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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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As the world undergoes change, geography remains the same. Azerbaijan has always been the target of attacks from imperial powers as it is situated on the path to their ambitions for conquest. It has survived the many turbulent episodes of the region’s volatile history, and national sentiment has become consolidated and strengthened through its struggles against foreign invaders. Azerbaijani States have succeeded one another within its territories, but although some of them held a position of influence (as in the case of the Atabegs, the Ak Koyunlu and the Safavids), the objective for the others was to protect themselves from foreign aggression. The characteristic features of these Azerbaijani States are as follows:

• They traditionally adopted defensive policies and focused on maintaining political and territorial unity. Although in their efforts to eliminate the military threats along their borders (Uzun Hasan) and meet the expectations of their supporters (Shah Ismail), some sovereigns managed to establish veritable empires, the events that followed clearly demonstrate their preference for a defensive strategy;

• They implemented pragmatic, cautious and balanced policies. In a geopolitical context that has always been sensitive and unstable, they tried to maintain the balance of power and recognise the importance of good relations with their neighbouring and European countries. This tradition continues to be apparent today, as the Azerbaijani authorities pursue a balanced and multifaceted foreign policy;

• In particular, they sought to defend their interests by exploiting the country’s geographic location and developing international trade...

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