Guivami Rahimli: “I witnessed how frank, well informed, and decisive in action Heydar Aliyev was”

Baku, May 9, AZERTAC

Azerbaijan regained independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But early years of independence were challenging times as a result of a war in Karabakh and occupation of Azerbaijan territories and declining economy. Despite various crisis, Azerbaijan’s rich natural resources and strategic location have always made the country attractive for the great powers. To find a balance between the interests of influencing powers to overcome the pressure from some political circles in these forceful countries was a major challenge.

BP’s Guivami Rahimli pays tribute to Heydar Aliyev, sharing with AZERTAC some memorable moments about Azerbaijan’s national leader.

Azerbaijan, located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, occupies an important geopolitical position where great powers and regional actors have strong economic and political interests. The country attracted the attention of the big players in the oil and gas business, especially from the USA, UK, Norway, France and Japan in early years of its independence.

During these hard-bitten times, Heydar Aliyev, once one of the most influential leaders of the USSR with wealth of political experience and who had returned to the political arena in 1993, introduced a pragmatic foreign policy. It meant building constructive relations with powers like the USA, EU, and wise partnership with actors like Russia and Iran, thus balancing the relations with major global and regional powers. Azerbaijan’s multi-vector policy became a state strategy, avoiding allying with any geopolitical bloc but opting for economic, energy, and military cooperation with both sides. Heydar Aliyev had a clear vision regarding relations with the main actors and, despite the crisis the country was experiencing, Azerbaijan signed the Contract of the Century with foreign oil majors in September 1994, to develop hydrocarbon fields in the Azerbaijan section of the Caspian Sea. He brought in 11 foreign oil companies from 7 countries. It was an unprecedented multi-billion-dollar production-sharing agreement and, the largest contract of its type ever signed in the former USSR.

On November 7, 1997, the first oil was produced from the Chirag platform, and the Government of Azerbaijan celebrated the start of oil production from the offshore field on 12 November. The ceremony attended by numerous foreign dignitaries, including First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Minister of Fuel and Energy Yuri Shafranik from Russia, US Secretary of Energy Federico Pena, President of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze, and Prime Minister of Turkey Mesut Yilmaz.

It was President Heydar Aliyev’s Day. He was the one who had the vision to see the benefit that oil developments and balancing the interests between global powers would bring to Azerbaijan. First oil from Chirag field was the embodiment of his vision. The results followed when Azerbaijan’s economy recorded the fastest growth in the world.

I was honoured to have had several opportunities to meet Heydar Aliyev as president of Azerbaijan-Norway Friendship Society established in 1995. Despite his busy schedule, Heydar Aliyev received Norwegian guests invited to the Society’s events. Among them were Thor Heyerdahl, world-famous explorer and archaeologist, Jens Stoltenberg, Minister of Industry and Energy (currently NATO Secretary General), Arne Olav Brundtland (husband of former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland), a leading expert on foreign affairs from the Oslo Institute of Foreign Studies and Norwegian parliamentarians. President Aliyev valued the Friendship Society’s work to enhance relationships between our two countries and included me in his government delegation as someone who had made a strong contribution to bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Norway during an official visit to West European countries in 1996. I was responsible in organizing Heydar Aliyev’s meeting with the Azerbaijani Diaspora in Norway and neighbouring Scandinavian countries.

During the meetings I witnessed how frank, well informed and decisive in action Heydar Aliyev was. He had the phenomenal personal qualities essential for power politics: strong argument and the ability to bring people, including opponents, to his camp.

Heydar Aliyev’s balanced and mutually beneficial relations with global powers have brought great advantages to Azerbaijan in the diplomatic and political spheres.

Today, close ties with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and their support for Azerbaijan, mutually beneficial cooperation with Turkey, Pakistan, Israel, the United Kingdom, Italy, and other EU countries, show how the geopolitical landscape in the region has changed.

This has been seen once again during the military conflict with Armenia in the autumn of 2020. In the 44-day war, Azerbaijan won not only on the battlefield, but also at diplomacy, restored its internationally recognized territorial integrity, liberating Karabakh region of the country from occupation. A peace deal has been agreed upon between Armenia and Azerbaijan to establish lasting peace in the region.

Now, looking back, we can witness the tremendous success Azerbaijan has achieved in building a prosperous nation due to Heydar Aliyev’s oil strategy. The country is widely known as a successful model and maintains a delicate balance in foreign policy, while developing its economy and bolstering increased stability. From the geopolitical perspective, todays’ Azerbaijan has become the undisputed champion of energy exports from the Caspian to European markets. The Southern Gas Corridor provides an alternative source of energy to Europe ensuring greater diversification, increasing security of supply of EU countries.

Heydar Aliyev’s balanced multi-vector policy played an exceptional role in the development of Azerbaijan, bringing along great economic benefits, as well as political dividends to Azerbaijan and making it a notable member of the global community.

Guivami Rahimli

PhD, Professor at Baku State University

Senior Government Affairs Advisor, BP Azerbaijan

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