This week Tirana Times had the honor of an interview with H.E. Rahman Mustafayev, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Albania. He shared with us his country`s priorities for Albania, a shared history, present-to-day situation in the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and hopes for the future.
First of all, it is great pleasure for me to address the auditorium of Tirana News – one of the most influential and prestigious English-speaking newspapers in Albania.
I would like to emphasize from the beginning that Albania is very important, significant country to Azerbaijan. Diplomatic relations between two our countries have been established in September 1993 and their main focus is to develop political dialogue and cooperation, both on bilateral and multilateral levels, increase the volumes of bilateral trade turnover and open our markets to investments from both sides. Taking into account the role Azerbaijan plays in providing of energy security of Europe and transit opportunities of Albania our cooperation in energy sector comes out to the forefront of bilateral relations. Needless to say that humanitarian area, namely culture and tourism, education and science, youth and student exchanges are also in the focus of bilateral relations.
Since 1993 we managed to achieve good results in different areas of bilateral cooperation. Official visits to Azerbaijan of the Speaker of Parliament Mrs. Jozefina Topalli in June 2010 and Deputy of Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Edmond Haxhinasto contributed to better understanding of positions and priorities of each other, strengthening bilateral dialogue and cooperation. As our President Mr. Ilham Aliyev stressed during his meeting with Mr. Edmond Haxhinasto, Baku and Tirana managed to establish strong partnership relations.
We also effectively cooperate within the framework of different international organizations to which both our countries are members – UN, OSCE, OIC, OBSEC.
TT: What are the main priorities of the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Republic of Albania? How does it hope to fulfill these priorities?
Rahman Mustafayev: Main priorities of the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Republic of Albania fully correspond to objectives set up by the President of my country, and first of all to one that Azerbaijan should be the main partner of Albania in wider South Caucasus and Central Asia region. My understanding is that to achieve this goal we along side with our Albanian partners should be proactive in providing more visits and contacts on political, parliamentary, business and cultural levels. We should also upgrade and develop the legislative framework of our cooperation – till now we have only two agreements signed. We are working with our Albanian colleagues on drafts agreements on cooperation in the fields of trade and economy, energy, education and science, culture and tourism, youth and sports, as well as basic agreements on protecting investments and avoiding double taxation.
TT: Do Azerbaijan and Albania share any common cultural and historical elements?
Rahman Mustafayev: History of common ties between Azerbaijan and Albania goes back to the 4th century BC, when the state with the name of Caucasian Albania emerged on the territory of Northern Azerbaijan (now the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan) and existed till the beginning of the 8th century AD. Caucasian Albania managed to survive for millennium the invasions from the North and the South. It occupies special place in our history, since it was one of the first regions in the Caucasus which adopted Christianity as state religion and became the homeland of first Christian churches in the Caucasus. Till now we name these churches in Azerbaijan as Albanian. The oldest of them was built in the 3rd century AD in Azerbaijani village Kish, Sheki region, on the place, where apostle Yeliseus, a disciple of Jesus` brother, founded in AD 78 the oldest ever church not only in Caucasian Albania, but in entire Caucasus as well. And if I`m not mistaken, in Albanian language “kish” means “church”. Some historians believe that Caucasian Albanians had nothing to do with Balkan Albanians, others say they had much in common and shared the same ethnical identity. But whatever are the scientific opinions it is common duty of Azerbaijani and Albanian scientists to put more light on this issue and to study our common history, historical and cultural intersections between our countries and peoples.
Azerbaijan, like Albania, has always been a place of coexistence and tolerance between different faiths, ethnic groups and philosophies. This is another common cultural characteristic we share. As a country located at the crossroads of the West and East and benefiting of being a part of both the Islamic world and Europe, Azerbaijan actively contributes to promoting inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and is open to active bilateral cooperation in these areas. That is why cooperation in the field of culture may be, to my opinion, one of the most promising areas of bilateral cooperation.
TT: How well is Albania known in Azerbaijan?
Rahman Mustafayev: Despite all abovementioned, Albania, unfortunately, is not well known in my country. The same is true for awareness of Albanians about Azerbaijan, its history and culture. My personal general evaluation is that the present-day scope of our cooperation does not meet huge potentials of both sides. For us, diplomats it should be a good impetus for doing more and better to introduce our countries, cultures and economies to each other, to promote more people-to-people and business-to-business contacts and visits, events and exchanges, more interaction and cooperation between two countries.
TT: Azerbaijan has important geographic location and significant energy resources. What is its strategy in energy field?
Rahman Mustafayev: The strategic geographic location of Azerbaijan at the intersection of major trade routes along the emerging East-West and North-South transport and energy corridors provides an important asset to turn our country into an energy and infrastructure hub. Azerbaijan at the same time possesses considerable proved oil and gas reserves and has good prospects for new discoveries. This is particularly crucial for gas supplies. With proven reserves of 2 trillion cm of natural gas and potential of up to 5 trillion cm and even more, our country is ready to provide its own contribution to ensure stable development of the world gas market. A modern infrastructure for transporting hydrocarbons to the international markets has already been created in Azerbaijan and is now in use for delivering oil and natural gas to world market, thus strengthening international energy security.
