Impressions from Azerbaijan
When I was asked to lecture in Azerbaijan, I said, “Yes.” That made it the 53rd country to lecture or consult in, and I “collect” countries because when I lecture or consult in a new country, I am testing my theories, and l learn a lot from the questions or problems posed to me.
In this case, I did not know what to expect. There was a dearth of information on the Internet about Azerbaijan. So, I went there with open eyes; I expected to be surprised.
And I was.
Very much so.
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is a modern city. Very European. Big buildings with German or French architecture, wide boulevards, a beautiful promenade along the seacoast that stretches more than ten kilometers.
The city gardens are manicured, and what stands out most is how clean the streets are. I looked for a cigarette butt, for a piece of paper, for a plastic bag somewhere. None whatsoever, even though I was driven for hours through the streets of Baku. Not even in the underpasses.
The office buildings are made of glass just like any modern city. But it is not like Dubai, which is overbuilt. Surprisingly, even though everything is very new, you feel that this city, Baku, has been around for sometime.
After some inquiring the reason became clear. There is an old city which is under the protection of Unesco as a Heritage of Humanity. For those who have been to Dubrovnik, the old city in Baku is far more beautiful and romantic.
What particularly caught my attention was how “civilized” the people were. You do not feel any tension, any nervousness. People drive calmly and peacefully (in comparison to Moscow, Istanbul, or Los Angeles, to name only a few cities.) I was told there is hardly any crime. It is approaching zero.
Azerbaijan is a rich country. The nation has oil. Lots of it. So money is not scarce. Prices are high for housing (just like London). Services are expensive, but apparently that is not a source of major discontent because everyone is making money. That money is not a major issue – one can notice from the lighting of the buildings. Every building is lit like for Christmas. I have never in my life seen so much electricity being used except in Las Vegas.
Baku has top five stars hotels, great restaurants, and local and international music. In other words, you will feel that you are in Europe. In the one week I was there, I saw only two women with their hair covered in the way favored by religious Muslim women.
The political situation is stable, which might explain, partially at least, the success of the country. It is a democratic regime all right. There is opposition to the government, (I could not discern how powerful it was. It has a TV channel and several newspapers) but there is no political animosity that one finds in democratic systems. In Azerbaijan, it all looks peaceful.
I am starting to believe, after visiting fifty-two countries, that a benevolent dictatorship is the best system. There is stability. There is order. And people love it and appear content because there is trust and respect (albeit forced). In those countries where democracy is running, wild parties attack each other, and it feels like divorced parents having their fights in the open in front of children. And change of governments creates uncertainty, and graft, and political corruption.
Churchill I think said: “The best system is dictatorship with periodic assassination,” which is not necessary for benevolent dictatorship.
Jews have lived peacefully in this country. Up in the mountains close to Qabala, there is a settlement of Jews who trace their existence in Azerbaijan back over two thousand years. Probably they were the Jewish refugees dating back to the time of Babylonia.
Although Azerbaijan is a Muslim nation, Israelis do not need a visa in advance to enter the country. They can obtain the visa at the airport. Azerbaijan is an ally of Israel today. Apparently because Israel and Azerbaijan have a common enemy: Iran.
Both the Irani and the Azeri people are Shiites, but there is animosity between the two nations.
I was told there are forty million Azeris in Iran versus ten million in Azerbaijan. Iran apparently fears that Azerbaijan might ignite nationalistic fervor among the Azeris in Iran. Iran apparently would like it if Azerbaijan ceased to exist. It reminded me of the problem that Greece had with Macedonia when the latter established independence; the Greeks were concerned that the Macedonians in Greece might get the idea of nation building and try to align with Macedonia.
Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic society where people live together peacefully – except for the Armenians. In the past, Armenians and Azerbaijanis waged war over part of the country. Today, one does not at all feel the presence of war with Armenia. A ceasefire exists.
It has been a long ceasefire and will probably remain to be for a very long time because no one now wants to go to war, and no one wants to give up the land. So a long, long ceasefire is the solution.
I wish it would be the same between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
I will be back there I hope. Loved it.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes