“Azerbaijan is the pearl of Caucasus for me"
He comes across as an interesting person at first glance. He has no trouble communicating. His frequent use of Azerbaijani words and open admiration for our country makes him look very sincere. The meeting with the next guest of the "Ambassador speaks” project - Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Mexican State to Azerbaijan Juan Rodrigo Labardini, went down as a very interesting day in the history of "Kaspi”.
Tourism for the whole world
- You held a meeting with the local travel agencies recently and informed them about the tourism opportunities in Mexico. The tourism potential of your country is, no doubt, very interesting for people who have not been to Mexico. By the way, what can you tell us about the "Magical towns” ("Pueblo Mágico”) programme?
- It’s true, I met with the representatives of the tourism companies in Azerbaijan last week and talked about the tourism potential of Mexico. In the last few years, Mexican economy has developed a lot. One of the main directions of the development is the tourism sector. Tourism accounts for 9% of the GDP of our country. Our GDP is 1.3 trillion dollars. This is close to the GDP of Russia. Mexico offers many locations for tourists such as beaches, pyramids, colonial monuments, precolonial historical sites, etc. We also offer delicious Mexican food. As a result, Mexico is currently the 8th most visited country in the world. Around 35 million tourists visited Mexico last year. This year, the number of tourists visiting Mexico is expected to reach 37 millions. 86% of the tourists want to return to Mexico. Mexico has beaches that cover an area of 11 thousand kilometers. Variety is what draws tourists to Mexico. You can see both modern and colonial as well as ancient historical sites in Mexico. Oftentimes when an excavation is underway to build subway lines, pyramids are discovered. It’s still the case. There are more than 200 thousand archaeological sites in Mexico. One of the most attractive aspects of Mexico, as I mentioned earlier, is its delights. Mexico’s Aztec cuisine has been included in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO. Azerbaijanis get to know a new culture when they visit Mexico. They can contrast our two countries and learn about our differences. I’ve always said: we perceive reality through culture and gifts that the nature has granted us. As for "Magical villages”, each town offers something unique to the visitors. In one "magical town”, tourists may come across monuments dating back to colonial as well as precolonial periods. In these places where interesting festivals are held, visitors may tour the areas surrounded by beaches and see many cultural riches. There are 111 "Magical villages” in our country. These villages play an integral role in Mexican tourism. 2 million Mexican families profit from this area of tourism. I’m talking about the "Magical towns” programme. Overall, more than 4 million people visit these villages every year and this sphere of tourism generates a revenue of 6 billion peso (or around 330 million USD) annually. "Magical villages” are not only in the South or North, they are all over the country. People who live far from modern technology live and specialize in agriculture in some of these villages. When we visit those places, we escape from these technologies that have invaded our daily lives. Mexico city is also called "Magical town”. We see the unity of born modernism and antiquity in this city: castles, pyramids, delicious food, monuments...
- You always note the similarities between our cuisines. Do you think we would discover deeper roots of our historical closeness, if we study it further?
- I agree with you... I mentioned the cuisine because food is one of the most important parts of our lives. Both you and us can’t live without delicious food. When I first came to Baku two years ago, I saw "terkhun” (tarragon). We call it "estragon”. You made a refreshing drink, lemonade from it. But we use it as spice. I saw "pərpətöyün” (purslane) in "Yashil bazar” ("Green market”), we call that "verdolagas”. We mainly use its leaves to make hot lunch whereas you use its trunk to make cold snacks. We can present the delights known to Azerbaijanis in Mexico in a somewhat different fashion. We witness that two nations are closer to each other based on such similarities. We attended dolma and jam festivals held in Khachmaz and Gabala. We introduced a dish called "tamal” to Azerbaijanis in dolma festival. This dish is made of dough, which is stuffed into a corn husk or banana leaf. Festival goers were curious about this dish and thought it was "dolma”. The jam festival in Gabala was also very interesting for us. I made 6 types of jam. I made Mexican jams from vegetables and fruits I bought in Azerbaijan. I put Chili pepper in it too. We use chili peppers in many baked desserts. I used red and green chili peppers. We offered watermelon, apple and chili pepper jams to the visitors. They hesitated to taste the chili jam at first. Then they realized that the jam was sweet. We want to introduce these dishes to the Azerbaijani public. Granted, they are somewhat spicy but they have become completely normal for us. We became certain that we could make delicious Mexican food using local Azerbaijani products. We are used to eating all greens as salad. For the first time in Azerbaijan, I saw the whole vegetables on the tables. At first, I thought it was for decoration. Then, I saw everyone around the table were eating those vegetables. When I am back in Mexico, I offer greens and other vegetables to my friends as a whole.
