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Azerbaijan at the Crossroads of Eurasia

The Tumultuous Fate of a Nation Caught Up Between the Rivalries of the World’s Major Powers

Fazil Zeynalov

Modern Azerbaijan came into being in 1991 following a national struggle for the re-establishment of its independence, initiated long before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is situated in a unique geographic location, at the crossroads of Eurasia and on the famous Silk Road that links Europe and Asia. It has been the stage of particularly rich historical events, testament to its ancient State traditions, the wealth of its cities, the violence of the imperial invasions. Today this secular country, facing war with Armenia, is central to the geopolitical stakes in the region, whether in terms of the international strategies of major powers or the geo-economic considerations of oil and gas exports to Europe. It has put in place a multi-faceted foreign policy and initiated political and economic reforms as it moves towards a better future.

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Azerbaijan1, one of the oldest inhabited places on earth2, is located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Since Antiquity, it has maintained economic, political and cultural links with the countries of both continents. It has ancient state traditions, although it has constantly had to face the challenge of conquest from most of the world’s empires (beginning with Alexander the Great, Rome, Byzantium, the Parthian Empire, the Sassanids, the Arabs, the Seljuqs, the Mongols and the Russians), who arrived from the east, south, west and north and disputed the control of the South Caucasus, and Azerbaijan in particular, to reinforce their dominance in the region and expand their territory. Because of its highly strategic geographic position, Azerbaijan was always affected by the expansionist policies of the imperial powers; located at a point of convergence, it was unable to escape such invasions. At times it prepared a military resistance, while on other occasions it tried to negotiate a just peace with a view to safeguarding the integrity of its territory and the autonomy of its political unity. But at times it became a battlefield where the various belligerent parties played out their disputes.

There were several factors that made Azerbaijan an appealing conquest:

• Given its location at a strategic crossroads, it controlled the land links between the South and the North via the Derbent passage. This was the main route traditionally taken by imperial armies wishing to cross the Caucasus←15 | 16→ as they travelled...

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