Vol. 4, No. 9 (May 01, 2011)

Hungary and Azerbaijan: Toward genuine partnership

Vilayat Guliyev, Amb.
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary 
Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Republic of Hungary 

More than almost any other people in Eastern Europe, Hungarians see themselves as having special ties with Azerbaijan and the Turkic world, ties that reflect a distant but common origin of the two peoples in the Hunnic migration.  While that sense has always existed among Hungarians, it has grown stronger in the post-communist era.  And that provides a firm basis for the development of ties between Budapest and Baku.

Because of their language, Hungarians have always viewed themselves as a Finno-Ugric people.  But in recent years, scholars, officials and ordinary citizens have been ever more inclined to stress that their ancestors, the Huns, have a Turkic origin.  That sense of an ancient linkage has fostered growing interest in Azerbaijan and other Turkic countries, an interest that not only has generated special sympathies for Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis but also promoted the sense of commonality that can and in this case has helped produce agreements on many key political and economic issues of today.

The current Hungarian government has declared that it considers the development of ties with Azerbaijan and other Turkic countries to be an important direction of its foreign policy.  Hungarian leaders have repeatedly made clear that Budapest recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the inviolability of its borders and supports the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the basis of the four UN Security Council resolutions, positions completely in accord with those of Azerbaijan and that were reflected in the joint Hungary-Azerbaijan declaration when President Ilham Aliyev visited Budapest in February 2009.

This position reflects Hungary’s own experience.  During the 20th century, it lost a large part of its national territory, and the Hungarians who found themselves on the territories of neighboring states often have encountered real difficulties.  Consequently, Hungarians understand what Azerbaijanis are experiencing now.

Moreover, the Hungarian parliament is currently working on a draft resolution concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Its primary author, deputy Marton Dendes, is both the president of the Azerbaijani-Hungarian Friendship Group and a leader of the Yobbik, For a Better Hungary Party.  The draft is to be taken up soon by the parliament’s international relations committee.  Armenian groups are already gearing up what opposition they can to the measure, but coverage in the Budapest media suggests that there is widespread support for this move.

Despite this sense of cultural community and agreement on the key Karabakh issue, Hungary and Azerbaijan have not yet developed their economic ties to the extent that both clearly hope.  And the positive trends which have been observed in recent years in this sector have still been relatively small.  Most of the trade remains concentrated in the agricultural and pharmaceutical sectors, but there has been some expansion in the electromechanical area as well, and both sides hope that tourism, now a relatively small part of relations between the two countries, will finally take off.

To promote investment, a group of Hungarian firms last year created Azerinvest, an umbrella group which seeks to promote Hungarian investment in Azerbaijan.  That group works closely with the inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation chaired by Azerbaijan’s economic development minister Shahin Mustafayev and Hungary’s state secretary for national economics, Rosa Nad.  The first meeting of this body took place in February 2010.

In the future, Hungary may become a major consumer of Azerbaijani petrochemicals, especially if the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania Interconnector (AGRI) pipeline is converted.  Budapest at the official level supports the development of this project, but its future depends on European Union financing and support.  In February, Hungary signed a protocol with the AGRI countries underscoring Budapest’s interest in working together to ensure this pipeline system is completed in a timely fashion.

Because of their sense of cultural commonality, Azerbaijan and Hungary have been especially active in the humanitarian sphere.  The Azerbaijani embassy in Budapest has published more than 30 books in Hungarian concerning the Karabakh conflict, history, and the most important literary monuments of Azerbaijani history.  Many of these publications have been sent to public libraries and universities throughout Hungary. 

Moreover, over the last five years, the Azerbaijani embassy in Budapest, working with the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences and the State Committee for Work with the Diaspora has organized an annual conference on Azerbaijani-Hungarian cultural dialogue.  What has been striking is that some of the most interesting presentations about Azerbaijani history and culture have been made by Hungarian scholars, one more indication of the closeness of the two peoples.  These academic sessions have been accompanied by mugam concerts, symphony presentations and similar events, and there have been many more informal exchanges as a result of the sizeable number of Azerbaijani students now in Hungarian universities.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Hungary, and both sides are planning a variety of events for this occasion.  These will culminate in a special international conference in November.  But in reality, the relations between the two peoples, each of whom can trace their ancestry back to the Huns, is vastly older than 20 years, something the anniversary celebrations will note and something that gives hope for the further positive development of Azerbaijani-Hungarian relations.