Jim Nichol Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs
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 a while 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 NK region contributed to Elchibey’s
rise to power, and in turn to his downfall just over a year later, when he
was replaced by Heydar Aliyev, the leader of Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan
region and a former communist party head of Azerbaijan. 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 (including “Function 150” foreign
aid and excluding Defense and Energy Department funds). Under the Continuing
Appropriations Resolution for FY2013, signed into law on September 28, 2012
(P.L. 112-175), regular foreign aid accounts are funded until late March
2013 at the same level as in FY2012 plus .612%, and most country
allocations may be adjusted at agency discretion.
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
entering and leaving Afghanistan to support U.S. and International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stabilization operations. 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 to 2008, about 150 Azerbaijani troops participated in the coalition stabilization
force for Iraq.
Date of Report: February 22, 2013
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