NATO Week in Azerbaijan highlights 20 years of partnership
The annual NATO Week in Azerbaijan opened with a conference at the NATO International School of Azerbaijan on 1-7 July. A ceremony also took place in the capital Baku to mark the official opening of the second NATO-sponsored mine-clearing project in the country. This year marks 20 years since the start of Azerbaijan’s partnership with the Alliance.
Various aspects of the international community’s approach to crisis management were the main focus of the conference, which brought together over 50 participants from 17 countries. Discussions also highlighted the positive experience of Azerbaijan-NATO partnership and the perspectives for deepening cooperation.
The conference was hosted by Gaya Mammadov, Deputy Head of the Department of Security Issues of the Azerbaijan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ambassador of Romania to Azerbaijan, Daniel Chiobanu. (The Romanian embassy is currently the NATO Contact Point Embassy in Azerbaijan.)
Other key speakers included James Appathurai, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, and Ambassador Khazar Ibrahim, Head of the Mission of Azerbaijan to NATO, and Kęstutis Jankauskas, Lithuania’s Permanent Representative to NATO. Mr Appathurai and Ambassador Ibrahim underlined progress in the NATO-Azerbaijan partnership, highlighting in particular Azerbaijan’s valued contribution to the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan. Mr Appathurai also explained the important outcomes of NATO’s recent Chicago Summit.
The Summer Session at the NATO International School of Azerbaijan ended with a simulation game, where participants played the role of decision makers within NATO.
Expertise in clearing dangerous munitions
The official ceremony on 5 July to open the mine-clearance project in Jeyranchel was also attended by diplomats and high-level officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov.
Like a previous project in Saloglu, the three million euro Trust Fund project is being conducted by the Azerbaijani National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) and the former NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA) which was recently subsumed under the new NATO Support Agency. Work on the project got underway in April 2012 and is expected to be completed within 28 months. Jeyranchel, located in northeastern Azerbaijan near the Georgian border used to be the site of a Soviet Army live firing range, which now lies abandoned and unused, littered with unexploded munitions that pose a risk to the local population. (For more information on this project see link to article in margin.)
ANAMA has with the assistance of NATO and the United Nations developed considerable expertise in humanitarian mine clearance and the safe disposal of unexploded munitions. Since 2009, it has conducted training in this area for experts from Afghanistan, Georgia, Jordan and Tajikistan.
Azerbaijan’s relations with NATO date back to 1992, when the country joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (later renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council). Azerbaijan joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1994.
Over the years, defence and security-related cooperation has increased with Azerbaijan’s participation in the Partnership Planning and Review Process since 1997. The country’s decision to develop an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO in 2004, sharpened the focus of cooperation on reform and institution building.
The country’s support for NATO-led operations is another important area of cooperation. Azerbaijan currently contributes troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and, in the past, it also actively supported the operation in Kosovo.