Elnur Aslanov is the chief of the department of political analysis and information support of the Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan for Today's Zaman.
Azerbaijan will hold parliamentary elections in a few months, for the fourth time since declaring independence in 1991. The process of national elections is no longer a test of the country's democratic strength, but rather proof of it.
A state that just a few decades ago had a dubious strategy for national development has now attained several significant achievements in the areas of social, economic and political development.
Azerbaijan's wealth lies not only in its rich energy sources but as well in several innovative developments that have helped to mobilize its people along progressive social lines consistent with other modern countries. While Azerbaijan is home to a rich oil economy, the current government has chosen to broaden its economic opportunities beyond a one-resource industry. Transforming finances to create new jobs (of which there have been more than 700,000 in the past seven years) dozens of new plants, factories, roads, bridges and other modern public structures have been created, thus changing the face of Azerbaijan and propelling it into a new era.
With steadily rising incomes, Azerbaijanis have expressed the desire for new living conditions and improved social provisions. The gross domestic product (GDP) is now an average $5,000 a year and rising; for many Azerbaijanis this is merely a starting point in the country's development.
Azerbaijan has also recently become an important player in regional politics. Salvador Dali could have had Azerbaijan in mind when his painting "Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man" showed an adult figure pointing at the Caucasus. While work still remains to be done, the state continues to aim for improved social, economic and political reforms in the region.
Azerbaijan's commitment to fund several projects by nongovernmental organizations is predicted to go a long way towards revitalizing civil society and improving relations between authorities and the public. A great deal still needs to be done for these relations to become more open and sincere, but at least the way has been made for the over $6 million allocated by the state in the past two years to transform the lives of many Azerbaijanis.
Today in Azerbaijan, media serves as an essential medium for increased social dialogue, especially between the government and its people. While more time is needed before media relations can be fully developed, the country is well on its way. In hopes of overcoming some of the main challenges, The Council for the Support of Mass Media has been established. Over the past two years the government has been working towards several important projects, to which $4 million has been allocated.
These many initiatives taken by the Azerbaijani government and citizens are only the beginning of what it will take for Azerbaijan's many struggles can be fully overcome. However, struggle is not unique to Azerbaijan, and in different capacities, affects every country around the world. Azerbaijan is thankfully moving in a direction that will inevitably turn it into one of the strongest nations in the region. Such a state deserves respect and understanding.
Many people are interested in Azerbaijan. It is not only an important area politically and economically, but as well a cooperative partner in the overall development of the South Caucasus, perhaps even its gateway. If as Fareed Zakaria, editor of the influential magazine Newsweek International said, "Economy, technology and policy form the global agenda," then Azerbaijan is a key player in terms of the region's economic, technological and political success.
These are not empty words. In analyzing Azerbaijan's overall economic status, and taking into consideration the weight of its population, annual budget, military capacity and foreign policy, Azerbaijan's future is essentially the future of the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan is no longer only the area's physical bridge between East and West, but as well its intellectual one. Geographically and socially, Azerbaijan is directly at the center of the region's interests; we need only to look at the area's social projects to see where they start.
For a country with a young population - 31 percent of people are aged between 14 and 29 - the prospects created by intensive economic developments promise significant changes to the nation's consciousness. Here, we must agree with Franklin Delano Roosevelt that misery and freedom are incompatible. Solving the problem of economic inequity is the first step in creating a healthy state that is capable of moving forward.
The well fed have a greater understanding of democratic ideology than those who are struggling to survive. People must be cared for first in order to build a strong state. Azerbaijan is a country that slowly but surely is beginning to embody this principle and in recent years has become more self-sufficient. Zakaria was right to say that liberal democracy comes when the market economy can ensure an adequate average income for every citizen. This has been the case in all developed democracies, from Spain and Greece to Mexico, Brazil, South Korea and Malaysia.
It is true that a self-sufficient citizen helps to form a strong state. A strong state is an instrumental partner. In our increasingly global world, this philosophy and Azerbaijan are of the utmost importance.