As Azerbaijan’s economic power rises so too does its political clout regionally and globally. Blessed with vast oil and gas resources and a moderate, secular culture, Azerbaijan is increasingly becoming a key energy and security partner for Europe at the crossroads of East and West. Minister of foreign affairs Elmar Mammadyarov took the time to sit down with The Report Company and share the government’s vision for Azerbaijan as a key regional and global player.
The Report Company: What have been the country’s main achievements on an international level since its independence?
Elmar Mammadyarov: By carrying out a principled and consistent strategy, Azerbaijan has become a regional leader and reliable partner in international relations. Today, it is on the way to becoming a regional transport and transit hub.
As well as the oil and gas pipelines that connect Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum, the completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is set to add another transport dimension to Azerbaijan’s successful energy and transport strategy, thus taking the trilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to a new level. Beyond the region, the decision to build the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) shows the increasing capacity of Azerbaijan to undertake independent large-scale projects that will change the energy landscape.
Over the last few years, Azerbaijan has significantly increased its international influence and now plays an active role in the international arena. Gaining a seat at the UN Security Council and hosting a range of high-profile international events such as the Eurovision Song Contest, World Forum of Intercultural Dialogue and the Baku International Humanitarian Forum as well as the upcoming inaugural European Olympic Games in 2015 have all contributed to raising the profile of our country internationally. We have also initiated a number of projects in order to contribute to the strengthening of intercultural dialogue globally.
Azerbaijan is the first country in the South Caucasus and Central Asian region to have been elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and only the second in the CIS region. As President Ilham Aliyev said during his address to the UNSC, Azerbaijan will always support international law and justice, and we have put into practice our long-standing commitment to the fundamental principles of international law. We have actively contributed to discussions on international issues ranging from international terrorism and crises to environmental protection.
Azerbaijan now invests in neighbouring countries, and this investment is expanding towards Eastern and Central Europe as well as Central Asia. We have also established the Azerbaijan International Development Agency, which undertakes humanitarian assistance projects in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
Azerbaijan has managed to reinforce its statehood and join the international community. As a fundamental principle we strive to make our own contribution to maintaining peace and stability and expanding prosperity. The seat at the UN Security Council has given us additional responsibilities and over the past two years we have done everything we can to play a role internationally.
TRC: Azerbaijan is geographically located in a very sensitive region. What is your view on the possibility of the full resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and how would you define your relationship with other countries in the region?
EM: Our view on the solution of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is pretty clear and is based on the fundamental elements of international law. We have repeatedly underlined that the continuation of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh threatens the security and stability of the region and beyond. The UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 of 1993 as well as similar decisions and resolutions by other regional and international organisations such as the European Union, NATO, and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation support the sovereignty, territorial integrity and internationally recognised borders of Azerbaijan and call for the unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.
Peace talks have been ongoing for more than twenty years with no concrete outcome under the premises of the OSCE Minsk Group. Azerbaijan has shown and continues to show its commitment to the peaceful solution of the conflict; however the lack of political will on the part of the Armenians makes it so far impossible to find a negotiated solution to the conflict.
Azerbaijani society is extremely concerned with the stalemate over the conflict. Therefore, in order to reach a solution to the conflict, it is important that the international community demonstrates firmness and intensifies its efforts to accelerate the peace process. The withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan would pave the way a final solution to the conflict.
As regard our relations with other neighbours, Azerbaijan pursues good neighbourly relations based on equality and mutual interests. I would say these are friendly, cooperative and dynamic ties. Azerbaijan enjoys strong political, economic, cultural and commercial links with neighbouring countries, which we value highly.
We have built strong trilateral cooperation with Georgia and Turkey – not just in energy but across a whole spectrum of areas of cooperation. This vital trilateral cooperation is the backbone of regional security, stability and future development.
TRC: What does Azerbaijan offer the UK as a partner in the wider South Caucasus and Black Sea regions?
EM: Azerbaijan and the United Kingdom have developed a strong and reliable partnership. The core of this relationship is energy and trade, however the scope of our relations expand into new areas. We value the UK’s support of Azerbaijan’s efforts to integrate into European structures. In turn, Azerbaijan has been cooperating with the UK in areas such as energy, international security, trade and business. UK energy firms, in particular BP, have been at the forefront of the implementation of large-scale regional energy projects and looking ahead, new opportunities are emerging to further deepen this cooperation.
The UK is the biggest foreign direct investor in Azerbaijan’s economy, accounting for almost 50 percent of FDI. Around 170 UK companies operate in the country. As well as having strong commercial ties, our two countries also cooperate in the field of international security: our military contingent has taken and continues to take an active role in international peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. Azerbaijan also works intensively with NATO members, including the United Kingdom, by making its airspace available for the transfer of equipment and goods into and out of Afghanistan.
Another vital area for bilateral cooperation is education. British universities attract hundreds of Azerbaijani students each year.
TRC: What are your goals in your relationship with the EU?
EM: Further integration into Euro-Atlantic structures is a strategic path consistently pursued by Azerbaijan. We share common values and visions with the European Union on a range of issues and are determined to continue our efforts to strengthen our cooperation. Today, Azerbaijan and the European Union are strategic partners in energy and we want this strategic partnership to expand into various other areas. Azerbaijan plays an indispensable role in securing European energy security; a role that will only increase in the years to come. The Southern Energy Corridor has been deemed crucial for maintaining European energy security, while the recent historic decision by the Shah Deniz consortium to select the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) reinforces Azerbaijan’s role in the European energy market.
TRC: How would you like Azerbaijan to be perceived on an international level?
EM: Our country is a young, dynamic state with a rich history. It combines increasing economic achievements with traditions of religious tolerance. Azerbaijan is renowned for its hospitality, its warmth towards foreigners and its unique location at the crossroads of different cultures. We are proud to have long-established traditions of democracy, human rights and modernity. The guiding principles for the further development of our country are openness, progressiveness, transparency and responsibility. We are open for international business and foreign tourists and look forward to welcoming them to our beautiful country.
TRC: As a future outlook, what key objectives would you like to achieve within your mandate?
EM: Looking ahead, we will continue our efforts to increase Azerbaijan’s international influence. Our seat at the UN Security Council has put Azerbaijan’s foreign engagement on a different level. The continuing occupation of around 20 percent of Azerbaijani territories by Armenian armed forces and the efforts to bring lasting peace and prosperity to the whole region will remain as a number one priority for Azerbaijani diplomacy. We will redouble our efforts in reaching out to new countries and regions to raise the awareness about the conflict and will stick to our position that the Armenian armed forces must withdraw from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and the almost 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons should return to their places of origin.
We are also determined to play our part in bridging the gap between different civilisations, as Baku is increasingly regarded as the meeting point of people from different backgrounds. We have garnered huge experience in that field and we are confident that our historic heritage of peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding allows us to contribute to strengthening global peace and understanding.