Mr. Elchin Amirbayov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan
Somebody once said "Azerbaijan has been hosting travelers since silk worms started to spin". What kind of influence do you think this had had on the culture and the people of Azerbaijan?
I think the author of this adage was not far from truth, since Azerbaijan is one of the areas of earliest human settlement, with evidence of human habitation since the Paleolithic Age. Cave paintings in Gobustan which is located in the vicinity of capital city of Baky, are dated by scholars to the XII millennium BC. According to Sumerian cuneiform sources, the first State to arise on the territory of historical Azerbaijan was the state of Aratta, which came into being in the first half of the III millennium B.C.
Now, since silk was mentioned, I should tell that one of the routes of the Great Silk Road that linked Eastern and Western civilizations between the Ancient and Middle Ages passed through the territory of present-day Azerbaijan. It was a 4000 mile-long network of interconnecting roads, or caravan tracts that over the period of almost 2000 years served as the major transportation means for trade in all kinds of commercial goods, including silk, between Europe, the Middle East, India and China. It also was an important channel of exchange of various know-how, skills and knowledge between the peoples and thus facilitated mutual enrichment of different cultures, religions and civilizations. Undoubtedly, all this richness has shaped and deeply influenced not only the history, culture and mentality of Azerbaijan and its people, but also the course of European and Asian civilizations for many decades and centuries to come.
It is gratifying to note that the contemporary Oil Strategy of Azerbaijan, that was conceived and orchestrated by former President of Azerbaijan Mr. Heydar Alirza oglu Aliyev and which culminated in the construction of the strategic Baky-Tbilisi-Ceyhan major oil export pipeline, this umbilical cord linking Azerbaijan and Georgia to Europe, was also meant, among other things, to revive the above-mentioned Great Silk Road and to reiterate the geopolitical importance of Azerbaijan.
In the history books we learn that Azerbaijan was an independent country already in 1918, and that it became part of the Soviet Union until the dissolution of the latter. In 1991 your country once again became independent State. How would you characterize those years since you got your independence back?
Before I do so, let me quickly dwell on that brief period of independent Azerbaijani statehood from 1918 to 1920 to which you referred, since the ideals and goals of that First Republic were again in the agenda of a newly independent Azerbaijani state in 1991. The Azerbaijani Democratic Republic (ADR) was proclaimed on 28 May 1918 in the territory of the eastern part of the South Caucasus and was in fact the first parliamentary democracy in the Muslim World and whole Orient which was to play a historic role in the renaissance and formation of the sense of ethnic identity and statehood of the Azerbaijani nation. The development of the ADR, as a nation state, was based on the idea of "Azerbaijanism", which hinged on the principles of modernism, Islamism and Turkism, symbolizing people’s aspiration for progress based on preservation of its adherence to Islamic civilization and Turkic culture and on their separate ethnic identity.
In spite of its brief existence of only 23 months, the multi-party Azerbaijani parliament and the coalition government managed to take a number of important steps in the process of democratic nation-building and development of statehood in political, economic, military and social fields, securing international recognition for the young republic as a full-fledged member of the international community of nations. On January 11, 1920 the Paris Peace Conference, with the Treaty of Versailles, accorded de facto recognition of the independence of Azerbaijan.
Though short-lived (on 28 April 1920 Eleventh Red Army annexed the territory of ADR and established Soviet rule there), this First Republic of 1918 may be proud of crucial steps it had undertaken with a view to establishing a democratic, modern and secular society based on equality, non-discrimination, rule of law, protection and promotion of human rights of all people inhabiting Azerbaijan, irrespective of their ethnic, religious, cultural, linguistic or any other affiliation.
Now, with regard to the restoration of independence in 1991, one has to mention here that independence was not just a gift we received from the heaven. The adoption by the National Parliament of the Act reestablishing State independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan on 18 October 1991 was preceeded by the national democratic movement in the country that started in 1988 and was aimed at restoring Azerbaijan’s independence. We were among the very first Soviet republics to adopt a unilateral decision on sovereignty on 23 September 1989. The people of Azerbaijan paid a heavy price for its independence before and after 1991, when thousands of men and women sacrificed their lives to freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of their young state.
What are the main concerns for the foreign policy of Azerbaijan today?
Those are numerous and providing an exhaustive list would take a lot of time. But if I am given a choice of three most important foreign policy goals that are of primary concern to the Government those would be the following.
First and foremost, it’s the soonest restoration of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and its sovereignty over almost one fifth of the internationally recognized territory of the country presently under foreign occupation as well as elimination of other consequences of the ongoing conflict with neighboring Armenia, such as, for instance, creating conditions for the return of the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis evicted from their homes by the conflict. Azerbaijan is committed to finding a peaceful solution to this longstanding conflict through negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group on the basis of norms and principles of international law.
Secondly, promotion of the establishment of a pluralistic democracy based on vibrant market economy and the rule of law. The government led by President Ilham Aliyev is deeply committed to continue the course of political and economic reform in order to achieve these goals and our active interaction with and membership in major international organizations, like the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE and others are facilitating this goal. Special significance is given to further development of civil society and strengthening of the economy through development of non-oil sector of the economy and regions, and improving the living standards of people.
Third, further deepening of relations with and gradual integration into European and Transatlantic security and cooperation structures, like the European Union and NATO. Having culturally and historically a European vocation and given its advantageous geostrategic location at the crossroads of East and West, Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan has set this as a strategic goal of its foreign policy and is steadily developing its ever-growing relationship with these major international players.
You are the youngest among all the ambassadors in Geneva today. How does it feel, and do you mind telling us something about you background?
Well, what can I say? It’s a great privilege and huge responsibility at the same time. When you are already a member of this club you don’t concentrate that much on this aspect of your credentials but rather try to focus on your numerous responsibilities. With my daily work I try to justify the confidence with which I was entrusted when appointed to this very important position. In the meantime, I am representing a young country, which, alas, cannot boast of a diplomatic tradition with long history and experience, but this is another great challenge for me to meet. As to my background, I studied foreign languages and international relations, and I am part of the Azerbaijani foreign
service since 1991.
You are the Ambassador to all the international organizations in Geneva, to Switzerland and to the Holy See. Already your colleagues here in Geneva tell us about the heavy workload involved following the international organizations, so how do you manage, and secondly do you have time to do something else apart from working?
I agree, that Geneva by itself as a diplomatic posting is not a piece of cake, especially when you have other responsibilities as I do. But I believe here is where the comparative advantage of young age comes into play, and certainly wearing all three hats requires lots of energy, motivation and dedication. Besides, being exposed on a daily basis to multilateral and bilateral diplomatic environment makes the job even more interesting and challenging.
As to the second part of your question, I do try to squeeze out some time and devote it to my family, besides I am fond of reading, walking and doing outdoor sports.
What do you consider being the most important result for Azerbaijan on the international scene up to today?
Since Azerbaijan reemerged at the international stage as an independent state, the country has covered quite an impressive road, full of its own ups and downs.
As I outlined above, many of the problems are still awaiting their resolution. But, despite all this, the main achievement of ours has been the fact that as a result of the far-sighted and balanced foreign policy by former President Heydar Aliyev which is continued by the current Head of State, Azerbaijan has consolidated its place as an independent, sovereign state in its own right, with its important place in the region and in a wider global family of nations. I am sure the process of uneasy transition and transformation that the country is going through will be successfully steered to the end and that in the not so distant future Azerbaijan will become a strong and prosperous state at the service of its talented and assiduous people.