Mr. PASTOR of Arizona. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate an important ally of ours in the South Caucasus region, Azerbaijan, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its independence as a democratic nation. Despite the global recession, Azerbaijan has experienced strong economic growth in each of the past three years, in part due to increased immigration as people from surrounding nations have found that Azerbaijan affords the greatest opportunity for employment, stability and security for working families in the region.
Azerbaijan continues to face unique challenges that it must overcome to maintain the promise of its independent democratic principles. This country of eight million people occupies the Western shore of the Caspian Sea, bordering Russia to the North and Iran to the South. This region contains vast oil and gas resources equivalent to those of Saudi Arabia, with Azerbaijan owning one-third of these valuable deposits, but it must be vigilant in maintaining independence of action regarding the use and distribution of its extracted resources. Their main oil pipeline runs from the capital city, Baku, through Georgia and Turkey, and out to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea.
In the early 1990's, Azerbaijan was involved in a brutal conflict with its neighbor to the West, Armenia, and the repercussions from atrocities committed during that time still impact diplomatic and economic relations today. Since a cease-fire was negotiated in 1994, these two nations have been locked in a dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, located within Azerbaijan but occupied by Armenian forces. The Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which the United States is a co-chair, was created to encourage a peaceful, negotiated resolution to this conflict, yet work remains in reaching this goal.
Azerbaijan is a secular, modern, Muslim nation that has practiced complete religious tolerance for hundreds of years, with some five Jewish synagogues in Baku alone. Israel is an important oil customer of theirs, and in the past year, honored Azerbaijani teams that worked alongside Israelis in fighting large wildfires that ravaged northern Israel. And of major importance, Azerbaijan bolsters U.S. efforts in Afghanistan through troops and airfields that provide logistical support.
It is important that America continue to encourage Azerbaijan in its democratic and economic growth, and highlight the progress made in these last twenty years. Congratulations, Azerbaijan.