- Mr. Ambassador, IMAGINE festival was held in Baku and Ganja last month with the support of the European Union. What was the contribution of the Dutch Embassy in our country to this event?
-We supported the festival by screening a film called "Love is Potatoes”. This is a very moving film by a Dutch filmmaker who has Russian roots. Ho goes back to the region and explains the famine which happened more than forty years ago and how it affected the life of people. So this is in the frame of this festival to point the situation which is not very well known, but which connects the Netherlands with Russia, and which shows the importance of family ties which can help people to overcome different situations. So, it is meant to be inspirational for people who find themselves in comparable situations, who have maybe problematic situation themselves or within the family. So, we believe that this film festival should concentrate movies that really show in an artistic way, the realities of everyday life and the problem of people in country, show to people who find themselves in problems that you are not alone, so that people might get support from that.
- The Dutch Embassy organized a photo exhibition"Cultural Diversity in Azerbaijan" two weeks ago. There were interesting paintings about the Azerbaijani people’s life. How interesting is Azerbaijan in the eyes of the Netherlands?
- I think that it is a country which is interesting, but it is also a country the people do not know very much about. And that is why, cultural cooperation is important for us. We have political and economic cooperation with Azerbaijan as well. Very important Dutch companies are doing important business here, and more understanding and knowledge about Azerbaijan can promote these relations. This project combines a number of aspects. Firstly, it was a kind of workshop, giving by a Dutch photographer to young Azerbaijani photographers in order to get more experience in the art of photography, and particularly, in documenting the life of certain groups of people, different cultural groups. So, that was the first purpose. The second purpose was to show also that you have very interesting different cultures here in Azerbaijan, and this project was executed in the south of Azerbaijan, where the Talish people live. That people live within traditions, engaged in beekeeping, wood-cutting, making cheese, keeping sheep, working the lands for crops, and so, this was also to show here in Baku that there are different aspects and different cultures in Azerbaijan. And, of course, the third purpose was that in the Netherlands people will see these publications and they will understand that there are very interesting traditions in Azerbaijan. I am working on a number of at least two other exhibition projects. One of them is a very modest project. We have a group of seven ambassadors, who have given their view in Baku. The project, which will open in July, is called "Baku city life – diplomatic view”. Every ambassador is participating in the project with three photos with a specific view on the life in Baku. This is also to show that diplomats, who work on a high level with presidents and ministers, are also engaged in the town where they work and live. So, if you come, you will find that this is a very interesting view on the city life. And we hopefully will have another photo project within the framework of "FANTAZIA” Festival by the European Union. Last year, I participated in a group of video and photo exhibitions organized by Sabina Shikhlinskaya, where I had photos of old and new Baku, all in black and white. I called them "Baku: Black city and White city”. They were to show old architectural heritages can co-exist with new ones. Sometimes, there is a tension, because you have to make space for new building, but if you do the city planning carefully, then you can preserve the old buildings, as all of them have their own beauty.
Economic and educational relations
- Azerbaijan and the Kingdom of the Netherlands have established a successful cooperation in various fields on the basis of diplomatic relations. What innovations will there be in the upcoming years between Azerbaijan and the Netherlands?
- I think that the cooperation between the Netherlands and Azerbaijan is really intensifying. We have now started political consultations, so then the Vice President of the Netherlands comes to Azerbaijan. Issues where we have common interests are regional stability and relations with neighboring countries and in the region, security and the Southern Gas Corridor. All these kind of issues are discussed. We just had one discussion last March, and we will continue that once a year. We alternate between The Hague and Baku, so we will hold next year very important consultations in the Netherlands between the two Vice Presidents. But in the economic field, there is also very intense cooperation for more than fifteen years. Of course, these companies were used to be engaged in the oil and gas sector, and then again in the relating sectors, in which we have a very good experience such as water management and environmental issues, given the history of Baku and its oil. There is, for instance, a Dutch company, which has cleaned the Boyukshor Lake, which was much polluted. Another Dutch company has made a study for cleaning of Baku Bay. So, we are very much engaged in that. Now, as you know, the economy in Azerbaijan is being reformed, but also it goes to the phase of diversification to make it less depended on only oil and gas. Thereby, it can be defined as a priority. Really, my country is very active in this sector in a commercial way. If you go to Absheron, you will see a lot of Dutch greenhouses. The green house technology is very much dominated by the Netherlands. We are one of the biggest providers of seeds of tomato of a very high quality. So, there is a lot of commercial cooperation already. We try also to have more technical cooperation. We hope that we can establish a modern farm here to show the way of Dutch farming to Azerbaijani farmers. There should be also an academic component to that. Also, here in Azerbaijan there is a big need for vocational training, which is a bit under the academic level. But it is very important to have really good agriculture. There is an agricultural vocational training school from Limburg, which provides guidance. So, we have different kinds of cooperation and other agricultural related issues such as husbandry, cooling systems or storage, specialized equipment and lightening in greenhouses, which is very important because you can keep the level of production by lightening in winter. And we participated in the Caspian Agro last month, which is the biggest agricultural fair in the region. We had more than twenty Dutch companies, which had different kinds of commercial products. There was a big interest, so we hope that in this way, we have even more intensified economic cooperation and trade relations, and basically commerce between the two countries. And the embassy is trying to promote that by participating in these fairs, by connecting people, by networking. I’m very hopeful that we will intensify our trade relations.
