Visit of Azerbaijan’s head of state to Italy was extensively covered by the Italian media that emphasized the importance of projects proposed by the President Aliyev in political and cultural fields. Azerbaijan’s financial assistance to archeological excavation works around the Mercati di Traiano Museum in Rome was particularly welcomed. Azerbaijani and Italian leaders had an opportunity to exchange views on pressing issues of the political, economic, energy and geopolitical agenda and stressed the importance of bolstering bilateral ties. Determination of future steps aimed at realization of Trans-Adriatic pipeline was also of the great significance.
Culture and Politics: Azerbaijan’s Initiatives
Indeed, visit of Azerbaijan’s President to Rome on 13-15 June, received wide coverage in the Italian media. It is explained with great deal of prominence that Ilham Aliyev enjoys. Moreover, Azerbaijani side took a step to deeply honor the cultural legacy of Rome. In this context, renowned European newspaper ”La Repubblica” highlighted that relations between the two countries have entered a new phase and immediately pointed to Azerbaijan’s financial assistance to the archeological excavations around Mercati di Traiano. The article reads, “This document will contribute to cultural enrichment of Rome” (see: Fori Imperiali, accord Rome-Azerbaigan: 1 mln per gli scavi / ”La Repubblica”, 14 July 2014). The author describes this gesture as a ”cultural patronage” (”mecenatismo cultural”).
”Roma Today”, ”Libre Prensa”, ”Rai News” and other media outlets followed the same spirit in their articles. They talked about great attention attached to culture by the President Ilham Aliyev and endeavors by the President of Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva in this particular domain. Such a response from the Italians is no doubt gratifying. It must also be acknowledged that Azerbaijan has done its best to earn this respect. Programs aimed at enhancing inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue implemented by the President Ilham Aliyev are very well known. Now Europe admits that Azerbaijan deserves to be recognized as a leading nation of the region in this area as well.
In the meantime, a political significance of this particular donation for the needs of the Italian culture by the leader nation of the South Caucasus must not be dismissed. The point is, that for years, the Armenian propaganda and their Western patrons have claimed that Christian cultural monuments and graves were destroyed in Azerbaijan and tried to convince the world that the ongoing conflict had erupted on religious grounds. This unsubstantiated and bogus image was shattered, thanks to the efforts by the Azerbaijani leader. That is why it was noteworthy that the Italian newspapers referred to the gesture by Ilham Aliyev as ”cultural patronage”.
It must be underscored that previous visits to Italy by the late President Heydar Aliyev in 1997 and the incumbent President in 2005 and 2007 played a particular role here. It was Heydar Aliyev that defined founding principles and future strategic outlines of cooperation between the two countries, whereas Ilham Aliyev has built upon that by expanding the ties and essentially elevating them to the next level. Baku’s noble cultural efforts, indeed positively contribute to the overall development of cooperation between the two nations.
President Ilham Aliyev conducted major discussions in the field of energy with the Italian officials and secured important agreements. It is no secret that realization of Trans-Adriatic (TAP) and Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) projects are of great importance for Europe. And some quarters are aiming to hinder the process. However, Azerbaijan is defiant and is taking concrete action towards the execution of these projects. Talks in Rome were success in this context, as the parties were able to address different aspects of the issue (see: Il president azerbaigiano Aliyev a Roma per il Tap. E dona 1 mln per gli scavi archeolodici / ”Notizie Geopolitiche”, 16 July 2014).
Geopolitical Strategy: Baku’s Successful Choice
This subject has gained greater urgency in light of the geopolitics. Some processes in the world are impairing the issue of energy security. Some experts are worried about serious obstacles with respect to realization of projects envisaged by the West. This aspect is highlighted in the context of inception of the Eurasian Economic Union. Nonetheless, official Baku is conducting its policy independently and as such as, relies on pragmatism. Ilham Aliyev’s last visit has once again confirmed that. It is obvious that nothing can preclude the realization of TAP.
On the other hand, it becomes clear that the Armenian propaganda against energy projects has failed. It is no secret that Armenians claim that major energy projects, including TAP would be unsuccessful. Therefore, they contend that, given the Armenia factor, the West remains indifferent to Azerbaijan’s initiatives in the energy area. However, the actual processes attest to the contrary.
This demonstrates strategic significance, in geopolitical terms, of the visit to Italy by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. It was once again made clear that actions to ensure energy security were necessary. In this regard, mentioning of the Azerbaijani-Armenian, Nagorno Karabakh conflict by the Azerbaijan’s head of state was quite an important element. If Azerbaijan was a key energy partner in the South Caucasus, then Europe were to consider the biggest obstacle for the country and engage closely in eliminating the hurdle. Europe needs a fair resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict as much as Azerbaijan does, because otherwise, some forces would occasionally take advantage of the problem, in order to disturb the stability and compromise European integration. Such signs are already surfacing.
Some Armenian experts suggest that Georgia’s associated membership may provoke problems for regional cooperation. They are attributing one aspect of the issue to the geopolitical configuration that best serves their interests (see: Арам Аматуни. Какое отклонение зафиксировала Грузия в Армении? / ”1in.am”, 14 July 2014).
Azerbaijan’s performance is completely distant from such unsubstantiated claims. Through concrete programs the official Baku expands its cooperation with Europe, Russia, Iran, China, Turkey, Georgia and others, and contributes to regional integration. This is why President Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Italy was important, in terms of raising the benchmark in Azerbaijan-EU cooperation.
Azerbaijan is known to have suggested its own model of cooperation with the EU. The very model of strategic nature foresees engagement between the parties based on specific projects. Therefore, European officials highly appreciated official Baku’s initiative. This aspect was reconfirmed during the visit of the President Aliyev to Italy.
Azerbaijan builds pragmatic relations with the EU, based on modern geopolitical realities of the world. This signifies the promising perspectives of cooperation in the cultural, energy, political, economic and other areas. Therefore, visit to Italy was the next step in right direction. The following comments made by the President Aliyev in Rome perfectly characterize the essence of cooperation, ”…We have entered a new stage of cooperation. Political, economic and energy issues are important for us, as they connect our countries. However, culture connects not only politicians and countries, but also people” (see: President Ilham Aliyev visited the Mercati di Traiano museum where he met with mayor Ignazio Marino and answered questions from Italian journalists / AzerTac, 14 July 2014).
There is no room for any comparisons here. President of Armenia was treated disrespectfully in the Latin America. He was not afforded a discussion on any serious issue other than belabored fable on the ”Armenian genocide”. Why, because Armenia’s president is not in the position to make any viable proposition or to offer cooperation projects. On the contrary, every visit of Ilham Aliyev abounds with historic agreements and treaties. This is the difference that Europe must finally realize and admit, and ultimately abandon its policy of ”double-standards”.