Azerbaijan and Serbia marked the 20th anniversary of the establishing of direct bilateral diplomatic relations in 2017. H.E Eldar Hasanov stresses the importance of mutual visits by high-level officials as an indicator of common interests for expanding bilateral cooperation. It is with this in mind that the two countries are preparing for the official visit of Republic of Serbia President Aleksandar Vučić to Azerbaijan, which is planned for May 2018. Currently, Ambassador Hasanov adds, the drafts of bilateral documents are being harmonised, with the aim for them to be signed during the visit. In this interview for CorD Magazine, Ambassador Hasanov talks about his impressions of the Western Balkans, which he also expressed in his book “Balkan bridges of friendship”
This year sees Azerbaijan celebrate the 100th anniversary of its independence – Republic Day. Will this significant date be widely celebrated and are you planning the organisation of cultural events in the countries to which you are accredited?
– The date of 28th May is one of the brightest and most unforgettable days in the history of Azerbaijani statehood. On 28th May 2018 we will mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the first parliamentary republic in the Muslim East – the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. The Azerbaijani people, having ancient and rich traditions of statehood, were forced by the will of history to be part of different empires at certain stages in the past, but they have always fought for freedom and independence. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was founded precisely during the period of the reorganisation of the political world order, as a logical result of the bright cultural progress that Azerbaijan experienced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Radical socio-political and cultural transformations that started happening in Azerbaijan during the first half of 19th century, with the spread of educational ideas ensuring the emergence of a national theatre, school and printing, prepared the groundwork for the realisation of our national identity. With the Bolshevik seizure of power after the fall of tsarism in Russia, a complicated geopolitical situation arose on the territory of the Empire. Under conditions of even greater aggravation of political discord among the world’s leading states, caused by interest in Baku’s oil, the progressive political elite and intellectuals of Azerbaijan united in the name of creating independent national statehood.
Relations between our countries have risen to the level of a strategic partnership in a short period, which was enshrined by the 2013 Declaration on Friendly Relations and Strategic Partnership
On 27th May 1918, members of the Muslim fraction, or more precisely the Muslim Council of the Transcaucasian Sejm, held a special meeting and decided to proclaim the independence of Azerbaijan. For this purpose, the Transcaucasian Muslim Council proclaimed itself as the National Council of Azerbaijan, aka the Parliament of Azerbaijan. Thus, the first parliament was created, laying the foundations of the parliamentary republic. The presidium and Chairman of the National Council of Azerbaijan were elected at this meeting. Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh became the Chairman of the National Council. On 28th May 1918, the historic session of the National Council of Azerbaijan was held under the Chairmanship of Hasan bey Aghayev. The participants of the meeting included Hasan bey Aghayev (chairman), Mustafa Mahmudov (secretary), Fatali khan Hoysky, Nasib bey Usubbekov, Nariman bey Narimanbekov, Mehdi bey Hajinski, Hamid bey Shahtakhtinski, Firidun bey Kocharlinski and other distinguished sons of our nation, who adopted the Declaration of Independence of Azerbaijan.
The newly created Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, working to the limit of its capabilities, honourably fulfilled its complicated historic task. The first Parliament, Government and state administration were formed, borders were established, the flag, anthem and coat-of-arms of the country were created, the native tongue was declared as the state language, and serious measures were taken in the sphere of state construction. The territorial integrity and national security of the country were ensured, with military units of high combat capability created in a short period of time, and state bodies that meet national requirements and democratic principles were formed.
The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, based on the principles of democracy and equality of people, granting equal rights to all citizens of the country, ensured racial, national, class, and religious equality. It is important to note that it was the ADR Parliament that granted women the right to participate in elections for the first time in the East. The laws adopted by the Parliament of the Republic during the one and a half years of its activity created an opportunity to strengthen the independence of the national state, political and economic development, and make rapid progress in all fields. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, constantly pursuing peaceful politics, tried to ensure mutual cooperation with all countries and establish relations based on the principles of mutual respect for rights. The Government and Parliament of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic carried out extensive work in order to achieve international recognition of the young republic among other countries, including the great powers of the world. With this goal in mind, the Parliament of the Republic decided to send a special delegation, led by Parliamentary Chairman Alimardan bey Topchubashov, to the Paris Peace Conference of 28th December 1918. Outstanding statesman A.M. Topchubashov, having overcome great difficulties, successfully achieved the de facto recognition of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic by a number of great powers. Thanks to the activities of the internationally recognised Democratic Republic, Azerbaijan became a subject of international law.
