By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Azerbaijani Ambassador to Mexico Mammad Talibov and his wife Kamala Talibova hosted a diplomatic reception and buffet lunch at the President Intercontinental Hotel in Colonia Polanco on Friday, May 27.
Azerbaijan, which first gained it independence on May 28, 1918, only to lose it 23 months later when the Soviets invaded.
But while the Caucasian nation’s early independence was short-lived, it was of great political significance, since it represented the birth of the first secular democratic state in the Turkic and Muslim Worlds.
It was also the first predominantly Muslim nation to grant women full suffrage.
And while the Azerbaijani people would have to bear the yoke of more than seven decades under Russian rule, they never forsaked the idea of national independence, which was again declared in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Empire.
Since that second proclamation of sovereignty, Azerbaijan has transformed itself into a prosperous and peaceful regional leader, with a commitment to social and religious tolerance.
But the fate of the fledgling nation was not without it setbacks. Years of Soviet exploitation had left the country impoverished, and no sooner had the new republic declared its freedom than Armenia troops began invading and occupying large swathes of its national territory, threatening 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.
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 all this, with a full 20 percent of its territory illegally occupied by Armenian troops.
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.
So it was only fitting that in this first large post-covid diplomatic reception, Talibov focused heavily on the liberation and restoration of the Azerbaijani town of Shushá, once considered to be the cultural capital of the nation.
“Thanks to the leadership and determination of our president, Ilham Aliyev, as well as the patriotism and commitment of the Azerbaijani people … we managed during our Patriotic War to recover our internationally recognized territories and recover our ancestral lands, including the city of Shusha,” Talibov explained during the reception.
This year, he said, Azerbaijan is celebrating the 270th anniversary of the foundation of Shusha with a series of international culture fests and forums.
Talibov also spoke about his nation’s bilateral diplomatic ties with Mexico, which date back 30 years, highlighting growing two-way trade and cooperation in a number of fields, including energy, agriculture, tourism and culture.
He likewise thanked Mexico for its unflinching support during his nation’s occupation by Armenia and acknowledged the bridge of mutual understanding promoted by parliamentary friendship groups in each country.
“Over the course of these last 30 years, Azerbaijan and Mexico had shown that despite the geographic distance that separates us, there is a vast potential in our binational relationship,” Talibov said.
“Our commercial dynamics, even during the pandemic, have continued to increase year-after-year, and have become one of the principle factors in our ever-expanding two-way relations.”