OLD SILK ROAD MEETS THE NEW SILK ROAD:
AZERBAIJAN’S ENVOY TO WASHINGTON BRINGS THE STRATEGIC POSITION AND THE REGIONAL POLITICS OF THE CAUCASUS INTO GLOBAL FOCUS James A. Winship, Ph.D.
mbassador Elin Suleymanov has devoted his diplomatic career to representing the interests of his young nation in the United States. Azerbaijan’s location in the Caucasus, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, has put it astride the boundaries — physical and emotional — between Europe and Asia. The embassy website describes Azerbaijan as, “a diverse nation and a reliable ally at the heart of the Silk Road,” and Ambassador Suleymanov is quick to point out that in present global circumstances, Azerbaijan is the only country to border both Russia and Iran. Speaking at Georgetown University, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William J. Burns noted that, “The U.S. views Azerbaijan as a strategic partner sitting at the crossroads of the Middle East, Europe, and Asia — regions whose future will shape American interests and foreign policy for years to come.” “A more stable and prosperous Azerbaijan,” he continued, “promises a more stable and prosperous Caucasus. It promises more opportunities for peace in a complex region. And it promises a more reliable partner for fighting global threats — from terrorism to financial crises — which no single nation can overcome alone.” Burns concluded by declaring that, “We want Azerbaijan to succeed in becoming a market-based economy and a democratic state.” Ambassador Suleymanov has echoed these ideas in a statement on U.S.-Azerbaijani relations. He notes that as, “Both a member of the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Republic of Azerbaijan is in
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a unique position to bridge divides and to promote greater understanding. Azerbaijan and the United States,” the Ambassador reiterates, “enjoy a strong partnership founded on shared interests in global and regional security, energy and economic development, democratic reforms and respect for human rights. Azerbaijan is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and is firmly committed to building a self-sufficient, democratic and prosperous society.” Azerbaijan has also been a critical link in the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a vital logistics network facilitating supply routes from the United States and NATO into Afghanistan and offering a critical alternative to frequently disrupted or politically closed supply routes through Pakistan. Early Persian and Arab writers all mention oil in connection with the Caspian region and Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku, and the records of Marco Polo’s journeys mention oil in this place. From the very earliest commercial discoveries of oil and natural gas in the Caspian Sea in the last quarter of the 19th century, Azerbaijan has been a supplier of energy, first to Imperial