- Please, talk about educational relations between our countries. Are there many Azerbaijani students studying in the Netherlands?
- I think that Holland is a popular destination. First of all, we do promotions here, participate in many educational fairs. I think that there were one or two educational fairs, where we give information to the students, provide them with contacts. We have just discussed in our staff meeting that there will be two more educational fairs after the summer break. There is cooperation between the ADA University and Maastricht School of Management. Also, there are doctorate courses which many Azerbaijani students are participating in every year. Another aspect is that we also would like to hold educational seminars we can contribute. In the second half of this year, we are aiming to have a kind of very practical educational seminar directed at companies and farmers on how you do management and greenhouses, on how you would optimize cultivation of fodder crops. So, these are a number of education related activities which we pursue and would like to expand.
Places to visit in the Netherlands
- Of course, you have also visited Azerbaijan’s regions during your stay in our country. Where else do you plan to go and see in Azerbaijan?
- Well, I’ve been in most regions at least one time. We have had both private touristic visits and official visits to different towns and districts. Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organizes trips for the diplomatic core, which are very educational. I’ve been to Ganja, Tovuz, Mingachevir and Shamakhi districts. I’ve maybe would like to explore more the north-western region of Azerbaijan, in the direction of Georgia, i.e. Sheki, Zagatala. We’ve also been to Lankaran, Masalli, Astara districts. After the summer holiday, I plan to visit Kurdamir as well. As I said, I’ve already been to many places of your beautiful country. But, it is interesting to follow up and keep in touch to see if our business and educational opportunities develop. Also, as a photographer, it is interesting to me to continue to take photos of this beautiful country and of its values and different peoples and cultures.
- We usually recommend our guests coming to Azerbaijan to visit Icherisheher, Gobustan, Lahij, Shaki and other historical places of our country. What would you recommend to a tourist who wants to go to the Netherlands for the first time?
- For the first time, of course, you have to see top sites – for example, Amsterdam, which is a very fascinating city. There, you can see tulips, if it is the season. Also, you should visit two museums – the Rijksmuseum, which has the best collection in the world. It has just been refurbished and it is wonderful. Of course, many people also go to the Van Gogh Museum, the well-known Dutch painter. But, at the same time, try to go out of Amsterdam as well. If you like big cities go to Rotterdam, which is the biggest port of Europe. It is a very fascinating city and a very professional port. They have constructed a new big harbor outside of Rotterdam. And they can organize special trips for tourists on boats, which is absolutely wonderful. Then, of course, you can also go to Haag, which is really friendly and beautiful as it is near the beach. It has wonderful museums and parks. Then also go to the rural areas in the north and south.
- What is the level of tourist exchange between the Netherlands and Azerbaijan?
- If I look to the visa figures, I see that about 3,000 visas are issued each month, which amounts 30,000 Azerbaijani people visiting the Netherlands per year. I think, the figures will only increase in the future. As for the number of Dutch people coming to Azerbaijan, it is difficult to me to say the exact figure as I don’t have the statistics. But I think that this figure also is definitely increasing. The estimated number of Dutch people visiting Azerbaijan is 10,000 people a year. A lot of Dutch people are coming for Gran Prix.
Birthday in positive way
- Mr. Ambassador, are you interested in soccer? Were you upset that the Dutch team lost to Portugal two days ago at the final match of the League of Nations? Or is it more important to watch a good game for you?
- Yes, I love football and I support our national football team very strongly. The fact that they lost was very disappointing, but the Portugal team was better, so they deserved to win. But the most important is that the Dutch team is improving. However, this month is very important for our women football team. As you know, there is a World Championship in France. Our national team is European champion and I, of course, support our women team. So far, our national women team is better than the men team. I think more people should follow football.
- You celebrated your birthday on June 18. What do you mostly wish for yourself?
- I wish health and happiness for my birthday. I will probably get some nice presents, but that is not so important. It is important to celebrate your birthday in positive way with friends and have a nice party.