Over 1800 scholarship programs for foreigners
- Mister ambassador, in one of your interviews, you stated that there were universities in Mexico that wanted to cooperate with Azerbaijan and said "It’s possible to do student and professor exchanges”. Has any step been taken in this direction? Are there any scholarship programs for Azerbaijani students?
- There is already some closeness between Azerbaijani and Mexican universities. Mexican Anahuac del Sur university is already in contact with 6 universities in Azerbaijan. A Center For Studying Middle East and Caucasus region has been established within the university in January of this year. The university is currently in the process of signing cooperation agreements with Azerbaijani universities. They have already signed an agreement. Azerbaijan Tourism and Management University has already drawn the attention of several universities in Mexico. I can name other universities such as ADA university, State Economics University, Baku State University. We are helping establish partnership between Mexican universities and these universities. Mexico has scholarship programs for Azerbaijani students. An Azerbaijani student is already styduing Medicine in Mexico. These scholarship are granted through certain system. The student should apply to the university and get a confirmation from them and later apply for scholarship. Then they have to contact a corresbonding body called National Council for Science and Technology. There’s another system where the student receive the scholarship first and later apply to the universities. There are more students getting into the universities using the first system. There are currently more than 1800 scholarship programs for foreign citizens in Mexico. We teach a class called "Marine sciences” in Mexico that is not often taught in other countries, in addition to economics and medicine. These scholarships are granted for Master’s and PhD students. For Bachelor degree, the students should, first, contact the university and receive information about opportunities the university provide (email@example.com). National Autonomous University of Mexico is one of the biggest education centers in the world. 350 thousand students study in the university that has a staff of 50 thousand professors. This is a massive university. I should note that, our embassy already receives calls from people wishing to study Master’s degree program in Mexico. We try to direct them to appropriate educational institutions.
- Economy, naturally, plays a big role in the relations between the two countries. How do you assess the economic ties between Azerbaijan and Mexico? What are the future plans?
- There has been some progress in the bilateral relations. Mutual trade, tourism partnership have tripled since 2015. The average annual volume of bilateral trade was 1.5 million dollars during 1993-2015. According to the stats presented by the Azerbaijani side, the volume of bilateral trade was 22 million dollars in 2015. The figure was somewhat the same for the year 2016 as well. The important thing is, the annual volume has gone up. Mexican international trade turnover is over 800 billion dollars. A trade transaction worth 1.5 million dollars is carried out every minute.
As for political relations, we are working on agreements between our countries. We are in the final process of preparing several agreements. The main thing is, there has been a rapprochement between our countries, we are aware of each other. And our relations does not only consist of that. We view each other as partners.
We organized an exhibition in 2015 to develop cultural ties between two countries. This exhibition was not only for Baku. I’m the ambassador for the whole Azerbaijan. Thus, we introduced those works of art in Ganja, Mingechevir, Shamakhi and Gabala too. We held the opening ceremony of the "The Reconstruction of the Being” exhibition by famous Mexican sculptor Jorge Marin at the Heydar Aliyev Center in October, 2016. 10 works of sculpture art were presented as part of the exhibition, and each sculpture weighted more than 3.5 tons and stood 2 meters high. The exhibition was supposed to run until the end of March. But given the overwhelming interest, it lasted till September 15. In addition, we hold a festival of Mexican films in Azerbaijan. To introduce "Mariachi” music expression is also among our cultural events.
Conflict that has been dragging on
- Mister ambassador, you called Mexico as one of the centers of the world civilization. Incidentally, Azerbaijan is among this countries, too. For example, Azokh Cave in Shamakhi dates back 350-400 thousand years. Unfortunately, the territory where the cave is located is under Armenian occupation. In this context, we would like to know what you think about the settlement of Azerbaijan- Armenia conflict.
