Last month, Baku hosted the 12th
summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization
(ECO). The presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran,
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, as well as
the prime minister of Turkey attended the event.
ECO was established in 1985 as a regional,
inter-state economic organization for the
countries of the Middle East and Central Asia.
Seven new states - Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan,
Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan
and Uzbekistan - joined ECO in 1992. Summits of
heads of member states are usually held once every
A range of issues involving
regional economic relations, transportation,
agriculture, energy and the environment were
discussed at the summit. Ilham Aliyev, the
president of the host country as well as the next
chairman of the organization, stressed the
importance of Azerbaijan in ECO's activities.
President Aliyev touched upon the issues of the
Armenian occupation of
as well as the Khojali massacre, which took place
on February 25-26, 1992.
president pointed out that the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars
railway, which will connect eco members, is in its
finishing stages of construction. Aliyev expressed
his hope of further energizing the organization:
"Within the next few years, Azerbaijan, as a
member of the organization, will do everything
possible to actively spread our values, strengthen
our partnerships and contribute to mutual trade,"
Turkish Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan suggested that "ECO countries
should use their potential and resources to create
a free-trade zone by 2015". Iran, the traditional
Turkish rival in the region, tried to use the
forum to interrupt the negative effect of
international sanctions on the Islamic republic.
Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad called for
using barter and national currencies in trade but
received no response from the rest of the members
of the club.
It is worth mentioning that
within the framework of the summit, Presidents
Aliyev and Ahmadinejad met with each other. During
the meeting, both sides expressed satisfaction
with the present level of relations and hoped that
good relations between the two countries could
contribute to the further development of regional
"Iran and Azerbaijan have
brotherly relations, and no propaganda by our
enemies can destroy or harm them," Ahmadinejad
said. Commenting on the cooperation between both
countries, the Iranian president stressed that
enemies of Azerbaijan and Iran are unsatisfied
with the progress exhibited by both nations and
look for opportunities to weaken both states.
The other ECO member countries also tried
to push forward their own agendas. Emomalii Rahmon
and Hamid Karzai, the respective presidents of
Tajikistan and Afghanistan, hoped to initiate new
regional infrastructure projects, such as the
construction of a railroad from China through
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan to Iran, as
well as the construction of electricity grids for
energy transmission from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
proposal, suggested by Tajikistan's president, did
not garner much support. The sides made only
declarations of intentions.
expressed a certain level of optimism ahead of the
summit and the election of Azerbaijan as its
upcoming chair. Political scientist Parvin
Darabadi stated that Azerbaijan's chairmanship of
ECO is one concrete example that Baku is involved
in international affairs. "Thanks to its
chairmanship of ECO, Azerbaijan will be able to
use its economic potential to increase its
contacts with regional countries," he said.
However, economist Ogtay Akhverdiyev
believes that ECO is not yet a functional
organization and has more symbolic implications
than practical ones. Baku should not expect
anything important to result from such meetings or
its membership in this organization. Indeed,
statistical data on ECO countries does not support
the high ambitions of the organization.
The combined GDP of ECO member countries -
which together cover a territory of seven million
square kilometers and have a population of 300
million - comes to US$1.7 trillion, which is only
2.4% of global economic output. Overall, the trade
turnover of ECO countries is around $768 billion -
less than 2% of the combined world trade turnover.
The average per capita income in ECO countries
hardly reaches $4,000.
member countries are not putting much hope into
this organization. Notably, Kazakhstan's President
Nursultan Nazarbayev, a frequent visitor to such
regional events, did not attend, and instead the
minister of transport and communication
represented this key regional player.
Another member of ECO, Uzbekistan, also
ignored the ECO summit, even though President
Islam Karimov had visited Baku several days
earlier and had extensive talks with his
Azerbaijani counterpart. The sides discussed
cooperation issues and developing transportation
linkages from Central Asia to Europe. Karimov did
not stay for the summit, showing his preference
for bilateral rather than multilateral relations.
Overall, the summit showed that the
members of ECO may have contradicting interests,
making it difficult to bring them together for any
single project. Moreover, the absence of joint
economic projects being carried out though ECO
make this organization amorphous and toothless.
Nevertheless, Azerbaijan's upcoming
chairmanship will almost certainly increase Baku's
prestige on the international arena, even though
it is unlikely to bring the country any additional
holds a PhD in Urban and Public Affairs from
University of Louisville in Kentucky. His areas of
interest include urban terrorism, public policy of
post-Soviet countries, governance and democracy.