The year 2016 was marked by April events, Presidents’ meetings in Vienna and Saint Petersburg. How would you characterize the negotiations process on the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Instead of carrying out goodwill negotiations, Armenia clearly disrupts all attempts aimed at the peaceful settlement of the conflict. Ignoring the demands of the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and flagrantly violating the international law, Armenia refuses to withdraw its troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, impedes the return of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis who became refugees and IDPs as a result of bloody ethnic cleansing to their native lands, and by changing the physical, demographic and cultural character of the occupied territories attempts to further strengthen the current status-quo.
To prevent from achieving any progresses in the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Armenian side has always committed provocative-sabotage acts. Right after the Paris meeting of the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in late 2014, Armenia launched large-scale military exercises in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, with the involvement of more than 40,000 personnel and by escalating the situation instigated the well-known helicopter incident. Although the concrete plans on the settlement of the conflict were discussed during 2015 and early 2016, the Armenian side adopted a new offensive military doctrine and subjecting to attacks by heavy weapons the densely populated areas along the line of contact, as well as schools, hospitals and places of worship on April 2, caused the well-known April events. As a result of irresponsible attacks of Armenia, 6 persons including children were killed and 33 persons were severely wounded.
The armed forces of Azerbaijan were obliged to take counter-measures and as a result of which succeeded to liberate some of strategically important positions from the occupation. During the April events Azerbaijan showcased its military-diplomatic superiority. The results of consistent activities to withstand the information war of Armenia were also obvious. Since the start of escalation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs periodically issuing statements has informed the international community about the provocative actions of Armenia. The world’s leading news agencies quoted Foreign Ministry’s statements, the visits of foreign media representatives and diplomatic corps to the contact line of troops were also organized. In conjunction with state bodies Azerbaijan was able to deliver the truth to the world; the diplomatic missions and consulates of our country were also closely involved into this process and informed the officials and public of the countries they were accredited to. It was a positive sign that numerous articles reflecting our country’s fair position in the world's prestigious media outlets were published, photos and video interviews were aired.
The international community once again witnessed that maintaining the current status-quo and the presence of the armed forces of Armenia in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan is the main cause of escalation in the conflict zone and remains the major impediment to the political settlement of the conflict. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group at the level of heads of state have repeatedly issued statements on the unacceptability and unsustainability of the current status-quo. Azerbaijan is the most interested party in moving beyond the current status-quo. In this context, we assess the high-level substantive discussions in Vienna and St. Petersburg as positive steps in the right direction. We must sustain the momentum and transform the understandings reached in those meetings into concrete actions without further delay.
The substantial concrete results in the political arena will fundamentally change the situation. A step-by-step elimination of the consequences of the conflict, starting with withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, restoration of regional transportation and communication links and safe and dignified return of displaced persons to their places of origin, while addressing security concerns appropriately, will transform the conflict dynamics and significantly improve the overall security environment in the whole region. This approach is based on the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and affirmed in the decisions of the OSCE, notably in the Budapest Summit decision of 1994.
The aggressive policy of Armenia can never succeed. The sooner Armenia understands this reality and withdraws its troops from the occupied Azerbaijani territories, the sooner the conflict will be settled, also Armenia and its population would be able to benefit from the perspectives of cooperation, as well as the economic development.
As it was noted in the last statement of foreign ministers of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries, the Azerbaijani side together with the co-chairs will continue its efforts on the settlement of the conflict through substantive negotiations. At the same time, all available opportunities existing within the international platforms will be utilized for this purpose.
During the year as a result of diplomatic efforts of Azerbaijan the issue of Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been put on the agenda of many international organizations. Which are the main points you would mention in this regard?
Azerbaijan, by using the platforms of all relevant international organizations of which it is a member, brings the realities of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to the attention of the international community. The issues such as the situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and the protracted conflicts in the GUAM area are being kept on the agenda of the 71st session of U.N. General Assembly. On this basis, using the tribune of U.N. General Assembly, Azerbaijan brings up various aspects of the conflict on the agenda of GA and makes it open for discussion. Along the U.N. system, we are carrying out active work with other international organizations, as well.
The 13th session of the Islamic Summit Conference held in Istanbul with the participation of the head of our state on April 10-15, 2016 saw the adoption of a number of decisions in line with the interests of our country.
