H.E. Elmar Mammadyarov, Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan

The Statesmen’s Forum
AJC Global Forum 2013
Washington, D.C.
June 2, 2013

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to address the American Jewish Committee’s annual Global Forum that has become an important platform to discuss topical issues that go beyond the national borders and affect all of us around the globe.

This year’s Global Forum provides a very good opportunity to adress the world’s pressing issues ranging from developments in the Middle East to the questions of identity and the relations between the religion and State. All of these are topical for my country as well. But, before sharing with the distinguished audience my views on some of the issues we will be addressing over the next few days, first İ üould like to say a couple of words about Azerbaijan’s relations with the State of Israel as well as our cooperation with the American Jewish Committee and the vibrant Jewish community here in the United States.

Azerbaijan and Israel close, friendly relations go well beyond formal diplomatic ties. Our friendship runs through all segments of our respective Governments and societies and is reinforced by the strong bonds between our peoples. Relations with Israel are based on five cornerstone pillars: (1) strong people-to-people links, (2) geographic proximity, (3) trade and commercial ties, (4) mutual understanding of regional security environment and global affairs and, last but not least (5) quest for peace.

Strong people-to-peole links. For many of you Azerbaijan is known as a country rich in energy resources. Indeed, Azerbaijan is duly considered the birthplace of petroleum industry. By the late 19th century Azerbaijan provided for approximately half of global oil output. In 1847, more than a decade before oil was discovered in Pennsylvania in 1859, Azerbaijan drilled its first oil well in Bibi-Heybat.

But, Azerbaijan is increasingly known first and foremost for its tradition of tolerance that we developed throughout centuries and that is unfortunately in short supply in today’s world. True, Azerbaijan was able to consolidate its sovereignty and political independence to a large extent due to its energy independence and sound energy diplomacy. But in a longer-term perspective what really guarantees our security and domestic tranquility is our culture of tolerance and peace within.

Azerbaijan is a unique place in the world: we are secular yet predominantly Muslim society that enjoys a centuries-long tradition of peaceful co-existence between Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities. Around 35,000-strong ancient Jewish community has been living in Azerbaijan for over 2,500 years without any persecution in full dignity and respect. This is among the few places on Earth where people if asked may not know the meaning of the notion of anti-Semitism, simply because we don’t have such a feeling in our historical and cultural narrative.

Few people outside Azerbaijan know about the remarkable role that the Jewish community has historically played in my country. Imagine, when we first gained our independence in 1918, our young Government entrusted the most sacred thing that any society has – health of its citizens – to Dr. Yevsey Gindes, an Ashkenazi Jew, who served as Minister of Health in Azerbaijan Democratic Republic’s Cabinet under the first prime minister, Fatali Khan Khoyski. One of the first things that Government did was to establish Jewish Popular University in 1919. Members of Jewish community were represented in our parliament back then and as they are now.

Not surprising that Azerbaijan is increasingly recognized as a role model for peaceful coexistence. Being a member of both European multilateral institutions, such as the Council of Europe and OSCE, closely partnering with NATO and as a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), uniting 56 Muslim countries around the world, Azerbaijan is positioning itself and largely viewed as a natural bridge that connects various civilizations and cultures. Azerbaijan is serving as a critical link for the outreach to the Muslim world to our partners like the United States and Israel.

We are at a forefront of global efforts to foster intercultural dialogue. Azerbaijan was among the first countries to join UN-led Alliance of Civilizations initiative that seeks to champion international efforts against extremism through forging intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. Over the past couple of years Baku hosted several high-profile events to promote the concept of multiculturalism, tolerance and inter-religious dialogue. Among them are the international forum on inter-religious dialogue and the Baku Humanitarian Forum that unites representatives of political scientific and cultural elite of the world to discuss pressing issues of our time.

Geographic proximity is another factor that determines our close ties. We do not share borders but we share the region. Our landmark Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline ships around one million barrels of oil daily to the Eastern Mediterranean. Israel benefits from our energy infrastructure as some 40% of Israel’s oil consumption comes from Azerbaijan via that pipeline.

As you know, over the past decade Azerbaijan has transformed from gas consuming into a gas producing country. Azerbaijan contributes to the European energy security. The Shah Deniz Stage 2 project will bring gas from Azerbaijan and the wider Caspian Sea region to markets in Europe, opening up the “Southern Gas Corridor”, which will further enhance diversification of energy supplies to our European allies.

