By Marjana Doda
Despite the implementation of the TAP project, which has given an impetus to the bilateral relations between Albania and Azerbaijan, the pace of mutual contacts between the two countries has somewhat slowed down regardless of a certain potential for interaction in the political, economic and humanitarian spheres, has said the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Albania, Anar Huseynov in an exclusive interview with Argumentum.al. “The awareness of our peoples about our countries is very limited,” noted the Ambassador who believes that it is necessary to strengthen mutual contacts in order to identify specific areas of cooperation of mutual interest.
Ambassador Huseynov was confident that as the peoples of the two countries get to know each other better they will be able to add more value to their relations as it is witnessed with other friendly nations. In a comment on the relations in the economic field, he believes that the spheres of tourism, agriculture and energy may be of interest to Azerbaijan in economic relations with Albania.
The Ambassador noted the completion of the construction and start of operations of TAP on November 15 this year is an important event in the European gas industry, and according to him, currently it is only natural gas from Azerbaijan to be transported to Europe via TAP. “But TAP looks ahead for many years to come and can expand its capacities for future shippers as well including those in Europe, the Caspian region and Central Asia.”
In the meantime he revealed that supplies from Azerbaijan to Europe along the Southern Gas Corridor including its TAP segment will start by the end of December 2020.
Touching upon the issue of the privatization of the Ballsh oil refinery, Mr. Huseynov explained that it was a private rather than a state-owned company of Azerbaijan which took part in its privatization. He regretted that some local media associate this failure with Azerbaijan and try to shift all responsibility for what is happening to his country, thereby damaging its image. But the Ambassador announced that they have been trying to collect more information on this matter in order to try to facilitate a solution to this issue.
Referring to the trilateral statement signed on 10 November 2020 between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia he was hopeful that it has created a ground for putting an end to the almost three-decade-long armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. “As for the position of Albania on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Tirana has always been supportive of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and implementation of relevant 4 UN Security Council resolutions. We are glad that positive developments in our region happened during the (OSCE) Chairmanship of a friendly nation.”
Asked about the cooperation between Albania and Azerbaijan, the Ambassador, Anar Huseynov was confident that the two countries will be able to identify many areas for mutual interest through more active interactions.
Below full interview:
Argumentum.al: In the first place thank you Mr. Ambassador for the opportunity to have this interview which is significant for Argumentum even for the fact that 2020 is coming to an end and a new year is ushering in hopefully with more relief from COVID- 19 pandemic for both our two people and countries and the world in general. As you have recently presented your credentials to the President of the Republic of Albania in Tirana, please, which is your assessment of the relations between Albania and Azerbaijan both politically and economically?
Ambassador Anar Huseynov: First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to answer some questions that could be of interest to the Albanian society. You are right, this year turned out to be uneasy for the whole world and for Azerbaijan. In our case, we had to fight both global and regional challenges. Regarding our bilateral relations with Albania, I must note that for many years after the establishment of diplomatic relations, they were mainly limited to cooperation within the framework of international organizations. Only after the TAP project appeared on the mutual agenda, bilateral relations were given an impetus, as a result of which the legal basis of relations was strengthened, and we exchanged a number of visits at various levels, discussed new areas of interaction. Regretfully, as the aforementioned regional project is being implemented, the pace of mutual contacts has somewhat slowed down, despite a certain potential for interaction in the political, economic and humanitarian spheres. The awareness of our peoples about our countries is very limited. In this regard, I believe it is necessary to strengthen mutual contacts in order to identify specific areas of cooperation of mutual interest, strengthen the legal framework and inform our peoples about our history, culture and common values.
-The history of joint ties between Albania and Azerbaijan seems to have early roots. What is the connection between Caucasian Albania and today's Albania apart from the common name "Albania"?
- I have no doubts about common values and connecting elements, at least in the field of culture and world outlook between our peoples. As for common history, this is a question for historians, for experts in this area. In any case, I feel quite comfortable in your country and that means a lot. I am confident that our peoples, getting to know each other better, will be able to add more value to our relations as we witness with other friendly nations.
- Please let me touch upon the relations between our countries today, which are mainly focused on the economic field. When talking about Azerbaijan, we immediately think of TAP. Does Azerbaijan consider Albania for investments other than the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline project?
- In recent years, Azerbaijan has invested in numerous projects of interest both in the region and beyond, including the Balkans. Of course, a favorable investment climate, guarantees and commercial interest are the main conditions for our investments. At the same time, strong bilateral ties with these countries also played a role in investment decisions. I believe that the spheres of tourism, agriculture and energy may be of interest to Azerbaijan in economic relations with Albania. Besides, as you know, in the years to come the restoration of liberated territories will be one of the main priorities of Azerbaijan and in this matter, preferences for international cooperation will be given to companies from friendly countries. Therefore, Albanian companies involved in the infrastructure sector have a good chance of participating in the restoration work in my country.