The principal stance of OIC member states on the condemnation of the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan is reiterated in the relevant 16th and 17th paragraphs of the communiqué unilaterally adopted by the heads of state and government of the member countries in Istanbul summit. The adherence of Armenia to the resolutions 822 (1993), 853 (1993), 874 (1993) and 884 (1993) of U.N. Security Council and immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of its armed forces from the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and other adjacent regions of Azerbaijan was also demanded. Besides, in the final communiqué the continuous attacks of Armenia in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, escalating the situation in the frontline in April of this year and consequently inflicting damages to the civilians, social and economic infrastructure and other objects are firmly condemned.
Establishment of the OIC Contact Group on the aggression of the Republic of Armenia against the Republic of Azerbaijan is one of the important decisions as a result of the summit. The above mentioned Contact Group consists of Turkey, Kingdom of Morocco, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Malaysia, Islamic Republic of Gambia and Republic of Djibouti. Taken with the principle of geographical representation, all regions within the OIC are represented in this Group. The first meeting of the Contact Group was held with the chairmanship of OIC General Secretary on the sidelines of 71st session of U.N. General Assembly held in New York in September of this year.
In the 24th paragraph of the Final Communiqué adopted by member states at the level of heads of state and government in NATO summit held in Warsaw on July 8-9, they reiterated their devotion to the support of territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Azerbaijan. They expressed their support for the settlement of the conflicts existing in South Caucasus based on only these principles and norms of international law, U.N. Charter and Helsinki Final Act. In the previous summit meetings of NATO the similar position by NATO Member States have also been expressed.
In the final document of the 17th Summit of the Non-Alignment Movement held in Margarita island of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on September 13-18, the heads of state and government expressed their regret that despite the resolutions (822, 853, 874, 884) adopted by U.N. Security Council, the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has not been settled yet and it remains the main threat for the regional peace and security and they urged resolution of this conflict on the basis of territorial integrity, sovereignty and internationally recognized borders of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Also, the resolutions on the aggression of the Republic of Armenia against the Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as destruction and desecration of Islamic historical and cultural relics and shrines in the occupied Azerbaijani territories resulting from the aggression of the Republic of Armenia against the Republic of Azerbaijan were adopted at the 43rd Foreign Ministerial Council of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that took place in Tashkent on 18-19 October, 2016.
The report named “Illegal economic and other activities in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan” prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan was circulated as a document of the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council under the agenda item “The situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan” and other relevant agenda items within the 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly.
The report entitled “Illegal economic and other activities in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan” presented in March of this year was prepared on the basis of information gathered from Armenian open sources. In the report, sufficient and convincing evidence testifying to the continued illegal activities by Armenia in the occupied territories, in total disregard of international law, such as implantation of settlers, depredatory exploitation and pillage of and illicit trade in private and state-owned facilities, assets, natural resources and other forms of wealth was reflected.
The decisions and resolutions adopted on Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within international organizations during the year further strengthens the just position of Azerbaijan and the political and legal basis of the resolution of the conflict. The known resolutions of the UN Security Council and numerous decisions, resolutions and statements of other international organizations are the reflection of the firm stance of international community on the settlement of the conflict.
No institution can claim for the role of monopoly in the settlement process of the conflict. The policy to bring the issue of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on agenda within all relevant international organizations will be continued until the results of Armenia's aggression and occupation against our country are eliminated and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders are ensured.
How would you assess 2016 in terms of development of Azerbaijan’s bilateral relations, intensity of mutual visits?
At present, Azerbaijan is a strong and prestigious country in the system of international relations and as a leading country of the region Azerbaijan’s interests on any issue emerging in this geography is taken into account. Azerbaijan is not only the participant of regional projects, but also their initiator and driving force. These successes have been achieved thanks to the far-sighted and pragmatic foreign policy strategy founded by nationwide leader Heydar Aliyev and being effectively continued by President Ilham Aliyev.
The 2016 year has been fruitful and efficient in terms of development of Azerbaijan’s bilateral relations. In the development of bilateral relationship, the expansion of our mutually beneficial and comprehensive cooperation with the neighboring countries - Turkey, Russia, Islamic Republic of Iran and Georgia should be particularly noted.
Numerous visits of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan H.E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, Chairman of Milli Majlis, also my visits as Foreign Minister and those of other government officials to foreign countries, as well as lots of visits of heads of state and government, foreign ministers and other officials at various levels to our country further strengthened our bilateral relationship.