Our strategy in this field is oriented to the diversification of energy sources, markets and transport routes in order to enhance energy security of energy producers, consumers and transit countries, on the basis of feasible, economically competitive, technically and environmentally sustainable projects and transparent, cost-based transportation regime for gas and oil. One of priorities of our energy strategy is also to achieve maximum energy efficiency and use of renewable energies as an important element for long-term and sustainable growth.
TT: Despite economic growth and successes in building independent modern state, Azerbaijan still faces serious problems in relations with neighboring Armenia. What is the present-to-day situation in the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Rahman Mustafayev: You are right, the ongoing armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan still represents a major threat not only to Azerbaijan, but to international and regional peace and security as well. The conflict has resulted in the occupation of one fifth of the territory of Azerbaijan and has made approximately one out of every nine persons in my country an internally displaced or refugee.
It has been internationally recognized that the Republic of Armenia bears the primary responsibility for occupying Azerbaijan’s territories, committing the most serious international crimes during the conflict, carrying out ethnic cleansing, and trying to create a mono-ethnic culture in the captured Azerbaijani territories.
In1993, the United Nations Security Council has adopted four resolutions and expressed its full support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the inadmissibility of the use of force for the acquisition of the territories. It has also recognized that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan and called for immediate, full and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan. The United Nations General Assembly and other international organizations, including the OSCE Council of Europe, European Parliament, Organization of the Islamic Conference, have adopted a similar position. Unfortunately, despite the consolidated position of the international community, Azerbaijani territories continue to remain under the occupation. Armenia so far instead of negotiating in good faith with a view to finding a durable solution to the conflict as soon as possible, gives preference to escalation with unpredictable consequences. Despite ongoing political efforts towards the earliest resolution of the conflict, activities in the occupied areas of Azerbaijan are in gross violation with international law and serve to further consolidation of the current status-quo of the occupation, securing the results of ethnic cleansing and colonization of the captured territories, as well as cause serious obstruction to the peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Consistent measures are being undertaken by Armenia also with the purpose of altering the historical and cultural features of the occupied areas in attempt to remove any signs testifying their original Azerbaijani cultural and historical roots. As a result, no single Azerbaijani historic or cultural monument of Zoroastrian, Christian and Moslem heritage left undamaged and no sacred site escaped vandalism in the occupied territories. Deplorable fact is, that almost all monuments, which constitute cultural heritage of Caucasian Albania – temples, churches, basilicas, monastic complexes – have been either destructed or misappropriated and “armenized” by occupying Armenian forces.
TT: What are the fundamentals of your country`s approach to the resolution of this conflict?
Rahman Mustafayev: As the country suffering from the occupation of its territories and the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, Azerbaijan is the most interested party in the earliest negotiated settlement of the conflict. our position is well known to the international community and is based on strict adherence to the norms and principles of international law, according to which the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible and must be rejected resolutely and unconditionally.
The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs countries extend their efforts to bring peace and stability to the region. The resolution of the conflict envisage the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied Azerbaijani territories within the fixed time framework, restoration of all communications, return of all refugees and internally displaced persons to their places of origin, creation of conditions for peaceful coexistence of Azerbaijanis and Armenians in the NK region within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, international security guarantees, including peacekeeping forces, interim status to Nagorno-Karabakh. We are ready to continue the talks in good faith for finalizing the status of Nagorno-Karabakh within the Republic of Azerbaijan.
This step-by-step approach introduced to Armenia and Azerbaijan in December 2009 by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs is accepted by Azerbaijan in principle as a base for achieving a lasting resolution of Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Unfortunately, Armenia is still prolonging the definite answer to the Co-Chairs’ proposal.
In this connection I would like to emphasize that Azerbaijan highly appreciates the principled stand of Albania on the issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. We rely on continued solidarity of the international community with the just position of Azerbaijan in order to achieve just and durable resolution of this conflict.
TT: Finally, what would you personally like to see accomplished with regard to Albanian-Azerbaijani relations during your term as an Ambassador here?
Rahman Mustafayev: Man proposes, Allah disposes. But if it comes to my desire and wishes, I would like to see our countries tied up with strong, privileged partnership relations, effectively cooperating on international, regional and bilateral tracks in the fields of politics and culture, energy security and business, science and education.
TT: Next week Prime-minister of Albania Mr. Sali Berisha will pay an official visit to your country. What would you like to say on this occasion?
Rahman Mustafayev: We are looking forward with great expectations to the visit of Mr. Sali Berisha to Azerbaijan. It will be the first visit to our country on the level of Albanian Prime-minister and Azerbaijani side is ready to do its best to make it fruitful and successful. I would like also to say that Sali Berisha – Prime-minister and first democratically elected president of Albania – is held in high respect in my country and we are confident, that this visit will turn a new page in the history of Azerbaijani-Albanian relations.