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Friday, July 6, 2012

Azerbaijan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Azerbaijan is an important power in the South Caucasus by reason of its geographic location and ample energy resources, but it faces challenges to its stability, including the unresolved separatist conflict involving Nagorno Karabakh (NK). Azerbaijan enjoyed a brief period of independence in 1918-1920, after the collapse of the Tsarist Russian Empire. However, it was re-conquered by Red Army forces and thereafter incorporated into the Soviet Union. It re-gained independence when the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991. Upon independence, Azerbaijan continued to be ruled for awhile by its Soviet-era leader, but in May 1992 he was overthrown and Popular Front head Abulfaz Elchibey was soon elected president. Military setbacks in suppressing separatism in the breakaway Nagorno Karabakh (NK) region contributed to Elchibey’s rise to power, and in turn to his downfall. In June 1993, forces in Ganja challenged Elchibey’s power, spurring Elchibey to invite Heydar Aliyev—the leader of Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan region and a former communist party head of Azerbaijan—to Baku to mediate the crisis. The Ganja forces marched on Baku, causing Elchibey to flee the city. Heydar Aliyev was elected chairman of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan, and was granted temporary presidential powers. A national referendum held in August 1993 formally stripped Elchibey of the presidency and Heydar Aliyev was elected president of Azerbaijan in October 1993. In July 1994, a ceasefire agreement was signed in the NK conflict. Heydar Aliyev served until October 2003, when under worsening health he stepped down. His son Ilkham Aliyev was elected president a few days later.

According to the Obama Administration, U.S. assistance for Azerbaijan aims to develop democratic institutions and civil society, support the growth of the non-oil sectors of the economy, strengthen the interoperability of the armed forces with NATO, increase maritime border security, and bolster the country’s ability to combat terrorism, corruption, narcotics trafficking, and other transnational crime. Cumulative U.S. assistance budgeted for Azerbaijan from FY1992 through FY2010 was $976 million (all agencies and programs). Almost one-half of the aid was humanitarian, and another one-fifth supported democratic reforms. Budgeted aid to Azerbaijan was $26.4 million in FY2011 and an estimated $20.9 million in FY2012, and the Administration requested $16.3 million for FY2013 (the numbers for FY2011, FY2012, and FY2013 include “Function 150” foreign aid, and exclude Defense and Energy Department funds).

After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Azerbaijan granted overflight rights and approved numerous landings and refueling operations at Baku’s civilian airport in support of U.S. and coalition military operations in Afghanistan. More recently, the country is a major land, air, and sea conduit of the Northern Distribution Network for supplies in support of U.S. and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations in Afghanistan. Azerbaijan has contributed troops for the ISAF since 2003. The country increased its contingent from 45 to 90 personnel in 2009, including medical and civil affairs specialists. From 2003-2008, about 150 Azerbaijani troops participated in the coalition stabilization force for Iraq.

Date of Report: June 29, 2012
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: 97-522
Price: $29.95

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