Last year Emir of the State of Qatar, the presidents of Ukraine, Venezuela, Croatia and Belarus made official visits and presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia made working visits to Azerbaijan. Also, Chairman of Russian Government, prime ministers of Hungary, Turkey and Pakistan were on official visits and Prime minister of Israel was on a working visit in Azerbaijan. Heads of state of Montenegro, Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania, Malta and other countries paid visits to Azerbaijan to participate in the 4th Global Baku Forum and the 7th Global Forum of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations hosted by Azerbaijan. Our head of state made official visits to the United Arab Emirates and Iran and working visits to Austria, Germany and Russia.
In that period, visits of President Ilham Aliyev to Switzerland (Davos) to participate in the World Economic Forum, to United Kingdom (London) to participate in the Supporting Syria and the Region conference, to Germany (Munich) to participate in the 52nd Munich Security Conference, to Turkey (Ankara) to participate in the 5th session of Azerbaijan-Turkey High Level Strategic Cooperation Council, to USA (Washington) to participate in the 4th Nuclear Security Summit, to Turkey (Istanbul) to participate in the 13th Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to Turkey (Istanbul) to participate in the World Humanitarian Summit, to Poland (Warsaw) to participate in the NATO Summit, to the Kyrgyz Republic (Bishkek) to participate in the CIS Council of Heads of State, to Turkey (Istanbul) to participate in the 23rd World Energy Congress were particularly important in terms of development of our relations on the bilateral and multilateral basis, bringing the position of our country on the global political, economic, security and humanitarian issues to the attention of international community.
As the foreign minister, I paid official visits to Georgia, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Egypt and Portugal and made working visits to Russia (two times), China, Germany and France (two times). Participating in more than twenty international events, I delivered the stance of our country. During the year, the foreign ministers of Greece, Georgia, Malta, Germany, Italy, South Africa, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were on official visits and the foreign ministers of Sweden, Russia (two times), Turkey (two times), as well as the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy were on working visits in Azerbaijan. Also using the existing opportunities during international events, I had numerous meetings with the counterparts from other countries. In order to expand the bilateral legal-treaty base with other countries, more than ten agreements were signed.
The active participation of Azerbaijan in international events and mutual bilateral visits show the importance of our country in the region and also in the world, as well as present new opportunities for us.
Our bilateral relationship is further enhanced through regional cooperation mechanism in trilateral format. In 2016, the meetings of presidents of Azerbaijan-Russia-Iran, foreign ministers of Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey, Azerbaijan-Iran-Turkey, Azerbaijan-Russia-Iran were held in trilateral format. Holding these trilateral meetings has utmost importance for strengthening security in the region, expanding and deepening bilateral relationship. The trilateral meeting of the heads of state of Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran held in Baku with the initiative of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan H.E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev and the joint statement adopted at the end of the meeting have provided important grounds for the development of cooperation in political, economic, trade, transport and other fields. The cooperation in this format also has strategic importance promoting trans-regional cooperation along the line stretching from South and South-East Asia to Northern Europe.
In general, the cooperation mechanism in trilateral format completing the successful bilateral cooperation of our country with regional countries creates important grounds for its comprehensive development on trilateral basis, provides favorable opportunities for raising the political dialogue on regional issues and economic-trade ties to higher level. The cooperation in existing trilateral formats will be further continued and the opportunities on establishing the new trilateral mechanisms will be considered.
What can you say about the last summit of heads of states of Caspian littoral countries on the preparation of the Convention on defining the legal status of the Caspian Sea? In general, what is the level of cooperation on defining the status?
As you may know, the negotiations for determining the legal status of the Caspian Sea are taking place on a five-party format, at the level of heads of states and foreign ministers of Caspian littoral countries, as well as at the level of deputy foreign ministers within the framework of the Ad Hoc Working Group.
47 meetings have been held so far on determining the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Moreover, 4 Summits of heads of states of Caspian littoral countries have been organized in Ashkhabad, Tehran, Baku and Astrakhan since 2002. In Astrakhan it was decided to hold the next Summit of heads of states in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2017.
