over 12 percent of our citizens were displaced people,” Talibov said.
For years, Azerbaijan appealed to the international community to intervene and to convince the Armenians to withdrawal from its territory, but despite four United National Security Council resolutions in 1993, a UN General Assembly resolution in 2008, and countless deadlocked brokering attempts by foreign entities, Armenia simply refused to budge.
Finally, in the fall of 2020, Azerbaijan had enough, and, spurred on by unprovoked military attacks from Yerevan, decided to take back its land by force.
The ensuing war over Azerbaijan’s occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region lasted 44 days, and led to the deaths of 3,000 Azeri soldiers and civilians, but on Nov. 9, 2020, Baku at long last recovered most of its rightful territory.
In theory, the brutal Armenia-Azerbaijani war ended that day, thanks to a Russian-brokered truce, but, sadly, the Armenians used their exit from Karabakh to destroy the last remaining vestiges of Azeri homes and monuments, and, worst yet, poison local water resources, level forests and plant thousands of deadly landmines that continue to maim and kill Azerbaijani civilians on a daily basis. (Even though Baku has repeatedly requested that Armenia present a map of where those landmines are located in order to prevent these tragedies, Yerevan has refused to comply.)
But rather than dwelling on the death and destruction that nearly three decades of foreign occupation wrought for its country, the Azerbaijani government, now led by Ilham Aliyev, who was elected to the presidency in 2003, has concentrated on rebuilding and reactivating the Karabakh region, Talibov said, constructing homes, schools, hospitals, religious and cultural centers, and two international airports with Category 1 U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ratings.
“We did all this in just the last 10 months,” Talibov reiterated. “We still have a lot to do, but we have made tremendous progress.”
Talibov said that the 2020 anniversary of Azerbaijan’s re-independence was particularly important for his people because it not only marked the 30th anniversary of the country’s rebirth as a sovereign nation, but also was its first independence day celebration since the reclaiming of its occupied territories.
“Azerbaijan has suffered great indignities and adversities in its short history as a republic,” he said.
“But we have always prevailed and come through with success. Today, we are a thriving, modern society, rich in tradition and with a view to the future, always diverse and tolerant, always multicultural and welcoming of all nations and peoples. That is the core of what it means to be an Azerbaijani.”