Last year marked the 23rd anniversary of Azerbaijan’s independence from the Soviet Union. Why is that important to America? It’s in a part of the world that is in a chaotic state. Azerbaijan, after a mere 23 years of independence, stands out as a friend to America and a stabilizing force in the region. Russia and Iran border Azerbaijan, and the policies of those countries make it even more important that the United States and the rest of the free world have a stalwart friend in the region. There are many other reasons why we should value our relationship with Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan, a 96 percent majority Muslim country, has demonstrated a commitment to religious tolerance and understanding. Building an inclusive society is a priority of Azerbaijan’s public policy, emphasized in Article 25 of the Azerbaijani Constitution, which bans political, racial, ethnic, national, cultural, religious or sexual persecution.
Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan Rafael Harpaz emphasized during a visit to the United States, “Tolerance in Azerbaijan is an example to the entire world.” Tolerance is a continuous learning process for all nations, but Azerbaijan has taken impressive steps in just 23 years of independence.
In addition to its ideological commitments, Azerbaijan has made a remarkable transition from the planned socialist economy of the Soviet Union to a modern market economy. The economy is robust, and economic policies are aimed at improving the lives of citizens and paving the way for the success of future generations. The World Bank ranks Azerbaijan No. 70 in its “Doing Business 2014” report and classifies the country as upper-middle income.
Azerbaijan’s people and government uphold standards of religious tolerance, responsible free markets, environmental preservation and equality. Take, for example, gender equality. Azerbaijan gave its women the right to vote in 1918. Not only was Azerbaijan the first Muslim country to do so, but this was one year before the United States gave its female citizens the right to vote.
Azerbaijan also has integrated itself into the international community as a partner to NATO, a strong defense and economic partner to Israel, a member of the European Council and an elected member of the U.N. Security Council from 2011 to 2013. Azerbaijan and the United States have built a strong partnership supported by shared values, and it should value Azerbaijan’s leadership and partnership in the Caucasus region.
Azerbaijan has emerged in difficult geographic and political circumstances. It has become an example of social and economic responsibility in only 23 years.
Azerbaijan’s swift rise is a testament to its leaders, its people and its strong partnership with the United States. As America and Azerbaijan continue to face common challenges to our increasingly common values and goals, U.S. officials should congratulate them for their total commitment to religious tolerance, freedom and democracy. America and the rest of the free world need more friends like Azerbaijan.
• Dan Burton is a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana. He served as chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. He currently serves as chairman of the Azerbaijan America Alliance.
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