Important agreements on several principal issues of Caspian Sea were reached in the Joint Statement of heads of states adopted at the Astrakhan Summit and these agreements approved by all representatives and are reflected in the draft convention. Current phase of negotiations on the legal status of the Caspian Sea can be regarded as the beginning of the final stage. Most articles, almost 80 percent of the convention on the status were agreed.
A number of important issues on the legal status of the Caspian Sea were solved following the Baku and Astrakhan summits. These issues, including the distribution of water surface, agreement on legal regimes, security, shipping, conservation and use of biological resources, emergencies and hydrometeorology provide and regulate the cooperation and activities of Caspian littoral states through the draft convention and many signed agreements.
If the full agreement on the status is reached, Astana summit will create comprehensive legal basis for further development of mutual cooperation of the Caspian littoral states in the future.
All issues related to the legal status of the Caspian Sea are being resolved in the spirit of respect for the sovereign rights of Caspian littoral states and mutually beneficial partnership, as well as through the strengthening of faith and trust between the sides, especially in issues related to regional stability, security and economic and scientific-research activities in the Caspian basin.
The President has set strategic directions for the development of Azerbaijan’s economy. How does our economic diplomacy support these goals?
Crisis and decline in the world economy in recent years are affecting Azerbaijan as the other countries. Economic reforms carried out in the country, decrees and orders signed by our President to decrease effects of the crisis, as well as the dependence on energy, provide diversification of the economy, develop non-oil sector and promote export potential already yielding positive results. In this regard, Strategic Road Map for the National Economy of the Republic of Azerbaijan approved by the decree of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan dated December 6, 2016, plays a fundamental role for conducting our economic diplomacy and puts great tasks before us.
Development of Azerbaijan’s foreign economic relations, promotion of economic potential of our country abroad, diversification of non-oil sector, promotion and enhancement of export, attracting foreign investments to our country, promotion of Azerbaijan’s investments to partner countries, attracting foreign tourists to our country, organizing visits of representatives of state and business circles of Azerbaijan and foreign countries, holding meetings of joint intergovernmental commissions and working groups of Azerbaijan with foreign countries on economic cooperation, establishment of a legal framework for trade and economic cooperation, delivering the goods and services produced in our country to new markets, as well as application of modern technologies used in foreign countries to our economy are among the main directions of our economic diplomacy.
Meetings of intergovernmental commissions on economic cooperation were held with 16 countries in 2016. At the meetings directions of future economic cooperation of Azerbaijan with these countries were defined and agreements on concrete cooperation were included to the protocols signed as a result of the meetings. On the threshold of the meetings of the commissions, Azerbaijan also worked on bilateral basis with these countries on the cooperation to prevent illegal economic activities in the occupied territories and reached agreements in this regard.
Business forums with 11 countries (Croatia, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Monaco, Japan, Bulgaria, Iran, Italy, Georgia, Spain, Pakistan and Hungary) were held in 2016. Brand of “Made in Azerbaijan” is also promoted by our diplomatic missions and consulates in the world. “ASAN viza” system, which will be an important step in attracting foreign tourists to our country, will be applied soon.
Taking advantage of the favorable geographical position of our country, we achieved significant progress in the launch of regional transport corridors together with our partners. The construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which will increase the multi-modal transport volume and create competitive environment for passenger and freight transport in Eurasia, will be completed soon. This project will be one of the most important components of the concept of Silk Road Economic Belt initiated by China. Baku meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran this August gave an impetus along with other issues to the development of the North-South transport corridor. We are sure that the completion of Qazvin-Rasht-Astara (Iran)-Astara (Azerbaijan) railway project, which is an integral part of the North-South transport corridor, will give a new impetus to economic growth and will expand the transport capacity for the countries involved in the project and for the entire region. At my meetings with the representatives of China, India and other South, Southeast Asian countries, they showed great interest in this project, which is advantageous both economically and in terms of time and are looking forward to the launch of the route.
Moreover, Azerbaijan is the initiator of a major energy project called the Southern Gas Corridor. This is an energy cooperation and energy security project. Azerbaijan is continuing its sustainable policy together with its partners in the implementation of Shah Deniz-2, TANAP and TAP projects, which are important components of the Southern Gas Corridor. Members of the Southern Gas Corridor project are Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Italy. We are sure that the Balkan countries will join the project in the following stage.
