Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov made an official and historic visit of Ethiopia last month. Highlighting the visit President Mulatu Teshome (PhD) underscored the “importance of the development relations between (Ethiopia and Azerbaijan) and underline the significance of increasing of efforts to bring bilateral cooperation to a higher level”. Here, Azerbaijan’s one-time Foreign Ministry Spokesman and now Ambassador to Ethiopia, Elman Abdullayev, reflects with The Reporter’s Samuel Getachew on the virtue of Ethiopian jazz, the economical lessons of his nation, on the controversial unresolved subject of Armenians, on Azerbaijan wines that are fast becoming popular and why he the strategic relationship of the two nations is important. Excerpts:
The Reporter: I walked into your office and on your desk I saw a CD of Ethiopia’s jazz master Mulatu Astatke. What is the connection?
Elman Abdullayev: First of all, the connection is jazz, as part of culture. Jazz is a very strong connection because we are both jazz loving nations. I have to say, I am personally a fan of Ethio jazz for a major reason. Ethiopian jazz is a fusion of classical jazz blended with local flavor from different parts of Ethiopia. Of course, Ethiopian spirit is a diverse spirit. I personally know Dr. Mulatu and I had the privilege of listening to his music accompanied by his personal explanation. After his personal explanation to me I understood how this fusion was born and represents entire Ethiopia with all its diversity.
In Azerbaijan, we have strong connection to jazz. We are a jazz nation and we host international jazz festivals every year where masters from all over the world visit Azerbaijan to perform for a larger audience, local and international. With regards to Azerbaijani brand of jazz, this is fusion of our National Mugham and Classical Jazz. This is why I am very much into fusion of jazz. So jazz would be another cultural linkage and bridge between our two nations and this is of great interest to me as a diplomat.
Your nation is little known to Ethiopians and is a nation that has experienced many challenges but finally has an emerging and strong economy in the world. What can Ethiopia learn from the experiences of Azerbaijan?
First of all, our economy takes its strength from a diversified approach. We have always been known to world as an energy nation. As a country of oil and gas we introduced many innovations to the world in the area of oil and gas exploration and production. The Noble brothers more than a century ago made a great fortune on oil business in Azerbaijan (at the end of the 19th century).
But what is important is that, we have realized in Azerbaijan from the very beginning that dependence on oil is not a long term economic perspective. Our president always stressed the importance of diversification and underlined that our aim is to turn the black capital into human capital. Diversified economy means that there is another sector which is growing faster than oil economy. Today, we are there when we can be proud of this progress. This is thanks to the visionary leadership, good governance and wise management.
In the late1990s, Azerbaijan founded its sovereign wealth fund, State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ). Its primary objective is to generate wealth for current and future generations from the energy revenues and with this contributes into diversification of the economy as a whole.
Today, we observe in Ethiopia a similar approach. Although the Ethiopian economy is not energy (oil and gas) driven one, we see policies of diversification, be it in the industry, trade or investment promotion. This diverse approach bears its fruits as we see international businesses and investments flowing into country. It has to be mentioned that Ethiopia has also natural resources which are more of mineral resources. New businesses mean new jobs that are created by investors.
Azerbaijan also attracted investors from around the world into different sectors and became one of the highest in the world in terms FDI per capita. We pursued very similar economic policies by attracting new investments and pursing the policy of diversification. We managed to boost our non-energy economy and today this sector is developing faster than the energy one.
International organizations – especially financial ones – praise Azerbaijan’s efforts on diversification of the economy. It is widely noticed by them that non-oil economy is developing faster than oil economy. Within the last 15 years, more than 1.5 million permanent jobs were created. Today, our unemployment rate is below five percent. This is one of best indications worldwide.
You know every society has historical grievances they have yet to settle. Let’s talk about the grievances between Armenia and Azerbaijan. What is your take on it?
Well, this conflict is a serious threat to peace and security in the region. You know, when the Soviet Union collapsed, 15 republics gained their independences. All these republics were recognized within their borders by the international community and all the members of UN. One of them is Azerbaijan with internationally recognized borders.
