Azerbaijan is one the exemplary countries to the world at present in terms of religious and cultural tolerance and coexistence. It has also managed to leap forward economically and has successfully transited from a developing country to a state of developed one. It has recently opened its embassy here in Ethiopia aiming to expand its ties to the African continent in general and Ethiopia in particular.
The Ethiopian Herald had an interview with the first Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Ethiopia and permanent representative to the African Union, Ambassador Elman Abdullayev, on issues related to religious and cultural tolerance, multiculturism, and the future ties between the two countries. Excerpts:
Let’s begin with introducing yourself to our esteemed readers.
My name is Elman Abdullayev. I am the newly appointed ambassador of Azerbaijan to Ethiopia and permanent representative of my country to African union. I was born in Azerbaijan and I went to school there. I was in a foreign service since 1999. I have been engaged in different diplomatic missions of Azerbaijan abroad. I served in Brussels as a missionary to European Union and also in our consulate general in Los Angeles. After that I was appointed as a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry from 2011 up to 2014. I did my masters in California State University. I speak Russian, English, Arabic and French and of course my native language is Azerbaijani.
Azerbaijan is a secular and democratic country though it has a Muslim majority population. How did you manage to establish a secular state unlike other neighboring countries which are run by the sharia law?
First of all, history and culture of tolerance that existed in our society has played a key role. It has a major contribution to the formation of the first democratic republic in the east. The culture of tolerance emanates from the roots of Azerbaijani society. Azerbaijan has the first christian church in the South Caucasus.
The second thing is that we have different cultures that have coexisted peacefully and lived in harmony for many years. This has made Azerbaijan to be a model of tolerance to the sub region and even in the world. We have been hosting different mulch-cultural events. Today we are considered worldwide as a major contributor to multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism means a peace and harmony between different cultures and religions. We have hosted a global multicultural dialogue forum in our capital city Baku. This event was called the Baku Process. We hosted dignitaries from around the world. Representatives of governments, different religions, cultures, came to Azerbaijan and found a very harmonious place to be together. So, the multicultural nature of Azerbaijan society makes it tolerant of the differences in religion and culture.
Why did you decide to open an embassy here in Ethiopia?
Ambassador Elman: Firstly, the geographic radius of Azerbaijani diplomacy is widening. Azerbaijan today is very much interested in accessing different parts of the world. At present we have about 85 diplomatic missions around the world. We are one of the fastest growing in terms opening new diplomatic missions in various corners of the world.
Ten years ago we only had 25 diplomatic missions and now we have 85. Africa is one of the continents we would like to access. We are trying to access different African countries and to learn more about Africa. Exploring Africa from Addis Ababa , which is one of the biggest diplomatic hubs in the world, is interesting and important. For us, we believe that this will be fruitful seen from different points of view.
One of the major reasons for us to open an embassy here is the president of Azerbaijan has decided to open it for various purposes. He appointed me as an ambassador. We believe we will have a good prospect of cooperation between Ethiopia and Azerbaijan because Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing countries in Africa. It is one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
It is one of the fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa. That is why we are here. We have already started cooperation that more than 500 Ethiopians have graduated from universities in Azerbaijan. They studied different fields. We are happy that we have such a background of cooperation with Ethiopia. There are areas in which we would like to further extend our cooperation. We can cooperate more in the fields of education, science, etc.
There are so many untapped areas of cooperation that we have to explore. We have tried to study the investment opportunities here. In the near future Azerbaijani investors would come and explore possible areas to invest in. We consider Ethiopia today as one of the investment attracting countries in the world. Azerbaijan at present is one of the countries that invests around the world.
We are very dynamic and active investors in different parts of our sub region and other parts of the world. That is why we are exploring opportunities in new areas of the world. Parliamentary cooperation is one of the options. It is one of the most effective tools to bring the two countries much closer. We will be looking at possible opportunities to bring the level of our cooperation and relation to the maximum possible highest level. So, these are some of the reasons behind our decision to open a new embassy here in Ethiopia.
Immediately after its independence, Azerbaijan had faced civil and ethnic conflicts and there were also repeated coups. It had also faced unstable political system for a few years. How did it manage to make a successful transition and reach its present level of peace, stability and growth ?
First of all, I would like to mention the role of our leader, President Hyder Aliyev, in making a successful transition. Every nation needs a leader. We were lucky to have our president Hyder Aliyev. He was our leader during the era of the Soviet Union.
He run Azerbaijan on the way of Azerbaijan people’s demand . It was a time that we needed a very strong leader because we had difficulties in our country and our territories were occupied by neighbouring Armenians. It was a high time that we needed a leader that would take our nation forward.
Today, we are where we are because he managed to end the instability in Azerbaijan, to unite the nation and to bring everyone under the roof of Azerbaijanism which united all our society. Under his leadership we solved all the internal problems which were mainly fueled by external forces. Nobody succeeded to have the will of the people of Azerbaijan before him. We the people of Azerbaijan consider him as a savior.
Our present leader, Ilham Aliyev, is a regional leader. He is knowing for lifting Azerbaijan from the level of a developing country to a developed one. At present, our standards match the highest standards in the world.
We have managed to achieve this under the leadership of our current president. Azerbaijan has now become the centre of international events. For instance, last summer we have hosted the first European Olympic Games. It was a historic moment that we had never hosted such a big event in our country before.
