June 15, 2019
By Aaron (Tinglan) Dai
Washington DC – A discussion with Hikmet Hajiyev, the former foreign policy advisor to the Azerbaijani president took place at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. on June 11th, 2019.
The former presidential advisor began the moderated conversation by highlighting what he termed to be the three main issues that define US-Azerbaijani relations. The issues included economic growth and energy resources, democratic peace, and security. He asserted that Azerbaijan fully supports the fight against terrorism. With regard to regional issues, Hajiyev asserted that Azerbaijan was supportive of peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia and would uphold the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the equal rights of all inhabitants of the country.
Hajiyev then proceeded to discuss Azerbaijan’s foreign policy priorities, which focuses on what he dubbed “The 4 M’s: Multi-vectoralism, Multi-lateralism, Multi-regionalism, and Multi-culturalism. Multi-vectoralism suggests that Azerbaijan will maintain constant dialogue with its neighbors to address regional issues. Multi-lateralism refers to respect for international law and regulations. Multi-regionalism refers to what the Azerbaijani government terms “reliable geometry” or building elements of connectivity with other nations. Finally, multi-culturalism refers to Azerbaijani tolerance (a way of life) for the diverse cultures and peoples in the country.
The main issue of discussion for this event centered around Azerbaijani-Armenian relations. Hajiyev asserted that it is permissible for Armenians residing in Azerbaijan to exercise their rights, and focused on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in particular. Here, he made an interesting statement, asserting that the Azerbaijan government will not deny Armenians in the region their rights, but in turn, Armenia should respect the rights of Azerbaijanis in the region as well. He asserted that it was permissible for Armenians in the region to exercise self-determination within the boundaries of Azerbaijan and without compromising Azerbaijani territorial sovereignty. This statement was particularly interesting in that the former presidential advisor seemed to be suggesting that the Armenians could exercise their right of self-determination, but were also essentially restricted from doing so due to the inevitable violation of Azerbaijani sovereignty (view of the Azerbaijani government) that would occur should the Armenian population seek a greater degree of independence from Azerbaijan.
During the question and answer session, there were a number of rather loaded questions that were directed towards Hajiyev, with one individual from an Armenian rights advocacy group accusing the Azerbaijani government of continuing to frame this issue as one of territorial sovereignty while downplaying the pervasive ethnic tensions in the region. Hajiyev responded to this accusation by pointing out that there is an Armenian military presence in the region, which constitutes a violation of Azerbaijani territorial sovereignty. It was at this point that the American moderator chose to end the session, perhaps fearing an escalation of verbal exchanges. In the end, it would appear that everyone who was involved in the conflict naturally attempted to vigorously buttress their own positions while dismissing or downplaying opposing views. All the participants believed that justice was ultimately on their side. This conviction is perhaps one of the major catalysts that continues to perpetuate the conflict to this day.