History of the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan
The government of Azerbaijan has expressed keen interest in having a Peace Corps program since 1997. However, because of intense lobbying efforts by anti-Azerbaijani Armenian-Americans, the Freedom Support Act of 1992 contained a special provision (Section 907) that banned U.S. foreign assistance to Azerbaijan without presidential approval. This act effectively blocked any initiative by the Peace Corps until 2002, when President George W. Bush lifted the provision.
Shortly thereafter, Vilayat Guliev, minister of foreign affairs for the government of Azerbaijan, formally requested a Peace Corps presence. This was strongly supported by the U.S. embassy staff in Baku (Azerbaijan’s capital), and in April 2002, the Peace Corps began an assessment. The assessment team declared Azerbaijan “highly suitable for a new Peace Corps program,” citing the enthusiastic support of the U.S. embassy, Azerbaijani ministry officials, local government officials, Azerbaijani students and teachers, and local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). On the strength of this assessment and the U.S. president’s declared interest in increasing the size of the Peace Corps and enabling citizens in predominantly Muslim countries to interact with Americans, the Peace Corps director approved the establishment of a program in Azerbaijan for 2003.
Future of Peace Corps Programming in Azerbaijan
Based upon the expressed wishes of the government of Azerbaijan, the first program focused on teaching English as a foreign language. About 95 English teaching Volunteers have been placed in the Azerbaijani education system throughout the country, except in the capital, Baku. Volunteers teach students at the secondary level and a few train teachers at the university level. Students in secondary education programs in Azerbaijan range from 7 to 17 years of age. Each year, approximately 25 new English-teaching Volunteers join the English-teaching program.
In 2005, a second program, which focuses on community economic development, was piloted with 11 Volunteers. Volunteers work with intermediary organizations engaged in small- and micro-enterprise development and community development outside of Baku. Some community economic development Volunteers are placed in organizations that play a role in the agribusiness sector. Peace Corps/Azerbaijan plans to maintain between 30 and 35 economic development Volunteers in-country.
Plans are underway for the opening of a third program in 2007 in the area of youth development. Azerbaijanis feel strongly that the hope for their future lies in strengthening the education, marketable skills, civic participation, and productive engagement of young people. A first group of 15 youth development Volunteers will pilot this program.
The Peace Corps/Azerbaijan program for the next two years could be summarized in the following programmatic and functional terms: Maintaining the size but expanding the geographic scope of the English language program, establishing and expanding the community economic development program, and introducing the youth development program. Volunteers provide English language knowledge and communications skills to Azerbaijani students and teachers so that they can participate in the international community of nations. Volunteers provide business, organizational, management, and economic and community development skills to Azerbaijani communities so that they can create more jobs, generate more income, strengthen the economic and social infrastructure of communities, and improve the quality and availability of opportunities for individuals throughout the country. It is anticipated that Volunteers working in the youth development program will motivate young people to become productive and engaged members of society through transferring marketable skills and organizing service groups to address relevent local issues.