Unfortunately, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, following the occupation by the Bolshevik 11th Red Army in April 1920, failed to fully achieve its goals. However, the idea of independence, enshrined in the minds of the people, was not forgotten. Over the past period, the Azerbaijani people managed to preserve many attributes of national statehood, including religion, language, culture, tradition and customs. All these facts prevented the destruction of Azerbaijan as a state and its removal from the political map of the world after the Bolshevik occupation.
The main problem of the Azerbaijani state and people today still remains the unsettled Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the occupation of 20 per cent of our historical territory by neighbouring Armenia
Having achieved the restoration of independence in 1991, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan demonstrated its adherence to ancient traditions of statehood and – as the successor of the Democratic Republic – adopted its tri-colour flag, state emblem and anthem. Since that time, our people have formally celebrated Republic Day on 28th May, when Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence the first time. By the order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mr Ilham Aliyev, the year 2018 has been declared in Azerbaijan as the “Year of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic”. According to this, various events will be organised and held within the country and abroad. In this regard, the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro will also organise and conduct various scientific and cultural events.
Your Excellency, last year saw our countries mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of direct diplomatic relations. In brief, how would you evaluate the current level of bilateral relations between our two countries?
– On 21st August 1997, the document on establishing diplomatic relations between our two countries was signed, the 20th anniversary of which was celebrated at a high level in 2017. In this regard, the respective heads of our states, Mr Ilham Aliyev and Mr Aleksandar Vučić, as well as foreign ministers Mr Elmar Mammadyarov and Mr Ivica Dačić, exchanged letters of congratulations.
Our state gives great importance to the establishment of friendly, equal and good relations with all countries of the world. In this regard, Azerbaijan is also interested in expanding ties and comprehensive cooperation with Serbia. Relations between Azerbaijan and Serbia are developing dynamically and on an ascending line. Mutual visits of high-level officials are an indicator of the common interests in expanding bilateral cooperation. And it is no coincidence that relations between our countries have risen to the level of a strategic partnership in a short period, which was enshrined by the 2013 Declaration on Friendly Relations and Strategic Partnership. The signed bilateral documents create a solid legal basis for expanding this cooperation. The activities of the joint intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation, as well as inter-parliamentary ties, also play a significant role in strengthening bilateral relations. The Azerbaijani Culture Centre in Belgrade also contributes to the development of humanitarian and cultural ties between our peoples.
The Serbian President is due to visit Azerbaijan in 2018. At what stage is work on the organisation of the visit, and can you now mention the topics that are to be discussed during the visit?
– I can say that an official visit of the President of the Republic of Serbia, H.E. A. Vučić, to our country will take place in May 2018, upon the invitation of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, H.E. Ilham Aliyev, which has already been agreed between both sides. I would like to emphasise that this will be the first visit of Mr Vučić to Azerbaijan since he has held the post of the President of Serbia. At present, we are working actively on harmonising the drafts of bilateral documents, with the aim of them being signed during the visit.
With regard to the topics that are to be discussed, I can state confidently a wide range of issues of mutual interest, covering various areas of cooperation, will be again discussed this time, as they were during previous visits.
I can say that an official visit of the President of the Republic of Serbia, H.E. A. Vučić, to our country will take place in May 2018, upon the invitation of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, H.E. Ilham Aliyev
According to basic norms and principles of international law, such as sovereignty, territorial integrity and the inviolability of internationally recognised borders, relations between our two countries are characterised by mutual support within the framework of international organisations. In this sense, does Azerbaijan’s position remain unchanged when it comes to the non-recognition of Kosovo’s independence?
– As you noted correctly, Azerbaijan unequivocally recognises and stands for the support of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the borders of the Republic of Serbia. Azerbaijan, as a country that has suffered from separatism in Nagorno- Karabakh and was exposed to aggression of neighbouring Armenia, understands this problem of Serbia and the Serbian people like no one else. Proceeding on this, I can say that, since 2008, our country, within the framework of all international organisations, has always rendered its support to Serbia. Our position on this issue remains unchanged.
Considering that Azerbaijan also suffers from separatist issues and that 20 per cent of its lands are under occupation, what can you say about the current situation in negotiations towards a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
– With a feeling of great regret, I would like to note that the main problem of the Azerbaijani state and people today still remains the unsettled Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the occupation of 20 per cent of our historical territory by neighbouring Armenia. The basis of this conflict is military aggression and the fact of the occupation. Aggressive separatism, which started in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan in the late 1980s and was followed by terrorist acts, gained the form of open military aggression after the collapse of the SSSR. Through the use of military force, Armenia occupied the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan, committing acts of ethnic cleansing against more than a million Azerbaijanis. Thousands of monuments to the historical and cultural heritage of the Azerbaijani people, as well as religious monuments, were cruelly and barbarously destroyed in our territories occupied by Armenia. Despite that, the Armenian-Gregorian church in the city centre of the Azerbaijan capital has been preserved as a holy house of God, even being restored and placed under state protection.
