Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro interviews the Ambassador of Azerbaijan, H.E. Mr.Fikrat Akhundov
H.E. Fikrat Akhundov: Diplomatic career since 1999, OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission; 1999-2005 – Second secretary, First secretary, Embassy of the Rep. of Azerbaijan to the Rep. of Austria, Permanent Representation of the Rep. of Azerbaijan to the International Organizations in Vienna; October 2002- OSCE observer at municipality elections in Kosovo; 2005-2009 – Head, Division of Western Europe, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; 2009-2016 – First secretary, Embassy of the Rep. of Azerbaijan in Federal Rep. of Germany; 2016-2017 – Deputy Head, Human Resources Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; 2017-2019 –Counselor, Embassy of the Rep. of Azerbaijan in the Rep. of Bulgaria; 2019 – Counselor, Department of Eastern Europe, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; 26 December 2019 – present, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Permanent Representative to the OPCW.
As per December 26, 2019 you are the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the Netherlands. How do you experience it to live and work in the Netherlands?
I arrived in The Hague in the beginning of February 2020 and presented my credentials to His Majesty King Willem-Alexander on February 12, 2020, thus starting my work as the Ambassador. But my first acquaintance with the Netherlands happened in 2002, while working at the Embassy of Azerbaijan to Austria. For me, as a certified Germanist, back then it was interesting to explore the cultures, traditions, lifestyles of countries with close lingual ties to the German language.
For me, the Netherlands, first of all, is a country with high standard of living, modern technology, with the largest production and export of agricultural products in the world. Of course, the best value of the Netherlands is its friendly people. I really enjoy the culture, history and the architecture of the Netherlands. It is an interesting country, at the same time challenging for diplomats.
On May 28, 1918, 104 years ago Azerbaijan declared its independence and thus became the first secular democratic republic in the Muslim East. What can you tell the reader more about this?
Proclaimed during complex geo-political times, Azerbaijan Democratic Republic has left a significant mark on the rich history of the statehood of Azerbaijan. In the short period of its existence, the first Parliament and Government were established. For the first time in the Eastern world, women’s suffrage was granted in 1918 in Azerbaijan. 16 neighboring and Western countries opened representations in Azerbaijan. When Azerbaijan declared its independence, the territory of Azerbaijan was 114 km2 (square kms).
In 1919, the Azerbaijani delegation was sent to Paris Peace conference to get the recognition by the world states. Notably, President Wilson who met the delegates in May 1919, mentioned Azerbaijani representatives in his speech by saying: “I was talking to men who talked the same language that I did in respect of ideas, in respect of conceptions of liberty, in respect of conceptions of right and justice.”
How would you describe the current development of relations between Azerbaijan and the Netherlands?
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Azerbaijani-Dutch diplomatic relations. For the last 30 years the relations between Azerbaijan and the Netherlands has developed in different spheres, from agriculture to logistics, from education to tourism, culture and so on. About 50 Dutch companies work in Azerbaijan in different fields. Also Azerbaijan companies cooperate closely with Dutch companies. In the book titled “Bakoe” by researcher Anton Hantschel published in 1943 in Amsterdam, it is mentioned that the first companies of Dutch origin arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan after the oil boom in 19th century and were working till 1920s. Today, Dutch companies operate at oil sector, logistics, agriculture and also took part in environmental remediation projects in Azerbaijan.
There is a large Azerbaijani-Dutch community living in the Netherlands. The Netherlands became 2nd home for those Azerbaijanis. Many of them arrived in the Netherlands, after the collapse of Soviet Union, due to conflicts in the region.
Which are the main import and export products of Azerbaijan?
In Azerbaijan, the oil and gas sector takes up to 70% of production. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan government has been developing non-oil sector and also diversifying the energy resources through solar, wind energy projects.
