Azerbaijan carried out some diplomatic activities during its troubled first independence period between 1918 and 1920. In September 1920, newly formed Soviet Azerbaijan signed a treaty with Russia unifying the military forces, the economy, and foreign trade of the two countries, although the fiction of Azerbaijani autonomy in conducting foreign affairs was maintained. At that time, Azerbaijan established diplomatic relations with six countries, sending diplomatic representatives to Germany and Finland. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow initially used Azerbaijani diplomats to increase Soviet influence in the Middle East through missions in Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, but most transborder contacts by Azerbaijanis had been eliminated by the 1930s. In the post-World War II period, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs could issue limited visas for travel to Iran only. Iran also maintained a consulate in Baku.
The Foreign Policy Establishment
After regaining its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan faced reorganization of its minuscule foreign policy establishment. This process involved creating or upgrading various functional and geographical departments within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recruiting and training diplomats, and establishing and staffing embassies abroad. Because of the complexity of these tasks, few embassies were established during the first months of independence. Full diplomatic relations, including mutual exchanges of missions, were first established with Turkey, the United States, and Iran.
Even before the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Azerbaijani diplomatic establishment had become more active, primarily with the goal of countering a worldwide Armenian information campaign on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Initiatives in this policy included establishing contacts with Azerbaijani émigrés living in the United States and reinforcing diplomatic connections with Turkey, Iran, and Israel.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, most nations moved quickly to recognize Azerbaijan's independence, and several established full diplomatic relations within the first year. The first to do so was Turkey in January 1992. During his presidency, Elchibey stressed close relations with Turkey, which he saw as the best hope for arbitrating an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He also endorsed unification of the Azerbaijani populations of his country and northern Iran and, to that end, autonomy for the Iranian Azerbaijanis--a stand that alienated the Iranian government.
During the June 1993 coup, Turkey expressed support for Elchibey, but Aliyev and Turkish authorities subsequently expressed willingness to continue cordial relations. Relations did cool somewhat in the second half of 1993 as Aliyev sought to improve relations with Iran and Russia, which had flagged under Elchibey.
Meanwhile, the failure of arbitration efforts by the Minsk Group, which included Russia, Turkey, and the United States, had frustrated both Armenia and Azerbaijan by mid-1993. The Minsk Group was sponsored by the CSCE, which in the early 1990s undertook arbitration in several Caucasus conflicts under the organization's broad mandate for peacekeeping in Europe. Aliyev's alternative strategies included requesting personal involvement by Russia's President Boris N. Yeltsin, who began six months of shuttle diplomacy among the capitals involved, and initiation of direct talks with Armenian leaders in Nagorno-Karabakh, a step that Elchibey had avoided. Throughout the last half of 1993, the new contacts ran concurrently with formal meetings convened by the Minsk Group to arrange a cease-fire.
To broaden its relations with nations both East and West, Azerbaijan joined a number of international and regional organizations, including the UN, the CSCE, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. Azerbaijan has observer status in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
In the early 1990s, the primary criterion governing Azerbaijan's relations with foreign states and organizations was their stance on Azerbaijani sovereignty in Nagorno-Karabakh. Most governments and international organizations formally support the concept of territorial integrity, so this criterion has not restricted most of Azerbaijan's diplomatic efforts. Relations with some states have been affected, however. For example, in 1992 the United States Congress placed restrictions on United States aid to Azerbaijan pending the lifting of the Azerbaijani economic blockade on Armenia and cessation of offensive military actions against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
In messages and interviews early in his administration, Aliyev asserted that his new government would not alter Azerbaijan's domestic and foreign policies, and that his country would seek good relations with all countries, especially its neighbors, including Russia. He criticized the uneven relations that existed between Azerbaijan and Russia during the Elchibey regime. At the same time, Aliyev stressed that he viewed Azerbaijan as an independent state that should never again be "someone's vassal or colony." In the summer of 1993, Aliyev issued a blanket plea to the United States, Turkey, Russia, the UN, and the CSCE to work more resolutely toward settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Later that year, he sought repeal of the Azerbaijan clause of the United States Freedom Support Act, which had been amended in 1992 to prohibit United States government assistance to Azerbaijan.
Relations with Former Soviet Republics
Although Elchibey stressed Azerbaijani independence from Moscow, he signed a friendship treaty with Russia on October 12, 1992, calling for mutual assistance in the case of aggression directed at either party and pledging mutual protection of the rights of the other's resident citizens. Between that time and the coup of 1993, however, Elchibey accused Russia of aiding Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, and Russia accused Elchibey of mistreating the Russian minority in Azerbaijan. Relations improved with the return to power of Aliyev, who pledged to uphold and strengthen Azerbaijan's ties to Russia. Russia's official position on Nagorno-Karabakh was strict nonintervention barring an invitation to mediate from both sides; in the Russian view, Azerbaijani territory seized by Armenia was to be returned, however. In early 1994, seizure of property from Russian citizens in Azerbaijan (mostly to house refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh) remained a source of irritation.
Azerbaijan's role in the CIS changed drastically in the early 1990s. After Azerbaijan signed the Alma-Ata Declaration as a founding member of the CIS in December 1991, the legislature voted in October 1992 against ratifying this membership. However, Azerbaijan retained observer status, and its representatives attended some CIS functions. Aliyev's announcement in September 1993 that Azerbaijan would rejoin the CIS brought a heated debate in the legislature, which finally approved membership. Aliyev then signed the CIS charter, its Treaty on Collective Security, and an agreement on economic cooperation. Relations with former Soviet republics in Central Asia also were uneven after independence. Elchibey's advocacy of the overthrow of President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan caused particular diplomatic problems with that country. In keeping with the policy of rapprochement with the CIS, Aliyev began improving ties with Central Asian leaders in the second half of 1993.
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