Gajendra Singh

First Indian Ambassador to Azerbaijan

I always remember my meetings with the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev at the end of 1993 and at the beginning of 1994. At that time, Heydar Aliyev had just come to power.

Heydar Aliyev, a native of Nakhchivan, in 1982 became the first Muslim to rise to the Kremlin’s highest authority, the Politburo. Just a few decades ago, when communist ideology was strong and Slavic nationalism was not raging, Heydar Aliyev could rise to the highest position, like Stalin from Georgia and N. Khrushchev from Ukraine.

However, after Gorbachev came to power in 1985 and Heydar Aliyev spoke out against his destructive reforms, in 1987 he was removed from the Politburo.

The re-emergence of the adamant politician happened in 1990 with his speech against the Soviet army’s entry into Baku.

After Heydar Aliyev became president in 1993, he tried with great determination to restore relations with Western leaders. He inherited the war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a part of whose population consists of Armenians. The Karabakh Armenians, supported by Armenia, controlled most of southwestern Azerbaijan. Heydar Aliyev managed to achieve a ceasefire with Armenia in 1994, and it is still in effect, there is no war between the parties. However, Azerbaijan, with a population of 8 million, has more than a million refugees, and 20 percent of its territory remains under Armenian occupation. In 1995, a new Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan was adopted. The major party in the political life of the country is the New Azerbaijan Party, headed by Heydar Aliyev. Azerbaijan is a member of the CIS, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe. He also wants to join NATO. During the war in Iraq, Azerbaijan supported the United States, and sent soldiers to Iraq and is thinking about participating in the reconstruction process there.

Heydar Aliyev is known as the “Father of the Nation”. He brought stability to the country, initiated economic reforms and managed to attract huge foreign investments. Construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline has begun, through which Azerbaijani oil will be transported to Western markets. Heydar Aliyev is a master of political chess. He has proved over and over again that he is both cautious and determined as an experienced chess player.

Heydar Aliyev attached great importance to the annual meetings of the leaders of Western countries. He held very productive meetings and negotiations with French President Francois Mitterrand, British Prime Minister John Major, leaders of Israel and other countries.

Heydar Aliyev’s meetings with European leaders paved the way for direct relations with the Americans. In particular, relations with the influential Jewish lobby were important in countering the influential Armenian diaspora in the United States. With the signing of the “Contract of the Century” in September 1994, Heydar Aliyev was able to win the West over to his side in the so-called “new big game” policy, providing Western countries with energy resources. During his official visit to the US in 1997, Heydar Aliyev met with Bill Clinton, and signed 10 billion dollar agreements with US oil giants in Washington and other cities.

The result of Heydar Aliyev’s efforts was truly impressive. In Washington, he was greeted as a star and a great politician. The evening, arranged in his honor, was attended by more than 400 high-ranking Americans, lobbyists, consultants, investors, and mediators. In just a few years, Heydar Aliyev became the favorite of the United States. But one thing is clear leadership qualities are important to reach the highest position in any system.

Azerbaijan is rich not only in oil. Unlike many of its neighbors, it has fertile soil and sufficient water for irrigation. He can provide himself with food. There are also many underground resources. Measures related to reforms and encouragement of foreign investment soon bore fruit. Baku announced that the volume of investments in the country in the next 3 years will reach $10 billion, which will be more than in 1996-2002. Azerbaijan has received $900 million from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to carry out economic reforms, ensure macroeconomic stability and structural reforms. Recently, a representative of the World Bank said that Baku will receive another $235 million in 2003-2005.

The capital of the country Baku is located on the coast of the Caspian Sea, on the ancient Silk Road, in an important area. At the beginning of the last century, half of the world’s oil was produced in this city. It has a rich history, culture, and beautiful buildings.

However, in November 1993, when 5 ambassadors, including the author of these lines, presented their credentials to President Heydar Aliyev, the city was gray and without lights. The person who came here felt distressed. We were placed in a hotel called “Intourist”. Some rooms had hot or cold water, while others did not. It reminded me of a remote Romanian province from the worst period of Ceausescu’s reign. However, during each subsequent visit to Baku, I observed a rapid change in circumstances and an influx of investment into the country. Before the Soviet era, wealthy oil tycoons built theaters in the city. This tradition was strengthened during the Soviet era and spread to other Turkic-speaking countries. In Baku, you can listen to operas of the highest level. Many Azerbaijani musicians and conductors work in the Western-styled operas of Kemal Atatürk’s Türkiye, who laid the foundation of the modernization and Westernization of Türkiye. Neighboring Dagestan and Chechnya, Azerbaijan remains at the center of a multinational mosaic called the Caucasus, which embodies the danger of exploding. Azerbaijan and Georgia are important for transporting oil and gas to the West via Türkiye. It is also important to transport fuel not only from Azerbaijan but also from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan while keeping Russia and Iran out of these strategic economic infrastructures. Especially with tensions rising in the Middle East, many may turn their attention to new energy sources in Caspian Basin that can be safely transported.