Azerbaijani ambassador to Spain: Next year crucial in Azerbaijani-Spanish relations
Azerbaijan, Baku, Nov. 23 / Trend S. Agayeva /
The Azerbaijani ambassador to Spain described the political ties between the two countries as smooth, stable, and reflecting mutual cooperation in regional and global issues during a recent interview with Trend.
That creates favorable conditions for giving new dynamics to bilateral relations and filling them with new content, Ambassador Altai Efendiev said.
He also noted with regret that the actual content of these relations leaves much to be desired.
"Suffice it to say that separate working visits were paid between the two countries and cooperation developed within international organizations only after Azerbaijan's independence was recognized in 1991," he said. "Diplomatic ties were established in 1992."
No official visits have been paid. No agreements regulating bilateral relations have been signed.
It is difficult to explain this state of affairs with Azerbaijan, which is becoming a more significant and important player in regional and international issues and a leading European country that was recently included in a group of the 20 most developed countries, the ambassador said.
He said such a situation has not been observed with any other leading European countries.
"It is necessary to stress that Azerbaijan is not the reason for this," he said. "It is significant that, for example, the Azerbaijani Embassy in Spain has been operating since 2005. However, there is no Spanish embassy yet in Baku."
He said the embassy's main task is to change the situation.
Efendiev was appointed as Azerbaijan's ambassador to Spain in February. He is also accredited to Andorra under the World Tourism Organization.
The ambassador described the period of his activity as very active, full of meetings, trips all over the country, statements aiming to understand the current state of affairs, and discussions about Azerbaijan and ways to "reset" bilateral relations and raise them to a new level.
"I must admit that much work must be conducted still," he said. "The embassy has big plans. In this case, of course, reciprocity is important. There are very encouraging trends from the Spanish side."
He stressed that newly scheduled official visits hav ebene designed to give a new dynamic to bilateral relations.
"We are actively working in this direction," he said. "I am sure that 2011 will be a crucial year in our relations."
"First of all, I note that the official position of Spain on this issue is unambiguous and fully reflects the position of Azerbaijan," the ambassador said.
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994.
The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group - Russia, France, and the United States - are currently holding negotiations to resolve the dispute.
Armenia has failed to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions stipulating the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions.
With regard to informing the Spanish public about this issue and Azerbaijan, in general, frankly speaking, the situation requires more active and consistent activity, the diplomat said.
The ambassador considers it important to use the entire arsenal of public diplomacy, including mutual visits, cultural programs, contacts between young people, and programs involving Azerbaijanis living in Spain.
He said this is one of the most important activities for the embassy.
At present, different initiatives are being developed to inform the Spanish public about Azerbaijan, he said.
In particular, the sides agreed to jointly shoot a film.
"The plot will include a very complex and dramatic story about the fate of 15 Spanish pilots, who find themselves at a summer base in Ganja during World War II," he said. "They fought heroically, protecting borders, including our homeland's oil fields. The film will demonstrate Azerbaijan's past and present amid the fate of these Spaniards. It will reach a wide Spanish audience. The film will be broadcast on the Spanish channels. I think this project will help to establish better understanding and rapprochement between peoples."
Another project is the publication of extensive information about Azerbaijan in the annex to the biggest and most widely read Spanish newspaper El Mundo in early 2011, he said.
Azerbaijanis in Spain
If one would described briefly the Azerbaijani diaspora in Spain, he said, the community is small, weak and disunited. According to data from the Spanish Interior Ministry, about 300 Azerbaijani citizens have been officially registered in the country.
Moreover, a number of Azerbaijanis settled in Spain in the 1990s and have already received citizenship. Some Azerbaijanis also moved to Spain from other CIS countries.
"We are working on getting correct data on the number of our countrymen here," he said.
Azerbaijanis living in Spain are formally united by four organizations registered in Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante and Valencia, the ambassador added.
However, these organizations, for various reasons, are not active enough, he said.
"My first acquaintance with their activity shows that they have been formed without a clear and specific idea about their goals and tasks, or a realistic assessment about their opportunities," he said.
He added that each Azerbaijani living in Spain is an important and valuable resource in advancing the interests of Azerbaijan in the country and developing humanitarian cooperation.
"We try to support them and to help them become organized and integrated into Spanish society through our activity," he said. "In particular, I always raise the question about paying attention and providing our fellow countrymen with feasible aid and proposing closer cooperation between the authorities and the embassy during my trips and meetings with the local authorities in Valencia and Barcelona. I think this will take time, and purposeful and methodical assistance in consolidating and organizing the Azerbaijani community."
The absence of Spanish companies in Azerbaijan despite "our rapid economic boom" is visible, he said. Although the country has many leading global companies, they have been very passive in regards to Azerbaijan, he stressed.
The ambassador also noted that the absence of Spanish companies on the Azerbaijani market is also due to Spain's recent socioeconomic development.
"On the one hand, it is a period of extensive growth within the country and Spanish companies are actively expanding in Latin America - a focal point for the EU and the Mediterranean region," he said. "But a certain inertia was created among Spanish businessmen who became used to working on traditional and comfortable markets. On the other hand, the lack of information about Azerbaijan contributed to this lull. In essence, the potential of the so-called FSU, Far East and Southeastern Asia, which all have dynamically developing economies, have only recently been examined and mastered by Spanish companies."
An encouraging factor is that Spanish officials and businessmen fully agree with the assessment of the Azerbaijani side about the state of relations, he said, adding that joint measures are being taken to improve the situation.
The diplomat hopes to see more active participation by Spanish businessmen and companies in Azerbaijan's economic and social development soon.
First, it is necessary to fill the information gap to improve the situation, he said.
"We are holding a lot of meetings here, and assist in organizing visits to Azerbaijan and meetings with the relative departments," he said. "We also plan visits from Azerbaijan. I think that we should actively participate in various forums held in Spain. Thus, it is necessary to familiarize Azerbaijani businessmen with investment opportunities in this country."
"Adopting specific measures to support Spanish companies in Azerbaijan, and to provide them with an additional impetus seem like a reasonable strategy at this stage," he said. "Once again, I want to emphasize that official high-level visits are designed to give a serious impetus to the development of our relations."
Efendiev added that, of course, Spain has much to offer Azerbaijan.
He also stressed a growing interest among Spanish companies in Azerbaijan.
Spain faces a severe financial crisis. This situation pushes Spanish companies to more actively into new markets, such as Azerbaijan.
However, the dynamics and scale of development will depend on the joint actions that are taken to create favorable conditions to realize this potential and to broaden and intensify economic cooperation, the ambassador said.
The first positive signal in this regard was received on Nov. 5. The Spanish government approved the text of a coordinated agreement on the avoidance of double taxation and declared its readiness to sign the document.
"I think that the list (of signed documents) will expand soon," the diplomat said.
"However, I think that assistance must be rendered to this process in the initial stage because Spanish companies are preparing to enter the Azerbaijani market with a great delay - taking into account the high level of competition on the market," he said. "So, the embassy is preparing proposals for the government's consideration."
The diplomat also expressed hope that Spanish experience and know-how will be used to enrich Azerbaijan.
"We are on the threshold of a qualitatively new stage of developing our relations," he said. "I am optimistic about their future."