The continuation of the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia and the presence of Armenian military forces in the occupied territories of our country is the most serious threat to the peace and security of Azerbaijan and region. Along the line of contact between armies, trenches have been dug and soldiers stand face to face, with the potential for the conflict to flare up at any moment with new vigour and turn into a large-scale war. In order to prevent this, a Budapest meeting of heads of states and governments of OSCE member countries in 1994 saw the decision to establish an institute of co-presidents, consisting of the U.S., Russia and France, who are engaged directly in the peaceful settlement of this conflict. Despite the fact that almost 25 years have passed since that moment, this group achieved no results. Nonetheless, all fundamental bases for the settlement of the conflict are enshrined in United Nations Security Council’s resolutions 822 (1993), 853 (1993), 874 (1993) and 884 (1993) and UN General Assembly resolution 62/243 (2008), which condemn the use of force against Azerbaijan and the occupation of its territory, and which confirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the inviolability of its internationally recognised borders. These resolutions confirm that the Nagorno-Karabakh region is an integral part of Azerbaijan and demand an immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan. These resolutions form the basis of the mandate of the cochairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
The continuation of the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia and the presence of Armenian military forces in the occupied territories of our country is the most serious threat to the peace and security of Azerbaijan and region
The unresolved nature of this conflict also impedes the full-scale development of the entire region. Armenia must understand that its military occupation of the territory of Azerbaijan and preservation of the existing status quo is not a solution and will never produce the political result that Armenia wants. Instead, Armenia forcibly continues to violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan and contradicts the will and position of the international community, pursuing a policy of violating negotiations. Settlement of the conflict according to the principles of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states will pave the way for sustainable development and full cooperation in the South Caucasus.
I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the political leadership and the people of Serbia for their support of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the borders of our country.
Despite good relations between our countries in the political and humanitarian fields, it seems that economic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Serbia does not correspond to the potential capabilities of both countries. How can the trade exchange be increased; is there a possibility of concluding a free trade agreement?
– Yes, I agree. Replying to your previous question, I noted that relations between our countries are well developed in all fields and are at a very high level – that of strategic partnership. At the same time, our relations in the field of the economy and trade links leave a lot to be desired, as you well noted, since they do not correspond to their potential. Despite the presence of a number of mutual investments in different spheres of the economies of our countries, several factors have a negative impact on our trade and economic relations. These are primarily due to the geographical factor. The distance between our countries and the lack of necessary logistics, i.e. large transport costs and high tariffs for the transportation of goods, have a direct impact on the final price of goods, rendering trade unprofitable. Since our countries are located along the route of the ancient Silk Road, several proposals are being considered today between our countries that could expand economic ties and increase trade turnover, including the reduction of tariffs for transportation and the use of profitable routes. A free trade agreement could also be one of the options to address this issue.
Is there a possibility for serious cooperation between Azerbaijan and Serbia in the energy sector, and what is the probability of Serbia being supplied with natural gas via the Trans-Anatolian Natural gas pipeline (TANAP) and Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP)?
– This primarily depends on Serbia itself. That’s because, following the final decision on the South Stream project, Serbia faces the challenge of finding an alternative option for providing the country with the required energy resources. As for Azerbaijan, our country is always open to cooperation with Serbia in this field, as it is in other fields. I would just like to note that the construction of the TANAP gas pipeline, the opening of which is planned for 2018, is nearing completion. In parallel, construction work is being carried out on the TAP project, which is supported by the EU and the U.S., and which provides for the export of Azerbaijani gas to European markets. The completion of this project’s construction is planned for late 2019 – early 2020.
Since our countries are located along the route of the ancient Silk Road, several proposals are being considered today between our countries that could expand economic ties and increase trade turnover
You served as Prosecutor General in Azerbaijan and were decorated with high rewards for courage in the fight against crime, particularly for investigating serious crimes in the state. Taking into consideration the fact that combatting against organised crime and corruption is among Serbia’s priorities, have you had the opportunity to share your experiences with partners in Serbia?