During the reporting year we also focused on the prevention of illegal economic activities in the occupied territories of our country, especially on the prevention of goods produced by available resources in those territories to enter the foreign markets, as well as on the blocking of the transfer of foreign products and services to our occupied territories. In this regard, we investigated the facts discovered from open and other sources and took appropriate measures to prevent it.
How memorable was the last year in terms of the cooperation of Azerbaijan with international organizations and the development of our multilateral diplomacy?
Developing multilateral diplomacy and forming positive agenda within the international organizations is one of the main priorities of foreign policy of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan attaches particular importance to cooperation with the UN and its specialized institutions as a universal international organization and to reforming and increasing the efficiency of UN main bodies such as the Security Council and the General Assembly.
In June this year, Azerbaijan gained the votes of 176 out of 184 countries that participated in voting at the UN General Assembly and was elected a member of the UN Economic and Social Council for 2017-2019. Along with being the central platform for professional discussions about sustainable development, ECOSOC will give us additional opportunities to contribute to international development.
After the UN General Assembly, the Non-Alignment Movement is the largest international platform joined by 120 states. In the final document of the 17th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Alignment Movement held on the Margarita Island of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on 13-18 September, a decision was made to hold the 18th summit in 2019 in Azerbaijan. The 18th summit to be held in Baku in 2019 will have a symbolic nature as well. Thus, the European continent will get an opportunity to host a meeting of the heads of state and government of member states of the Non-Alignment Movement again 30 years after the 1989 Belgrade Summit. In 2019-2022, Azerbaijan will chair the Non-Alignment Movement.
Azerbaijan, for the first time, was elected as a member of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which currently has 192 member states for 2017-2019 during the Twenty-First Session of the Conference of the States Parties (CSP-21) of the OPCW held in the Netherlands, on December 2, 2016. The candidacy of our country got unanimous support of participating States at the Conference.
During the reporting period, Azerbaijan was also elected as a chairman of the Executive Council of the World Tourism Organization.
Azerbaijan hosted the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, which is an important platform for the development of dialogue between cultures and civilizations.
The 6th Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process held in Amritsar, India on 4 December 2016 in final Amritsar Declaration welcomed the willingness of the Republic of Azerbaijan to host the next Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process as a Co-chair in 2017.
The Istanbul Process was founded by the initiative of Turkey at the Ministerial Conference held in Istanbul on November 2, 2011. This Process is an important regional platform for the countries of the Heart of Asia region for discussing the development of cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors in security, political and economic fields and is aimed at promoting stability, peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.
Azerbaijan successfully chaired the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development in 2016. During the chairmanship our country contributed to development of cooperation in economic-trade and transportation fields, as well as implementation of projects in various fields and promotion of interparliamentary relations within the GUAM.
“Flatbread making and sharing culture: Lavash, Katyrma, Jupka, Yufka”, which was appealed to the UNESCO by Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyz Republic with the initiative of Azerbaijan has been officially added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage at the 11th session of the Inter-governmental Committee on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on December 2, 2016. This was a serious response to provocative activities of Armenia within the UNESCO on misappropriation of lavash making traditions.
Azerbaijan also demonstrated activity in other international organizations of which it is a member and made proposals to identify new formats of cooperation. In this regard, we can note the OSCE, the Council of Europe, CIS, the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States, the Economic Cooperation Organization, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization and others.
How do you assess the current status of cooperation and future prospects between Azerbaijan and European Union?
Legal basis of the relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the European Union constitutes the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed on April 22, 1996 and entered into force on July 1, 1999. Within this agreement large-scale cooperation in the fields of political dialogue, human rights, trade, investment, economy, legislation, cultural and other spheres are envisaged. During the last 20 years since the signing of the agreement Azerbaijan has established close and fruitful cooperation with the EU in many areas of mutual interest. Energy dialogue is one of the main directions of cooperation between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the European Union. On November 7, 2006 in the framework of the visit of H.E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan to Brussels a “Memorandum of Understanding on the strategic partnership in energy field between the European Union and the Republic of Azerbaijan” was signed. This document provided the favourable opportunities for further expansion of cooperation in energy field between Azerbaijan and the EU and made substantial contributions to strengthening of the strategic partnership between parties.