Thousands of athletes from around Europe had come to compete in our capital. When we look at the different regions of Azerbaijan today we are seeing a miraculous development. We have gone from one step to the other successfully that it has shaped the country in a completely different image today. We look completely different now. You may witness these by your own eyes one day.
All the changes happened under the leadership of our current president. So, every nation needs a leader and we have our leader and that is why we are moving forward very fast and very dynamically.
You said your country has a history of religious and cultural tolerance. What is the reason behind the tolerance and how do your country manage to sustain this social value? What are the lessons that we can learn from you?
As I stated earlier, we have a history of cultural and religious tolerance. Azerbaijan had in its territory the first Christian Albanian church. We have one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world and we also have a Muslim majority population. By nature we are such a secular country. We have a deep rooted history of tolerance from the beginning. We have hosted different events of multicultural nature. We are now considered as icons of such a sustained multicultural society.
Representatives of the different regions of Azerbaijan feel comfortable and live in respect of each other. Tolerance comes from the root of our culture, our education, and the government’s political system.
The government of Azerbaijan has always been interested and have been promoting multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is not only in our society we are also promoting it worldwide although there is a trend in the world today a trend of intolerance and disrespect to multiculturalism in many parts of the world. We promote multiculturalism because we believe the success of every nation depends on its tolerance and respect for multiculturalism. That is why we are hosting so many events.
We hosted the global inter-cultural dialogue. We also hosted an event on the role of women in inter-cultural dialogue under the auspices of our first lady. We also hosted different events that focused on religious cooperation. We invited leaders of different religions to come to Azerbaijan and have a dialogue on various issues of cooperation. We strongly believe that success in creating a tolerant and multicultural society is the main task in building a nation and one way to do so is through dialogue. We managed to have this dialogue and to live and coexist peacefully with different cultures and religions.
What are the tasks that your embassy have planned to accomplish in the near future here in Ethiopia?
Ambassador Elman: First of all, our major task will be to explore the fields that we can cooperate with Ethiopia in different ways and of course the African continent. And we will work to bring the level of cooperation to a higher level as much as possible by capitalizing on various opportunities. We are now newcomers to Addis Ababa. We already had several meetings with many higher officials. There are bright future prospects in the relation between Ethiopia and Azerbaijan.
There is a strong potential to link the two countries and we already have a strong background. Bilateral visits are also very important to tighten ties. So, we hope to have bilateral visits to both nations since as more representatives of different organizations and institutions visit each other, the more we know and understand each other.
As you know, Ethiopia is one of the ancient cultures in the world and has its own contribution to the development of humankind in general terms. Hence, we will explore Ethiopia and its rich culture and we will strengthen our ties in various ways in the near future.
Do you think that Ethiopia has a product to export to your country and have a higher demand and do you have products that can be imported to our market?
Ambassador Elman: Yes there is a potential to increase our relationship in the area of trade. Of course, first of all we need to look in to areas that could be opportunities for trade and investment. Especially, we have planned to deeply study the investment opportunities. By now Ethiopia is one of the most business friendly countries in the world.
There are so many international companies today in Ethiopia investing and producing in different fields. The Ethiopian government has created many incentives for foreign investors. On the other hand, Azerbaijan is one of the countries that is expanding its investment reach to different parts of the world more than ever. So, we want to attract investment and products to Azerbaijan and we also consider opportunities that we may invest in countries like Ethiopia. We are the highest investors in our sub-region and we are expanding to the rest of the world
. We have been investing in different projects Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. Azerbaijani business people are very much interested in traveling and working abroad. So, the government of Azerbaijan will do its best to bring investment to Ethiopia. We will work relentlessly to bring Azerbaijani investors here and make them know possible areas to engage in.
What does your relationship with the other African countries look like?
Ambassador Elman: We only have four missions around Africa. If we have to speak the African continent in general, we again have a background relationship in the field of education. Many Africans have come and studied in Azerbaijan universities. This is a good background to start with. Baku, our capital, has attracted students from different countries of the world.
In addition to this, in Oct. 2014, we have hosted a big conference entitled “Global Conference on Youth Policies.” The event was opened by the president of Azerbaijan. We had different youth organizations who represented Africa. We had different delegations who actively participated in this conference. We also have official delegations of African countries who visited our country.
Of course, we believe that this is not enough. We have to increase our bilateral ties with different parts of Africa to the highest possible level in the near future. We want to come and visit different African nations. We want to invest much of our time and resources in bringing to strengthen our relation with the African Union from the institutional perspective.
Coming to Addis Ababa as an ambassador to Ethiopia and as a permanent representative to African Union will help me to have an access to representatives of different African nations. As Addis Ababa is hosting different regional, continental and international events, this creates opportunities to have access to various countries and institutions. It is the right place to be and reach to many African countries.
What lessons can Ethiopia draw from your country’s overall political and economic development?
Ambassador Elman: I do not want to call it a lesson. We have to look each other and cooperate equally. We have a big respect for Ethiopia. We are excited by the political stability that we are witnessing in the country. But, we have gone a long way and had difficulties before reaching on the political and economic stability that we have attained now.
Today, our country is known as one of the most stable, both politically and economically, countries in the world. Our unity is sustained by our independence and sovereignty. We want to cooperate with different nations with equal and respectful basis.
Being one of the most politically stable countries in the world, Azerbaijan has attracted a lot of investment. Today, we are not only economically self sufficient, but also we have managed to be the biggest investors in the region. This is of course, thanks to the far sighted leadership of our leaders Hyder Aliyev and Ilham Aliyev.