I have been living in Azerbaijan for more than two years. And I can certainly say that there is a great difference between what people visualize before and after their visit to Azerbaijan. No doubt that it is because they encounter such a developed country, one that is beyond their imaginations.
Generally, when tourists visit Western countries, they keep side notes in their minds of the beautiful architecture of cities and the positive sides of people, etc. But when the same tourists visit Eastern countries, for the first few days they only see the negative sides of the cities, the people, etc.
In many countries, the prejudice formed by media-controlled “Western-minded” people is gradually changing. The main reason is, when tourists visit Eastern countries they see natural beauty and experience warm human relations, which affects and changes their opinions. And tourists spending more time in Western countries begin to realize the problems, and they begin to criticize.
In visits to Asian and Eastern countries, the first negative images formed are changing due to the positive impact of authentic urban structures, natural beauty and, especially, warm human relations. As a result, many Western tourists visit the Eastern country that they like more than once. They sometimes even prefer to live there.
Azerbaijan is a little bit of an unknown country for Western people. But if they visit Azerbaijan, there is no doubt they will like and love the country.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has been developing rapidly. Today Azerbaijan is the richest country in the region. The first 10 years of independence were used to provide security and develop the political, social and institutional infrastructure. And for the last 10 years Azerbaijan has achieved great development, which could be a perfect model for others. To reach the level of the most developed countries, there has been much work and activity with regard to city development.
Representatives of foreign embassies in Azerbaijan and visitors express their wonder, without any hesitation, when they see the speed of development.
Some journalists visiting Azerbaijan for the first time assume that the great reconstruction in Baku is because of the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest. But this is not true. Sometimes they show their misunderstanding of the revival and development in the country through negative reports and comments about Azerbaijan.
Of course, everything in Azerbaijan is not “perfect,” and no one can make such a claim. Although turning a blind eye to development in the country may not be done on purpose, it is purely prejudice. In particular, some media members from Western countries who visit Baku for a short time have written negative comments about a few topics that can occur in almost every country. This is because of their prejudice against Eastern countries. I am sure that if they spent more time in Baku, they would see the beauty and the great reconstruction in Azerbaijan.
To understand the current situation in the country, one must also know its past. After the collapse of the Soviet Union several countries became independent, and today many are undeveloped with poor, weak political and economic positions.
Unlike these countries Azerbaijan has succeeded by using its funding and human resources wisely, despite its small size and population. Of course, possessing two important financial resources such as oil and gas provide it with excellent opportunities; however, the government supports businessmen investing in non-oil production. The accelerated development is due to President Ilham Aliyev’s setting goals every year and sending educated people abroad to get experience. Thousands of university, master and doctoral students study in Turkey and Western countries and return with experience they use for positive change.
Azerbaijan as a bridge between West and East makes own way. It would be unfair to expect everything to change in a minute for a country that has been independent for only 20 years; but ignoring the achievements attained in that time and criticizing everything is just the result of dark intentions. If you close your eyes in the daytime, it will be dark only for you. For others daytime is daytime. I lived in a Western country for many years. So as an experienced journalist I am sure that if the investment that Azerbaijan has had over the last 15 years occurred in a Western country, it would certainly lose the balance in its economy.
Azerbaijan races against time to be integrated with the world, and therefore, there is a great effort to develop rapidly. Progress is not just in the economic sphere, but also in social and cultural areas. Demanding that all problems be solved in a short period of time is not constructive; it is destructive.
The Eurovision Song Contest is a small event to promote the country and support development. There have been various international organizations in Azerbaijan. For example, just a few weeks ago there was an international environmental Olympiad (INEPO). Participants from 42 countries competed in Baku. After Eurovision, there will be great international events too. They are being planned. The aim of these events is to provide better conditions for the country and people.
We know that there will always be unfair critiques against Azerbaijan. Despite its geographic and strategic importance in the Caucasus, it is not surprising that Azerbaijan’s achievements, the success of the country, will be criticized. There is an idiom: “Taller trees catch greater wind.”
*Süleyman Ünal is editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper in Azerbaijan