The Korea News Plus recently had an interview with H.E. Ramzi Teymurov, Azerbaijan Amb. to the Republic of Korea on the occasion of the 2021 Azerbaijan Republic Day which falls on May 28 this year. The following is the full text of the interview. _ ED.
Azerbaijan ambassador talks about partnership with Korea
Q: First of all, how is the more important leading position of Azerbaijan among Caucasus nations than ever in terms of pandemic partnerships, including Azerbaijan’s support to respond such pandemic for regional nations and underprivileged countries?
A: Azerbaijan was among the first countries to mobilize global efforts against COVID-19 pandemic.
Azerbaijan initiated the Summit of the Turkic Council, the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, two international institutions which we are now chairing, and the Special Session of the UN General Assembly at the level of the heads of state and government last year.
These initiatives once again demonstrated our commitment to international solidarity and cooperation.
From the beginning of the pandemic, we are closely working with the World Health Organization (WHO). We have made voluntary contributions to the WHO and provided humanitarian and financial assistance to more than 30 countries related to the pandemic.
We also highly appreciate Korea’s technical and humanitarian support in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic to relevant institutions in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan launched a vaccination campaign on January 18. We are among the first in the region to start vaccination. According to the latest official figures, 20 percent of the 10-million-population of Azerbaijan has already been vaccinated.
I must also bring to your attention that my country condemns the unequal and unfair distribution of vaccines among developing and developed countries. Unfortunately, some countries purchase several times more vaccines vis-à-vis their actual needs.
It is clear that in such circumstances, some countries will face a vaccine shortage.
In this regard, Azerbaijan has also initiated a draft resolution on behalf of the NAM at the UN Human Rights Council on this matter and resolution titled Ensuring equitable, affordable, timely, and universal access by all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, adopted by consensus in March 2021.
Q: In particular, how are Azerbaijan’s export and import with Korea in recent years and its prospect in the years to come?
A: As well known, Azerbaijan is Korea’s main trading partner in the South Caucasus region. Azerbaijan is mostly importing electrical machinery, vehicles, computers, and equipment from Korea.
Meanwhile, the export from Azerbaijan consists of precious metals, juices, bedding items, and others. The world economic situation also highly affected the trade relations between Korea and Azerbaijan.
The bilateral trade volume between Azerbaijan and Korea was $179 million for 2020. We hope the trade volume will increase with the kind efforts of our governments in the years to come.
Q: How can be Azerbaijan’s location explained in terms of its investment advantage for Korean investors who are eager to penetrate into the Central Asian and the Middle East market, compared with other Europe or ASEAN countries bloc, etc.?
A: Azerbaijan’s rich hydrocarbon resources have been attracting attention to its economy, which consequently made the oil and gas sector the main target of foreign investments.
Azerbaijan in its turn directed the oil and gas revenues for the development of the country and has managed to up-build modern communication and transportation infrastructure, as well as industrial, agricultural, service, educational, housing and healthcare sectors.
Azerbaijan inflows focus on the oil and gas sector, although one of the top priorities of the Azerbaijani government is to diversify the country’s economy and attract FDI to agriculture, transportation, and tourism, and information/communication technology.
Over the past years, the government has implemented economic, business and law reforms to integrate the country more fully into the global marketplace, seeking to attract foreign investment, diversify its economy by adopting new regulations and policies.
As the result of reforms “One Window” principle was introduced, many tax incentives applied to stimulate the flow of foreign investments, registration procedures involving several governmental bodies have been eliminated and Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation has been created to support international companies.
The government specifically put the focus on stimulative incentive programs by creating tax-free zones and technological parks where foreign investors can benefit from zero tax opportunities.
At the same time, many state inspections, prior authorization requirements for foreign investment, technology transfer restrictions, foreign exchange restrictions, licensing for currency operations involving the movement of capital, limits on the amount of foreign capital in companies, restrictions on repatriation of profits, and legal limitation on ownership have been stamped out.
In a word, the Azerbaijani government encourages large-scale investments not only in the energy sector but also in infrastructure projects, including the construction of highways, railways, and the development of information technologies and the agricultural sphere.
Of course, this would not be possible without the reforms and other significant efforts made by the government to create a healthy and enabling environment for foreign and local businesses.
Q: From the perspective of Azerbaijan, how is Azerbaijan’s more important role & its responsibility than ever to voice compared with other Central Asian & Middle East countries, with regard to regional issues and pandemic situation, to name just a few, etc.?
A: Situated at the crossroads between East and West and between North and South, Azerbaijan functions as the natural transport corridor.
Current trends and dynamics in Euro-Asian trade and common interests, projects, and areas of greater cooperation between regional states strengthen Azerbaijan’s position as a strategic hub in Central Eurasia.
As mentioned above, multinational projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Southern Gas Corridor gas pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, initiated and mainly supported by Azerbaijan, plays undoubtedly a determining role in the future development of the region.
These projects led and realized successfully so far by Azerbaijan had great results in developing different spheres of the economy of the whole region deriving its advantage of the important strategic-geographical position.
Meanwhile, I have to mention that Armenia had occupied the internationally recognized three territories of Azerbaijan for almost 30 years.
Due to this occupation, Azerbaijan lost control over 20 percent of its territories, and more than a million Azerbaijanis were expelled from their native lands, becoming refugees.
The OSCE Minsk Group was established in 1992 to resolve the conflict, and although it had been working for 28 years, there was no result. On the contrary, steps were taken to freeze the issue.
As a matter of fact, Armenia refused to engage in negotiations, whereas, in previous years, it was at least involved in imitating the talks. Yet, in the last two to three years, they had been saying openly and demonstratively that not an inch of Azerbaijan’s land would be returned to Azerbaijan.
Also, the irresponsible and provocative actions and statements of the Armenian leaders rendered the talks meaningless. Finally, in late September 2020, our military positions and residential areas came under artillery fire, and several of our servicemen and civilians were killed.
Naturally, Azerbaijan responded befittingly, conducted a counter-offensive and punished the enemy. The 44-day Karabakh war resulted in a complete victory for Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan regained its territorial integrity; more than 300 towns and villages were liberated on the battlefield. Our historic city of Shusha was rid of the invaders on November 8, and Armenia was forced to sign an act of capitulation.
On November 10, 2020, the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia and Armenia’s prime minister signed a statement. Based on this statement, our other districts were returned to Azerbaijan through political means.
And of course, the recent liberation of our territories and restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity will stimulate business and different sectors of our economy, creating new jobs, new opportunities, and additional values.
Q: How are Korean enterprises which spearhead Korea-Azerbaijan industry cooperation in the Azerbaijan soil in consideration of mutual cooperation areas or how are the prospect for the mutual cooperation in the areas of infra construction, new startup or R&D cooperation, to name just a few?
A: Azerbaijan and Korea have strong mutual economic and business relations, and those relations have achieved a larger scope and a higher level in recent years between our two countries, and pleasingly, an increasing number of Korean public and private companies get involved in several projects in the Republic of Azerbaijan.
I would like to highlight some of them that particularly stand out.
First of all, it should be mentioned that Samsung Engineering has been a general contractor of the Sumgait carbamide plant of Azerbaijan’s energy major SOCAR.
The total cost of the project is 750 million euros. The foundation of the plant was laid in 2011 by H.E. Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Besides, Heerim Architects & Planners Company has provided design, construction, and management services to “Baku Olympic Stadium”, a multi-purpose sporting complex accommodating 68,000 spectators located in the capital city Baku of Azerbaijan.
Moreover, Halla Engineering & Construction has won a project to build a $120 million new office tower for Azersu, Azerbaijan’s national water operator in 2013. The 20-story building is located in downtown Baku.
By the way, the construction site was visited by Chung Hong-won, then Prime Minister of Korea, during his official visit to Azerbaijan.
Furthermore, Securo Company has done the design and construction work of the Aquatic Palace in Baku. The palace, which covers a total area of 46,000 square meters, was built in accordance with the latest standards. The same company designed and actively took part in the reconstruction of the Republic Stadium of Azerbaijan named after Tofig Bahramov as well.
Another Korean company, Straffic is involved in the establishment of a comprehensive traffic management system such as a traffic management CCTV, an overloaded vehicle management system, and a traffic control center on highways in Azerbaijan.
Q: What are the perspectives of bilateral relations between Korea and Azerbaijan?
A: Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Korea in 1992, our cooperation has been actively developed. During this period, many state and government officials paid reciprocal visits.
At present, our relations are at a mature level. Naturally, the mutual visits of the Azerbaijani and Korean presidents played an important role in raising our relations to this level.
A number of important agreements were signed during these visits. In addition, Azerbaijan and Korea regularly hold meetings of the joint intergovernmental economic commission and political consultations between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
As a result of all these contacts and close cooperation, we are going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries in 2022.
However, given the existing potential of bilateral cooperation, we should not be satisfied with the achievements we have made so far. We must work together to deepen our cooperation.
I am confident that the relations between Azerbaijan and Korea, built on solid foundations of the historical, cultural and linguistic similarities of our peoples, will further develop and bring us closer together, despite the long geographical distance between our countries.
Q: Please elaborate on the tourism destinations for Your Excellency to recommend in Azerbaijan.
A: Azerbaijan is one of the ancient countries in the world. The history of Azerbaijan plays a major role in our culture and tourism. Since Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and consequently achieved rapid economic growth, the country has also geared at becoming a major tourist center.
Also with time, new construction projects along with improved technology are coming together to provide a wonderful blend of contemporary services & entertainment with classic Azerbaijani culture & history.
In 2019 alone, more than 9,000 Korean citizens visited Azerbaijan, and we are expecting the above-mentioned number will be doubled in the years to come.
During the last couple of years, with our Embassy’s support, specialized filming teams of Korea’s KBS and EBS TV channels have visited Azerbaijan several times, preparing and airing good-quality Azerbaijan programs that covered the cultural and historical monuments as well as tourist attractions.
