Making History in Person: A view from Azerbaijan

A year has passed since both major parties in United States politics held their nominating conventions. Looking back on the rancorous, contentious presidential election last year with the benefit of hindsight being 20-20, among the factors that made it truly special and the most important in recent memory, is the diversity of both tickets. And while the nation is now wrapped up in debates over health care reform, how to stimulate the sluggish economy and what the best course of action is in Afghanistan, we should take a moment to reflect on the truly historic nature of last year's election.

Regardless of political views and opinions, the fact that an African-American stood as the Democratic presidential nominee and now sits as the President, while a woman was the vice presidential choice for the Republican Party, embodies important symbolism for the entire world. Such symbolism should not be underestimated or overlooked. After all, if specific policies change or if they are forgotten years from now, the changing dynamic of who can become the leader of this powerful nation will be nothing less than historic.

Even today it is clear that the most outstanding characteristic of politics in 2008 and 2009 is the prominent role of women's leadership. Beginning with Senator Hillary Clinton's run for the White House and later appointment as the senior most diplomat in the U.S., women have energized and enriched America's political process. Women have finally become full partners in the American political process. This resonates far beyond America's borders because the world is watching the U.S. political process very carefully. Some are watching because the United States is a global power, which has an impact on many nations; others watch because the diversity makes the election so much more interesting.

For the people of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the prominent role of women in the American election followed by the appointment of so many women to President Obama's cabinet, 7 in all, has an added significance. The reason is that the Azerbaijanis recently celebrated the 91st anniversary of establishing the first democratic parliamentary republic in the Muslim world. It was also more than 90 years ago that the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which soon afterward was annexed and abolished by the Bolsheviks, granted equal voting rights for men and women alike. In so doing, Azerbaijan had pioneered a fundamental principle of equality for the region and beyond. Building on this tradition, Azerbaijan's First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva initiated an international forum on expanding the role of women in cross-cultural dialogue in 2008. The event organized jointly with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in Azerbaijan's capital of Baku brought together leaders of diverse backgrounds, including many women who serve in Azerbaijan's parliament and government to brainstorm how to promote global understanding through making women leaders more vocal.

It is hard to say whether the Forum participants would agree with Sarah Palin's political views or those of Hillary Clinton or Janet Napolitano or Kathleen Sebelius, and others, but they, most likely, can relate to the challenge of being a working mother and would appreciate their strong leadership skills. That alone lays the foundation for a different tone of a global conversation. Today, I am not sure what the specific political positions of the first voters in Azerbaijan in 1918 were, nor who they voted for. One thing is certain: more than 90 years ago, they made history by personally pioneering change. Almost a century later, that still matters a lot.

Elin Suleymanov is Azerbaijan's first Consul General to Los Angeles and 13 Western States, including the State of Alaska. For more information on the Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles, please visit www.azconsulatela.org.