The trade turnover between Azerbaijan and the Netherlands amounted to $127.4 million in 2021, with export amounting to $39.6 million and import to $87.7 million. The main products that Netherlands exports to Azerbaijan are agricultural equipment and machines, technology (energy and other spheres). The main products that Azerbaijan exported to Netherlands are oil products. But Azerbaijan is diversifying its economy, thus Azerbaijani dry fruits and wines have also found their place in Dutch markets.
Dutch companies are involved in the clean water projects, providing environmental solutions to pollution of lakes by oil spills, in Baku and suburbs. Nevertheless Azerbaijan and the Netherlands have a huge potential for further deepening economic, cultural and humanitarian relations.
What is Azerbaijan’s role in ensuring Europe’s energy security and what is the impact of oil-gas industry to the economy of your country?
TAP (Trans-Adriatic pipeline) in particular plays a key role in the EU’s strategic goal of energy security and diversification of energy sources as it is the shortest and most direct method of exporting gas from Azerbaijan to European markets.
Thanks to timely strategic decisions by the Government of Azerbaijan on energy, diversification guarantees a sustainable energy supply to the European and world markets. Bearing in mind the current situation in Europe, Azerbaijan continues to be true partner of Europe in its energy security issue. In this regard, gas supplies to Europe are expected to exceed 10 bcm by the end of the year.
Could you tell us about the current innovations in Azerbaijan?
In January of 2022, Saudi Arabian energy company ACWA Power made $300m investment to 240MW wind power plant project in Azerbaijan. More such alternative energy projects are planned to be implemented in near future.
New transport, logistics, eco-tourism, smart city and smart villages projects have been launched in the region.The goal of the Azerbaijani government is to transform the region fully into a green energy zone by 2050, as well as reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent.
How do you assess tourism potential of Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan that is known as “Land of Fire” from ancient times has been the bridge between East and West. It is situated on ancient Silk Road and on new Silk Road- Iron Silk Road as well. Azerbaijan is the largest country of South Caucasus and the capital Baku city is at the shore of the largest lake in the world – Caspian Sea. Nine out of eleven existing climate zones can be experienced in Azerbaijan. These details already allure people to discover Azerbaijan.
One of the most popular historic places situated in Azerbaijan’s capital, is the district known as “Icherisheher” – the Old city of Baku, located on the shore of the Caspian Sea inside the medieval city walls. The main cultural places of interest of Old city are the Palace of Shirvanshah and Maiden Tower dated back to 12th-15thcenturies.
The national park Gobustan is the largest concentration of mud volcanoes in the world. Also, Gobustan is an open-air museum famous for its Neolithic rock drawings that date back 12,000 years.
Another historic city of Azerbaijan – Sheki is located at the foot of the Greater Caucasus Mountains and is characterized by a traditional architectural ensemble of houses with high gabled roofs. Located along important historic trade routes, Shaki city has been the center of silkworm breeding and the silk trade from the late 18th to the 19th centuries.
Old city of Baku, Gobustan and Shaki city are all inscribed on World Heritage list of UNESCO.
What can you tell us about the Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix?
Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was held for the first time in 2017. This year, Azerbaijan Grand prix took place on June 12. Baku circuit has become one of the most excited and challenging races for Formula 1 pilots, thus becoming one of the favorites of Formula 1 fans.
Besides the interesting moments of the game, the spectators all over the world are able to see the magnificent ancient walls of Baku and the modern skyscraper reminding the flames wrapped into Azerbaijani tricolor.
The cuisine of Azerbaijan is one of the ancient, exotic and complex cuisines in the world. Which are the most important dishes?
One of the most important dishes of Azerbaijani cuisine is “Dolma”, small fillings wrapped in fresh or pre-cooked grape leaves. The name of the dish originates from the shortened Azerbaijani word ‘doldurma’, meaning ‘stuffed’. Dolma making and sharing tradition was presented by Azerbaijan and inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2017.
If you can describe your country in one sentence, what would you say?
Azerbaijan – or Land of Fire currently is a crossroad of different civilizations, cultures and ideas of tolerance.