Exploring new frontiers

Elman Abdullayev is Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and a Permanent Representative to the African Union (AU). Prior to that, he was working as the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan from 2011-2014.

Had also he served as consul-general of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles,US. He also served at the Azerbaijan Mission to the European Union (EU) in Brussels, Belgium. In He was previously working in different positions covering certain geographical areas at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Following Cairo, Rabat and Pretoria, Azerbaijani opened its fourth embassy in Africa here in Addis Ababa in 2014.This week, Neamin Ashenafi of The Reporter sat down with the ambassador at the embassy, located around the Old Airport area, to discuss a range of issues including bilateral economic, political and social relations between Ethiopia and Azerbaijan and the recent border conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Excerpts:

The Reporter:Azerbaijan has opened its embassy here in Addis Ababa. What is the current status with regard to bilateral relations between these two countries?

Ambassador Elman Abdullayev: First of all, I would say the relationship between these two countries go back many years. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s we cooperated in different areas especially in the field of education. Many Ethiopians have graduated from Azerbaijan universities. To my knowledge, the figure is more than eight hundred. During the era of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan was one of the most important capitals in the Soviet Union. 

Education is one of the areas considered as a foundation for our cooperation and relationship, which started back in those days. In fact, Ethiopians, who went to Azerbaijan to study, were the first who played a very important role to bridge the gap between the two nations. There is a huge potential to develop cooperation between our two countries in other areas as well. First of all, our focus is on developing our economic cooperation.

When we talk about economic cooperation, we, of course, take into consideration the two countries’ geostrategic position and their role in their respective geographic regions. Ethiopia is a very important geostrategic player both in terms of political security and economic cooperation. Ethiopia is a very important economic hub in the region and is one of the most attractive investment destinations in Africa. In addition to that, Ethiopia is a very safe and stable country. This is, in fact, a strong precondition to attract investments. These are the elements that played a crucial role in choosing Ethiopia as an important destination for us.We are very much interested in launching an exchange of visits on a bilateral basis and, of course, signing more and more agreements, memoranda of understanding (MoU) and protocols.

Another area is tourism. It is a very good area and a very important one for both our countries. Azerbaijan has developed its tourism infrastructure, and our tourism infrastructure is considered to be one of the most developed in the region. Ethiopia is also developing its tourism infrastructure. So we might have a very fruitful exchange of ideas in terms of sharing our experiences and exchange of knowledge in the sector.

Are there any other specific strategic areas that you plan to work on in the future?

Of course, as a representative of our country, I can tell you, on behalf of my government, that we are vey much interested in developing economic cooperation, which includes increasing the trade level.We would like to explore investment opportunities. When we are talking about economic cooperation, we mainly refer to increasing the volume of trade because today Azerbaijan is an export-oriented country. We export our goods, services and investments around the world and we are looking for new markets and new destinations for our products. Considering that, of course this might be a very important area where we might focus in bringing our bilateral relations to a new level.

As it stands now, I would describe our relations as very friendly. We have confidence in each other and we have very good understanding of each other. We have very intensive interactions with Ethiopian officials. That is a very important foundation. Therefore, I would describe our bilateral relations in two words: confidence and friendship. In fact, after I arrived in Addis Ababa, I had the opportunity of meeting high-level Ethiopian officials. I was warmly welcomed and received excellent hospitality from the Ethiopian side. So it is a very strong sign of welcoming Azerbaijani diplomatic missions in Addis Ababa and also welcoming the Azerbaijani ideas and initiatives and is ready to work with Azerbaijan. I think this is a clear indication of the strong bilateral relations. 

You have stated that the bilateral relations of these two countries are based on confidence and friendship.So how is this confidence and friendly relationship manifested in terms of economic ties and cooperation?

I don’t want go to into further details but I can say that we are in the process of establishing better economic relations. First of all, Azerbaijani companies are interested in discovering the opportunities and develop strong business ties with Ethiopia. I am usually in touch with the members of the business community of both countries and we have already succeeded in bringing together some of our businesspeople. Our observation indicates that the trend is very positive. Soon we might be talking about concrete result in this area. As you know we have been here only for one year and during this period we have managed to build a very healthy dialogue with the Government of Ethiopia in different areas including trade, culture and tourism.We also have parliamentary cooperation and are trying to develop relations in youth and sport. This is a manifestation of positive relationship and that we are moving to the next level. Our entire mission is about taking our bilateral cooperation to a higher level. And the areas that I have already mentioned are the areas that we succeeded in having fruitful and healthy dialogue with the government of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia exports products such as coffee, flowers and leather. Are there any possibilities for Ethiopian investors to penetrate the Azerbaijani market?

Of course, there are always opportunities in business and it should be a two-way traffic. In fact the mission of diplomats is to bring partners together and our mission is to find partners in Azerbaijan and Ethiopia. We will help them create a business environment so that they could interact with each other. What I mean by business environment is to create a condition that they could meet and talk to each other. Businesspeople are very creative and when businesspeople meet they can come up with a bunch of ideas right away.It’s up to them to find out in which areas they want to cooperate. Governments choose the strategic areas of the cooperation, but when businesspersons engage with one another they talk about their companies’ needs and potentials. Our job as diplomats is to find the right companies that suit the needs of the other company.

What have you achieved so far?

For the moment, I would say that we have very promising interactions in light manufacturing. I can’t talk about the details because we haven’t finalized the deals yet. Still, we are working on that and it is going to be light manufacturing and food industry. Yet, there is no Azerbaijani investor here in Ethiopia.

What is the way forward with regard to bilateral relations between Ethiopia and Azerbaijan?

We need to work more and intensify our efforts in bringing our countries much closer. We need to visit each other more frequently, get to know each other more and more and arrange more interactions between our officials. Similarly, our business communities should get to know each other more and more. When we visit each other, we get acquainted with each other.

Allow me to take you back to your internal affairs.

Please do.

Your country has been in a border conflict with Armenia for more than two decades.What is the root cause of the border conflict?Are there any ways of solving this problem?

The root cause of this conflict is the illegal presence of Armenian armed forces in the territories of Azerbaijan, which is condemned by four United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, resolutions of the European Union Parliament and resolution by the Organizations of the Islamic Cooperation. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia led a territorial claim against Azerbaijan. In fact we are talking about Nagorno-Karabakh region in seven surrounding areas, which is one fifth of the entire Azerbaijan territory.

The occupation was condemned by the international community, specifically the UNSC. We have more than one million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are expelled from the occupied territories. When Azerbaijan was accepted as a member of the UN, we were accepted with this territory. So every single member state of the international community recognizes and accepts us with this territory, including Ethiopia and all the member states of the AU. Concerning your question about solutions, I can say that it can end when Armenia completely withdraws from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Since this is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan, it is recognized by every single country in the world. As a representative for my country in Ethiopia and as the permanent representative to the AU, I would like to call upon the members of the AU to urge the UN to implement its resolutions.

We have a mediation process co-chaired by three countries, which are the United States, France and Russia, but unfortunately the efforts brought nothing to solve the conflict. The major and the most important step here should be to push the Government of Armenia to respect international laws and the principles of international law and the resolutions of the UNSC and withdraw from the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan. We are talking about territorial integrity; we are talking about the inviolability of borders. When all these principles are being violated then this member of the international community should be pushed and punished to respect what we all have to respect.