Azerbaijan is a little Turkey in the Caucasus, closely linked to its neighbor through exports of oil and gas, but also through the ties of blood "One nation, two states", proclaim Turkish nationalists, referring to their natural kinship. The Azeris speak a language very close to Turkish. The two countries also share a common hereditary enemy, the Amenians. Since their independance after the demise of the Soviet Union, relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been strained. The separatist region of Nagorno Karabakh, home to an Armenian majority, it is the site of a deadlocked conflict that lay dormant for ammost twenty years. One million people have been displaced to date.
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, seems to be a giant Potemkin village. The city's transformation has been spectacular. Outside of Baku, however, the country, which has 9 millions people, is deeply impoverished. Forty percent of the country lives below the poverty line. Much of the natural resources wealth is going to clans and the country's elite living in the capital city of Baku, apparently with little trickle-down effect. The country is ruled with an iron fist by President Ilham Aliyev, which has drawn persistent criticism from human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for its repressive, anti-democratic policies. Aliyev who became the country's leader after his father, Heydar Aliyev, essentially handed over power to him in 2003 before his death. Heydar Aliyev a self-styled father of the nation announced a £5.8 billion contract with a European oil consortium in 1994, which he trumpeted as the "deal of the century". This launched Azerbaijan's economy upwards, hauling the country headlong into the 21st century.
Both Europe and the United States are often hushed in their criticism of Baku's deficiencies not least because they are partly dependent on Azerbaijan for their energy needs. The country is home to known energy reserves of around a billion barrels of oil and 1.3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. Millions of barrels of Azerbaijani gas and oil are pumped to the West each year through a pipeline that runs from Baku to the Mediterranean Sea port of Ceyhan in Turkey.
In 2019, Turkey and Azerbaijan inaugurated the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) which runs through Turkey and Europe, carrying Azerbaijani natural gas producedin the Shah Deniz II gas field. The 1145 mile pipeline starts in the Turkish district of Posof in Ardahan and crosses twenty provinces, sixty-seven districts, and 600 villages, before reaching Europe at the Greek border. The cost of the project, piloted by the national Azeri company SOCAR, is estimated at 7 billion dollars.
Azerbaijan is also part of the European Neighborhood Policy program. The EU has stated that the primary aim of its aid to Baku is "democratic development and good governance," but Human Rights Watch alleges, "The EU's criticism of Baku's authoritarian leadership has been largely muted."