Later this month the Shah Deniz consortium will announce its final decision on a pipeline that will be a continuation of the dedicated Trans-Anatolian Pipeline that will carry gas from the Shah Deniz field in Azerbaijan to the European consumers. Realization of the Shah Deniz and TANAP projects will help open up upstream gas development in the regions beyond Europe's Southeastern frontiers, by providing readily available modern infrastructure to carry gas to European markets, including potentially from the Eastern Mediterranean.

Trade and commernceis the third pillar of our bilateral relations. As I mentioned above, energy development offers ample opportunities for cooperation. Our national State Oil Company - SOCAR’s subsidiary, Caspian Drilling Company has a 5% stake in Med Ashdod oil field off-shore Israel. This project is SOCAR’s first oil-production and drilling operation outside Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is Israel’s biggest trade partner in the South Caucasus. And it is not surprising, since Azerbaijan accounts for 80% of economy of the South Caucasus. Our GDP tripled between 2004 and 2011, industrial production rose 2.7-fold, non-oil sector increased 2-fold. Over the last 10 years Azerbaijan’s state budget increased from $1.5 bln to $25 bln, more than 1 million jobs were created, poverty level fell from 49% in 2003 to 6% last year. To date, investments in Azerbaijan’s economy exceed $140 bln.

Last year, bilateral trade turnover with Israel reached $ 4 bln, this is in fact more than US-Azerbaijan bilateral trade, which is $2.3bln. Israeli companies are active in Azerbaijan in sectors like agriculture, water management and water supply, health care, and telecommunications. Talks are underway to sign an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation as well as a visa facilitation agreement for holders of diplomatic and service passports.

Mutual understanding of regional security environment and global affairs.Our political engagement is also on the rise. Few weeks ago I traveled to Israel with the first official visit and held productive talks with President Shimon Peres, Prime-minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders. We have regular consultations at the Ministries’ level on the issues of mutual interests.

Azerbaijan’s growing international role expands our bilateral agenda. Over the last two decades Azerbaijan has developed into a rapidly growing, dynamic country with vibrant civil society. Our sound domestic and foreign policy transformed Azerbaijan from security consumer into a security provider and a stalwart security partner in the South Caucasus and the wider Caspian Sea region and beyond. Mega transportation and energy projects that we launched almost a decade ago already bear fruits and contribute to the development of not only Azerbaijan but the regional countries as well.

The election of Azerbaijan to the non-permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council in 2011 is testimony to the recognition by the international community of the growing role and increased capabilities of Azerbaijan in maintaining international peace and security. Within its capacity as non-permanent member of the UNSC Azerbaijan positively contributes to the consideration of the agenda items of the UN Security Council in regards to international peace and stability, resolution of conflicts, including in the Middle East, climate change, poverty reduction within the Millennium Development Goals and promotion of multiculturalism.

Quest for peace with neighbors is also one common feature that makes our two countries similar. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region remains the main obstacle for full-scale cooperation in the South Caucasus. The United States, Russia and France as OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs mediate to find just resolution to this conflict. Azerbaijan remains committed to finding a soonest political resolution to the conflict based on the norms and principles of international law enshrined in the U.N. Charter.

Now, let me say couple of words on where we are in Azerbaijan-US relations. Both our nations characterise our relations as the one of the strategic partnership. Our bilateral engagement became an important factor in regional and global affairs. Our two countries cooperate on a broad range of issues vital to our national interests. The U.S. and Azerbaijan are cooperating in counterterrorism and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, a particularly important endeavor in light of Azerbaijan’s unique geographical location. Azerbaijan provides multi-faceted support for U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan, as it previously did in Iraq. Azerbaijan is a key nod in the Northern Distribution Network with more than 40% of supplies bound to Afghanistan crossing Azerbaijan. Strong Azerbaijan-US ties have positive implications on security of our regional partners as well.

Let me say in conclusion that Azerbaijan’s cooperation with American Jewish organizations, like AJC, AIPAC and others are playing critical role in fostering closer ties bilaterally between Azerbaijan and Israel and trilaterally between Azerbaijan, Israel and the United States. We are looking forward to working with you to further strengthen our relations and advance our shared interests.

Thank you.

Date: 6/3/2013