Armenia, with its territorial claims, started war against Azerbaijan and occupied 20 percent of its internationally recognized territories. Unfortunately, this conflict took many lives and caused humanitarian disaster. The strongest international body, UN the Security Council, where Ethiopia currently has a non-permanent seat, adopted four resolutions strongly condemning Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territories and demanded Armenia to withdraw from these territories immediately and unconditionally. The entire UN Security Council adopted these resolutions.
Unfortunately, until now Armenia has not complied with the demands of this resolution. 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory is still under occupation and more than one million people became refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. This is a major disaster; a humanitarian disaster.
The UN Security Council made its voice heard. Well, the problem with the issue is that, the Armenian attitude is disrespectful towards international law. Armenia has to obey international law and respect the UN Charter and resolutions. The decision of the Security Council is the decision of every nation; the members of the council and others. UN means us; it means the world. If we don’t follow the UN resolutions, then how can we ensure peace and stability in the world?
Armenia domestically also has problems. That is because it is ruled by a military regime that took power by overthrowing the previous government. They literally entered the parliament and assassinated high-level officials and took power. It is the military that took power. That is also another difficulty and problem that complicates the negotiations process.
What is the position of Azerbaijan you ask? It is to continue the diplomatic efforts. We also should note the fact that it is difficult to negotiate with the military regime. It really is difficult. The dictatorship there completely ignores the rule of international law. That is the major obstacle. There are countries trying to mediate but the ultimate goal should be based on the rule of international law and decisions of international organizations, including the UN.
Points well taken Mr. Ambassador; however, I also know that there is another perspective from the Armenian side on this matter and I will leave it at that. Let us move on to the recent visit of your Foreign Minister to Ethiopia.
First of all, I would like to express our gratitude to the Government of Ethiopia for the warm hospitality and arrangement of the visit. It was a really important visit. Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov had audience with Mulatu Teshome (PhD), President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, as well as Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD), Foreign Minister of Ethiopia. As a result of the visit, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding on political consultations between our Ministries of Foreign Ministries. We also discussed how we could strengthen our economic cooperation, trade relations and how we expand the cooperation in other areas as well. Secondly, we discussed the perspectives of strengthening relations on a bilateral level and within the international organizations.
I have to highlight that the visit of our Foreign Minister to Ethiopia was a bilateral visit. This visit demonstrated that there is a huge potential for cooperation between our two countries. Ethiopia recently appointed an honorary consul to Azerbaijan. That was to highlight our close and growing economic relationship and our interaction. We do our best to have our business leaders to cooperate and find ways to make that relationship beneficial for both.
In May, 2017 Roman Tesfaye, First Lady of Ethiopia visited our country. The visit had bilateral and multilateral agendas. As part of bilateral agenda, First Lady led Ethiopian delegation of women entrepreneurs to Azerbaijan and we signed MoU between our Women Entrepreneur Associations. As part of another agenda the First Lady participated at a panel called “Fighting violent extremism through girls’ education”.
As you see, we are expanding our relations in various areas and looking forward to have more visits by representatives of the private sector. We might soon expect a delegation of entrepreneurs from Azerbaijan here in Addis to discover the economic opportunities and potential in Ethiopia.
In conclusion, I would like to ask you about the wine industry in Azerbaijan. I see your wine production is growing and turning into a strong brand around the world.
Thank you for this question. We are introducing every year new wines that are produced by different winemakers and based on new sorts of grapes which are cultivated in Azerbaijan. You are right, wine industry is growing fast and of course stimulates the agribusiness and agriculture in general. Talking about agriculture, I would like to specifically mention how progressive the farming industry is in general in Azerbaijan. Winemaking, food industry, farming and agriculture are in general very much interlinked. Development of every food sector stimulates or encourages the other ones. Agriculture is one of the driving sectors of the non-oil economy of Azerbaijan.
Today, we are doing our best to introduce Azerbaijani wine around the world, including in Ethiopia. I know that wine industry in Ethiopia is also growing fast and Ethiopia has all the natural conditions to develop this industry further. I think we can start experience sharing between Ethiopian and Azerbaijani wine producers and I am so confident that we can learn from each other a lot. The Embassy has arranged events where we tried to introduce our wine and we are ready to work with Ethiopian companies.