Trend News interview with Program Director at the Azerbaijan Diplomacy Academy Fariz Ismayilzade Trend News Agency: To what extent do you regard successful the recent conference in Washington from the aspect of informing the international community about the Azerbaijani truth? What issues were of greater interest among the participants?
Fariz Ismayilzade: Well, the conference in Washington was organized at the Heritage Foundation. It is one of the biggest and the most respected think tanks in Washington. The Heritage Foundation organized the conference on the topic of ‘U.S. foreign policy in South Caucasus – Recommendations for President Obama’.
In that respect the participation in this conference, of course, was very important for Azerbaijan. Because it was a chance to tell about the previous achievements and give some recommendations for the U.S. future policy.
In my speech I talked about Azerbaijan as a reliable energy partner for Europe and the United States. I talked about successful projects: the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines. I talked about fighting against terrorism – how Azerbaijan is helping the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. Of course, other discussions were about Turkish-U.S. relations, how the newly-elected President Barack Obama will support the so-called Armenian genocide, and how that might affect Turkish-U.S. relations. The gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine was paid a lot attention and how that might impact Nabucco pipeline – it was big focus of the conference.
The Iranian-U.S. relations, in general the U.S. policy towards the Muslim world, were also discussed. A lot attention was paid to local conflicts – Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Because of the Georgian- Russian conflict, the United States is concerned on these frozen conflicts and the participants of the conference talked a lot about how these conflicts might be resolved. So, some recommendations were given to the new administration – such as to pay attention to local conflicts and to try to cooperate with Russia to solve this conflict, to improve relations with Iran, to work with European Union to build the pipelines – because the pipelines are not easy to build if you don’t invest money and if you don’t invest political influence, to persuade Turkey not to be obstacle on the transit issue for Azerbaijani gas. A number of recommendations were given and I think the conference was very important, because the Obama administration is new in the office and they had a chance to learn about the South Caucasus and this region which I am sure the new administration still doesn’t know much about. They are trying to increase their knowledge. So, in that respect the conference, of course, was very successful.
Q: Azerbaijan is regarded as one of the key players in ensuring the European energy security. What role could Azerbaijan take in diversification of energy supplies to Europe?
A: In terms of energy security of Europe, everyone was interested in energy, because only two weeks ago the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis took place. Most of the questions were about Nabucco. Just coincidentally on the same day President Ilham Aliyev was in Hungary and he was speaking on Nabucco conference. Of course, everyone was interested to know whether Azerbaijan is planning to participate in Nabucco, and I told the participants of the conference that Azerbaijan might participate in Nabucco, might consider Nabucco. But other players must also be active – such as Turkmenistan, Turkey, and the European Union. They must all help to realize this project. Azerbaijan generally has proven itself as a reliable partner with oil and gas pipelines and Azerbaijan has never changed its contracts like the other countries in the region have done. So, in that respect Azerbaijan’s role is going to grow in the future. The European Union is going to consider Azerbaijan not only as the source of energy, but also as a transit of energy from Central Asia. In that respect I think the EU-Azerbaijan relations are going to grow and the United States understand it. I think the U.S. administration will help to make Azerbaijan and Georgia the strong partners for the United States and EU.
Q: Was the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh discussed during the conference? How could the United States contribute in the solution of this conflict?
A: Well, of course, the recent Georgian-Russian conflict has raised a lot concerns in Washington and now everyone in Washington is convinced that frozen conflicts are obstacle to the regional security, obstacle to the regional peace and stability and everything must be done to resolve them. It’s not easy to resolve these frozen conflicts. As you know, a lot of geopolitical interests are involved. That’s why the conference recommended the United States to work with Russia very closely to resolve these conflicts. Without Russia, without Russia’s assistance the regional conflicts cannot be resolved. There were the representatives of Armenia there, including the deputy chief of mission. He accused Azerbaijan of preparations for war. He accused Azerbaijan of increasing military budget. He said that military budget of Azerbaijan is exceeding already $2 billion, for which I replied that, “of course, Azerbaijan is strengthening its army and it’s natural.” We are preparing for defense and we are preparing for the liberation of our occupied territory, but war is not our preferred option. War would be our last option, last resort. Our preferred option is, of course, peaceful settlement of the conflict. The fact that for 15 years Azerbaijan has been engaged in peaceful negotiations shows that Azerbaijan is committed to peaceful process but at the same time the whole international community supports the position of Azerbaijan, they recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as the part of Azerbaijan and March 14 UN General Assembly resolution proves that one more time. It shows that Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is not under question. Of course, there were polemics and disputes between Armenian representatives and other participants. In fact he [Armenian representative] even accused professor Frederick Star, the director of Central Asia-Caucasus institute at John Hopkins university. He accused Mr. Star of supporting Azerbaijan’s position, because the professor used the word ‘occupation’ and Armenians of course reacted very angrily and said that this is not occupation – this is the liberation of their territories. Generally, of course, the conference was a helpful discussion to understand the causes of the conflict and Azerbaijan openly said that if Armenia withdraws troops from the occupied territory, then there will be the possibility for economical cooperation, for trade and for prosperity. So, I think it was useful for the Obama administration to understand the root of the conflict and to understand how it can be resolved in the future.
Q: Could you please speak about the current action plan of the Academy? What projects does the Academy plan to carry out in future?
A: As you know, the Azerbaijan Diplomacy Academy is a new school. It was opened two years ago, nevertheless we have big ambitious plans ahead. We have currently announced first admission for the master degree program. This master degree program will be very unique in Azerbaijan. All classes will be held in English language. Professors will be coming from European countries and from the United States. We are planning to prepare diplomats and specialists in foreign affairs from a new prospective, from a new mentality – not somebody who learns from lectures or from notes, but somebody who learns from public speaking, case studies, from discussions, from interactive teaching. So, our classes will be very unique and [up to] western standards we also have currently training programs for the diplomats, for the new recruits of the foreign ministry. They [diplomats] are passing six-month training program and they must pass this program in order to be employed in the foreign ministry. We are trying to teach our diplomats to be effective public speakers, to be effective presenters, not to memorize but to be able to critically think and to be able to analytically discuss. So, this is a new mentality, a new type of education in Azerbaijan. We are also building our campus. This will be a very modern American-style campus, which was designed by American architects, and I hope that this school will help our diplomats to be better prepared for the 21st century, better prepared for the challenges and for the global trends – not to be reactive but to be proactive.
The Azerbaijan Diplomacy Academy has also a number of other projects, including TV program ADA Majlis, research center, publications. And we will continue our work in this direction. /Trend/