By Rauf Mammadov
Americans can be forgiven for thinking of Central Asia and the Middle East as a region of chaos and instability – but there is one nation in particular which has proven to be a reliable, strategic, and consistent American ally: Azerbaijan.
The only country that borders both Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. We play a major role in the region as a trading partner and transit hub. We contributed meaningfully to coalition forces in Afghanistan. And we are always ready to cooperate with the U.S. on issues of mutual concern.
Chief among those areas of future cooperation is the cause of meaningful energy security for Europe.
Azerbaijan’s energy sector has enjoyed significant growth over the past two decades, and these natural resources can serve as a bridge for the American-Azerbaijani partnership. Leading this effort is SOCAR – the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic.
SOCAR’s primary purpose is to serve the interests of the Azerbaijani people. And our work in this area has been profound: Our national GDP was $3 billion in 1995, but now stands at more than $73 billion. Poverty has been halved since 2001, down to 5.3 percent, and unemployment has been cut by more than half over the same period to 5.4 percent.
To continue SOCAR’s ascent in the global marketplace, we are investing in major infrastructure projects and intensifying our production. As our capabilities increase, SOCAR has opted to focus on natural gas exports to Europe.
SOCAR can contribute to European energy diversification in meaningful ways, especially for a number of vulnerable markets in Europe that rely on a single supplier or supply route for their natural gas.
Our goal is to create strong ties to European consumers and further strengthen European energy security. As part of this goal, we are working to engage the world and introduce more people to Azerbaijan – its people, its culture, and its role on the global stage.
SOCAR has a deep track record of engaging with organizations that educate policymakers, thought leaders and academics on the geostrategic importance of Azerbaijan and its energy sector. Our company’s future success is tied directly to public awareness of our potential, our role in the global marketplace, and the challenges we face.
In the summer of 2012, SOCAR established a footprint in the United States with a representative office. Our team in Washington works to strengthen partnerships with American companies and to generate greater awareness of SOCAR’s global activities. They do so by supporting organizations that build ties through education, cultural events, and new business opportunities.
One organization that SOCAR supports is Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ). SOCAR does this so that AFAZ and other groups can provide key audiences with an opportunity to understand critical issues from different perspectives. These organizations are doing tremendous work in the realm of public diplomacy, and SOCAR is proud to advance their work.
In addition, SOCAR has helped to support unique opportunities for American leaders to learn first-hand about Azerbaijan’s energy sector. The first conference in Baku attended by U.S. government officials, diplomats from countries around the globe and Members of Congress was held in May 2013, and were pleased to find many strident supporters of Azerbaijan who took time out of their busy schedules to participate. Trip organizers put together a rich program for the conference, and we will look to find opportunities to support similar platforms in the future.
To reach as many people as possible, SOCAR will be taking a cue from the marketplace to diversify its range of partners in the United States. We will encourage organizations that we helped establish, like AFAZ, to grow their base of support and enjoy greater independence. And we will seek new partners that specialize in event and trip organizing along with the associated compliance issues.
As always, SOCAR will insist that our partners are transparent about our support. SOCAR is working to earn a reputation in the United States as a company invested in long-term relationships. We are committed to doing business with the United States for decades to come, and we will meet the responsibilities that come with doing business here. Our success will serve American interests, just as it serves the goals of the Azerbaijani people.
SOCAR USA is the U.S. representative office of SOCAR, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, and is headed by Director Rauf Mammadov. The office was founded in 2012 and is engaged in generating awareness of the company’s global activities in the United States and exploring U.S.-based energy-industry opportunities.