Azerbaijan and the United Kingdom

An interview with H.E. Mr. Fakhraddin Gurbanov
Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United Kingdom

March 5, 2010
Baku, Azerbaijan / London, UK

Azerbaijan in the World:  What do you see as the central core of relations between Azerbaijan and the UK?
Ambassador Gurbanov:  Relations between Azerbaijan and the United Kingdom include a vast spectrum of issues from bilateral political ties to cultural and educational links.  Cooperation in these areas rests on a solid foundation and is likely to further deepen in the future.  But I regard energy cooperation between our two countries as being at the core of our ties, given that Britain has been a leader in helping to develop Azerbaijan’s energy resources since the mid-1990s and that UK-based companies have since then established strong presence in, and invested heavily in, our country’s energy sector.  On the basis of success in that area, our ties are now broadening and deepening in many different dimensions.  

AIW:  How have Azerbaijani-British relations evolved in the post-Soviet era and how would you describe their current status? 
Amb. Gurbanov:  Initially, after Azerbaijan regained its independence, the ties between our countries were mainly focused on creating and extending energy cooperation and on developing the regional energy export infrastructure.  Indeed, nearly all British companies which set up their presence in Azerbaijan during those days were in one way or the other linked to the energy sector.  Now, our relations have expanded across the spectrum, and I take pleasure in noting that there are frequent high-level contacts and bilateral visits.  President Ilham Aliyev’s official visit to London last July, in particular, has moved our relations to a new level.  

AIW:  What is the state of energy cooperation between Azerbaijan and the UK? 

Amb. Gurbanov:  UK energy companies led by BP have played a crucial role in bringing the energy infrastructure in our country up to the state of the art as exemplified in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipelines.  Today, there are around 5000 British citizens working in Azerbaijan, most of them in the energy sector.  Britain has been and remains the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan’s hydrocarbon sector and accounts for more than half of foreign direct investment in our country.  In recent years, we have expanded cooperation in this area by joint agreements to exploit offshore oil and gas reserves.  Among the most important was the accord signed between SOCAR and BP in the presence of President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London, in July of last year.   

AIW:  What are the main components of trade and areas of cooperation between Azerbaijan and the UK, apart from energy?
Amb. Gurbanov:  Our two countries are seeking to expand our cooperation beyond the energy sector.  Indeed, that goal lies behind the foundation of the UK-Azerbaijan Business Council, which brings together both UK- and Azerbaijan-based companies.  This group has organized two trade missions to Azerbaijan over the last few months, and we are seeing the fruits of that effort as British investments increase in Azerbaijan’s finance, insurance, agriculture, and consultancy services sectors, among others.  Indeed, one of the priorities that the Business Council has set for itself is to promote Azerbaijani investment in the UK.  I see a great potential for cooperation in tourism, renewable and green energy, and banking, and we will do everything we can to promote that.  
AIW:  What is the state of bilateral cultural and social cooperation?

Amb. Gurbanov:  Culture and public diplomacy play a key role in bridging gaps between peoples and supporting diplomatic work.  Cultural and public diplomacy have often proved a more effective foreign policy tool as compared to conventional diplomatic practices.  With that in mind, we have sought to establish strong people-to-people relations between Azerbaijan and Britain.  Our embassy has helped to organize a vast array of cultural events, exhibitions, and concerts featuring Azerbaijani artists.  We have strong ties with the well-established Azerbaijani communities in London and other cities.  The Azerbaijan House – a culture, community, friendship and resource center in London – is crucial in supporting us in our efforts to raise awareness among the British of our culture and uphold the sense of belonging of the Azerbaijani community in Britain.  And British universities are one of the most favored destinations for Azerbaijanis studying abroad.  In 2009 alone, more than 90 Azerbaijani students enrolled in British universities at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  

Meanwhile, British public diplomacy has established a strong presence in Azerbaijan, in large measure through the British Council.  Cultural diplomacy is actually one of the areas in which we are trying to share experience with, and learn from, each other.  Several study tours to the UK have been organized to that effect over the last few years.   
AIW:  Given your experience, what advice would you give young Azerbaijanis beginning their careers in diplomacy?   

Amb. Gurbanov:  In addition to the obvious requirements of language skills and knowledge of the rules of diplomatic life, Azerbaijanis entering diplomatic work need to acquire a broad knowledge of the world and its rapidly changing nature.  Personally, I see both economic and cultural issues becoming the defining elements shaping the future of global affairs.  Moreover, young diplomats need to know more about and appreciate the impact of the global communications revolution.  Underlying all of this, of course, must be a feeling of devotion to your country, patience and determination in upholding the interests of your country, and a sense of pride in representing it.  Azerbaijanis have these things, and I hope they will always bring them to diplomatic work.