Azerbaijan might not be a familiar country to many Americans aside from, perhaps, political junkies and geography buffs, but for Oklahoma State students it will soon feel much closer.
The small country of 10 million people, with a land size comparable to South Carolina, is nestled within the Caucasus Mountains and tends most often to remain secluded from American news. Despite the somewhat quiet nature of this post-Soviet republic, a delegation of government officials and agricultural industry leaders arrived in Oklahoma last week for a series of forums.
The forums were tasked with building international business partnerships between the two states. As a result, OSU students were provided a glimpse into government agricultural priorities in Azerbaijan, including new international partnerships.
The Azerbaijani delegation’s three-day, whirlwind tour of Oklahoma kicked off with a visit to Oklahoma State University on Nov. 6. It included stops at the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center, the Ferguson Family Dairy Center and the Wes Watkins Center for International Trade and Development. Through these tours, Azerbaijani agricultural companies were able to learn from the methods, technology and research developed by the many innovators at Oklahoma State.
As a sort of finale to the day of international collaboration in Stillwater, OSU and the Azerbaijan State Agrarian University signed a formal partnership agreement.
OSU’s new partner university, located in Ganja, Azerbaijan, is home to nearly 4,000 students and serves as the country’s primary source of higher education for the agricultural sector. The “Memorandum of Understanding” was signed at the Wes Watkins Center by Provost and Vice President of OSU Gary Sandefur along with ASAU Rector Ibrahim Jafarov, presided over by the Azerbaijani Minister of Agriculture, Inam Karimov. This historic new partnership is expected to promote international cooperation between the two universities, while potentially paving the way for new exchanges between students and faculty.
The signings at the Wes Watkins Center were preceded by a talk from Dr. Jaidev Singh, Mission Director to Azerbaijan of The United States Agency for International Development. USAID has a mission “to partner to end extreme poverty and to promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing the security and prosperity of the United States.”
Singh also discussed many of the national security challenges faced by Azerbaijan, a country bordered by Russia to the north and Iran to the south, and how its neighbors pose risks for extremism.
USAID missions in the country have sought to increase independent incomes earned by women through agriculture, as well as piggyback off successful agro-tourism efforts seen in states such as Oklahoma. Singh spoke on why agro-tourism is seen as critical to the stability of rural Azerbaijan.
“Any country that gets tourists is going to be safer than a country that does not get tourists,” Singh said.
Another major effort of USAID Azerbaijan is to increase the quality of English education in the country, providing Azeris with alternative news sources over traditional Russian outlets. Singh commented on his work.
“It’s a great career, being a diplomat,” Singh said. “I hope that some of you can join our family of diplomats overseas.”
In addition to the newly formed bond between OSU and ASAU, a sister city agreement was signed between the cities of Stillwater and Gadabay, Azerbaijan. The small, mountainous city of Gadabay in the far west of Azerbaijan becomes Stillwater’s second official sister city, after Kameoka, Japan.
OSU continued to be represented in the Oklahoma-Azerbaijan Agricultural Forum as it moved into Oklahoma City later in the week. On Friday, a lineup of speakers including Governor Kevin Stitt, Representative Markwayne Mullin, and Azerbaijan Ambassador Elin Suleymanov brought in a wide range of state agricultural leaders interested in building bridges with Azerbaijani businesses. Stitt spoke about the forums.
“Establishing international investments and trade opportunities is really important for our state”, Stitt said. “Oklahoma’s central location I think is really, really critical to the global market.”
Stitt, who plans to join an Oklahoman delegation to Azerbaijan next year, welcomed the Azeri delegation by saying, “Oklahoma is definitely open for business, we want to be great partners with you.”
He went on to declare Nov. 9 “Azerbaijan Day” in Oklahoma.
The forum held in Oklahoma City also included various panels relating to bilateral trade and investments, agricultural education, modern technologies in livestock production and animal health, calling upon the expertise of OSU once again.
Attendees of the forum heard from OSU Beef Cattle Extension Specialist and Director of Continuing Education Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, Agriculture Economics Department Head Dr. Joe Schatzer and Oklahoma State Program Leader of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Community Economic Development Dr. Randy Taylor. OSU's dedication to agricultural innovation was similarly reflected in the sentiments of Minister Karimov.
“(As) the world population is growing steadily, agriculture and food security have become the issues of our highest priority, for all countries," Karimov said. "The challenges to feed the world sustainably are huge.”
Following the events of the past week, there is a hope that Oklahoma’s new partnerships with Azerbaijan will usher in a future of continued collaboration across the globe.