There are ample prospects for the development of cooperation in energy security area as in all other fields between Azerbaijan and the EU. On 13 January, 2011, Joint Declaration on Southern Gas Corridor between Azerbaijan and the EU was signed as a result of implementation of Memorandum of Understanding. Azerbaijan will be able to provide Europe with 10 billion cubic meters gas after 2018, 25-30 billion cubic meters gas per year from 2030 by starting this important project which will transport natural gas to European markets. It means that Azerbaijan will contribute to the diversification of Europe's energy supply sources and energy security of Europe for the long term period. Therefore the result oriented actions for the development of the strategic partnership in energy field, which constitute the fundamental basis of Azerbaijan – EU sectoral cooperation was continued. The second meeting of Advisory Board on implementation of Southern Gas Corridor was held on February 29, in Baku. President Ilham Aliyev, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Maros Sefsovic, Vice-President for Energy Union, as well as ministers of energy of the countries participating in the project and other high-level officials attended this event. As an outcome of the meeting Joint Declaration reflecting support to the implementation of Southern Gas Corridor and expansion of the project in the Balkan region (Greece-Bulgaria inter-connector pipeline) was signed.
Azerbaijan is a part of Eastern Partnership initiative of the EU since since 2009. Azerbaijan enjoys close economic and trade relations with the EU. Azerbaijan also remains a main trade partner of the EU in the South Caucasus region and the EU member states are major trade partners of us. They are also among the major investors in Azerbaijan. The strategic partnership ties were established between Azerbaijan and the nine EU member states. Azerbaijan remains interested in the further development of equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with the EU. For that reason submitted to the EU a draft Agreement on strategic partnership between the Republic of Azerbaijan and European Union in the margins of Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga, May 21-22, 2015. Council of European Union has already given a mandate to the EU Commission to launch negotiations with the Republic of Azerbaijan on strategic partnership agreement. We consider that this new document will provide a legal framework to raise the level of bilateral relations to the strategic partnership and ensure comprehensive development of cooperation with the EU. Currently, the delegations for the negotiations are under the formation. From the beginning of 2017 the intensive negotiation will be launched.
In 2015 during his visit to Azerbaijan, Donald Tusk, the President of European Union reiterated EU’s position on supporting the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Azerbaijan. We highly appreciate public statement of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the support of territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan in the joint press conference during her visit to our country in January. In a newly adopted Global Strategy European Union has also identified that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of states, the inviolability of borders are key elements of the European security order. These principles apply to all states, both within and beyond the EU’s borders.
Multiculturalism is one of the most discussed topics. How do you assess Azerbaijan’s role in promotion of multiculturalism at the international level?
Azerbaijan is located on the border of Europe and Asia and has been a place where religions, cultures and civilizations come together for centuries. Azerbaijan is a multi-religious and multinational country. We are not only a geographical bridge between East and West, but also a cultural bridge. The representatives of different religions and cultures have lived in Azerbaijan like one family, in peace and dignity throughout the history. This is our policy and life style. Religious tolerance and multiculturalism has always been present in Azerbaijan. There was no word “multiculturalism”, but ideas were always present in our land. We make our contributions to the development of multiculturalism by organising various international events in our country to this end and play an active role in strengthening of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue. At the same time this year was declared a "Year of multiculturalism" by the President of Azerbaijan in our country. Special Action Plan was prepared for maintaining and spreading of universal ideals of multiculturalism at national and international levels. An international centre of multiculturalism was established in Baku and there is a monument dedicated to multiculturalism. The representatives of different nations and officials of international organisations highly appreciate the policy of multiculturalism carried out in our country. Multiculturalism is the most effective tool to establish political stability in multi-national states. As a multicultural and tolerant country, Azerbaijan has always been commended at the level of heads of state and government. Pope Francis highly appreciated religious tolerance and multicultural values in our country during his visit to Azerbaijan in October this year.
Biennially Baku hosts World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue. In April we hosted the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Baku Declaration was adopted as a result of the forum. In 2008 we initiated the "Baku process" which became a broader platform for the intercultural dialogue. We hosted a meeting of the Ministers of Culture of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Council of Europe as well as World Religious Leaders Summit. In April 2017 Azerbaijan will host the 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue within "Baku process" being held biannually since 2011. All this events serve the formation and recognition of a positive image of Azerbaijan in international arena and at the same time contribute to the fight against discrimination, hostility and violence in the world. By these means we provide the positive image of Azerbaijan to the world and give our support to fostering the understanding and dialogue at the international level.