President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was on an official visit to France between March 12-15. As part of the official trip, our president met with the members of MEDEF business council, informed them about the economy of Azerbaijan, reforms carried out in the country, business development and opportunities created for investors as well as answer their questions. On March 14, head of the state met with the chairman of French Senate Gérard Larcher, the president of the National Assembly Claude Bartolone and French president Francois Hollande and had a mutual discussion with them. After the ceremony where presidents signed documents between Azerbaijan and France, they held a joint press conference. Hikmet Mammadov, member of the National Assembly and political analyst, did an interview with "Kaspi” and answered our questions regarding the president’s visit to France, the meetings he held and statements he made and the potential impacts of this trip on the relations between our countries.
- Professor Mammadov, during his France trip, president Ilham Aliyev held many official meetings, and discussed a number of issues with various officials as well as prominent CEOs. How important do you think the visit was?
- Azerbaijani president’s visit to France was related to the 25th anniversary of the establishment of relations with this country. France-Azerbaijan relations constantly evolve and our political ties are at the highest level. The economic potential between our countries is also big. More than 50 French companies operate in Azerbaijan and the volume of investment made into our economy is over 2 billion dollars. The successful development of French-Azerbaijani economic partnership also showcases Azerbaijan’s potential and displays the interest of French business circles to operate in our country. Azerbaijan has great potential in cosmic industry, water supply, energy and agriculture. In addition, France is greatly interested in participating in several international projects launched by Azerbaijan. One such project is the Southern Gas Corridor which is seen as the "Contracts of the 21st century”. This project alters the energy map of Europe and is a new source of natural gas for European consumers. Moreover, Azerbaijan, situated in favorable geographic location between Asia and Europe and posses modern transportation infrastructure, is turning into the regional transport hub. This project interests France, too. The cultural and educational ties between France and Azerbaijan is also at a high level. In his meetings with businessmen and CEOs, our president presented the economic potential of our country based on real facts. This political trip was very remarkable for its economic nature and with regards to the talks about settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. France, one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. During meetings held as part of his France trip, Ilham Aliyev unambiguously stated that the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is not open for discussion and Nagorno-Karabakh is our historical lands. This statement was a response to those who used Nagorno-Karabakh to manipulate and force the occupied party to make concessions. Taking this and meetings and statements made in Paris account, we can say that the president’s visit was the beginning of a new era in Azerbaijan-France relations.
- Is is possible to appreciate French efforts to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
- Today, Azerbaijan is displeased with the co-chairs. It’s hard to say if any of the co-chairs have contributed to the settlement of the conflict. Formed after ceasefire of 1994, the OSCE MG has not contributed anything to the resolution of the conflict. If they have done anything, then the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan would be restored. Co-chairs have not done much to resolve the conflict. Another importance of the president’s France visit is to reinvigorate the Nagorno-Karabakh talks. If you recall, president of Azerbaijan met with co-chairs before his trip to France. Azerbaijan is ready to have separate talks with co-chair states. But all of this should lead to settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by respecting the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The efforts of co-chairs is very important to achieve this. Separately, some of the co-chairs can be more active. But in the end, the resolution of the conflict requires all three co-chairs to reach a consensus. If this conflict is resolved, the region will develop more rapidly and as one of the leading European countries, the interest of France can be served in this geography. Thus, France should understand the current realities and take up a stance that is based on European values and the international law. Otherwise, the conflict can escalate to such a degree that the mediation of France of any other co-chair states would be unnecessary and Azerbaijan could restore its territorial integrity through military means.
- French officials including Hollande state that they support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and refuse to recognize the so called republic established in the occupied territories. But we see that some French companies operate within Nagorno-Karabakh. What’s the reason for this contradiction?
- President Ilham Aliyev noted this in his meetings. He pointed out that some foreign companies were illegally operating in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. At the same time, he stressed that these companies should take into account the risk that comes with operating in this territory and should stop their illegal activities. It was also stated that the existence of some French companies in those territories did not sit well with the friendly ties between France and Azerbaijan. Before commenting on that, I want to remind you a statement French president made. Francois Hollande stated that France is an honest partner of Azerbaijan. If what he said is true, then it should be proven that they are sincere in their attitude toward Azerbaijan. We want to believe this. But we also know that double standards is prevalent in the West. In the West, they interpret any fact in many ways. If we dig deeper, we can see that French diplomats are trying to avoid this issue brought up by our president. They say those companies are registered in off-shore zones or that they are operating independently and they cannot be regulated. This approach is not unique to France, it’s prevalent in Europe and the West. That’s how they manipulate. But still, the fact that French president mentioned honesty gives us hope that from now on they will take concrete steps with regards to the issues we noted.
- Armenia has always considered Russia and France to be its guardians and has paid special attention to their relations with these countries. If this is the case, then why don’t Russia and France take advantage of this situation and put pressure on Armenia in order to accelerate the negotiation process?
- Co-chair states have varying degrees of influence over Armenia. Of course, Russia has the most influence over Armenia. Historical ties, as well as the establishment of Armenia in its current geographic location has much to do with tsarist and Soviet Russia, as well as the modern Russia. The existence of the Armenian state has always been dependent on Russia. Even now, this country is considered to be an outpost of Russia. Armenia depends on Russia for its economy, political and military. But despite having long history, these ties are not very strong from a geo-strategic point. Armenia does not share a border with Russia. It’s possible that France has a cultural influence on Armenia. When Minsk Group was formed in 1994, Azerbaijan favored Turkey and Germany and wanted one of them to be a co-chair. Then president of France had confessed that Armenia was a friend of France and that they will resolve Nagorno-Karabakh conflict based on this friendship. If they are indeed a friend to Armenia, then they should use their friendly influence. They should urge Sargsyan to uphold the international law and restore justice.
- Since the beginning of the current year, president Ilham Aliyev has visited Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Qatar, Pakistan, Iran and France. The political course of Azerbaijan, all these visits and meetings held at the highest level and agreements reached about the development of mutual relations. How do all these affect not only our country, but also the wider region?
- Everyone agrees that Azerbaijan is the stabilizing force in the region. The national leader Heydar Aliyev played a huge role in the inception of this political philosophy and determining this strategy. Azerbaijan has a balanced foreign policy. Our president has stated that Azerbaijan is not a place for competition and confrontation but for cooperation and partnership. We are living in a period of very complicated international relations and we have a complex geopolitical position. Different world powers have different interest in the geo-political location we are situated. It’s very difficult to balance all of these interests and turn Azerbaijan into a place of cooperation. Thus, the president noted that Azerbaijan not only is a geographical bridge between Europe and the East but also a cultural, civil and economic one.