- The Trans- Adriatic Pipeline has reportedly been completed in most of the pipeline construction. At this point has the origin of the gas that will pass through these pipelines been determined? Will it be just Caspian or even from other sources such as Russian gas, for example?
- As you know, on November 15 TransAdriatic pipeline announced the completion of the construction and start of operations. This is an important event in the European gas industry. Currently it is only natural gas from Azerbaijan to be transported to Europe via TAP but TAP looks ahead for many years to come and can expand its capacities for future shippers as well including those in Europe, the Caspian region and Central Asia. The expansion of TAP from current 10 bcma up to 20 bcma is high on the agenda and I think the project to expand its capacity will be fully supported by positive response from the market and implemented within the next 5-6 years.
TAP also promotes better interconnectivity and cross border infrastructure integration in Europe and one of the most brilliant examples is that thanks to TAP starting from May 21st Albania for the first time in her history became a part of European energy pipeline infrastructure. I am pleased to mention that gas supplies from Azerbaijan to Europe along the Southern Gas Corridor including its TAP segment will start by the end of December 2020.
- Your Excellency, when we talk about Azerbaijani investments, it comes to my mind the privatization of the Ballsh refinery which left hundreds of employees without jobs, earlier unpaid wages and a miserable condition of the plant itself. What is your comment on this situation?
- As you know, a private, not a state-owned company of Azerbaijan took part in the privatization of the Ballsh oil refinery, and the government of Azerbaijan did not participate in the decision-making on this investment. Nevertheless, to my regret, some local media associate this failure with Azerbaijan and try to shift all responsibility for what is happening to my country, thereby damaging her image. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of Albanians, following the TAP as a success story, do not question the reliability of Azerbaijan as an international partner. With all this in mind, taking into account also the humanitarian component of the issue, over the past period of time I have been trying to collect more information on this matter in order to try to facilitate solution of this issue. I have good collaboration on the issue with local authorities.
- Mr. Ambassador, at this juncture we are only 1 month from the time when the Azerbaijan-Armenia Peace Agreement was reached after the resumption of the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Which is the gist of the 2020 peace agreement? What has been the role of Albania in resolving this conflict as the president in office of the OSCE? Have you found support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in official Tirana?
- The trilateral statement signed on 10 November 2020 between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia has created a ground for putting an end to the almost three-decades-long armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This statement besides the return of our territories also contains an important provision related to the return of the internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes under the supervision of the UNHCR.
The agreement also envisages the removal of obstacles to all economic and transport links in the region and guarantees for the safe movement of persons, vehicles and cargo between Armenia and Azerbaijan in both directions, including the connection between mainland Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Under the trilateral statement, the Joint Monitoring Center of the Russian Federation and Turkey will be established to monitor the implementation of agreements by Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey, contributed a lot to make this agreement a reality. These neighboring states play an important role as guarantors of the above-mentioned agreement, implementation of which will ensure long-overdue peace and stability in the South Caucasus region.
Sustaining peace, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities, providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, including returning IDPs and refugees, should be an absolute priority. To this end, Azerbaijan is ready to work with relevant international partners, including ICRC, UNHCR and other UN agencies as well as individual States, which are willing to contribute to peace and stability in the region, in full compliance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on humanitarian assistance of 1991.
Azerbaijan is resolute to re-integrate its citizens of Armenian origin residing in the territories of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan into its political, social, economic space, guaranteeing the same rights and freedoms with all the citizens of Azerbaijan regardless of their ethnic, religious affiliation on an equal and non-discriminatory basis. The Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan provides a solid legal framework in this regard.
Peaceful co-existence of Azerbaijani and Armenian residents of the conflict-affected territories based on respect to each other’s security, ethnic and religious identity within the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must and shall be finally ensured.
We are entering a new post-conflict stage, a stage of reconstruction and rehabilitation, a stage of restoration of peaceful co-existence. New opportunities for development and cooperation are emerging. We call upon our partners to assess and take advantage of the new promising realities.
The role of OSCE as a platform of negotiations in particular within its Minsk Group was not productive regardless of its chairmanships for the last almost 30 years. As for the position of Albania on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Tirana has been always supportive of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and implementation of relevant 4 UN Security Council resolutions. We are glad that positive developments in our region happened during the Chairmanship of a friendly nation.
- My last question Mr. Ambassador, which is the focus of your mandate as Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Albania, and how much, according to your expectations, can it serve to strengthen the friendship between the two peoples and the development of economic and political relations between our countries?
- As you understand, cooperation is a dual-way road and it is based on mutual interests. I am confident that with more active interactions, we will be able to identify many areas for mutual interest. For the last decade a rather friendly atmosphere has developed between our countries, which is a good ground for cooperation to contribute to the well-being of our peoples, their closer interaction and the prosperity of our countries./argumentum.al