- Mexico is on the side of the international law. We are in favor of executing the 4 UN Security Council resolutions on the conflict. Personally, I think the conflict has been going on for far too long. We wish that the conflict will soon be settled peacefully. I would want the conflict to be resolved within the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and internationally recognized borders of the countries.
Meeting with Gods
- There are ancient cities in all countries in the world. Icherisheher is the ancient city of Baku. It’s in the list of UNESCO Cultural Heritage. Have you walked in the narrow streets of Icerisheher? Have you tasted the "tendir” bread and drank from "samovar” tea?
- I came to Azerbaijan two years ago. I began discovering Azerbaijan gradually through countrywide trips. Azerbaijan is the pearl of Caucasus for me. Yes, I’ve been to Icherisheher, I’ve seen the Palace of the Shirvanshahs. Icherisheher is an enigmatic place. There are many locations that Azerbaijan may offer the visitors: Altiaghac, Shamakhi, Sumgayit, gabala, Sheki, Lenkeran, Mingechevir, Qagh, Ganja, Guba, Gusar... I went to Ilisu which is 15 minutes from Gabala. If you haven’t been there already, you should definitely visit. You climb a mountain for 15 minutes, there is an old and half-destroyed fortress there. You can see the plains over the mountains and feel like you are in direct contact with the nature. That place is, as if, a meeting place with Gods for me. Ilisu is an enchanting place. I also liked Gobustan very much. After Gobustan, I took a 15 minute ride to the area where mud volcanoes are. I felt as if I was in another planet there. Do you know, when we see these beauties and richness and we don’t pay attention to them. For instance, I feel like a tourist in Mexico city when I go back to Mexico and watch the monuments belonging to the colonial era in awe.
Reading, writing and photography...
- Language is a process of thought. Each language is a new form of thought. When several countries speak in the same language, does it restrict the diverse forms of thinking?
- To understand a nation, you have to start with their language. Despite the fact that many nations use Spanish as their native language, every of one these nations have their own uniqueness. There are many dialects and we don’t lose our unique qualities. Grammar systems within the languages can also differ. The language we speak makes it possible for us to recognize other languages. When it comes to biological characteristics, learning languages is very beneficial for humans. The Alzheimer risk is lower for people who speak several languages.
- Nobel prize winners were announced recently. Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Does Mexico have ambitions of winning this award again?
- Mexican authors have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Famous poet Octavio Paz Lozano won the award in 1990. Mexican diplomat Alfonso García Robles was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982. There are Mexican Nobel lauerates in chemistry and physics such as Mario J. Molina, who currently live in the USA. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is originally from Columbia, lived in Mexico for a very long time. Just like you, the history of our literature goes back centuries. Love and drama are among the most explored themes in our literature. You have "Leyli and Mejnun”, "Ali and Nino”. We have "Just Maria”, "The rich also cry” that are widely popular. You have prominent poets such as Nizami. We have people like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Literature is a means of passing the peoples’ culture and history on to other people. There are Mexican authors that have been translated into the Azerbaijani language.
- The 1986 world cup hosted in Mexico is still fresh in peoples’ minds. The next FIFA World Cup will be held in the neighboring country of Russia. Mexican team has already qualified to compete in the championship. We’d like to know what you think about football. Will you go to Russia to support your national team?
- Mexico hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1970 and 1986. I expect from the Mexican team next year the best result they can get. Of course, I would want them to be the champions. I would even want them to play against Azerbaijan in the finals. If this is how it goes, then I will definitely go to Russia to watch the games. I’m generally very fond of sports.
- Mister ambassador, what is your hobby? How do you spend your free time?
- I do sports. I enjoy swimming and playing football. I broke my leg while playing football 4 months ago. I try to walk a kilometer every day. I believe that I will start running again in two weeks. After breaking my leg, I took a break from walking. One of my main hobbies is literature – reading and writing. One of my books have already been translated into Azerbaijani. I’ve written a story entitled "Non-existence”. You can call it poetic prose, too. I also like taking professional photos.