On May 28, 1918, the first democratic parliamentary republic in the Muslim World — the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) — was proclaimed. According to the form of its governance, the ADR was built on the classical model of a parliamentary republic on the basis of political pluralism and multi-party system.
Guided by the principles of people power and equality from the very first days of its existence, the ADR eliminated racial, ethnic, and religious and class inequalities by granting all citizens of the country the same rights. For the first time in the East and long before some of Western democracies, women were granted the right to vote in 1918. The fundamental steps taken in the field of democratic state building, economy, culture, education left an indelible mark on the history of the people of Azerbaijan. On Jan. 11, 1920, the ADR was de facto recognized by the Paris Peace Conference. The Azerbaijani parliament adopted a law on establishment of diplomatic missions in the UK, France, Italy, the US, Switzerland, Poland, Germany and Russia. Despite the fall of the state due to Soviet invasion on April 28, 1920, the national idea and craving for nationhood survived. The short but glorious destiny of the ADR has left a deep trace on the self-consciousness of the people of Azerbaijan. Its ideas and legacy have shaped the historical and spiritual foundations of modern Azerbaijan that after regaining its independence on Oct. 18, 1991 declared 28 May as the Republic Day.
But after restoration of its independence, the political crisis, emergence of separatist tendencies in different regions, and severe socio-economic situation put Azerbaijan face-to-face with a threat of civil war. The situation was further exacerbated by Armenia`s aggression and occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijan`s lands.
And in this fateful moment, the Azerbaijani people entrusted their future to outstanding statesman Heydar Aliyev. Thanks to his continued efforts, far-sighted and wise diplomacy to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the ceasefire agreement that was signed in 1994 prevented the occupation of other territories and the loss of the independence of Azerbaijan. Since then, the modern army building process that started under the leadership of Heydar Aliyev laid a solid foundation for the liberation of the Azerbaijani occupied territories.
In order to turn a young, independent Azerbaijan into a modern, powerful state with sustainable economic development, national leader Heydar Aliyev determined the oil strategy, which would lie at the heart of fundamental transformation of the future political and economic reforms. The new strategy ensured the involvement of foreign investors in the development of Azerbaijan’s oil fields, diversification of routes of transportation of crude oil, effective management of oil revenues and Azerbaijan`s entry into a new stage of development.
Under the leadership of national leader Heydar Aliyev, one of the landmark agreements in Azerbaijan`s 20th century history was signed. The Agreement on the Joint Development and Production Sharing for the Azeri and Chirag Fields and the Deep Water Portion of the Gunashli Field in the Azerbaijan Sector of the Caspian Sea was signed on Sept. 20, 1994. Due to its political, economic and strategic importance, the agreement was dubbed “the contract of the century.”
The Baku-Tbilisi-Jeyhan main export oil pipeline is the greatest success of Aliyev’s oil strategy. To ensure the export of Azerbaijani gas to Western markets, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline was constructed on the initiative of Heydar Aliyev.
Projects initiated by Heydar Aliyev are now being implemented by President Ilham Aliyev. In 2018 the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) successfully completed their connection with the final golden weld, which physically connected the two pipelines. TAP will transport natural gas from the giant Shah Deniz II field in Azerbaijan to Europe. The 878 km-long pipeline will connect with the TANAP at the Turkish-Greek border at Kipoi, across Greece and Albania and the Adriatic Sea, before coming ashore in southern Italy.
Nowadays, Azerbaijan is a country that pursues policy of establishing mutually beneficial cooperation with all states, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and builds its relationships based on the principles of international law. The Kingdom recognized Azerbaijan’s independence on Dec. 30, 1991. The relations between the two countries have developed gradually during the last 30 years.
The first visit of Heydar Aliyev to Saudi Arabia in 1994 opened new opportunities for the development of bilateral relations and the two countries signed the first General Agreement on the economy, trade, investment, technology, culture, youth and sports. The two countries maintain the Azerbaijan-Saudi Joint Commission on Cooperation, which meets to allow both states’ officials to target expansion in the economy, investments, technology, trade, culture, sports and youth. The first meeting between the two countries was held in 2001 in Baku and hosted reciprocally in later years. The fifth meeting was convened in Baku in March 2019 and resulted in some agreements aimed at developing economic partnerships and increasing trade and the growth of business in various sectors, which was signed by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Finance and the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority. Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia both have active oil, gas and petroleum industries. Since the mid-1990s, Saudi Arabia has been establishing stronger ties with Azerbaijan through participation as it did in Azerbaijan’s Contract of the Century for the development of its oil business, and its joint-American Delta-Hess Company held 2.72 percent in that contract. Later, in 2012, two other companies in the petroleum sectors, the Azerbaijani national firm SOCAR and Saudi firm Soroof, signed an agreement on oil and gas projects in Azerbaijan. In 2018, Saudi Aramco established in Azerbaijan by registering a regional representative company, Aramco Overseas Company Azerbaijan LLC, in Baku.
On Jan. 9, 2020 in Baku, Saudi company ACWA Power signed an implementation agreement with the Ministry of Energy of Azerbaijan for developing, building and operating a 240 MW wind power project.
The common Islamic heritage facilitates and strengthens the existing ties between Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan. As an indicator, every year Azerbaijani Muslims conduct Hajj in Saudi Arabia. To develop cultural bonds further, Azerbaijani Culture Days were held on Nov. 10-17, 2007 in Riyadh, as well as in the cities of Jeddah and Dammam. Also, the Days of Culture of Saudi Arabia took place on June 17-21, 2008 in Baku.
Over the past few years, relations between the two countries have developed in the field of tourism. In 2018, the number of tourists visiting Azerbaijan from Saudi Arabia was about 73,000, and in 2019 this figure increased to 107,000.
Thanks to President Ilham Aliyev’s far-sighted and wise policy, Azerbaijan has liberated its occupied territory. With the liberation of the territories of Azerbaijan occupied for almost 30 years, the country has begun the process of restoration and reconstruction of these territories. At present, huge reconstruction works are being carried out in these territories, including the restoration of our historical, cultural and religious heritage, which was destroyed during the decades. It provided new possible opportunities for companies of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to take part in the restoration and reconstruction process in the liberated territories of Azerbaijan.
• Shahin Abdullayev is Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.