– Yes, I was the Prosecutor General in Azerbaijan during my country’s most complicated period. The country was seized by the threat of a loss of sovereignty and the outbreak of civil war. This is what would have happened to the country if Heydar Aliyev hadn’t come to power, shown incredible courage and prevented civilian bloodshed and put an end to all these afflictions. It is thanks to his political experience, foresight and wisdom that we have achieved everything we have today. In that time, together with the experienced and professional personnel of Azerbaijan’s law enforcement bodies, we uncovered and prevented a number of particularly serious crimes directed against the constitutional foundations of our state and citizens, thereby contributing to stability and protecting the constitutional order of the state. The fight against organised crime and corruption is the main factor in the development of a society and the strengthening of a state. During my stay in Serbia I have met with many Serbian scientists and specialists in this field, we have had interesting and fruitful conversations, discussions and exchanges of experience. I would like to note that in the last few years huge and purposeful works have been undertaken in Serbia to combat organised crime and corruption, while legislative reforms are being implemented successfully. These works are highly appreciated by the majority of international organisations and countries of the world.
We know that in recent years the Azerbaijani Culture Centre has been functioning in Belgrade. Are you satisfied with its work?
– The Azerbaijani Culture Centre in Belgrade was founded in July 2010. The main areas of its activities are work on bringing the Azerbaijani and Serbian peoples closer together by familiarising them with each other’s rich cultural heritage, promoting the expansion of cooperation in culture. The Director of the Centre is our compatriot and Serbian citizen Zarifa Ali-Zade, a professor at the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad.
To answer your question, I would like to note that I am more than satisfied with the work of this Centre. During the last seven years, at the initiative of this Centre, various cultural events have been organised in Serbia, including conferences, concerts, exhibitions, meetings with writers, artists, poets, directors and actors of theatre and cinema. At the initiative of the Centre, and with the support of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Serbia, books from the Life of Remarkable People series – “Heydar Aliyev”, which is dedicated to the National Leader of the Azerbaijani people, and “Uzeyir Hajibeyli” – by Zemfira Safarova, also “The colours” by Rasul Rza, “The Death Sentence” by Elchin Efendiyev, the book by B. Mekhtiev on the 223rd Belgrade Division, which was formed by Azerbaijanis during World War II and participated actively in the liberation of Belgrade, Chingiz Abdullayev’s detective novel “Opponents of Europe”, selected works of Jalil Mammadguluzadeh were translated into language, while Milorad Pavić’s “Dictionary of the Khazars” was translated from Serbian to Azerbaijani and a Serbian-Azerbaijani dictionary and Serbian- Azerbaijani phrasebook for tourists were published. A book on famous Azerbaijani and Serbian women was also published, while many other significant projects were also realised. There are many ideas and projects planned for realisation in the near future. The Azerbaijani Culture Centre today has a rich library, which contains fictional and scientific works of Azerbaijani writers in Serbian and other foreign languages.
The Azerbaijani Culture Centre in Belgrade was founded in July 2010. The main areas of its activities are work on bringing the Azerbaijani and Serbian peoples closer together by familiarising them with each other’s rich cultural heritage
Over the past few years, you have been serving as the ambassador of Azerbaijan to Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, resident in Belgrade. As a person who knows our region well, how would you assess the statements of some analysts that dub the Balkans as still being some sort of “powder keg”?
– As ambassador of Azerbaijan to Serbia, and also to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, I was more closely acquainted not only with the histories and cultures of these countries, but also with the whole history and culture of the Balkan region. In this regard, I can say with confidence that I don’t agree with statements and opinions suggesting that the Balkans is a “powder keg”. I wrote about this in more detail in my book “Balkan Bridges of Friendship”, the purpose of which is to inform readers about the positive traditions, values and historic junctures that connect the peoples of the Western Balkans. Yes, it is true that during the collapse of Yugoslavia there was war, problems and difficulties in that beautiful region of Europe, and that this has today resulted in some disagreements emerging between countries. Everyone knows well that conflicts and wars don’t bring anything except trouble, destruction and suffering, but they ultimately all end with peace. In this regard, I think that the countries of the Western Balkans, as an integral and important part of Europe, must leave all the bad things in the past and take the path of cooperation and integration, and through that transform this region into a space of sustainable peace, security, economic progress, wellbeing and prosperity. During the last few years, the political leaders of Western Balkans countries have been taking concrete measures to strengthen cooperation and these steps are, of course, fully supported by the region’s peoples.
Finally, your excellency, the last question. Presidential elections will be held in Azerbaijan on April, 11 this year. Briefly, what can you tell about this important event in the life of your country and people?
– Indeed, at the moment all of the attention of our people is focused on this important event for us, which will be held on 11th April. Eight candidates are officially registered, among whom are representatives of various political parties and independent candidates. The necessary conditions for the elections to be objective, fair and democratic have been provided. Representatives of such prestigious international organisations as the Council of Europe, the OSCE ODIHR, the OIC, the Interparliamentary Assembly of the CIS countries and the Parliamentary Assembly of the BSEC have been invited, and consented, to observe the elections. There is reason to believe that in this election the Azerbaijani people will vote for the candidate who earned their trust and respect through his activities.