Today, the rich historical, cultural and natural heritage of our country attracts visitors from all over the world. Untouched nature, mineral springs, the world’s only oil bath treatment – naphthalene, a unique ancient architecture, unique culture, cuisine, and more contribute to the formation of all types of tourism in Azerbaijan: business, sports, medical, cognitive, hunting, exotic, beach and gastronomic.
Azerbaijan is a territory of nine out of 11 of the world’s climatic zones. The climate of our country enables us to organize the summer as well as winter festivals.
Very common are ecological tours to Azerbaijan, which include visits to nature reservations, trekking, and climbing routes. When it comes to Azerbaijan’s tourist attractions, first of all, I would like to touch upon the Old City or Inner City historical core of Baku.
With a population of about 3,000 people, the Old City of Baku, including the Maiden Tower and Palace of the Shirvanshahs, has become the first location in Azerbaijan since 2000 to be classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Old City once used to be the main gate of the city. Now Baku is divided into two sections, Ichari Shahar (Inner city) and Bayir Shahar (outer city).
The Inner City was the main part, though. The Maiden Tower is also known locally as Giz Galasi, located in the Old City, Baku, was built in the 12th century as part of the walled city.
Together with the Shirvanshahs’ Palace, dated to the 15th century, it forms an ensemble of historic monuments inscribed in 2001 under the UNESCO World Heritage List of Historical Monuments as cultural property.
It is one of Azerbaijan’s most distinctive national emblems and is thus featured on Azerbaijani currency notes and official letterheads. The Palace of the Shirvanshahs is a 15th-century palace built by the Shirvanshahs and described by UNESCO as “one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture”.
It is located in the Inner City of Baku. The complex contains the main building of the palace, Divanhane, the burial vaults, the shah’s mosque with a minaret, Seyid YahyaBakuvi’s mausoleum, a portal in the east, Murad’s gate, a reservoir, and the remnants of a bathhouse.
I also would like to inform you about one of the symbols of modern Baku which is Heydar Aliyev Center, awarded as the “Design of the Year” in 2014.
The center includes an auditorium, museum, exhibition halls, and administrative offices. The center was designed by the renowned architect Zaha Hadid and named after the National Leader of Azerbaijani people H.E. Heydar Aliyev.
Heydar Aliyev Center is a building with curves. There is no column in the building. It is flowing and has mainly three distinctively different pieces under one roof. First is the conference hall or auditorium, second is a gallery hall, and third is a museum.
You can simply follow from one part to the other from inside the center, enjoying each section of it. Azerbaijan is also known as a “Land of Fire”. The Baku Ateshgah, often called the “Fire Temple of Baku,” is a castle-like religious temple in Surakhani, a suburb of Baku.
Based on Indian and Persian inscriptions, the temple was used as a Hindu and Zoroastrian place of worship. It was abandoned after 1883 when oil and gas plants were established in the vicinity, ending the flow of natural gas to the temple and extinguishing the holy fire.
The complex was turned into a museum in 1975. The Temple of Fire “Ateshgah” was nominated for a List of World Heritage Sites, UNESCO, in 1998. Burning Mountains, or “Yanar Dag,” is a natural gas fire that blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea 25 kilometers northeast of the Baku city.
The flames from the Yanardag jet out at least 3 meters into the air from a thin porous sandstone layer. The atmosphere is filled with the smell of gas as the fire never extinguishes.
This is the nature of this burning mountain. The reason given for the continuous eruption of flames is that hydrocarbon gases are emanating from below the earth’s surface, which causes fire.
From the sides, Yanardag offers a spectacular view for the spectators, especially at night. Azerbaijan also is well-known for its mud volcanoes. These volcanoes spread throughout Azerbaijan, and the biggest of these volcanoes in Azerbaijan got their name in the Guinness World Records in 2004.
Gobustan State Reserve is very rich in archeological monuments; the reserve has more than 6,000 rock carvings, which depict people, animals, battle-pieces, ritual dances, bullfights, boats with armed oarsmen, warriors with lances in their hands, camel caravans, pictures of sun and stars, on the average dating back to 5,000-20,000 years.
The UNESCO World Legacy Committee included Gobustan to the World Social Legacy List in 2007. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, during its 43rd session, held in Baku, Azerbaijan from June 30 – July 10, 2019, confirmed the inscription of the historic city of Sheki in Azerbaijan on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, as an important city along the historic Silk Roads.
Sheki’s historic center, rebuilt after the destruction of an earlier town by mudflows in the 18th century, is characterized by a traditional architectural ensemble of houses with high gabled roofs.
The structure of the Khan’s Palace combines red brick with red cobblestone and does not contain a single nail. The facade of the palace, facing the South, has a lattice frame with a set of colorful traditional mosaics – shabaka.
The historic center, with the main shopping street, public buildings, bathhouses, shops, and workshops of craftsmen, silk production factories, cooperatives, and individual residential houses, has retained a historic townscape of high quality and authenticity.
In the northern part of the city sit the ruins of the once impregnable fortress “Galarsan-Gorarsan” (“Come and See”) dating from the 15th-18th centuries. Furthermore, the Upper and Lower Caravanserais built in the 18th century add to the city’s Silk Way flavor.