Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 20009T 1 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E firstname.lastname@example.org
Without energy,the small Caucasian state of Azerbaijan would likely have beenan afterthought in the post-Sovietspace. But Azerbaijan is muchmore than an energy hub. It isprecisely at the hinge of powerfulcultural forces where old empiresoverlap and modern statescompete — and it has energy. Itis infused with Iranian culture,ethnically and linguisticallyTurkic, and historically partof the Russian, then Soviet
empires, and all three infuences
are competing for the greatestattention.
Eurasia’s Hinge: It’s More than just Energy
by Joshua W. Walker and S. Enders Wimbush
In early May 2012 in Washington’s venerable Willard Hotel, GovernorBobby Jindal o Louisiana and ormerGovernor Hailey Barbour o Missis-sippi drew comparisons between theirstates and the Republic o Azerbaijanas part o a buoyant celebration o Azerbaijan’s 20-year relationshipwith the United States. Teir senti-ments, and those many o the guests,were ocused largely on Azerbaijan’sstatus as a critical mid-sized energy power connected to world markets,and increasingly to Europe, throughimportant pipeline systems. Indeed,energy is the principal reason mostgovernments and corporations pay attention to Azerbaijan.Energy wealth in today’s world isenough to generate interest almosteverywhere. Indeed, without energy,the small Caucasian state o Azerbaijanwould likely have been an aerthoughtin the post-Soviet space: a Muslimcountry deep in the shadows o theChristian civilizations o Georgia withits compelling cultural attachments toEurope, and Armenia with its engagedand potent political diaspora on bothsides o the Atlantic.But Azerbaijan is much more than anenergy hub. It is precisely at the hingeo powerul cultural orces where oldempires overlap and modern statescompete — and it has energy. Azer-baijan is the sum o three elementaltendencies that accentuate the pivotalnature o its geographic position:inused with Iranian culture, ethnically and linguistically urkic, and histori-cally part o the Russian, then Sovietempires. Eurasia’s uture is likely toplay out in and around Azerbaijan orreasons that are independent o theCaspian’s energy wealth but are ampli-ed by it. Put dierently, Azerbaijan’simportance to the West goes wellbeyond oil and gas.From the vantage point o Baku, itsstrategic universe is increasingly complex and worrisome, i not threat-ening. o the north, Russia is a lethalcocktail o dysunctional politics,ocial corruption, economic torpor,regional ssures, and ethnic shis —all within the cone o a demographicdeath spiral and powered by resent-ment at having lost an empire andits corollary, unrequited imperialambition. Russia has never orsakenits appetite or its ormer Caucasianpossessions. Its wars in the NorthCaucasus, its attack on Georgia in2008, and its eorts to impede asettlement between Azerbaijan andArmenia over Nagorno-Karabakh area way to increase its own presence andinfuence in the region and block Azer-baijan’s access to urkey illuminateRussia’s strategic design. For Russia,the key to this region is Azerbaijan.o the south, Iran is on the cusp o confict. Azerbaijan shares a 700 kilo-meter border with Iran, and up to 25