Diplomatic Pouch / July 16, 2013
By Larry Luxner
BAKU, Azerbaijan — Hafiz Pashayev, one of the most powerful men in oil-rich Azerbaijan, really knows his way around Capitol Hill, the White House and the Pentagon.
He should. Pashayev spent 13 of his 72 years as his country’s ambassador in Washington. And now, the retired physicist-turned-diplomat is pouring everything he’s learned about statesmanship into the prestigious Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy.
Established in 2007 in response to “an urgent need to train foreign service officers and civil servants,” ADA last September moved into its gleaming new complex in Baku, the cosmopolitan capital overlooking the Caspian Sea.
The school’s primary goal, according to its mission statement, is “to prepare innovative global leaders who are committed to making a difference in the region and throughout the world” and “to foster advanced research in an innovative and thought-provoking academic setting.”
On Monday, Pashayev welcomed to his campus 300 or so Americans who were in town for the U.S.-Azerbaijan Conference 2013.
“I’m happy that so many Americans have come to Azerbaijan at the same time,” he said. “If I could have brought one-tenth of you to Baku in 1993, it would have made my job in the United States much easier, because even for me, it was extremely difficult.”
That’s because at that time, Azerbaijan — a former Soviet republic that had declared its independence only a year earlier — was embroiled in a full-scale war with neighboring Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. More than two decades later, Armenia remains firmly in control of this Delaware-sized swath of land completely surrounded by Azerbaijan, though the de facto independent republic established after the 1994 ceasefire agreement isn’t recognized by any United Nations member state — not even Armenia.
Pashayev said a solution to this conflict remains elusive, mainly because of Section 907, a clause in the 1992 Freedom Support Act that specifically prohibits U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan.
“As you know, Armenian lobbyists in the U.S. portrayed Azerbaijan unfairly even before we opened our embassy, so it was extremely difficult to change the view of American legislators,” he said. “Imagine, a new country came to Washington to ask for fairness, and Congress had this unjustifiable law. Since that time, we’ve made many efforts to repeal it, but this congressional amendment is still there.”
Fortunately for Azerbaijan, the country — flush with billions of dollars flowing from its Caspian oil fields and pipelines — no longer needs Uncle Sam’s help, though it still puts a priority on maintaining influence in Washington.
“Now things are different,” said Pashayev. “I am happy that I started this process in Washington to create a solid relationship between Azerbaijan and the United States. This policy of good relations is in the interests of both countries.”
It’s perhaps ironic that the director of Azerbaijan’s diplomatic academy was a physicist by training — not a career diplomat. However, Pashayev sees that as a plus.
“Not being a professional diplomat helped me, especially when I wanted to say something undiplomatic,” he quipped. “I left the U.S. respected and I still have many friends in the United States. I don’t know any U.S. official who comes to Baku and doesn’t visit me.”
In addition to his job as rector of ADA, Pashayev is Azerbaijan’s deputy foreign minister. He also happens to be the uncle of Mehriban Aliyeva, the country’s flashy first lady, and according to a WikiLeaks cable, belongs to “the single most powerful family in Azerbaijan” — with extensive interests in construction, banking, insurance, real estate and telecommunications. It also controls Azerbaijan’s only Bentley dealership.
The ADA campus, located on Ahmadbey Aghaoglu Street in downtown Baku., is said to be modeled after the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Va.
“ADA was established for diplomats and foreign-service officials, but since Azerbaijan is growing and changing, we very quickly realized that Azerbaijan needs a modern, international university,” said Fariz Ismailzade, the school’s executive vice-rector who introduced Pashayev. “We now have several master’s and bachelor’s programs in international affairs, diplomacy, economics, IT and computer science.”
Ismailzade said ADA boasts has more than 280 students. Most Azeri and Turkish, though at least 20 more countries including the United States are also represented on campus. In addition, the academy also has faculty exchange programs with a number of U.S. institutions including Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
A slick website shows off ADA’s various programs. These range from Corporate Executive Education to Caspian Basin Studies — a unique course that includes field trips to Azerbaijan’s oil and natural gas facilities along the Caspian Sea coast.
During a short Q&A following his briefing, Pashayev took questions from a number of guests including Antonio Parkinson, a state representative from Memphis, Tenn.; Michael McMahon, a former member of Congress from New York City, and fellow ex-congressman Russ Carnahan of Missouri. All asked about Azerbaijan’s current political situation and its long-term objectives.
“Our goal is very simple: to stay independent and strong, and to be an example to others in the region,” Pashayev responded. “We are an excellent example of how to combine secularism with Islam, and we conduct a good-neighbor policy with all countries.”
However, added the ex-ambassador, “as long as Congress keeps 907 in place, Armenia is not very encouraged to come to an agreement. At the end of the day, we will have a solution, but I don’t think anybody should expect Azerbaijan to give up its territorial claims.”