Why Azerbaijan is important for Europe, or where in the world is Baku?

Why Azerbaijan is important for Europe, or where in the world is Baku?

By Claude Salhani - Trend:

Some foreign visitors to Azerbaijan might misinterpret the signals and walk away with the notion that Azerbaijan suffers from an identify crisis. Geographically, the country is situated in Caucasus. In the South Caucasus to be precise. And where are the Caucasus, geographically speaking? In Asia.

Azerbaijan, for the geographically challenged, borders Iran to the south (that's Asia), Russia to the North, and Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, across the Caspian Sea, that's Central Asia.

Yet ask Azerbaijanis where they think they belong and almost to a man and without hesitation they will answer that Azerbaijan belongs where it is: in Europe. The former Soviet republic, one of the first countries in the world to discover oil, is not in Europe, at least not as far as any self-respecting cartographer would venture to state his reputation upon.

But if their bodies are not physically in Europe, you can bet on the certainty that their heart are well incrusted in Europe, and as far as the folks in Azerbaijan are concerned, that's where they should stay and that's also where they want their country to go.

A little over a decade ago Turkey, a friend and ally of Azerbaijan, who share a common heritage, and a root language, wanted to become part of the European Union, and applied to Brussels, but Ankara's motivation was twofold; economic and prestigious.

Ask a Turk, whose country is situated much closer to Europe, and of which a tiny portion - five percent -- is actually situated in Europe, where he thinks he belongs and with few exceptions he will very likely reply, Asia, which indeed is where Turkey is (Asia Minor to be exact). This is five percent more than Azerbaijan can claim, yet the Azerbaijanis feel more European than their Turkish cousins, with whom they share much, including a religion.

Still, Azerbaijanis look towards Europe with attachment and identify with Europeans far more than Turks do.

Why is that?

Though not a scientific study by any means, it would however be safe to venture that what makes the Azerbaijanis feel closer to Europe is perhaps the structure of this amazingly interesting multicultural, multi-ethic, multinational, multi-lingual society.

Sitting on the fringe of Central Asia, in the heart of the Caucasus, geographically in Asia but emotionally in Europe, some people mighty say this has all the markings of a national identity crisis. This analyst would venture to say that if such is the desire of Azerbaijanis to be closer to Europe, then by all means, bring Azerbaijan into Europe.

Azerbaijan can play the role of bridging East and West, of bringing moderate Muslims into the fold of emerging democracies. It is the role that Turkey should have carried out but never did and where finally out of frustration, moved eastwards and closer to the former Ottoman Empire and away from Europe.

Bring Azerbaijan into Europe if this is where it wants to be. And to all those who will raise red flags and accuse Baku of not meeting the European Union's accepted standards on the rights of individuals, an invitation from Brussels to join the mainstream European movement should address any qualms any and all sides may have about the issue.

Claude Salhani is a senior editor with Trend Agency.

You can follow Claude on Twitter @Claudesalhani

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