With a satellite launch coming up, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev wants you to get it straight: Azerbaijan is not an ex-Soviet country; it is a cosmic country.
Following the launch, slotted for February 7, Azerbaijan will officially become “a space country,” Aliyev declared.
Azerbaijan, like some of its, well, ex-Soviet peers, is sick and tired of being put in the post-Soviet context as if it is the nation’s sole achievement. After all, the country has come a long way. Did it not feed many barrels of oil and many cubic meters of natural gas to Europe, fabulously redecorate its capital, Baku, and host the Eurovision Song Contest, for crying out loud? Will it not also host the first all-European Olympics?
Still, international media, foreign diplomats and scholars just can't kick the post-Soviet refrain.
“When sometimes in the meetings with foreign partners they say, ‘post-Soviet countries,' I go, ‘[W]ait. Azerbaijan is not a post-Soviet country. Perhaps some are post-Soviet countries, but we are not,’” News.az reported Aliyev as saying.
The entire world will stand corrected then, the thinking goes, when the region’s first independent satellite soon goes orbiting around the planet (including over Azerbaijan's much-hated neighbor, the non-cosmic country of Armenia), as airborne testimony of Azerbaijan’s progress away from the post-Soviet era.
The space ambition will cost the energy-rich state millions of dollars. Baku recruited Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp to create AzerSat. But the government says it is money well spent. Bragging points aside, Azerbaijan expects to recoup the investment by leasing satellite services to domestic, European and Asian clients.
Naysayers, though, are wary of the foray into the space industry given past problems with ex-Soviet countries experimenting with satellites. In 2006, Belarus, which shares a Soviet past and authoritarian traits with Azerbaijan, watched its satellite explode on take-off. (It worked the second time.)
But Azerbaijani officials are giving assurances that they will do their best to achieve great success; 2013 has been declared "the year of Information and Communications Technology."
But will achievements on the telecommunications front suffice to brush off the post-Soviet label? Improving the country’s human rights and democracy records, routinely criticized by international and Azerbaijani observers, might also come in handy to achieve that goal, some might say.